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questions to ask your web design agency

Last Modified: February 9, 2019

Choosing a web design company is a big decision; it literally can affect the success or failure of your business. It is not a decision to take lightly.

In Part 1 of our series, we covered a few of the warning signs you should watch for when hiring a web design agency. In this segment, we are going to give you a checklist of what to ask the web designer before signing the contract and starting the project.

The following questions and recommendations are just a guide. Follow your gut instinct when considering which web design agency you will work with for your project. A well-thought-out decision will lead to a long-standing relationship that will benefit your company’s success.

Questions to Ask Your Web Designer

Will you do the work in-house or will you be outsourcing the work elsewhere?

Recommendation: Web design agencies outsource work all the time. They may handle some of the tasks of the project and work with freelancers on other aspects. If they will outsource some or all of the project ask a few key questions:

• If they are outsourcing, who will I deal with if I have questions?
• Who will oversee the project?

What will you need from me (us)?

This is perhaps the most important question you will ask. It is crucial that you know what role you play in the project as well as when and what you are expected to provide. You may be asked to provide your a logo, branding guide, content for the website, images, product information, access to the existing website, and other access needed for the project.

Reality check – The web designer cannot do their job if they do not have the resources needed to complete it. If you have a deadline for the project that you don’t complete on time, often the web designer gets the blame, but truthfully the reason is the client not providing agreed-to action items on a timely basis.

Once you know what is needed, make sure to ask when the information or resource is required, so you have it completed by the deadline, and your project won’t be because of you.

How long will the project take?

A web designer will estimate as to how long the project will take. Hopefully, you are dealing with an agency that estimates completion dates wisely, leaving wiggle room for unexpected roadblocks that occur. Deadlines give you both realistic expectations and goals which enable you to complete your tasks on time.

Make sure and let your web designer know if you have specific deadlines BEFORE the start of the project. Product launches, trade shows, and other events where you want your shiny new website up and running are critical details to give the designer before they create their redesign plan and timeline.

Web design agencies, like you, base their hours and expected deliverables for each week on the pre-communicated needs of their current clients. If you announce a surprise deadline in the middle of the project, this prevents the web design agency from completing previously time-allotted tasks for not only your project, but for the other projects, they are working on as well.

Another thing that can impact project timelines and on-time completion is interruption due to unexpected life events. For instance, we had a person call us who wanted simple content edits done to his existing website. Normally this would not take many hours, however, an hour into the project the person’s mother fell ill and he was unable to work with us for 4 weeks.

When he did reach back out to us, it was during our holiday busy season in which our schedule was already packed and overflowing. Despite this reality, he requested not only the previous content changes, but complete page layout changes requiring even more hours, and needed them done quickly. This led to the failure of the project and neither us or client won in this situation.

How many websites have you done for companies in my industry?

This question can result in a wide variety of answers that you will have to evaluate individually to see if you are comfortable with the information you receive.

For instance, if you own an HVAC company and they have worked in the home services industry (i.e., plumbers, pest control, etc.) the web design company would have relevant experience needed to build a website for an HVAC company.

If their experience is more in the neighborhood of building e-commerce websites or industrial-type websites, they may be a bit challenged designing an HVAC company website and may need more information from you to complete the project correctly.

How are changes handled after we start the project? How are we billed or notified of charges?

Changes to a business happen: the project manager at your company may change, new products may be launched, and changes in your industry can change the scope of a project after it has begun. Understanding how this is handled and how it could affect the launch date of your website are important details you want to know.

How will you build the website?

As we mentioned in Part 1, SAAS websites (i.e., websites like Squarespace, Wix, and GoDaddy site builder) have to remain on the platform they are built on and cannot be moved. If the company plans on building your website on this type of platform, you need to know before starting with them, so you understand the limitations of the site they are building.

If it is SAAS ask the following:

  • Who is paying the bill owed to the SAAS company?
  • If we cancel, can we have the assets used so we can build another website? If so, how will these be delivered?

We will touch more on this subject in another segment (link and name once we have it up.)

What is your cancellation policy?

All relationships come to an end at some point. Find out about the cancellation policy of the design agency. You will want to know the cancellation terms before signing an agreement and launching the website.

