1) Are They Working for Your Benefit?
Is this a value-for-value exchange? Is the design company or individual working for your benefit, are they taking a deep interest in your business and its success, or are they just concerned about their bottom line? Many companies hand over your website, take your cash and swiftly disappear. You need to know they have an interest in the results you get and are there to support you.
Do their current clients’ ecommerce websites actually make a profit? Can they give you some success examples and specific numbers? Not many can, as most ecommerce sites bomb!
Is a system in place for alerting and updating you to new developments, for example if they develop new features and site modules that will benefit your website and business? It is critical you stay on the ecommerce cutting-edge.
2) Do They Understand Your Website and Design Goals?
Does your design team fully understand your goals? Select a web designer who understands ecommerce business in addition to great design. Ensure they have an ecommerce portfolio with a design style you like and an available demo site so you can take a test drive.
What is the point in buying a website that does not work? You would not drive a new car out of the dealership with a flat tire. So get a website exactly as you want it, and one that works!
Can and will they make appropriate recommendations with regards the features and modules required for your business? This is crucial for automation, synchronization, efficiency and productivity.
3) Communication and Support.
Communication is essential before, during and after the project. Is communication limited to email or do they take calls or instant messenger such as Skype? What are their working hours and will they bend to accommodate important deadlines for you? Ecommerce websites are a 24/7/365 business model – don’t forget that!
Ensure they can provide support manuals and/or videos for the ecommerce software back-end admin and provide after sales training and support. I can guarantee you will need it, until you are comfortable and experienced with the software.
What if the site code breaks and you spot errors, how fast can they fix it and do you have to pay for these corrections?
4) Designer Availability.
When you have found a website design you like, establish if the original designer is available and will be working on your project. Many companies especially those on the outsource websites such as Elance, have a quick turnover of staff so this is important to find out.
Also find out do they outsource themselves? This is critical, as many companies simply take your order and pass the project on to another agency or designer. This is not a problem if the Project Manager handling your project is exceptional, but very few PM’s are of this quality in my experience. This could lead to delays, support issues in the future and big frustration for you in the long term.
5) Get Protected.
Where possible get them to sign a contract that explicitly specifies four things.
Read more about this contract at: www.ecommercegetitright.com
The Project or Service they are providing you (for example Web Design)
- The Delivery Time for the project to be completed (for example 3 weeks)
- The total cost for the project (for example $1500)
- All intellectual property rights that make up the website are 100% yours and they cannot use or replicate, this work again, unless they first consult with you and pay you an agreed amount. You can also agree to share or you give them permission to use your development work again if you wish. I’ve paid big sums of money for the time to build bespoke modules, only for my designer to use this on other sites at no cost. Big mistake!
Top Questions to Ask:
6) Detailed Quotation.
Get your designer to detail all of the costs and completion delivery times for the website build in a written quotation, be it by email or letter. Get them to specifically detail:
- Cost and delivery time for the initial mock design? (mock should be free)
- Do you get unlimited revisions on the mock until you are happy with the design?
- Cost and delivery time for the initial website build? (typically a one off price)
- Cost for updates (typically billed per hour)?
- Cost for support?
- Cost for code error corrections?
- Cost for SEO management and is this optional? (you will typically get better results at a lower cost with a specialist SEO company)
- Cost for hosting if they are hosting your website?
- Can you deactivate features/modules you do not need to use from launch, but want to activate later, and cost for activation?
Note: You could even set penalties for late delivery times where possible and within reason, such as getting a 10% discount. Show them you are a serious business owner and won’t accept inferior service.
7) Domain Name Ownership.
Ask – can I register my own domain name, giving me full ownership and control and can I then point the Name servers to your server (if they host your website)? Taking control of your own domain name will prevent any problems over ownership in the future and will give you full control if you wish to move designers or servers later on.
8) 100% Intellectual Property Rights?
When they have built your website, will they hand over all the intellectual property rights to you? This means: are you the 100% legal owner of the whole website, including ecommerce CMS software, design, logo, graphics, images, text and web content, etc?
9) Design Skills.
Ask, what software do you use to design? If they hard code with HTML they will usually have more skills and produce a better site with more features and more flexibility than someone who uses Adobe Dreamweaver or another WYSIWIG software like Microsoft Front Page or XsitePro.
10) Are They Experts?
Do they have an outstanding portfolio and the knowledge to back it up? Ask them to explain, how they will structure your website for customer usability and conversion and for SEO purposes—for the search engine spiders. Ask them directly ‘what is your model or formula for design specifics like alignment, colors and font?’ If they cannot answer these Q’s with great articulation and passion, then find a new designer.
a) Mock Design.
Ensure your designer uploads your mock design onto a live test site/URL, so you can see exactly what it will look like on a live site. View in 100% size on a live site with full design implemented as intended. Many designers are lazy and will send you a 50% completed mock design as a jpg image. Viewing as a mock image often gives a poor reflection of the intended quality and site design, especially if you cannot view as 100% size, this happens in some picture viewers. Also, get them to design the mock in various color schemes so you can select your favorite. This is very easy for them to do and gives you more options.
If they give you an incomplete mock, get them to complete it first before making a decision. An incomplete mock is like seeing an architect’s plan for your new house that shows only the floor area, and no side elevation, no windows, no doors, no roof, no stairs, etc. It’s hard to visualize the finished product, and impossible to assess its suitability.
If they provide you with hosting, ensure their servers are of the highest quality, have as close to 100% uptime as possible, can provide you with secure hosting via SSL and that you fully understand their hosting charges, be it monthly or annually. What is the support provided if the site goes down?