How To Build A Squarespace Website For Your Business The Easy Way

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How to Choose the Best Free Website Builder for Your Website

This post originally appeared at How to Choose the Best Free Website Builder for Your Website via ShivarWeb

How to Choose the Best Free Website Builder

Thanks to free website builders, creating a webpage has become something that almost anyone can do. Because there are so many options out there when it comes to finding a website builder, though, it can be challenging to know which one is the best choice for your future website.

Because different websites need different things, there is no “one size” fits all for website builders. Different products offer various features, especially when working on their free plans. Since the free option of a service can have limitations, you want to make an informed decision before starting work on your site.

Summary – Best Free Website Builder Options

Based on my experience working with many website builders, there are a few that are a good fit for most people. They all have free plans available with a variety of limits.

  • Google Product
  • Easy Setup
  • Focus on Simplicity
  • Quick Site Appeal

Google Sites

View Plans
  • Built-in Features
  • Drag + Drop Design
  • Focus on Usability
  • Growing Site Appeal

Wix

Wix
View Plans
  • Lots of Options
  • Future-proofing
  • Focus on Versatility
  • Content Site Appeal

WordPress

WordPress.com
View Plans

Focused on other free options?

MailChimp is email & digital marketing software with a bundled website builder that’s free up to 2,000 contacts (see review). View plans.

And Weebly has the best ecommerce options with their free plans (see review). View Plans.

To help you learn how to choose the best free website builder, we’ve gathered together the factors you should consider when comparing your options.

Primary Considerations

With so many free website builders out there, it’s not so surprising that some are of better quality than others. No matter what you plan to do with your site, here are some things that you’ll want to look for in your options.

Ads

Some free website builders keep themselves operating through the income of paid membership users. However, a much more common approach is for them to place ads on free plan users’ sites.

That said, these advertisements come in many forms. Some are obtrusive and distract visitors from your content, while others are much more subtle. The less space a required ad takes up on your webpage, the better it will be for you.

Domain Name

The domain name is the part of the URL that indicates your website. Having a custom domain name makes it easier for potential visitors to navigate to your webpage—which is essential if you want to attract business and hits.

Many free website builders will give you a customizable section that is part of your larger domain name—take yoursite.wix.com, for example. This structure is most common and is simple enough that it won’t get in the way of visitors remembering your site.

On the flip side, some free website builders have complicated domain names that aren’t very user friendly. While rare, some products will allow you a wholly unique domain for free, though you will still need to pay to obtain your custom domain.

Upgrade Cost

For some people, a free plan will be all they ever need. Much more likely, though, is that an upgrade will be necessary for the future. Though you may not be starting with a paid plan, it’s good to consider the cost of upgrading—and the features that are available for the price.

With this bit of groundwork, you can save yourself the hassle of moving your site to another builder if you don’t like the upgrade options.

Security (SSL Certificate)

Cybersecurity is essential, and an SSL certificate is a part of what keeps your website safe. Unfortunately, not all free website builders have this feature as a part of their free plan.

Without an SSL certificate, your website may be left open to attacks that can impact you and your visitors. While you don’t want to go without one generally, you should always have an SSL certificate if you plan to conduct ecommerce on your site.

Storage and Size

The amount of storage on your website will ultimately impact how large your site can be. In particular, sites that plan to host a lot of videos or photos will need high amounts of storage space.

You should also consider how many pages your site needs, as some free plans put limits on this capability. If you only need a one-page website (and there are some excellent options explicitly geared towards this out there), it won’t be an issue. If you want a large site with multiple pages, check these limitations before you commit.

Bandwidth

Similarly, bandwidth refers to how much data your site can transmit over a given amount of time. In the context of a free website builder, you don’t want this number to be too low. If it is, it can potentially impact the amount of traffic that your site can handle, impacting your visitor’s experience.

Mobile Responsiveness

Computers are not the only way that we access the internet anymore—a majority of activity comes from mobile phones, tablets, and other devices. For your webpage to operate well between these different devices, it will need to have a responsive design—and this capability shouldn’t be optional.

Confirm that your website builder of choice allows for the creation of a mobile responsive page before committing. If not, you’ll be better off with another product.

