Even though I’ve been designing websites since middle school, there are times I don’t feel adequate in my skills.
Then I see web work and design proposals from other web design ‘professionals’, and I have many questions about some of these large web firms or web developers.
Hello, I’m Jeff Higgens, and I’m here to tell you what to look for before designing/redesigning a website or hiring a web developer. Full disclosure, I operate a web design company – Higgens Media. This blog post isn’t to sell my services, but rather what I wish some of the people I have come into contact with would know about web development, and what to look out for. Sadly, I’ve had to rescue a few clients from false promises or unmet expectations of other professional agencies in the industry. If you have experienced a bad web developer, I’m sorry. I’ll give examples of how Higgens Media operates so you can look for web developers that either meet or exceed what we do.
My parents started their own business, and I know many small business owners, so I know the value of stretching every dollar – especially in the year 2020, when some businesses are struggling to keep their staff employed and the doors opened. So, when a business or individual contacts me to design a website or launch a marketing initiative, I make sure to do extensive research to make sure I stretch their dollar to the maximum value.
Look out for the Web Development Proposal
I once had a person come to me with a quote they received for a website – a company quoted them over $15,000. This was their first time building a website, and wanted to know if that was reasonable or expensive.
I said it depends, and had them send over the design proposal.
The first thing I noticed was there was a huge list of things they would do along the left side, and then in the right hand column a total price.
Imagine if you went to a grocery store, they rang everything up, gave you a grand total, but didn’t tell you how much each item was. That would be crazy – you wouldn’t be able to budget. It’s great for the store, though, because they can magically alter the total price at-will based on whatever budget or goals they need to reach.
It was interesting to note in the proposal, though, was ‘plugin initial purchase’. Since this was a WordPress website, most plugins or systems are on an annual license basis – which means after year one, you’ll need to renew these licenses or your site may no longer work.
So the client was stuck with a web proposal telling them how much the first year would be, but no idea how much it would cost to operate the second year.
What to expect from a Higgens Media web design proposal
I don’t come across many web design proposals, since I develop my own websites – but I’ve always believed in being clear and transparent with clients. I itemize every single web design service and plugin. I let the client know here’s how much you’ll be spending in year one, and here’s year two. Each item has a note on what the plug-in/item/service does. This allows clients to easily see how much each feature costs. Sometimes when clients see the actual cost of a ‘feature’ they think is cool, they do a cost-benefit analysis and realize the feature isn’t worth the cost, thus allowing them to easily remove it from the proposal.
I’m guessing this is the reason some web companies don’t itemize their list – because clients will start opting out of features.
Web Hosting 101
Where your website is hosted is very important. A client once came to me, as they were running an online marketing campaign, getting all this traffic to their website, but no one was staying or taking action (calling or filling out a form).
I took a look at their site and it would at times take 17 seconds for the website to load. I took a look at their website, and the culprit was their web hosting.
The #1 rule I share with people is: don’t use GoDaddy web hosting (or a multitude of other web hosts). GoDaddy can host your website for under $5/month because they cram your website on a server with a bunch of other websites.
What to expect from Higgens Media hosting
If you are looking for web hosting, make sure the web server is run on an SSD and be prepared to spend a little more money so your site has the necessary resources to deliver pages at blazing fast speeds. I personally was tired of figuring out what specs different web hosts had, and trying to read through marketing jargon, which is why I invested in a dedicated server for clients of Higgens Media. Speeds are up to 20% faster than cheap web hosts, and I know every single website that’s hosted on the server.
It’s fascinating to see websites transfer from their old web host to Higgens Media hosting and see the traffic analytics on the backend spike. Client sites are being viewed and found more through Google searches, people are staying on the site longer, and filling out forms for businesses to make actual money from their web design investment.
Does experience matter?
There’s always the joke of “my niece/nephew/son/daughter/friend can build this website” in the web development community. Or having a husband or wife come up with the color scheme.
I think it’s become a joke mostly because this is where people in the design community see the most mistakes or bad decisions being made – but that’s not always the case.