When my website goes down, who do I contact and how (call or email)? How long will it take to receive a response?

Here is another reality check. Websites are stored on servers and eventually a server is going to go down or fail. It is a harsh reality of doing business on the internet. A good web design company will be upfront about this fact, so you know that server failure may occur occasionally, but they will also let you know that your web design company will be on top of the issue to help you get back online as quickly as possible.

To this point, you need to ask the design company if they have a plan in place to react to servers going down. It is important here to listen carefully to their answer:

Bad Answer: Our sites don’t go down, but if it does call our office. Or, Sure just send an email to our company email, and we will address it.

Notice what those two statements were missing? The who and the when.

Good Answer: We respond to downtime right away. Call, email, or text, and we will respond and remedy the situation immediately. We check our messages regularly, even outside of our regular office hours.

Note: If your business relies on 24-hour support, let the designer know. It doesn’t mean they can’t work with you, but they may set up a hosting solution that will provide the support needed.

Is this a fixed-price project? What could make the price change?

I have a saying – the only surprises I like are flowers or diamonds, not surprise invoices! Make sure you are aware of what, if anything, would bring the cost of the project up.

What are your terms of payment?

NEVER, EVER, EVER pay for your project 100% upfront. It leaves you vulnerable.

    Typical payment terms:

  • Half up-front, remaining on delivery.
  • Payment schedule based on milestones
  • Payment schedule on specified dates

1. Half up-front, remaining on delivery

The design agency is committing to completing the project for half of the payment. You agree to pay the remaining amount before the approved website goes live. Make sure you have seen a working model of the website before making the final payment. Often this is seen on a temporary server used by the agency.

In your contract it may be worded like this:

“A deposit of one-half (1/2) the estimated total, $x,xxx.xx, is due upon signing this Agreement. This payment must be received before any work begins on the Client’s website

A final payment (adjusted for changes in the estimate if necessary) is due when the website is complete. This final payment must be paid before the upload or delivery of the website.”

The final payment (adjusted) includes any changes that were made to the scope of work after the project began.”

Make sure that any adjustments to the contract amount are signed off on by both parties. This should also be a clause in the project’s contract and may look something like this:

“The estimate includes only that which is described in the SITE SPECIFICATION. Additional work is defined as the addition of pages, graphics, or other significant features, any graphic, page design, or actual page requiring more than two rounds of revisions, revisions to text content provided ready for publication, changes to elements which have been finalized, or significant changes in plan, scope, or direction of project. In this case, Client will be provided with a written CHANGE ORDER including an estimate for the additional work.”

In the above case, the SITE SPECIFICATION refers to the scope of work outline established in the contract you agreed to before starting the project.

2. Payment Schedule Based on Milestones

This payment schedule is my least favorite, as it leaves too much of a gap for failure.

Let me explain.

If a client doesn’t complete their deliverables by the agreed-upon due date, the web design agency is penalized as they are left waiting for client information to achieve a given milestone. In payment schedules based on milestones, I recommend including an additional clause that allows the design agency to proceed and bill the client if the client misses agreed-upon deadlines.

3. Payment on Specified Dates

This is a common payment agreement and is often combined with the milestone of the project. It would look something like this:

“Client agrees to pay the following payments on the dates specified:
(Design Framework and Layout) May 4, 2019 – $800.00
(Content Layout) May 30, 2019 – $800.00
(Pre-Launch) – June 5, 2019 – $1,200.00
(After-Launch) – June 10, 2019 – $300.00”

Notice how the statement is worded: it doesn’t say once the task is completed, it is based on the date, regardless if the task is complete. This puts both the design agency AND the Client in the hot seat to provide what is needed for the milestone by the specified date.

Conclusion

Our hope with this series is to bridge the communication gap between businesses and their web design agencies. Knowing what questions to ask and what to listen for will help you make a well-informed decision in choosing the agency to work with. Often when talking with an agency, it isn’t so much as what is said, but what isn’t said.

Web designers provide a level of skill and drive that an employee of the company can’t as the employee has numerous unrelated tasks they are responsible for in a given day. A quality web design agency can provide you with all of the expertise and time needed for your website to be successful.

Coming Soon: Part 3 of our series: “Your Website Checklist”

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