Ease of Use

Even if a free website builder has a lot of promising back end features, it’s still critical to pay attention to what it’s like to use.

The entire point of using one of these platforms is that you don’t have to build a website from scratch, so you want the process of creating your desired site to be simple.

Many free website builders will use a drag and drop approach, making it easy to put everything in its place—though some are more beginner-friendly than others.

If nothing else, one of the benefits of a free plan is that you don’t need to pay any money upfront, so you can try different options to see which one is the most intuitive for you to use.

Customization Level

When considering design aspects, you will want your website to have enough creative freedom to stand out online. One area to pay close attention to when looking at website builders is to see how many templates you have access to on the free plan.

Some will let you access the complete library, while others will only give you a partial selection. Also, check the available designs. An outdated looking template can reduce the traffic that comes to your site and stays there.

While you can customize a lot with website builders, there are some restrictions. Some platforms will allow you to have higher levels of customization, though you’ll need some coding knowledge to pull it off. Consider what skills you’re willing to learn before you make your final selection.

Features

Some free website builders are flexible, while other brands have specialized in providing for a specific audience. If you’re planning to set up a blog, for example, you want to ensure that the website builder you choose can set up a blog.

Ecommerce (Optional)

Ecommerce functionality will allow you to accept payments through your site and to set up an online store.

In comparison to a paid plan, though, ecommerce features will generally be on the limited side with a free option. That doesn’t mean you can’t find some good options out there, just that they’re hard to come by.

If you don’t plan to build an ecommerce-capable website, you don’t need to worry about these features.

However, if this is your focus, starting out searching for worthwhile free ecommerce plans will save you a lot of hassle and significantly narrow down your options.

Support

In case you run into a technical issue, you’ll want to have support to help. Some website builders will have libraries of videos and articles on how to work the platform, while others will provide live support.

Note that if a website builder is popular, you may be able to find help from the community as well.

Secondary Considerations

While we’ve covered the basics of what to look for in free website builders, you’ll also want to make specific decisions depending on the type of site you plan to use. It’s always best to understand what tools and features you’ll need, then narrow your search down to the website builders that offer those features on their free plans.

For Photographers & Artists

If you plan to use your site to promote your photography or art, you’ll need a lot of media space available. While lower quality images take up less space, they’re not the best decision for promoting yourself.

To ensure you can keep a high-quality archive, your website builder should have a high data limit. While rare, some free plans will allow for unlimited storage space.

For Nonprofits

When setting up a nonprofit organization website, you’ll need a website that can accept donations directly or direct visitors to the appropriate donation links.

Even if they don’t have a built-in donation function, see if you can embed codes on the site (like a PayPal button).

For Classrooms & Teachers

Building educational websites can require some specific features, but you can get a lot of use from free website builders.

Factor in features like templates, site designs, forums, and log-in features for students in your search. Privacy functionality is also essential for protecting the information of any students

For Small Businesses

Some small business sites will focus on promoting their services, but you can also set up a website to sell products. For those who wish to do so, having ecommerce functionality is going to be an essential feature.

Free ecommerce features tend to have strict limits on how many products you can sell at a time, while other free plans may not include any ecommerce functionality. Know that, in time, you will likely need to upgrade to a paid plan to take full advantage of ecommerce tools for your business.

General Tips

Want some extra tips? Consider these before you start your free website builder hunt:

  • Plan your site before you search. If you know what you want your website to be like, you can make a more informed decision when comparing options.
  • Consider if you need third-party extensions. If you want to connect content from YouTube onto your site, can the builder handle it?
  • Think forward. A successful website will eventually grow. If you foresee yourself ultimately growing out of the free plan, do you like the options that the paid plan offers?
  • Make sure there’s a free plan and not just a free trial. Some popular website builders, like Squarespace, only have a free trial in place, and you’ll have to pay to maintain service. If keeping things free is your goal, then confirm the service plans before you commit.

Next Steps

Now that you know how to choose the best free website builder to meet your needs, you may be wondering what comes next. Naturally, you’ll need to compare free website builders and pick the one that meets your needs. After that, follow these steps to get your website off the ground!

