Learn the Truth about Your Web Design Company by Its Portfolio

When you start building your online business and search for a web design company that will implement all your needs for the web site you must understand that it is a very serious step because you are entrusting your business along with its reputation and future.

That’s why it’s very important to make the right choice.
There are several factors that must define your choice, and one of them is portfolio of previous web design works the company has done. It can tell you more than all words and promises, just be attentive and try to analyze. I will tell you what you must pay attention to:

1) Presence of portfolio

Yes, it seems to be obvious that web design company must have own web site with portfolio of previous works. But don’t be astonished too much when you see one without it. There can be various reasons for this but I wouldn’t recommend you to tempt fate. Portfolio is like a “face” and it’s pride of web design company, it must be full, substantial, and routinely updated…and IT MUST BE!

2) Total number of works

This can tell you much however there is no standard number that will guarantee you are going to deal with web design guru. Yes, 50 successfully finished projects is better than 5, but their quality is also important. Compare the number with period of time during which the company operates in the market and calculate average number of projects per year, month, or week. Remember that average web site design takes 2-4 weeks to be finished.

What this information can give you? Firstly, you can see that the company has got enough expertise. Then this shows that it has stable flow of works, adjusted schedule of development process, and enough staff to perform it, so if you commit your web site design to the company you can be sure that the work won’t be for them like a bolt from the blue or well-paid but not feasible overloading.

3) Type of works

Look attentively at each work in the portfolio. How many projects are similar to the one you need by type of site, technology used, industry, and look and feel?
At least 2-3? Good!
More than 5? Excellent!!
None? There can be a reason for this – owner didn’t want to make it published, or web site is no more live – so if all other works show professionalism and expertise, you should ask the
company if they have ever done the task you need.

If you need any particular technology to be used for your web site implementation it’s more than necessary to see examples how the web design company worked with it. However sometimes it happens if the technology is not common used and very popular that the web design company hasn’t had chance to work with it for commercial purpose but it might be used for internal projects development, so you will loose nothing if ask the company to show you some examples if they exist.

If you need a web site for exact business, for example dating site or real estate site, it’s also better to view such previous works in the portfolio because there are can be specific features and it’s better to make sure that the web design company is experienced with them. Also some web design companies make demo packages that also can show you the abilities and experience.

4) Quality of works

Learn carefully each live site (or the ones which are similar to the site you need). How long does it take to load the site home page?
A few seconds? Great, the web designer knows how to optimize images.
A few minutes? It’s normal if this is a Flash site because usually the whole site is loaded at one time, not only the home page; or it’s a Flash intro which goes ahead entering the site
and also can load longer because of movie and sound.

But if a simple HTML web site loads more than 2-3 minutes and you can’t see all images or they are shown partially, you must be watchful. Check another HTML sites from the portfolio – if they are also loading for ages, it’s better to search for another web design company because this one is not professional.

All of the aforesaid is correct only if bandwidth of your Internet connection is normal and usually you don’t have problems with loading web sites.

Test the site for user-friendly navigation, pay attention to colors combination, and estimate general impression from the site – all this must reflect professional work. But sometimes a web design company is forced to design a site strictly according to the customer’s wishes, so if the customer lacks for good taste the site also looks tasteless. There can one or two such sites in the portfolio, but not all!

5) Happy owners

Web design business is a highly competitive area and as in any business there are honest and dishonest players. Sometimes it happens that you see the same site in portfolio of two different web design companies and it’s difficult to find the truth to which of them the work really belongs. Some quirky companies place cheap templates in their portfolio with fake owners’ contact info.

That’s why it’s very important to know real references of real owners of the web sites the web design company has made. Ideally this info must be accessible on the web design company site under Portfolio, Testimonials, or Clients sections. Try to contact ALL of the persons listed there and compare their opinions. You may get to know some interesting facts.

