Hiring a web designer is something you will most likely be doing in the future if you haven’t already. And it can be a huge headache!

I’m sure you have friends and colleagues who have shared horror stories about having hired someone to do their website and it goes horribly wrong.

They can’t access their site. The designer owns their domain and holds them hostage over it. They used cheap graphics you can download from any site. Copyright issues came up.

The stories are endless.

Thus begins our series on Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Web Designer. And today we start with 5 of them.

These are all mistakes that I have either seen people make myself or have helped people unravel after they’ve already worked with a designer they weren’t satisfied with.

Please, I ask you to read through these before hiring a web designer or developer. (BTW, did you know there’s a difference?) For the love of all that is holy, don’t just hire your nephew who made the website for his school project.

Or simply trust the referral of a friend. However you find a developer and/or designer, please do your due diligence. Research them. Ask the tough questions. 

And make sure to set yourself up for success.

Not knowing your core requirements

If you don’t know what your core requirements are, how will your web designer or developer know what you need?

I don’t mean what buttons do you require and which pages would you like built.

I am referring to what functionality would you like your website to have? What will be the purpose and outcome of your website?

Some examples of specific outcomes are:

  • Increase subscriber count by 23%

  • Rank in the top 3 search results for specific keywords

  • Drive 74% of online sales

  • Provide 67% of our content to potential customers in the early stages of their customer journey

Whatever the outcomes for your business, meet with your team, or spend some time quietly focused to get clear on the functionality and outcomes you need to see from the website.

Refer to your strategic and operational plans to guide your decisions and expectations.

You can even break out your outcomes by the expected timeframe. Must have now, must have within X time, nice to have some time.

Often these are referred to as Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3, where you implement Phase 3 when you have a chance.

I also encourage you to revisit your Phase 2 and Phase 3 requirements before beginning to build them as it is not uncommon for those needs to change as your business grows and changes. 

The true key here is to make sure you are very clear on what you want to see out of your website. Any lack of clarity or incongruence among your team will show in the delivered work from your web designer. Remember, they can only deliver what you ask them for.

Not making sure you are able to edit and update your site as needed

I can’t tell you how many business owners I have worked with who didn’t have this conversation prior to signing any contracts with their developers.

I have seen business owners forget to confirm they will be able to update websites, pay for totally custom sites, and have the developer close their doors right after delivery of the website.

They were stuck! There was no one around to tell them how to make changes and updates to their website, so they had to pay other experts to go in and track down what needed to be done.

And I promise you, troubleshooting or searching for answers is always more expensive and takes more time than learning directly from the developer.

Prior to signing any contracts, have the ongoing maintenance conversation. Do they provide video training of what they’ve built? Will they train you and/or your team on how to make changes so you can effectively manage your website moving forward.

Find out how they believe you will maintain your website on an ongoing basis.  

It could be that they expect you to keep them on under a retainer agreement for a defined or undefined period of time. Or maybe, just as likely, they haven’t considered how you will maintain your website.

They may not have thought beyond this original sale, and it is your job to make sure you are covered int eh long term.

And it’s easy to make sure you’re covered. Just ask. Ask your designer/developer how you will be able to maintain your website as you move forward.

If they give you any pushback, remember, and remind them, that you are paying to own this website, so you need to know how to care for it.

Not having a defined project plan with milestones

Not all web designers and developers are also project managers. While they know what they need to do, many of them will just start doing with the end date in mind.

They do it so often they are pretty good at just knowing what needs to be done and getting it done.

But that doesn’t help you to know what to expect.

And it doesn’t help you to identify when things go sideways.

Designers and developers are often hesitant to tell you when things get off track because they are afraid it will make you lose faith int hem. Shake your trust and perhaps make you think about backing out.

Remember, just like you, they count on each contract to pay their bills. And, particularly right now, they are likely a little extra nervous about losing any income.

By asking for a project plan, along with milestones, at the beginning of the project, you are setting yourself up to have all the information you need to successfully manage your team to complete the goal. 

If your designer doesn’t provide a project plan, no worries. There is a workaround.

Ask them to let you know what milestones you can look for and when they expect to meet them.

Be prepared, they may not be ready for that question. Be gracious, let them know you don’t need to know right then. However, you do need to know the milestones by the time you sign the contract.

By having this nailed down you will know when to worry and when to trust. And most importantly, when to have a conversation about expectations.

Not reading the contract fully before executing any signatures or payments

You may think that a web design contract is pretty straight forward, but you would be surprised at the variations from company to company.

Some of the key things to look out for:

  • When are payments due? It is not uncommon for developers to set up milestones, either production or dates, and expect payments at these points. Note when they are and put them on the calendar to avoid a default payment being made without the requirements being met on their end.

  • What is their guarantee clause? If they offer a guarantee, and not all companies do, make sure you are clear on the terms. If there is a specific time frame in which you have to request a refund, calendar that. If there are certain terms or cases where refunds are considered or requirements that must be met be sure that you are clear on what those are.

  • What is the scope of the project? Knowing exactly what they will include and what you are expected to provide will be key to getting the project done on time and in working order.

There are many other items that will likely be included in the contract, however, these are some of the areas to check to be clear on what you are getting.

One other note while we are talking about contracts. A lot of designers and developers do not work with contracts. The reason for this is usually simple.

Many are one-man shows and as such don’t have the time or means to create their own contract.

I encourage you to provide a contract if they don’t to make sure you are both clear on what’s expected. If you suggest this and they push back, you can let them know it is also to protect them from things like scope creep and to make sure they get paid.

I also encourage you to use a contract, even if you are working through a third party like Upwork, again, to be clear on scope and expectations.

Not letting them know what other systems need to be connected to the website

Your website may be your storefront, but you will also need a registration book (CRM or email system), window displays (landing pages), and other systems.

The worst thing you can do is wait until the website is delivered to let your designer know that you need them to connect various systems to your website. 

In your initial meeting, your designer and/or developer should ask (and if they don’t let that be a warning signal) what other systems you intend to connect to your website.

Knowing this at the beginning of the project will inform some of the initial decisions being made and will likely also influence any quotes you get from them.

It’s easy to overlook all of the systems you may want to integrate, so I encourage sitting down and going over your list of outcomes. 

If you want to collect subscribes, you will need to connect your email system. If you want to sell things you will need to connect your shopping cart. If you want to offer lead magnets to get email addresses you will need landing pages.

There are a number of things you may need and it’s important to think that through before any initial meetings so you can be clear with your designer and developer and have things set up correctly from the start.

This will not only save headaches, it will save time and money too. 

That’s it for now! Those are today’s 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Web Designer. They are important to avoid and easy to make. If you’ve made any of these in the past, don’t worry about it! We wouldn’t know they were mistakes if no one had done it before.

Just keep these in mind moving forward and you’ll be ok. 🙂  In another couple of days I’ll share some more mistakes to avoid. And I’ll share one that I’ve made early in my career that cost me more than I like to think about!

Till next time...


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IT team, tech team, website mistakes


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