  1. Sign up – Go to your builder of choice’s website and follow the steps to sign up. You’ll need to provide an email and a password. The platform may also ask you to create a username.
  2. Begin the design process – What this looks like can vary between website builders. Some will have you fill in a design quiz to make a starting point for you, while others will drop you straight into selecting a template.
  3. Add your content – After you have a base to work with, you can begin updating any placeholder content (such as text or photos) to your site’s information. As you go, you can tweak elements of the already existing design, such as colors, layouts, and more, depending on what’s available.
  4. Go live! – After you’ve completed all the design work, you can press “Publish” and let your site out into the world for people to visit. Note that some website builders won’t allow you to update your site after it’s gone live, so be careful once you’ve chosen to do so.

Wrap Up

Since different websites have different needs, there’s no “one size fits all” solution available. Here’s a summary of the best options that I’ve found for most readers.

  • Google Product
  • Easy Setup
  • Focus on Simplicity
  • Quick Site Appeal

Google Sites

View Plans
  • Built-in Features
  • Drag + Drop Design
  • Focus on Usability
  • Growing Site Appeal

Wix

Wix
View Plans
  • Lots of Options
  • Future-proofing
  • Focus on Versatility
  • Content Site Appeal

WordPress

WordPress.com
View Plans

Focused on other free options?

MailChimp is email & digital marketing software with a bundled website builder that’s free up to 2,000 contacts (see review). View plans.

And Weebly has the best ecommerce options with their free plans (see review). View Plans.

With the variety of options out there, there’s a free website builder that’s perfect for your needs. All you need to do is use the factors and tips we’ve provided to find which one is best for you!

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Best Website Builder For Selling Products

This post originally appeared at Best Website Builder For Selling Products via ShivarWeb

Best Website Builder For Selling Products

E-commerce is booming. And not just Amazon. With better fulfillment, COVID-19 changes, and more familiarity, buying online has become normal for everyone. As more people buy products online, the sites that businesses use to sell their items are becoming more critical for competition. 

Website builders can help small businesses make attractive and functional sites to sell their products. They not only make building a website accessible & convenient, they also bundle technically complex functionality like shopping carts, payments, and order management into a single subscription.

However, it can be overwhelming to wade through all the options. The truth is, there isn’t an absolute best website builder for selling products. 

All builders have tradeoffs, and you should pick the one with the right mix of features for your particular budget, resources, and expertise.

In this article, I’ll dive deep into what considerations you should be thinking about during your website builder search. The important thing is that you know how to choose the best option for your needs. Once you’ve got that down, knowing what to choose comes easily.

Summary – Best Website Builder for Selling Products

Based on my experience working with many website builders, there are a few that are a good fit for most people. They all have free plans available to try. They are each best if you want…

  • Simple Ecommerce
  • Square Payments
  • Focus on Simplicity
  • Small Site Appeal

Weebly

Weebly
View Plans
  • Built-in Features
  • Drag + Drop Design
  • Focus on Usability
  • Broad Appeal

Wix

Wix
View Plans
  • Lots of Options
  • Future-proofing
  • Focus on Ecommerce
  • Online Store Appeal

Shopify

View Plans

Focused on content + products?

WordPress.com is a website builder focused on publishing & content that has also has capability to sell products. View Plans.

What Are The Benefits Of Selling Products on Your Own Site?

We will start by taking a look at the benefits of having an e-commerce site for your products. 

More Money Gets Spent Online Every Year

In the first quarter of 2019 alone, consumers in the US spent over $99 billion on e-commerce. If you want your business to remain profitable as online shopping increases, having an online store is vital. More than that, you need an online store that can deliver a quality shopping experience. 

A Website Costs Less Than An Actual Store

Suppose you decide to run a brick-and-mortar store. In that case, there are plenty of costs to consider, including rent, staff salaries, licenses and permits, utility bills, maintenance bills, supplies, and design. 

Meanwhile, running a website provides savings on these costs. Sure, running an e-commerce website comes with its own set of fees, including hosting, marketing, plugins, and feature costs. However, in the long run, these expenses are lower than those of running a physical storefront. Lower costs, in turn, means that the return on investment could be much higher.

A Website Enables You To Provide Convenience To Your Customers

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. When they’re feeling a little lazy, tired, or sick, they’ll appreciate the convenience of doing their shopping without having to walk or drive to a store. 