6) Own site of web design company

And finally compare the own site of the web design company to web sites presented in its portfolio. Are they similar by quality, technology used, and overall feeling? If the works from the portfolio look much poorer than the own site this can mean that the own site was ordered from another web design company, more professional. Yes, it happens sometimes in web design business that start-up amateur company commits its web site design to “older” professionals. In such case you better to continue searching for another web design company.

So these 6 rules can help you to make the right choice. Don’t be afraid to spend longer time for search and analysis, finally you will only benefit by getting perfect web site that will give new prospects to your business and make it more successful.

Creating an Author Web Site – How to Find the Best Web Designer to Sell Your Book Online

Why Are Web Designers Such Flakes? A Reality Check.

Circling the drain of unresponsive or missing in action web designers is a common dilemma. The Question is this: As a self-respecting author with a plan and a purpose, how do you choose a designer you can afford and rely on?

As a small publisher, or self-published author, you are faced with the high-cost of publishing a book. Your ever-growing budget includes editors, book cover and interior design, maybe a book coach or advisor, printing costs, fulfillment needs, marketing … my goodness, where does it end? When does the author start making money? Well, this is a question for another article all together. The point here is, how much should you allocate to the added expense of hiring a web designer? Can you hire someone who can do it all and is affordable to boot?

Ah, herein lies the problem. The one-man show dilemma-freelance artists. A newly graduated artist (or even an established one-person show) can be a very enticing option for someone with a small budget, especially when they are often a third of the price you would pay with a full-service design house. They are typically hungry, excited, talented, reasonably priced, and they can do it all. Yeah!!! So what goes wrong? Burnout. A freelance artist often over promises and eventually under delivers. They over commit because of the opportunity to build their portfolio; they chock it up to needed experience, and maybe even their desire to help another artist. But at the end of the day this is the perfect recipe for disaster. Why? Because it’s truly hard to do it all yourself and when you finally reach that wall, you shut down and walk away, close the door, stop returning calls-you move on.

This does not mean that because someone is reasonably priced that they are a bad choice for your needs. The question we seek to answer is: How do you protect yourself?

As you search for a reliable, talented designer consider the fallout. As you become overwhelmed with the production of your book, you tend to need a leaning post. That is, someone you can consider a partner, someone who cares as much as you do and will be there till the bitter end, or God willing the glorious payout. But let’s talk reality folks. Few people care about your project as much as you do. At the end of the day, people will do what is best for “me.” If you lay something precious in someone else’s hands you have to know that they will cherish that precious thing and treat it with the same care that you would. In the business world, this means you pay them to care-you appreciate them, you praise them, you create an environment that is rewarding, you pay them hard-earned cash.

What you are looking for is a long-lasting relationship, someone who delivers, who knows their stuff and someone who isn’t going to close up shop and leave you holding the bag.

A Sad Tale of Trust and Where it Went Wrong:

The Spark: You have just written a book! You are ready to meet your public. You are told you need a web site. You look around, you ask a few people for references, you weight the costs, you’re not quite sure how it will benefit you, you’re just about out of money, or worse your sinking further into debt. And then you meet Bob at a community function. Bob is great! He is dynamic, he loves your book, he has great ideas, he is excited, talented, and he can help you build a site for a fraction of the cost-this you can afford.

The Honeymoon: You get started on the project and Bob really seems to listen, he’s working quickly, he answers your calls, he has something for you to see right away, and it’s pretty good, you like it, OK maybe it’s not great, but hey it was practically free and it’s something, its better than nothing.

The Fallout: You have a big signing at the local bookstore, you’re excited, but your site needs to be updated and there’s that issue of those few spelling errors you haven’t gotten around to fixing. You know you need to talk to Bob. But Bob is out of town until next week. You call some friends to see if they know of anyone who can help, yes, but do you have access to the web files? Hmm, no Bob has that. Bob doesn’t seem to be returning your calls, or emails-Bob is MIA.

