It’s time for you to update your website, but as a small business, you don’t have an internal website design team to rely on. Instead, you’re looking for a marketing agency or a freelancer. Something more than a DIY builder, but not quite something to break the bank, either. Let’s keep this within our budget of as-little-as-possible.
You’re in dangerous territory. Don’t worry — David here to help you through it.
The reason is simple. You want something that will produce results for your business, and yet, you don’t want to pay the rates that a highly skilled partner would demand.
I’m not going to try to convince you that you need to spend more. Rather, I’m going to try to help you find the diamond in the rough. The best way to do that? Filter out all the bad options, first.
Note: It’s always important to do your own due diligence and tailor your needs to your individual circumstances. I’m going to do what most are not willing to do in articles: be 100% honest about certain platforms and providers. I’m going to tell you what you need to avoid, because sometimes, there are companies that are simply not worth doing business with in any means.
Red Flag One: What website platform are they suggesting to you?
When I say “website platform”, I am actually referring to the CMS (Content Management System). This is the technical framework that your website is built upon.
The worry here is that either you are recommended:
- A proprietary platform that acts as handcuffs to that agency,
- A platform that doesn’t fit your business needs, or
- A platform that is simply what is comfortable for the developer, not for your short and long-term benefits.
For small business, it is almost always safe to say WordPress is the right fit. You have tremendous resources available, a large talent pool to develop and maintain it, and almost any customization is possible to you.
All built upon a strong platform that around 35% of all websites, large and small, are using.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t consider others. Just be mindful of why someone is suggesting a platform; both what is it in for them and for you, as they make their case.
(That said, these days, if anyone recommends Joomla, I cross them off my list. I would largely consider it defunct and only in scarce circumstances might it be recommended. But, I can’t conjure up a circumstance. Keeping your finger on the pulse of what platforms are and are not relevant is important. Be mindful of this.)
Red Flag Two: Who do they recommend as your website host?
Your website is composed of data that needs to exist somewhere in this universe. Somewhere that other computers and phones can tap into if they want to visit your website. That data and its access is facilitated through a web host.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Are they trying to sell you on subscribing to their hosting service? This isn’t necessarily bad; but be mindful of their bias.
- Are they sending you to a certain web host with an affiliate link? The URL might be something like, “domain.com/?aff=039424”. When the URL is abnormal, it might be a hint that they’re trying to sign you up on a service that gives them a kickback. Bad? Not necessarily. I believe in affiliate programs, provided that the product is in the best interest of the client only.
- Are they recommending a website host that is simply of poor quality? This is harder to identify without experience. If they suggest GoDaddy, move on. There’s simply no circumstances that it’s wise to work with the company, despite their effective marketing over the years.
Generally, I stay away from any hosts that fall under the conglomerate Endurance International Group (Bluehost and Hostgator being two popular subsidiaries). EIG tends to acquire good hosts, then quality deteriorates shortly after. (They’re also owners of the rancid email marketing platform that is Constant Contact.)
Quality hosts are measured both technically, in their server quality, as well as through the support they offer. Speed, flexibility, and support are worth a few dollars difference in avoiding the cheapest platforms out there.
Red Flag Three: Do they have enough talents to get by in design, content, and website structure?
Ultimately, a website is a destination that should provide an experience. The online experience is design, content (wording and imagery used to communicate) and the structure (which allows you to easily navigate the website; as well as allowing Google to “read” the website and position it appropriately in searches).
As deep as each of these three areas can be, you can find someone or a small team proficient enough in each capacity that they can serve you exceptionally well as a small business.
However, the marketing and digital world is full of people who:
- Are not very good at any, but are good at pretending they do when they need to make a sale
- Are not very good at any, but don’t realize it and innocently push forward with low quality work and recommendations
- Are not doing the work themselves anyhow, but outsourcing overseas and playing a project management role
In the last option, I actually support this structure. It can make a lot of sense for efficiencies in serving small businesses. However, I would hope that the party playing project/account manager is providing added insight in strategy and experience design.
If someone is overly focused on design and giving no credence to the importance of the right content or technical structure, that’s something to worry about. The same if there’s no regard for modern, effective design; or of proper technical (on-site SEO) structure.
Find someone who can speak to all three. Not by your request that they do (so you avoid the slick salesman mentioned in #1 above), but those that provide you with this perspective because they consult you rather than simply act as an order-taker.
Notice what I didn’t mention? The design portfolio. Years of experience. Industry experience.
There are countless designers out there with wonderful talents. When you’re a startup or small business with limited budget, it’s difficult to find the truly talented and caring. You also lack resources to validate who is truly a good fit, or who’s working you.
Take these red flags as a simple way to filter out those who don’t have your best interest at heart, whether that be based on their business model or their own ignorance.
Does your marketing team need help in validating outside marketing vendors? Perhaps you’re a mid-sized firm that has yet to develop a digital marketing team? Consider working with us. Our Digital Marketing Advisor™ model may be a good fit. Or, we may begin with a digital audit to establish where you are today, what you need to work on, where the low hanging fruit exists, and what your prioritized steps forward should be. No bias. No presumptions.