Part 2: How to Hire a Web Design Firm
Now that you know what you need, it’s time to find a web design company to help turn your dreams into reality. While choosing the right company to hire can be daunting, you can save a lot of stress and uncertainty if you know what you’re looking for.
How much does a nonprofit website cost?
Before approaching web design firms, figure out roughly what you can afford to spend on the project.
A good website can be a great investment. As the public face of your organization, an effective website can boost your donations, impress funders, connect with your target audience, save staff time, and strategically position your organization. So don’t just go with the cheapest option to keep costs down. You’d rather have a site that works, that brings in funding, and looks beautiful than a site that costs less but is buggy, sloppily-designed and a headache for staff to manage.
So how much does a website cost? It depends on a lot of factors, such as the size of your organization, what you need the website to do, etc. It also depends heavily on who you’re hiring. If you want a full-blown agency with designers, developers, and project managers on staff, you’ll probably be looking at $30k-70k, and possibly much higher. If you work with a smaller shop or freelancer, it might range from $3k-25k.
A good way to gauge what your budget should be is to ask partner organizations similar to yours what they spent on their websites.
If you have a set budget allocated for the website project, be upfront about it when talking to web design firms. If a client comes to me with a modest budget, I might not be able to include everything on their wishlist, but can usually work backwards from the budget and say, “The full project as described would cost closer to $15k, but we can do XYZ within your $10k budget.”
Pick a web design firm you like and trust
A website project can take anywhere from 2-10+ months and there will be many meetings and phone calls throughout. Make sure you work with people that you enjoy talking to!
You might love a firm's portfolio, but if you aren’t comfortable enough with their people to brainstorm, ask questions, and offer feedback then it’s going to be hard to pull off a successful project.
Also realize that while trying to get your business, firms are likely going to be as kind and generous as any point in the project. If they seem rude or unfriendly now, it won’t get better later in the project.
Lastly, make sure it’s somebody you trust, both personally (to hold up their end of the bargain, to be fair and honest, etc.) as well as professionally (to run an effective project, design a professional site, etc.).
You do not want to spend half a year babysitting your design agency and reminding them about deadlines. And believe me, your design firm does not want you babysitting them either. A client relationship that lacks trust is lose-lose for everyone involved.
How to contact web design firms about a potential project
You’ll want to contact at least a few firms to get a sense of what your options are. Ask for a phone call or a meeting to discuss the project.
The website company will likely have lots of questions to guide the conversation. Be prepared to explain what you’re trying to accomplish, who you’re trying to reach, and any constraints you might be facing (such as budget, timeline, etc.).
Before contacting a web design firm, fill out this worksheet to clarify your goals for the new website:
Also, bring any questions you have for them. Here are some to consider:
- Do you bill hourly or by the project?
- Do you maintain the site after launch?
- Can you teach one of our staff to use the backend?
- Do you only build on one kind of platform (i.e. WordPress)?
- What is your process like?
- Have you worked with organizations similar to ours?
If you feel like you made a good connection with the person and the firm seems qualified, ask for a proposal.
Understand what’s in the website proposal
When you’re considering proposals from multiple companies, don’t assume they’re all proposing the same thing at different price points. There are limitless ways to build a 12-page website with a login form and donation page, for example.
Some companies may rely heavily on custom development (which sometimes means a better product, other times needlessly inflates the price). Some might rely on a team of designers while another uses a pre-built template. Some will let you make limitless revisions until you’re 100% satisfied, others (most) will have a defined revision process. Some will build a website that can be fully managed by your staff without touching code, others will require you to contact them for every little tweak. Some require a retainer after launch, some offer optional maintenance plans, and some don’t offer any kind of ongoing support.
Don’t just go with the lowest priced proposal, but at the same time, don’t assume the higher-priced one guarantees a better final product. Dig into what will be provided and how it will be done. Ask as many follow up questions as necessary.
How to choose the right firm for your web design project
Hopefully you can get at least a few proposals from well-qualified firms. Then what?
The most important question is this:
Does the company understand you and your audience? Do they understand your needs? Hear your concerns? Align with your goals?
No matter how beautiful their portfolio or impressive their client list, if you can’t answer this question with a confident, unqualified “yes,” you are likely to be disappointed.
But hopefully if you’ve done your homework at the beginning of this guide, you’ll have multiple firms meet this first fundamental criteria. In that case, here are some additional questions to help guide your decision:
- Have they done work with organizations like yours in the past?
- Do you love their portfolio? Does their style fit with your taste?
- Do you trust them to manage a predictable process and communicate expectations clearly?
- Do you trust them as experts?
- Will the site be developed on a CMS (such as WordPress) so you can easily update the content without touching code? Will they train you to use it?
- Do they offer ongoing maintenance after the site launches?
- Are they the kind of people you’ll enjoy meeting with on a frequent basis for the next months?
Knowledge is Power.
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