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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

In a lot of ways, hiring a web design firm is a lot like buying a piece of art and car at the same time. You want something that is creative, stunning and moving while at the same time being affordable, reliable and highly functional. You are also buying into the people and the experience of working with them.

How many times have you heard stories of people who hired web firms to design and develop their web sites and either got substandard sites or the developer ran off with their money? Or what about the small business owner who was on a shoestring budget so they “hired” his nephew/friend/daughter to design the site for free, and the results were disastrous. Hiring friends of family usually ends poorly because the business owner doesn’t feel comfortable offering much constructive criticism on a job done for free.

Don’t Get Burned

At Lion’s Share Digital, we hear this story time and time again. Prospective clients come to us hat in hand after being burned by a fly by night web designer. We absolutely hate hearing these stories and want to educate everyone on what to look for in a proper web design agency, whether it be us or one of our many fantastic competitors.

When you hire an Austin web design firm, make sure the agency has the correct components as well as the answers to several questions before you give them your hard-earned money. Here are some things to look for and questions to ask, as well as a few red flags to watch out for:

Look For This: A Real Business

Your web design firm should be a real business. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they need a big office and overhead. In fact, a pragmatic company may be able to do great work out of their home and have a team that telecommutes.

A huge word of warning is that you should probably avoid hiring your family members, friends, and “that guy you know from church” as your web developer. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for”. You need a business relationship with your web team for many reasons. You need to feel comfortable negotiating, providing honest and critical feedback, holding them to deadlines and being straightforward if there’s ever a time when you aren’t happy with your firm’s work.

Ask for references and review testimonials on Clutch, UpCity, Google and Yelp. They should be able to give you a couple of client names and phone numbers so you can reach out and ask them about their experience of working with them.

Look For This: A Website

Any decent web firm should have a proper website. A strong website is the calling card for their business, they probably shouldn’t be designing a web site for your business.

Furthermore, you need to see a portfolio of their previous work and it should be easy to find on their web site. Most of the portfolio sites should still be live. However, if you come across some sites have changed or that are no longer live or look like the screenshots, don’t hold that against the firm. In this economy, companies are going out of business right and left. Plus, companies often re-design their sites and may or may not use the same team to do it.


Question to Ask: What are the components that my web site should include?

If your web firm starts to answer this question without asking about your business, consider that a red flag and keep looking. There are some general components that most business websites should have, however when you’re working with a web firm, they shouldn’t answer this question unless they know more about what you do, what industry you’re in, and what you want your web site to accomplish for your business. In short, the first step of any website project is to understand you as a client, your business, and what your goals are with your website.

Question to Ask: Will you the site be designed from scratch or use templates?

There are tons of website templates for sale; however, very few of them are quality. WordPress templates can suffer from JavaScript and CSS overload. Too many options and ways to configure the site can make them load very slowly.  On the other hand, a site from scratch will always cost more than a template. It really depends on if the template they use is battle tested and well supported and if the firm has a starter theme that they work off of to create original sites. Often times, using an existing theme and leveraging a quality designer to create original images and icons can make a website really pop while keeping the budget in check.

In short, you want your website to stand out as original and distinct. Your site should be designed to carefully reflect your brand. What distinguishes you from them? Smart investing in your business makes sense, and for most businesses, investing in a solid website that incorporates at least the elements I recommend, as well as embodies your branding, makes for a strong ROI.


Question to Ask: How will you incorporate search engine optimization principles into my site?

When you ask this question, if all they do is talk about meta tags and keywords, that’s a red flag. If a web firm is serious about their business, they should know and understand principles of SEO and how these principles apply to the code, the copy, and all of the content of your site.

Question to Ask: Do you work with or have a business relationship with any small business consultants?

The best web firms often have business consultants on staff or have a relationship with small business consultants who can work with clients on developing business concepts that may not have been addressed previously. For example, if a client wants a website that reflects his/her brand, but that brand hasn’t been fully developed, it helps the web team create a better site if a small business consultant is involved.

