What things should you, as a business owner, look for in a company that has promised you online success? With our economy the way that it is, business owners have to get smarter and look for this type of help when it’s not feasible to have someone in house do it all (which would be ideal). So what do you look for? There are many talented 1-man shows out there that know what they are doing, and there are large firms that can do the very same.
Here’s how you can iron out the mess and make sense of it all:
Do they Have a Good Portfolio?
I remember when I first started out. I did free work for over a year so I could have something to show potential clients. Theoretical knowledge on how to promote another company online is one thing, but applied knowledge on how to do it is what you need from someone that is making promises to make the phone ring.
Look at their portfolio for a professional and polished look. If the quality of their work can hold its own in a commercial market along side your competitors, that’s a good sign. It means they have an understanding of how to reach a target market through visual design and development of online content.
Do they Return Your Calls and Emails?
Personal service is what you are looking for. More than 50% of our new business comes from churches and businesses that have not heard back from their “web guy” in weeks or even months. It’s sad to say, but it’s a flaky industry. There are a lot of work-from-home web designers that get overwhelmed, burned out, or distracted. Maybe they are the creative not-so-organized type and are lousy at running a business but talented enough to get the work done. Nevertheless, being reachable is something you want to look for in this type of individual or company. I know this is common sense, but I’m telling you what I see in this industry. This aspect of personal customer service is not something that is common to find in someone providing creative work for your business. It is a very fast paced industry and unless a web developer or designer is willing to constantly be on the cutting edge and keep up with it all, they won’t be in business for very long.
Can they Supply References?
Make no mistake – you are hiring someone, and they are essentially applying for a job. Ask them if you can speak to a couple of their current clients to see if they deliver on their promises. That’s pretty straightforward. I guess that’s all I have to say about that.
Do they Discuss Long-Term Goals with You?
Every project should be discussed with the next 2 or 3 years in mind. If your discussions with them do not project a bird’s eye view of your marketing efforts online and somehow show you that everything that they do will tie into one common purpose, be wary. They may be able to do the work, but not have a good mind for marketing and bringing long-term results. It’s not easy to do, and I can honestly say that we have not always been this way, simply because for years our clients were not interested in monthly marketing campaigns. They just needed a website because it was the thing to do and their competitors had a website. This has obviously changed with the economy, and a company’s website is no longer a thing that no one looks at – it is a sales tool and a way to capture lead information. Knowing how to USE a website to create long-term gains requires monthly attention. Make sure the people you are talking to understand this, and that it is how they approach their clients.
Where are they Located?
Location, location, location. It’s always best to go with someone local, but not always feasible for you, as a business owner. There are advantages of having a local company handle your marketing. For one thing, they know the market saturation and demographics of the city or town that you live in, which is important when advertising online and using online content to drive local search results to your website. However, don’t be opposed to going with a company that really wants your business. Most of our new clients come from referrals from our clients that do a lot of traveling. We have clients from California to New York, Africa, Europe, and a few other places. Many of our clients are local, but most of them are not.
Another advantage of finding someone local is being able to meet them for lunch to discuss your business (not theirs) and what new ideas are coming out you can test online, bla bla bla. Plus you get a free lunch out of it! I love meeting our clients. It gives me an excuse to go to Starbucks!
Contract or no Contract?
Anyone that knows what they are doing will have you sign a contract with them that spells everything out, whose responsibility it is to do what, who owns the artwork (you should own the artwork), and the terms and conditions of payment. On a side note, don’t be surprised if they ask for a portion, or even half, of the initial project cost up front. We do not do this, but many firms do. The contract should protect them as well as you regarding who owns the work once payment is received. We believe that once payment is received, everything should be in the client’s name. We add our contact information as technical contacts on accounts that require support for their online content, such as a domain registrar, but everything is in their name. This way, should something happen to Innovated Media, the client will be protected and be able to hire another development firm to step right in and take over where we left off (if they know what they’re doing, HA!)
Be careful of companies that want to put everything in their name (hosting, domain names). Like I said, we get a lot of new business from web designers taking complete control of a client’s assets, and then they just drop off the map and become unreachable. Getting control of domain names and access to web servers when it is in another company’s name is NOT FUN and can be costly to you – it is sometimes very difficult to do. Keep everything in your name or your company’s name to make sure you are protected. Don’t let this be a deal breaker, though. If a marketing or web design firm has a great reputation and has good business practices, and they want to take control over your assets with good reason, go with it if you feel they are the right fit. I know that some of our competitors in Tulsa operate this way and they turn out some impressive work.
The smaller guy may provide personal service, do good work, and charge considerably less than one of the larger firms, but don’t let the price deter you too much from making a decision that you believe will be the best fit for your company.
Many business owners trusted me in the beginning when I was by myself learning how to do all of this, and it evolved into something I never thought it could be, and it is still growing way too fast! So, don’t overlook the little guy that has a lot of talent and is hungry to build a successful company.