By allowing people to find what they want faster and more easily online, you encourage them to spend more. The selling proposition is higher, and the friction is lower.

You Benefit From Online Search Traffic

Did you know that about 33 percent of people start the search for products they want on Google?

By having an e-commerce website, you put your products in front of all those eyeballs, making it easier for them to discover your merchandise. 

Assuming you have some solid SEO, which is easy with the right website builder, all the products you list on your site get indexed by Google and other search engines. This indexing drastically increases your chances of making sales, simply because you have more reach.

Primary Considerations When Choosing Selling Your Products on a Website Builder

There is a broad spectrum of online e-commerce platforms out there, and you need to choose one that fits your particular needs. Choosing a website builder is a lot like buying a car. No matter which car you buy, they will all get you from one point to another. 

However, you might want other features depending on your specific needs, such as your budget, the type of products you sell, how many shoppers you expect to have, the maintenance costs, and the number of changes you have to make during operations. 

With an e-commerce website builder, you’re getting the same core functionality across the board. You get the ability to build a platform on which you can list your products, have a shopping cart that people can add products to, and a payment processor. 

However, there may also be other considerations you might have that would ultimately influence your decision. Below are some of the most important of these:

How User-friendly Is The Website Builder? 

Some website builders are more interested in offering as many features as possible, rather than making their platform user friendly for consumers. 

A feature-packed builder isn’t necessarily wrong; it is just a trade-off that you should understand. You might not mind looking through the platform’s knowledge base or asking questions on how to solve particular problems in the forum. 

On the other hand, you might instead prefer something easy to use that lacks advanced features. It depends on how much time you want to spend building and managing your website.

This consideration is also important for selling products. Are you looking to build a full ecommerce operation with hundreds of SKUs or are you looking to selling a dozen pieces of merchandise?

For example, Shopify is far and away the most versatile ecommerce website builder. But it has a lot of ecommerce features that some website owners don’t need (like inventory management) in addition to missing some website publishing features that some website owners might need (like blog comments).

Other website builders like Wix might provide a super-simple setup with easy product integration while limiting growth into a large ecommerce operation with strong organic traffic.

How Is The Customer Service? 

A related issue is customer support. In case you’re stuck, it’s a great convenience to ask someone for help. Whether you have the technical knowledge, you should see what customer service options the website builder offers. 

Shopify-Support

Having the opportunity to ask for help via phone, email, or chat application can be valuable during the website design process, and if you have any questions during regular business operations.

Additionally, think about how you prefer to solve issues. Some platforms like Shopify and WordPress have huge numbers of freelancers available to help with any task in addition to internal support.

What Is Your Budget? 

Just like your budget helps you narrow down your list of options at a car dealership, so does it thin down your choices for website builders. 

The more money you spend, the more feature-rich your platform. Fortunately, however, most of the essential features for a simple e-commerce website are quite affordable for most business owners.

You want to get the most that you can for your budget without wasting money on extras features that you will never use. 

Does The Platform Allow For Custom Designs?

A significant consideration you will need to make when choosing an e-commerce website building platform is whether it allows custom design. 

Wix Designs
Wix Designs

Most platforms have a range of “themes” from which you can choose. However, some of them make it especially hard to build a custom design or change existing themes. 

A simple drag-and-drop interface with lots of themes is easy to use, but you run the risk of having an e-commerce website that looks like other e-commerce websites (or struggling to make it *just right*). This is the track that Wix & Weebly take.

On the other hand, a platform that allows for custom designs might be a little harder to use, but it gives you endless options for how your website will look. This is the track that Shopify takes. They have a drag & drop builder, but really push you to buy or build your own custom design.

Shopify Theme Selection

A compromise could be a builder that allows you to alter existing themes to make them look different from competitors.

Secondary Considerations: What Else Do You Need to Think About When Choosing a Website Builder

When choosing the best website builder for selling items online, you need to consider more than the basics. Here is what else you should be thinking. 

Can You Add Extensions or Apps?

If you want to add plugins and extensions to your website, you should probably go for a platform that allows you to make such additions. 

Shopify-Apps

Note, however, that the more leeway a platform gives you to customize your site with plugins and extensions, the more complicated things will be.

Weebly Apps

It may also mean spending extra as many third-party extensions are for sale.