But beware: the wrong consultant can really confuse things, while the right consultant, one who understands both sound business principles as well as technical jargon and web lingo can often bridge the gap between developer and client, making the communication smoother and providing key contributions that make the end product much stronger.

In fact, you may want to look for a small business consultant first, before you hire the web team. A good consultant should have a relationship with designers and developers s/he’s worked with before. This is a great way to get the benefit of working with someone your consultant has already vetted, and your consultant can get better pricing than you’d get on your own. Plus, if you choose the right consultant, you can have him or her working with you and your web team as an intermediary, and s/he can head off any potential disasters, keep your team accountable, and manage the project for you so you can focus on your business.

Look For This: Pricing


Website prices can vary wildly. Sites like Squarespace and Shopify have created systems that allow people to get a site up and running in a day. The downside is that you are then stuck inside their ecosystem. It’s the difference of being a customer and a client. There is so much that goes into the creation of a website that you really want someone who is going to take your calls and truly understand your business.  Just like any other industry, there are those who will overcharge and those who try to undercut the competition. Your challenge is to find the pricing balance. If you pay too little in terms of the dollar amount for your web site, you may pay more in other ways.

Several experts suggest that you can outsource your web design to overseas developers to get a fabulous website for a very, very low price. While there are cases where this strategy can work, you must be cautious. There are many unseen costs associated with this kind of overseas outsourcing. We highly recommend staying away from companies that outsource their development to India or the Ukraine. We’ve seen nothing but bad things come back.

The best solution is to work with a highly reviewed and reputable firm with references that will take your budget into account and find high quality solutions that fit what you can afford.

Question to Ask: Can you develop my site in a content management system?

If you want to manage your site yourself without learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript, FTP and SEO, ask your web team if they can develop your site using a content management system. We absolutely love WordPress. Over 20% of the world’s website are built using WordPress. WordPress allows you to manage your site, including adding, editing, and deleting pages. WordPress is also fantastic for onsite SEO work. Their plugin ecosystem also allows you to easily add features like email signup boxes, eCommerce, SEO analysis and much more.

As you can see, there is a lot of leg that goes into qualifying a potential web design firm. We recommend sending the following questions to each firm before moving forward.


Here’s a full list of important questions to ask via email

  • Can you provide a list of five references I can contact?
  • Do you do this full-time and how long have you been doing web design?
  • What is your process?
  • What is the typical budget range for your projects? how are payments broken down for projects?
  • What is the typical turn-around time for your projects?
  • When can the project be started?
  • What do you need from me before we start?
  • Do your clients see a return on investment? Do you have proof of increased conversion rates or goals being achieved after you’ve done a redesign?
  • Does the price include making the site mobile friendly?
  • Will the site be supported by retina screens?
  • Do you custom design or use templates?
  • Who will own the website design when it’s paid for?
  • Do you offer maintenance or training or post-launch support?
  • Who is the contact person and who is doing the work? is anything outsourced or subcontracted out?

The Most Important Thing You Should Know

  • Your web firm should take charge of the project by having you complete a few briefs to ensure they completely understand you and your business.
  • They should be able to talk to you in your language and be available during normal business hours.
  • They should have some type of project management software in place to ensure that the plan of action is adhered to and deadlines are met.
  • You need someone who can explain things that you don’t understand without being condescending, and make web principles you should know accessible.
  • Customer service is paramount in the web industry, and you want someone who will return your emails and phone calls in a timely manner.

We hope that this article was helpful when you go to hire your web design firm. We’d love to hear from you if there is anything else you think we should add to this list.

We’ve worked with over 60 clients to design and redesign their websites, if you would like learn more about Lion’s Share’s services, get a free quote here.

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Jesse Brede

Jesse Brede is the founder of Lion's Share Digital, an Austin Web Design firm. His passion is helping people accomplish their goals and live their dreams. He is also the founder of Gravitas Recordings, Gravitas Create and Pivotal Talent Agency

One Comment

  • brinfotech says:

    this site is nice and well done stay focused and not become complacent. Hey are you guys hiring for anything site.

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