The Reality: So what if you do find someone who is so excited and hungry that they are willing to do it for very little, or even better, for free. What happens when your designer needs a leaning post and you are pushing for more-you’ve started with this person, you need them to finish the job, your marketing success depends on it…they stop returning calls, they are less and less responsive…you go crazy with frustration, the process of getting a simple update to your site is maddening, you throw your hands up in exasperation, the love affair is over and you are left to pick up the pieces.

You face the facts, you know you must find another web master, you search for people in your area, you are horrified by the high-prices, your benchmark, what you had come to rely on was so much less expensive. How can this be? OK fine, you find someone you think you can trust and they tell you your previous web designer didn’t know what they were doing. Salt. Wound. Pain. They tell you have to start over and it’s going to cost you. Yikes.

The Idiot: Was your last designer really an idiot? Maybe, but probably not. First of all, it’s important to know that designing and programming are two very different art forms and it makes sense to leave each task to the expert. I once saw a very talented illustrator design the interior layout of a book one page at a time, as opposed to flowing all of the text into one document (which certainly makes things easier when it comes time to make future changes). Was this guy an idiot? No, he just didn’t know what he was doing, but he sure was confident that he could get the job done. And boy did he. Now the second edition needs changes….

With web programmers, another thing to consider is that there are numerous ways to build a web site. Building a site is much like organizing your files, because in fact it is; web coders are a unique brand of person and each has his or her own naming conventions and ways of organizing files, which could be near impossible for someone else to decipher. Plus, there are numerous ways to code, programs to use, platforms, etc. Just like you might be baffled by my filing system, I would likely be baffled by yours. So for a programmer to look inside your site, it can take a lot of maddening hours and cursing-clearly the last person didn’t know what he or she was doing. No, they just did it differently. But, why would I want to tackle that frustrating beast? Hmm, this is gonna be pricey.

Synergy, Longevity and Web Designers; The Answer:

Finding the right Web designer is sometimes like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So what’s a savvy author to do? First, get referrals. Qualified referrals will save you a lot of time, especially if they are from fellow authors. For this reason, consider joining your local authors’ guild and attending authors’ conferences where you can connect with other people in your industry.

Be sure to choose a designer who is familiar with your industry. A successful Web site goes way beyond the nuts and bolts of programming and coding. Your designer should have a firm understanding of what you are trying to accomplish and a definitive plan to reach that end. For instance, your navigation should lead your visitor in the direction of a sale-think of it like a funnel. You should implement an effective call-to-action that will guide your readers through the funnel and convert them into sales.

A successful home page will appeal to varying personalities in different ways. Use both imagery and text to say the same thing. This will reach the analytical and the visual; no matter how you say it, both will lead to the same place-a sale. A marketing-savvy firm will understand the importance of this element and provide valuable insight.

Ask for testimonials. Does he or she complete projects on deadline? A typical site should take from two to five weeks to design and build. Also, ask to see samples-including live sites. Test them for ease of use and loading time, as well as the general feeling you get from the sites you view. Chances are, if you dislike everything someone has done, you will be unhappy with what they produce for you as well.

Does he or she listen to your needs? A good way to tell if a company designs for the client or for themselves is to view their samples. If all of their samples are similar, this could be a red flag-unless, of course, that is exactly the style you want in your design. A good designer should be able to listen to your needs and translate them into a workable site that exceeds your expectations. Ultimately, your site should reflect your personality-not theirs.
Make sure your design team is easy to communicate with. Do they speak your language? Remember: this should be your vision, not theirs. Ego can often get in the way of your goals. When it comes down to it, they work for you. They should be able to set their artistry ego aside and follow your line of thinking, providing you with valuable insight and ideas that you hadn’t considered.

Ask Questions-Expect Answers

Ensure that your designer and the person coding your site are two different people. They are very different jobs and require different skills, just as your architect and your contractor are two different people. That’s not to say that you should hire two different firms-quite the opposite: a well-trained team works smoothly together and should be able to handle anything you throw their way.