Will You Be Doing Content Marketing?

Is an online store all you want, or would you like to incorporate a blog or social media feed for some content marketing? Some website builders only offer pure e-commerce stores, while others provide lots of features to build marketing strategies right into your store.

WordPress.com Editor

Such content marketing tools can save time in the future because they make marketing more straightforward and cheaper. 

Does The Platform Allow For Offline Sales?

Standard e-commerce platforms allow you to manage your inventory and orders. However, some are better at managing your offline sales than others. Depending on how heavy your offline sales traffic is, you might want a platform that syncs well with this aspect of your operation.

SEO & Marketing Tools

SEO is an integral part of making your website and products easily discoverable online. Look for an e-commerce platform that employs SEO best practices and gives you as much control as you need over your website’s SEO features.

Hosting

Some e-commerce platforms will include hosting in some form while others only provide you with a website builder, leaving you to arrange the hosting. An all-in-one e-commerce platform will make your life easier, as the hosting will be taken care of as part of the package.

However, this option might be more expensive than shopping for your host on your own, and you might have less control over things like domain ownership and SEO. Some platforms like WordPress.com allow you to move to a self-hosted website easily since it runs with the same WooCommerce plugin that powers a self-hosted ecommerce store.

It is crucial to pick a platform that meets your needs in this area.

General Tips on Choosing Specific Site Builders 

What kind of options are available? There are plenty of website builders on the market, but some stand out. 

While there are plenty of options on the market, there are some examples of what you can expect from different ranges of website builders. 

Getting A Highly Customizable Builder

Some website builders offer innumerable options and plugins.

The challenge with customizable builders is that you might face a steep learning curve. Especially for beginners, navigating a website builder/content management system can be challenging. You’ll also need to explore (and possibly pay for) third-party plugins for your store.

Powerful site builders with endless options can enable you to create the ideal storefront, however. The catch could be that you have to hire someone to handle the store setup if you don’t have the time or the tech skills to do it yourself. 

Getting A Site Builder And Hosting In One Package

There are plenty of site builder plus hosting options to choose from when it comes to e-commerce.

Building a website via drag-and-drop design is simple. You get high uptime, unlimited bandwidth on many tiers, a fast content delivery network, and the ability to buy and own your domain name.

Weebly Built-in Tutorial

The flip side of bigger site builder plus hosting packages is that they are not free. There are paid plans that you need to invest in, which means you should budget to spend some money on the platform every month. You need to understand that package options are not a one-time expense and plan accordingly.

Should You Choose A Recognizable Name?

There are many recognizable names in the e-commerce industry, like BigCommerce, Shopify, GoDaddy, Squarespace, and more.

With many big-name site builders, you can expect everything to be handled for you, including shopping carts, email forwarding, and even a free domain, depending on the platform.

The great thing about bigger platforms is that they save you from the headache of trying to figure things like security and hosting all by yourself.

The flip side is that many of these site builders will cost you a monthly subscription that varies according to the features you choose to include in your store. This investment may be too significant if you are only selling a few products or focusing on marketing instead of sales. 

One other thing to note about more recognizable site builders is that it is very easy to research their services because so many people use them. Ease of research is one of the reasons to go with a recognizable name. 

Next Steps

As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to e-commerce website builders. You have lots of choices, but that also makes it easy to get overwhelmed. 

Based on my experience working with many website builders, there are a few that are a good fit for most people. They all have free plans available to try. They are each best if you want…

  • Simple Ecommerce
  • Simple Payments
  • Focus on Simplicity
  • Small Site Appeal

Weebly

Weebly
View Plans
  • Built-in Features
  • Drag + Drop Design
  • Focus on Usability
  • Broad Appeal

Wix

Wix
View Plans
  • Lots of Options
  • Future-proofing
  • Focus on Ecommerce
  • Online Store Appeal

Shopify

View Plans

Focused on content + products?

WordPress.com is a website builder focused on publishing & content that has also has capability to sell products. View Plans.

By taking stock of your specific needs and comparing them to what is available in the market, you can pick an e-commerce website builder that fits your needs. 

The good news is that the platforms listed above will meet the needs of most online store owners, so choosing from among them makes the work easier. Whichever option you go for, the important thing to remember is that having an online store is better than not having a store at all.