I am a son who designed marketing materials for my parent’s businesses. My dad created some great, creative, memorable logos for their businesses. I’ve been that friend who has designed logos for friends because a ‘professional’ provided a logo that wouldn’t work for many reasons.
Experience does and does not matter. If you’re having someone build a website, ask yourself why are you hiring them. Is it because they’re cheap/free? Is it because they’re young so they obviously know how technology works? Is it because they’ve been building websites since 1999 so they have years of experience (even though their websites still don’t scale on mobile)?
Here’s a quick checklist to consider before asking about ‘experience’:
- Read the web design proposal or explanation of the scope of work.
- Review any portfolio pieces of similar websites, or past work.
- Does the person understand design?
- If they have years of experience, look to see how much turnover they have with clients. Are clients jumping switching to other developers?
The Experience of Higgens Media
There are clients I still have when I was just getting started in web development. I have the original three clients from when I officially launched web development services of Higgens Media in 2010 (and no, they aren’t my parent’s businesses).
The clients I’ve ‘lost’ along the way either closed, were bought out, or expanded and hired an internal marketing/web development team to their payroll due to their growing business.
I left all clients on good terms, and even helped assist with transitioning of their website when they took operations internal. I’ve been in the position where clients transfer services to me due to a bad experience from their previous provider, and at times it’s been a struggle – which is why I make a point that if a client ever leaves the Higgens Media ecosystem, it’s a seamless experience.
Things to watch out for: legal issues
Repeat after me: Images found on Google are not free to use for your website. (I actually wrote a whole blog post about photo copyright basics).
One thing to watch for people who don’t do web development for a living, or who are new, or even if you’re updating your own website, is that you can’t just post any images you’d like on your website to illustrate your services.
Here are some legal things to consider for every website/marketing campaign:
- Any images/graphics/photos you use, you must have permission to use from the rights holder. In Indianapolis, a photographer sued for unlawful usage of a photo for $1,500 per occurance (source).
- Using an image of someone? Make sure to get a signed release or permission.
- Sending out marketing emails? You must include how to unsubscribe, a physical mailing address, and proof of an opt-in. Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $43,280, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations.
- Privacy policies. Terms and conditions. Make sure to have legal disclosures on your website on how you track people, and what you do with people’s information, especially if you are using remarketing pixels.
- Don’t collect SSN or credit card numbers in generic forms or over email – these must be encrypted, otherwise you’ll be liable in the case of a hack of your email systems.
The Higgens Media legal experience
Higgens Media isn’t a law firm, and we can’t legally offer legal advice, but there are things we do to ensure clients are protected. Even for a simple blog post such as this, the rights to the first image you saw was legally acquired. Higgens Media invests thousands of dollars in securing rights to stock images, photos, and even have our own model and talent releases if you want custom photos or videos. We have relationships with companies who provide standard and custom privacy and web policies.
We don’t want to get sued. We don’t want our clients to get sued.
Save Money on Web Development
There are ways to save money on web development. If you simply want a website presence, and are more of a hands-on person, building your own website may be the best route.
Best kept secret
Here’s something not many people know, though. Clients of Higgens Media save a lot of money due to something called ‘bulk licensing’. Through our years of experience, we have been able to get some great deals on premium services, premium WordPress plugins, and more at agency costs.
If you’re a business owner who needs a website, but also know a few other business owners who also need a website, you could potentially save hundreds or thousands by all approaching Higgens Media at once to create each website.
But even if you approach Higgens Media as a sole business owner, or an individual, you will already receive mass savings. We have agency discounts from services we use on other clients that we also pass on to you. Our previous clients see a decrease in their bill on annual services, and as more clients join the Higgens Media ecosystem, you may also see a decrease in service prices, pending on the scope of your project or website.
So, I hope this helps you know what to look for and expect when hiring a web developer.
If you are looking to launch a new website, or a web redesign, I of course would be happy to toss my hat in for consideration – you can request a quote here – but more importantly, I hope you find a great web developer.
I’ll always be rooting for entrepreneurs, individuals, and small business owners.
– Jeff Higgens