A good firm will provide you with at least three “comps” or design samples. This is the part of the project where you will have the most involvement. That’s not to say that you should be able to stare over their shoulders as they create for you-but you should be given ample opportunity to verbalize your needs. You should approve the design before it goes to the programmer. Also, find out what their policy is on additional changes once you have approved the final design; you do not want to get stuck with hidden costs halfway through the project.

Always get a contract. Know exactly what to expect. A contract protects you as much as the design house. Read your contract thoroughly. Be sure that you own the rights to your site, the design, all the images, and your copy. When it’s all said and done, your designer should provide you with a disc that contains all your design files and your Web files; keep this disc and all your passwords in a safe place-in fact, make backups. Should something happen to your design house, or they go out of business, you should be able to seamlessly transfer everything to a new firm. And remember: this is a relationship, if you are not happy with your team, or you are not getting the results you expected, then don’t be afraid to find someone else.

Don’t rush it. Costly mistakes are made when people rush. Once your site is up and running, you can decide to change it, but it will likely mean starting all over and costing you twice what it should. Often, this can be the straw that breaks the marketing camel’s back. It is easy to get discouraged when you have invested so much of your heart and soul into a project only to find out you are back at square one. From the perspective of a coder, it is less costly to start over than to give your site a facelift-changing colors, navigation, and the overall look and feel of your site isn’t as easy as it may seem. Avoid costly mistakes in the beginning, even if it means stalling your project just a little longer.

How Much Should a Web Site Cost?

While industry standards are typically followed, prices vary widely. The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a sufficient reference guide for industry pricing standards when it comes to illustration and design; this will give you a firm place to start.

It’s possible to pay anywhere from $200 to $44,000 on a Web site; all of this depends on the size of your site and your programming needs (and who you hire). What you want to concentrate on is the relationship you have with your designer. Meet with this person, and see if you like him or her; after all, you will likely be working very closely with this person. You should be developing a relationship that will help make you and your book shine.

Keep in mind, just because your site looks great doesn’t mean it’s effective. Discuss these elements and see what kind of ideas your potential designer may have that can bring your project to a higher level. Use someone who understands books and the publishing industry. While one firm may be able to design and build an incredible site for real estate agents, they may not know the first thing about selling books.

All of these things are crucial elements that you must consider before signing that contract. Always ask for a contract; no matter how much you trust this person, business is business-be professional. It’s okay and even necessary to build relationships and even friendships in this business, but never forget your end goal: You are an author with your own business, and only you will look out for you in the end.

Make a List-Check it Twice

Before you start shopping for a design house, jot down a list of your expectations; that way if it comes down to one or two firms / designers, you will make an educated decision based on all your needs.

Lastly, follow your gut feeling; listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t mesh, move on.

Finding a design team can be an emotionally overwhelming process. The following checklist will help you find the right team for your needs. And remember: just because the price is right doesn’t mean the fit is, and vice versa; an expensive team may be just that-expensive. You want to choose the best designer for you and your book. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

1. Do they listen?
2. Are they responsive?
3. Do they explain things in a way you can understand?
4. Do you like the other sites they have designed?
5. Are all of their design samples the same? Do they have the feel you are looking for?
6. Are their sites easy to navigate?
7. Do they have experience in your industry?
8. Do their sample sites load quickly?
9. Will they give you recent testimonials and references? Do they have happy clients?
10. What is their timeline?
11. Do they provide more than one design sample for you to choose from?
12. Are the designer and the programmer different people? Does the design firm have a specialized team?
13. Do they offer hosting services?
14. Do they offer E-commerce solutions?
15. Do they understand Internet marketing?
16. Do they have a company Web site?
17. Do they provide a contract that outlines your rights?
18. Do you get to keep the rights to every element of your site, including design and images?
19. How much do they charge for Web site maintenance?
20. Do they employ a solid back-up system? If so, do they keep back-ups offsite for added security?
21. Upon completion, will they provide you with all your files and passwords?