Hiring a website designer is often one of the biggest investments small business owners face right out of the gate. In the digital age, your website is the face of your business. A lot of people fixate on what they want their website to look like. But before you can get to logos and fonts and colors, you really need to think about one critical question:

What do I want my website to do?

The answers to this question will affect all the other decisions you make. There are two main categories of business websites (terminology borrowed from The Wonder Jam):

  • The business card website. This kind of site tells people who you are, what you do, and how to hire you or buy your product.
  • The employee website. This kind of site acts like a virtual employee, helping you with sales, marketing, customer service, or ad revenue around the clock.

If you’re within the first year or two of your business, you likely only need a business card website. There are plenty of relatively easy DIY options for this stage. I generally recommend Squarespace if you’re going the DIY route unless you already have some experience building WordPress websites. Squarespace has nice-looking templates that are pretty much ready to go out of the box. WordPress offers a lot more customization options but is also more complex. But I know plenty of people who have learned to use both on their own, so take your pick. (Wix and Weebly are both, in my opinion, ugly and clunky as hell. Sorry not sorry.)

What can your website do for you?

When your business is on a sustained upward trajectory, you can consider hiring a website designer or developer to build you an “employee website.” This is when you really need to ask yourself: What you want your digital “employee” to do for you?

  • Draw traffic so you can generate ad revenue? You’ll need to have optimized content for search engines to pick up. You will also probably need to maintain a presence on external content platforms like Pinterest or YouTube and/or social media sites like Instagram or Facebook.
  • Convert leads to purchases through e-mail and content marketing? You’ll need an opt-in form and e-mail marketing system like MailerLite or ConvertKit.
  • Build a community around your blog content? You may need a dynamic comments system like Disqus, or go a step further with an on-site community forum like bbPress.
  • Provide customer service? Chat bot or support ticket plugins can link customers with your team for support.
  • Sell physical or digital products? You need a storefront plugin like WooCommerce or Shopify.

And the list of questions could go on. The answers, of course, will vary depending on your business and target audience. Thinking about the functionality you need will inform a lot of the structural choices you and your designer make, such as what layout, site structure, plugins, etc. (This is when it’s handy to hire a web designer who has some experience with marketing and content creation!)

But before you start filling Pinterest boards with visual inspo, there’s a few other questions you need to ask yourself.

Hiring a web designer should be a strategic decision, not just based on what's trending on Pinterest!

Hiring a web designer should be a strategic decision, not just based on what’s trending on Pinterest!

What’s my budget for this website project?

Almost every business owner I know gets awkward talking about money. They’re either self-conscious about how little they can afford to spend, worried they will offend a vendor by lowballing, or afraid of getting taken to the cleaners if they name too high a number. But honesty is really the best policy when it comes to your business budget. The amount you can comfortably spend on hiring a website designer will affect all the subsequent decisions you make together. Premium themes and plugins cost money and often take a lot of time to set up. If you’ve prioritized the functions you want your website to have, you and your designer will know what to spend money on now and what can be upgraded later. You also need to think about your ongoing budget. Some plugins are subscription-based and need to be renewed regularly. You’ll also need to consider what’s involved in maintaining your website, which leads me to my next question…

What’s my comfort level with making updates and new content?

An “employee” website cannot be a static, unchanging page. If you want your website to work for you, you’ll need to do some work for her! (The websites I build always seem to be females, maybe because they’re heroic badasses, I dunno.) Think about what content you’ll need to create on an ongoing basis: blog posts, videos, podcast episodes, whatever. Make sure you have a plan for making and adding that new content. You will also probably need to update more permanent pages like your pricing, team member bios, and portfolio, albeit less often. Most modern WordPress themes and plugins don’t require a knowledge of coding to function, but they’re not always super intuitive either. Can you afford to pay someone to make those changes? Are you comfortable learning how to do it yourself?

Do I have time to commit to gathering content and providing feedback during the design process?

If you’re going to the trouble of hiring a website designer to build you a custom site, make sure you have time to commit to the design process! I can’t speak for anyone else, but my website projects typically take between 2-3 months from start to finish. My clients are pretty active participants during that time, especially at the beginning when we’re establishing the brand’s look and feel. I try not to bore my clients with the technical details, but I need to know how you work so I can make your website work for you. So if I’m installing a booking calendar on your site, I need to know what kind of appointments you want to book. If I’m writing your sales page, I need information about your product and sales process. My design process is iterative, so I ask for feedback early and often on individual pieces before assembling everything.

If you’re ready to invest in hiring a website designer to create a website that works for you, make sure you ask yourself these important questions before you start looking for someone. Prioritizing your needs and accurately taking stock of your resources and availability will make the web design process much smoother for everyone.

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