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You Are What They Click Picking the right website designer is the first step to defining your business online.

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Choosing the right web-design firm or partner for your startup requires you to carefully balance several factors, including price, talent, technical expertise, availability and even personality. Making the right choice is key to establishing a clear vision for your website, fully implementing that vision, and keeping your startup on track and within budget.

What to ask the experts

Provide the designers on your list with your RFP and a couple days to review it. A professional designer will return a written quote along with feedback. Compare quotes and ask the following questions:

. What is your design philosophy?

. Who is your ideal client?

. What are some websites you admire? Why?


In return, the designers should ask questions about your startup's purpose, your timeline and budget, and the scope of the project. If they seem more interested in collecting a deposit than understanding your needs, keep shopping.

It all starts with knowing what you need. Write an RFP (request for proposal) detailing your website's purpose, audience, timeline to build, budget, technical requirements, and so on. A crystal-clear vision helps you focus only on the most qualified candidates and sets the direction for your website's design and development.

It's also important to acknowledge your own role in the site's development. Are you the producer, copywriter, director, hands-off client, micromanager or something else? Know your strengths and weaknesses, and find a designer who complements those qualities.

Some beginners will start their searches at Elance.com or BlogDesign.com, which offer profiles of thousands of web designers, programmers and graphic artists. But that does little to focus your efforts on the right candidate. Here's how to narrow it down:


  • Collect referrals from colleagues, vendors and advisors.
  • Find a website in line with your vision, contact the owner, and request the designer's name and contact information.

    Once you have a list of promising candidates, ask each for references and the addresses of websites they've designed. Also, do some detective work to find sites they failed to mention. Once you get their references on the phone, here's what you'll want to ask:
  • What was your experience with the firm/designer?
  • Did they meet deadlines?
  • How effectively did the designer communicate with you?
  • Did the firm honor your budget agreement?
  • How did they respond to requests for changes?
  • What is your overall level of satisfaction?

When you're ready to set your budget and evaluate quotes, refer to Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines ($23.10 on Amazon.com), which is what many designers use as a starting point when pricing bids like yours.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

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