When you’re starting a new business, or updating your existing one, you need to make sure you’re hiring the right people for your team. Whether that’s a website designer, writer, assistant, or coach, you need to mesh with them personally, and be drawn to their professional styles.

You can’t hope to get the perfect copy for your small-biz if the writer you hire typically works with big corporations. Or get the perfect website for your photography biz if your designer is more used to working with restaurants.

While some things are universal in website design (like the code and scary languages), the know-how on making a website work for specific industries is not. Think of it this way: a hospital website needs to include specific information and pages on their website that a restaurant does not—and knowing what those things are and how to implement them in the most effective way is not a given for every website designer.

The same concept applies when you compare a photographer website to a writer website to a designer website. They may all look similar at first glance, but when you break them down, they are very different.

The problems you run into when you choose the wrong website designer

Mediocre design

Your website design might be beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective. There are a lot of designers who think only of the way a website looks. They never even consider how it draws customers from your homepage to your hiring page. Visitors end up browsing around your site but never take those critical steps that move them from gawkers to clients.

Poor quality development

Not all designers are created equal. They all have a different level of understanding of web development. Some might plug information into existing themes and make minor adjustments to get the look they promise. Others might code your website using incorrect coding standards that will eventually break your site. My point is, you run the risk of hiring web designers with poor skills and practices, which means your website will be poor quality.

Lack of innovation

When a designer doesn’t have experience in your niche, they tend to fall back on what others have already done. They search for sites related to what you do, and use them as a roadmap to follow when designing yours. You can’t blame them (in fact, that’s what I did when I first started designing websites years ago—so I get it), but that’s not how you want your site designed. Especially if you’re forking out a hefty chunk of income to do it.

What it all boils down to

All those pieces that are missing when you hire the wrong designer combine into a lack of strategic website planning. When a designer plans your website strategically, they look at every corner. They consider how your customers will come to your website, move through it, what happens when they end up on the wrong page, and how to move them from lookie-loo to customer.

It’s a science that many website designers never consider.

But it’s a quality you should be searching for in the designer you hire. Because it can be the difference between 4 people signing up for your email list, or 400; getting 1 client inquiry a month, or booking out 6 months in advance. It’s really that important.

What to look for in a website designer

A style you love

Obviously, you need to like their work. While style can vary, and many good designers can pull off a variety of looks, you should be able to look at their portfolio and identify at least one website that you would die to have for yourself. Even better is when you drool over every site or project they share.

Experience in your niche

If you’re looking at a designer who does all sorts of different sites—personal branding, small biz, corporations, hospitals, restaurants, farmers, etc—be aware that they probably aren’t experts at your field. Instead, they’re generalized web designers who take on every type of work they can find. Don’t get me wrong—some of them are really good at what they do—but chances are they won’t know the best strategies for getting your website to the same level of perfection a designer in your niche would.

Try searching for someone who’s done at least 2–3 websites along the same lines as your own. This could be for female-led businesses, brick and mortar businesses, or as in my own case, online creative entrepreneurs. When you find someone with the specific skills you need, your website will be twice as effective.

Strategic planning

A true strategic website designer will design every major page of your website, whether you ask for it, or not. They’re going to go into things you never even thought of—like what will be on your 404 page to draw people back in. They’ll go over your sidebar layout with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it’s all quality and no fluff.

And for the standard stuff? Expect to answer a very detailed questionnaire about how you interact with your customers, how you sell, how frequently you post to your blog, what strategies you use for social, etc. As strategic designers, we like to map out everything a person could or would want to do on your site, and plan how it’ll work. So we basically want to know your business inside-out. Don’t be intimidated by that—be grateful. Because that means you’ve found a designer who knows what they’re doing.

Proven results

A quality designer is going to have quality testimonials. Testimonials that talk not only about how great it was to work with them, but how they increased conversions, sales, stats—whatever. If you don’t see testimonials that say more than ‘Cassandra was a dream to work with! I totally recommend her,’ run the other way.

It’s lovely to hear these things about people, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of their work. So save yourself some money, and look for detailed testimonials from past clients that actually state they’ve seen results since their new website went live.

A price that makes you wince

You’re probably about to exit out of this post now, but let me explain myself. A web designer who meets all the criteria above is not going to be cheap. Because they know what they’re doing, and they’re good at it. If you’re looking for the perfect website that will practically sell your services itself, you should expect to pay a couple grand (or more) for it.

Now obviously, if you’re just starting out, you might not have the funds to invest in a website of this quality. That’s ok. Most small businesses start out with a website that works ‘for now.’ There’s no shame in it. And honestly, you probably should, because until you know for sure that your business will be a success, you don’t want to waste money on a fancy website that might be pointless in a year (here’s hoping that doesn’t apply to you).

But for those who are already successful, or ready to invest in a big-ticket item like a custom website—you need to understand the value of what you’re getting. If the results of your new website were to increase your yearly revenue by $10,000, what would that website be worth? Would it be worth $2,000? $5,000? Even $10,000? If your new website paid for itself in a year, or less, wouldn’t that be worth it?

You won’t get that kind of return on your investment if you search for a website designer who can do the whole thing for $500. Those designers are the ones who create ‘for now’ websites. Their designs are pretty, but they usually have nothing to do with strategy or proven results and everything to do with quick turnaround.

Scope out your website designer

Take your time, and do your research, like you would with any other big project. But most importantly, make sure you get on a call and actually talk to the people you consider, because you can learn a lot from that conversation. Remember, your web designer and you will have a close relationship during the scope of your project, so you need to be able to trust each other and laugh. It’ll make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for you both.

Now that you know the things you should look for from the right website designer, I know you’ll be prepared when it comes time to invest in business and in quality work someone can provide to you.