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What Is Squarespace & Is It Right For You?

The post What Is Squarespace & Is It Right For You? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Delivery Business In 9 Easy, Hassle-Free Steps

The post How To Start A Delivery Business In 9 Easy, Hassle-Free Steps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer

This post originally appeared at Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer via ShivarWeb

Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer

So you need to know how to choose a website designer.

But here’s the problem.

“It depends” is both the most correct and the most unhelpful answer.

There have never been more choices in the website design industry than now. But paradoxically, all those choices make actually choosing more difficult than ever.

The secret to choosing wisely is to understand exactly what you need rather than attempting to sort & filter all the choices on offer.

Like any other large purchase… a house, car, appliance, etc – ditch the idea of a “best” – and instead, write out your exact needs, requirements, and goals. The best option for you will usually self-select itself.

In other words, choose a website designer through elimination based your goals rather than searching out the one right fit.

With that concept in mind, here’s how to walk through the process of elimination to choose the right website designer for your project.

1. Define Your Technology Needs

How do you need your website to function?

Are you looking to build a “brochure site” – a place with your basic information and contact information?

Or are you looking to build something with certain functionality?

This step is critical because it decides what type of web designer or developer or agency you’ll need to hire.

A pure-play web designer usually does not actually work with HTML / CSS, much less traditional web languages like Javascript, PHP, etc. Pure-play web designers usually work in Photoshop and focus on branding, color palettes, imagery, feel, and user experience.

A pure-play web designer will often work with a front-end web developer to implement a design. The front-end of a website is what the user sees & navigates. A front-end developer will know HTML / CSS and Javascript – and will be comfortable with “back-end” technologies.

Back-end technology involves databases, scripts, and APIs – and generally making sure the computers are all talking to each other correctly.

Now – you’ll likely hire someone who is an expert in one, is knowledgeable in another, and is familiar with the third. If you hire an agency, then they’ll have all three.

Additionally, many designers / developers / agencies will work with certain platforms that already have core functionality built-in. When they work with these platforms, it will speed up the process and lower the costs…but also means that the client (you) needs to have some familiarity with what tools they are using.

But the main thing you need to think about is how much functionality does your site need? This will determine what type of website designer you’ll need, and how to discuss their process.

What To Consider

  • What functionality do you want now?
  • How do you want your website to grow?
  • Do you need to edit & manage your site content?
  • Do your visitors need to work with the site at all?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid using vague concepts or ideas.
  • Avoid accidental technology lock-in.

Example Scenarios

Think about a new fashion brand. Are you more focused on developing content or retailing clothes? Do you need to manage inventory? Do you want to build a community? How do you want to integrate your social presence?

A web designer could build a self-hosted WordPress website to handle the content and then add-in ecommerce with an ecommerce plugin, but it might be harder to manage inventory & social integration. They could also build an online store with Shopify to focus on ecommerce & social, but might hamstring your big content plans.

Think about a new non-profit website. Do you have expertise to manage & maintain the website? Do you need donation abilities or portal logins? Do you need to integrate with certain profiles?

A web designer could build a self-hosted WordPress website that could easily integrate donations and would be cheap upfront, but it would be harder to maintain long-term without someone who can train on the platform. They could also use a hosted website builder like Wix or WordPress.com that might have fewer upfront capabilities, but would be much easier to maintain in-house over the long-term.

Now – the designer that you choose should be flexible but also knowledgeable. It’s better to trust someone that you trust…but also verify that they deeply understand your needs.

2. Define Your Design Needs

How do you want your website to look and feel?

Unless you’ve had to design something for a client, it’s hard to understand how difficult it is to translate a vague idea in someone else’s brain into a tangible creation.

Sure, there are bad designers out there, but usually, the more specific you are about your design needs, the better product you’ll get.

Draw out something – anything – to show even the most basic direction you’d like to go.

Collect websites that you like – and note what you like about them. Here’s a bunch of example round-ups that I’ve written.

  • Wix Website Examples
  • WordPress Website Examples
  • Professional Personal Website Examples
  • Online Portfolio Examples
  • Weebly Website Examples
  • GoDaddy Website Examples
  • Restaurant Website Examples
  • Church Website Examples
  • Shopify Website Examples

Write out your frustrations with existing designs.

