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How to Select a Web Design Firm
By
Jeff Pasternack
Yadir Ruiz
08/04/01
Recently I attended a function with Yadir Ruiz, President of Digital Silk Communications Group (http://www.digital-silk.com). One of the guests at our table was describing how they were on their third web design firm and that they felt that this one wasnít going to work out, either. Afterwards, Yadir and I began sharing our thoughts on what types of questions we felt we would like potential customers to ask us. We began the process by assuming that most people are referred to a firm or freelancer from a friend, but outside of that, there wasnít much else that people had to go on. 99% of the time, the first question asked is to give a list of sites that have been designed. While this may show off some of the graphic flair, most sites reflect the collaborative efforts of the client and the designer. Many of Digital Silkís client sites look dramatically different from each other and not all will appeal to everyone. So how does a potential client sift through all of the vendors available to them to find the most appropriate vendor that will best meet your needs? Is looking at the design work the best measure for choosing a web design firm? We think not.

As you begin your search for a qualified Web design vendor, you will need to consider many important factors before you make a final decision. Whatever your decision-making process may be, it should definitely consider the following:

1. What type of vendor is pitching your company? Are they a full-service, one-stop shop? Are they a freelance consultant subcontracting most of the work out? Are they an agency that has a specific specialty and partners with other firms to perform or to complete other aspects of the project? Ask your vendor to identify their business model.

2. How do partnering firms work together? Many Web and Internet projects require firms to partner with other competent firms to provide more complete solutions. For example, some firms will only do graphic design and HTML. But you may want a form on your site that for visitors to fill out and then be automatically emailed to you. One way to do this is through a CGI script implemented by a programmer. If your vendor has to partner with other firms or individuals to complete a given project, does your vendor have a proven history of success working with these third parties? If not, how will the vendor collaborate with the third party(ies) to see the project through?

3. Does your vendor understand that the Web site is a (not ďtheĒ) key component of your overall marketing strategy? A Web site is not a stand-alone marketing tool; it is another point of contact through which you can reach your customer. Does your vendor understand that a Web site and an online marketing campaign are usually integrated with offline channels? If you are relying on your vendor to integrate your entire marketing campaign, ask them how they have coordinated and timed integrated campaigns in the past. Few firms have all the answers, but your vendor should have solid, defensible points of view. And make sure your vendor has the experience and partnerships in place to make your integrated campaign a reality.

4. Does your vendor know your customer? For your marketing efforts to be highly effective, your vendor must understand who your customers are, what motivates them, and what their relationships are to the Internet. For this reason, market and industry research are an integral part of any Web project. If your vendor has no previous experience in your industry, this means that he or she must be willing and able to participate in the research process.

5. Donít just settle for a portfolio - ask for references! The vendorís portfolio or partial client list is a definite starting point, but donít stop there. Ask for at least 2-3 client references. A qualified vendor will happily provide you with client contact information as needed. When you have the reference information in hand, make a point to speak with some of the referenced clients. Ask about the vendorís abilities, customer service and project management practices. Quality Web projects are not inexpensive and the last thing you want is to spend additional monies on a vendor who has excellent or technical creative skill but limited professional and project management experience.

6. Who will you be working with? Generally, your vendorís sales person wonít be managing the delivery of your Web project. So before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that you have had an opportunity to meet or speak with some of the people who will be assigned to your account, especially your day-to-day contact. Make sure you have an understanding of how much time will be devoted to your account.

7. How will your Web project be delivered? Make sure that the vendor you select has a plan and a process for developing and implementing your Web project. You donít want your project to be executed in a ďlet íer ripĒ kind of fashion. You want to know that your vendor has a solid plan to guide you through this challenging journey.

The list above is hardly all-inclusive but it definitely should help you determine what kinds of questions and concerns you ought to include in your initial meetings with potential Web design vendors.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at Jeff@TheDCG.com.