Lesson 7: Hiring a Designer

If you’ve decided to get some help with your project, this section will walk you through the process of soliciting bids, setting expectations, controlling costs and finding a partner who will be able to deliver on your expectations.


Hiring a Designer

These days, there are plenty of choices when it comes to web designers. You can hire a big-name firm and probably pay a premium, go with a freelancer in town, find someone overseas who will do it cheaply, or go with someone you’ve worked with in the past.

The key to finding the option that works best for you is crafting a scope of work that will help prospective contractors bid on the project. You don’t need to write a book. It can be fairly brief. But you do want it to be as specific as possible so the bids can be easy to compare.

Scope of Work

Start with an introduction about you and your business. If you have an existing website, let them know the address so they can see what they will be starting with. If you don’t, that’s fine. Sometimes, starting from scratch is easier, especially if your website is woefully outdated.


    1. Cover who you are, what you offer or sell, why you stand out in the marketplace, the personality of your business (fun, conservative, professional, etc.), where your customers come from and any marketing you’ve done in the past to attract customers to your business, such as social media (include those addresses, too).
    2. Using your research, outline what you think you need for your site. Start with the top navigation, then work your way down using the org. chart structure we discussed earlier. Don’t worry about having it perfect. The web designer will work with you to refine this during the design process. For now, its purpose is to give the bidder a sense of how much work will be involved.
    3. If you plan to offer online ordering/shopping, let them know how many products will be involved. If you are going to do sales to overseas customers, note that too, as it can affect the mechanics of pricing in multiple currencies, shipping, and in some cases, customs.
    4. Next, let them know if you already have a domain name and server. If you want to use a specific content management system, such as WordPress, note that, too. Finally, let them know if you want them to do site updates for you and what that entails. For instance, you may want them only to do technical updates if you plan to update the information on your sites yourself. If you offer e-commerce, you may want them to quote a price package for ‘X’ number of monthly, quarterly or annual product updates. Finally, you can ask them to quote separately the cost of providing writing services, keeping your social media pages up to date, or providing marketing consulting. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. You can create a scope of work that is in stages and ask that they be priced separately so you can start small and add as you go.
    5. Make sure you outline your expectations regarding ownership. Typically, you own everything on your site outside of proprietary features the company provides, such as a custom e-commerce module or other work the company creates. This is important not only for legal reasons, but if you ever become dissatisfied with your current designer or they go out of business, you still own everything you paid for.
    6. Finally, spell out any desired terms you’d like the bidder to consider. Obviously, you don’t want to pay everything upfront. You want to make sure you have a clawback should anything go wrong, i.e., a percentage of the work to be paid only upon satisfactory completion of the work. An industry standard like 50% at start, 50% upon completion or payments in thirds (beginning, delivery of working model, completion of the scope of work) are standard.
    7. If you have a budget range in mind, include this as well. The bidder will ask anyway, so you might as well give them an idea of how much you want to spend. Don’t make the range too narrow. A great company may not even bother bidding if they think you already have your mind set. There are many ways to accomplish your project, and the range is intended only to guide the bidding and negotiation.
    8. That said, always ask for a fixed-cost bid. As noted, a website can become a black hole that money is drained into. A fixed cost for a specific set of deliverables allows you to keep your budget from spinning out of control with project creep. That’s not to say that there won’t be additional charges if you make changes or additions beyond the outlined scope and the parameters of the submitted bid. Have the bid broken out into sections according to what you know you need (the website built), what you may need to be maintained, and what other options or extras you’re thinking of, if there is any budget left over.

Soliciting bids

You want to get three or more bids so that you can compare the apples to apples. There is no set price for websites and designers, whether they are freelancers or companies, will propose a wide range of costs. Freelancers tend to charge less because they have lower overhead. They may work at home and don’t have to include all the expenses related to an office and a large staff. Conversely, a larger firm may be able to offer you more areas of expertise in-house. They may have full-timers specializing in social media, marketing, graphics or any other services your project may have. So keep an open mind as you work your way through the responses and try your best to create comparisons of bids against the scope of work you sent out.

If you have questions, ask. Designers use different terminology, and two competing firms may describe the same deliverables at significantly different price points. You are not expected to be an expert in websites; a bidder should be more than happy to answer your questions in plain English. If they seem a bit annoyed at having to answer your questions as a customer, it may be a good indication that they don’t want your project.

Where to find designers

If you want to work with a local company, enter “local web design firms” or “web designers in my area” into a search engine. This should give you a list of local freelancers and companies. You may also want to check with your local chamber of commerce.

If staying local is not a concern, you can do a more exhaustive search of providers in your general region. Again, start by performing a search in your preferred search engine. Another way to find a designer, particularly a freelancer or a small boutique company, is to use a service where you can search by skills, location, price and other parameters. Sites like Upwork, Guru or Fiverr allow you to solicit bids in a vetted space. Some of these sites even let you place your funds in escrow so your project can be completed with an extra layer of confidence. Funds are only released when you are satisfied with the progress or the project itself.

You will find designers and small firms around the world on these sites. You can limit your search to the United States or ask someone overseas to bid on your project. Every provider has reviews; some sites have a star system to show overall client satisfaction. Read the reviews, view the types of projects they work on, and feel free to contact those whose work mirrors your needs.

Reviewing the work of any bidder is essential. Whether you’re using one of these vetted sites or soliciting bids from local designers, you want them to provide you with samples of their work. This portfolio will give you a good sense of their skills and capabilities. The bidder should also be willing to provide you with contact information for some of their clients so you can do a reference check. If a company is reluctant to provide you with these, look elsewhere.

Finalizing negotiations

Now that you have three or more bids, it’s time to select a service provider. At this stage, you want to do any final negotiations based on your needs and their response to your scope of work. Points to discuss may include the production timeline, the payment schedule, any additions/changes the bidder suggested in their response, maintenance, support and any warranty they may offer in case something needs a tweak or two after the site is launched and doing its job in the marketplace.

You should always do a contract. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The contractor should be able to provide you with one that encompasses your scope of work and the services and deliverables they will provide to complete the project. This should also outline each party’s terms, conditions, payment schedule and responsibilities so that everyone is clear about who does what.

Pro Tip: A designer should be flexible when it comes to payment terms. A good approach is to pay half upfront and half at launch for a smaller project and to pay in thirds for a larger project – start, prototype, and launch. If it’s on one of the sites above, funds are usually held in escrow and released when specific milestones are reached that you and the designer agree to upfront. This protects both parties since the funds are held by a third party – the site serving as broker.


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