I Spent Thousands of Dollars on Two Failed Web Designs - Here's What I Learned
Man have I been through the ringer when it comes to web design. In the past 3 years, I've invested in what I thought was going to be my dream website. TWICE.
After thousands of dollars down the drain, a lot of frustration and even a few tears, I'm sharing my experiences with you along with the the key questions to ask before hiring a web designer.
Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending in the end! Although tough business experiences to go through, they did, in fact, lead me to finding my dream designer/developer team.
Experience 1: Wait, this is my website?
In 2019, I was ready to move away from a blog theme towards a fully-custom website design. I had hired a project-based web designer for little customizations here and there, but I was finally at the point of wanting (and needing) a ground-up design.
I did lots of research and asked for recommendations, and landed on a branding and design agency who I thought seemed like a great fit.
Our initial interview went fantastic and I could tell that she was organized, timely and professional. After I made the decision to hire her, we went through the motions designing moodboards, talking about what I liked and disliked about my current design, and setting up a plan for the new website.
Really, everything went smoothly through about 80% of the process, until I saw my first website mock-up. For lack of a better description, the mock-up looked like a website I could have designed in computer class in high school. Yeah, that bad.
We went through numerous revisions until I ended up sending her a design mock of my own and simply asking her to develop it, and that's where it all went downhill.
I found out that she was outsourcing my web development to an outside party, who I would later find out didn't have the level of experience I needed. (I do want to note that there's nothing wrong with a designer using an outside developer - it's actually fairly common - however, I wasn't aware of this from the start).
At the end of the day, the end to the process had been such a headache with so much back and forth, that I decided to take the L and move on. I knew this team couldn't give me what I needed, and there was no going around it.
Experience 2: Did she actually just ghost me?
Wanting to do this the right way, I jumped back in a few months later with a new designer who came highly recommended from many of my peers.
I had candid, upfront discussions with her right off the bat about my prior experience, and she said all the right things to assure me that everything I wanted and needed was doable. Plus, she was the sole designer/developer, so I knew that all of the sample designs I had seen were her actual work.
About halfway through the process, I started to realize that she slowed down significantly on email, and would sometimes take 1-2 weeks to get back to me. I even tasked my assistant with managing the design project and keeping on top of emails to speed along the process.
Then, one day...she straight up ghosted me. Stopped replying to emails, cut off all communication, and I never heard from her again (I later found out she did the same to the peers who were using her for continued design services, too).
While I wasn't out my full fee this time, I was out 75% of it because I had paid in installments as we finished each stage of the process. Ultimately, I was left with a half-completed website with various coding errors.
Nightmare number 2, check.
What I learned from these experiences
You have to ask the right questions. While I didn't necessarily know what all of those questions were that I should be asking from the get-go, I do hold myself partly accountable for not digging a little deeper before hiring these designers.
I hope that this set of questions to ask before hiring a web designer helps to guide you in the hiring process so that you feel confident in your decision!
Questions to ask before hiring a web designer
Think of your web designer as your creative. They'll be mainly responsible for bringing your vision to life through mooboards and design mock-ups and will work with you to offer design advice and expertise.
1. What is your experience with website design in the (lifestyle) blogging niche?
2. Do you have any live websites of creators in my niche I can reference?
3. What does the design process look like from start to finish?
Follow up with questions like: How involved are you day-to-day? Will you be doing pre-research?
4. I’d really love to hear your thoughts on my current website. Is that something you can review prior to starting our design process?
5. How many pages does a standard design come with and what is the cost to add on any additional pages?
Most designers will offer a few standard packages based on complexity of design, and pages involved. A 5-page design is common for a full custom design.
6. Do you outsource your development?
Follow up with questions like: Is your developer outsourced in-house or from an outside company? What else is performed in-house versus outsourced?
7. Do you offer or provide services in addition to website design?
For example: SEO, copywriting, consulting, a-la-carte services, website maintenance. The more your designer can do, the better!
8. How many rounds of edits are included?
3 rounds of revisions are standard to expect!
9. What do you need from me prior to starting and/or during the project?
This is one of the most important questions to ask before hiring a web designer because it will help you gauge how much time you will need to put into your web design. Web design isn't as simple as handing off your project and counting down the days until your launch! For example, I had to write hours of copy for my new website. You'll want to make sure the time you'll need to put it aligns with your schedule.
10. Do you offer design that's within my budget?
In most cases, you'll go into the initial call with your designer knowing their packaged rates at the very least. Often times, you might need something outside of their standard offerings, so it's important to communicate exactly what you're looking for, and talk to your designer about your budget from the very beginning.
Questions to ask before hiring a web developer
Think of your web designer as your engineer. They'll be responsible for turning your design mock-ups into a working website through programming and coding. Sometimes you'll encounter a designer/developer who can do it all, and other times you'll work with a team where your designer and developer are separate.
1. What is your experience with (lifestyle) blog development? I would love to see some work samples.
2. What design platform do you prefer and how much experience do you have developing on it?
I made the decision to switch from WordPress to ShowIt with my new website design and since ShowIt is a newer platform (compared to WordPress), I wanted to make sure my designer had plenty of experience.
On the flip side, if your developer is working with WordPress, make sure to ask what WordPress framework they are developing with!
3. Do you look into things like site speed, overall performance and website security during the development process?
Some companies will include this in your design package, while others might consider it an add on which is why it's one of the key questions to ask before hiring a web designer. Avoid those hidden fees at all costs!
4. What SEO practices do you implement when designing?
I think we often think of our actual blog posts when we first think SEO, but it's also imperative to build SEO into you website. Features like strategic page titles and meta descriptions, keywords and proper URL structure should all be built into your website as a part of the process.
5. Tell me about responsiveness. How do you ensure a consistent and usable experience for users across different devices?
This was one of the issues that never got resolved with my web designer who ghosted me. It's important to ensure that your developer has the knowledge and experience required to support readers on mobile devices and tablets.
6. What does ongoing website maintenance and development updates look like?
In some cases, your website will need maintenance when it's time for major system updates that you may want to look to your developer to handle. Do they offer this as a part of your design package?
It's also worth asking about small development updates that you may make down the road and whether or not your developer offers a-la-carte services.
7. What training and support do you offer once my site is launched?
You should always look for a design/development team who will give you a thorough walk-through on how to work your site and make minor updates once it's launched. Most teams will build this into your design package!
8. Do you have experience coding _____? Here are my non-negotiables.
If you have any stand-out features you'll need on your website, it's important to discuss those needs up-front. For example, LTK compatibility is a non-negotiable for me. Run through the most important parts of your website first to make sure they are feasible for your developer to develop.
General Process Questions
1. Who will my central point of contact be?
2. What is the project timeline?
3. What is your record for on-time site launches?
One thing I've learned that more often than not, your web design project will run a little over your initial timeline. This is good to keep in mind, although sticking as close to that timeline is possible is of course, ideal!
My Dream Team
I drilled every single one of these questions into Rach & Hannah over at Waterloo Street and believe me when I tell you that they didn't miss a beat!
It’s hard to put into words how thankful I am to have found Rachel & Hannah. Their attention to detail and creative input throughout the whole process of building my dream website was more than I could have ever asked for. They brought every vision I had for this space to life (even created new ones I never knew I needed) and totally knocked it out of the park, exceeding my expectations.
I guess third time's a charm, huh? Beyond happy to finally have a design/development team of such badass, talented women!
Jumping into a web design project is no easy feat. One thing I've learned throughout my experiences over the past few years is that communication is key from day one. Lay out your expectations, ask the hard questions, and make sure you have the clearest possible picture of what your process will look like before deciding to hire!