Additionally, keep in mind that it’s possible to develop some design assets yourself and let a web designer translate those existing assets into a website design.

For example, I’ve had clients use a photographer and bring in a web designer to build a site layout around their amazing professional images. I’ve built sites around a 99designs logo that clients have already made. Some clients even use automated design generators like Tailor Brands to create a look that a web developer can plug & play into a theme or template.

Once you have all your specifics down – you can use it to choose the right web designer.

What To Consider

  • The right web designer will be able to tell you how achievable certain features, looks, etc are.
  • Think about what process you’d like to work with. Do you want choices at every stage? How do you like to give and receive feedback? What are the most important parts of the design? When budget inevitably comes up, what are you willing to cut or prioritize?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid designers who can’t tell you how they’ll approach a design problem. Look for designers who do not have a stated process.
  • A written design process is best for you and them. Feedback stages can go on forever and make everyone frustrated.
  • Avoid vague wishes – even with emotions, be as specific and as concrete as possible.

Example Scenarios

Think about a restaurant website. An established restaurant will likely already have quite a bit of design assets in its physical location. Between logos, fonts, colors, ambience, etc – a web designer should already have a good bit to work off. Hiring a designer will be less about getting the design right and more about the layout, navigation, and design asset conversion right.

Think about a brand-new yoga studio. A startup might need a website design that can translate offline and throughout social media. Here, the owner will need to make a choice about developing a logo & brand feel separately (via a specialist graphic designer or logo contractor or AI brand software) or letting the website designer drive the look of the business.

3. Define Your Business Needs

What role does your website serve in your business?

Some of this will go back to your design and technology needs, but it’s especially pressing to consider before you define your budget & scope.

Think about how your business gets customers and how you do your marketing.

How will/does your website drive leads/sales? Is it something that your referrals & salespeople will offer as a brochure…or will your website need to drive new leads from online visitors?

Will it need to integrate with any business processes such as inventory or bookkeeping or order-taking? Do you want to move your business processes to the website via marketing/sales automation?

Are there any existing software providers that you want to integrate with your website now or in the future?

What To Consider

  • Think about both the near and medium term needs of your business.
  • Think about your domain names – and how you want to setup your email and online services.
  • Think about the incremental value of your website – what number of leads could it drive? What is a new lead worth?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid too much complexity – integrations and versatility make your website last.
  • Avoid thinking of your website as a cost – it’s an investment.
  • Avoid designers who do not work with integrations or cannot build out features that you need.
  • Avoid designers who cannot make a business case for changing your existing business processes.
  • Avoid designers who cannot explain how & why their approach will work through the medium term.
  • Avoid quick, “duct-tape” solutions.

Example Scenarios

Think about a local property management. An accounting firm could do well with a “brochure website” that simply funnels people to the phone and in-person consults. A nice brochure website (i.e., a website that simple provides information) might do fine. But what if the firm wants to add in client tools, secure portals, content marketing, direct listings, etc? Those features would require a website that can expand and develop over time. It might be worth developing a self-hosted website with a designer on retainer.

Think about a new jewelry business. A jewelry business might do business exclusively on Etsy, and want a blog to connect with customers. It might be easy to get a custom theme on a hosted platform like WordPress.com. However, it also might be a better choice to go a different direction at the beginning to integrate Etsy or lay the foundation for a non-Etsy online store.

4. Define Your Budget & Scope

How much money and time do you have to spend right now?

And “as cheap as possible” is not an answer – if this is your thinking, you should not be looking for a custom website designer. You should look for alternative options.

Your website is an investment, not a cost. If you approach it the same way you’d approach bulk-buying office pens…then you’re not going to get the result you want.

Now – I understand the desire to get the biggest return for your investment. But remember that it’s usually better to maximize your return rather than minimize your investment.

What To Consider

  • Think about your existing cashflow situation. Write out what a single new lead is worth.
  • Write out existing costs of having a poor or non-existent website.
  • Write out features, functionality, and design choices that you’d prioritize.
  • Think about payoff period and amortize your budget. In other words, if you budget $10,000 – and you expect the site to last 50 months, then that is $200/mo. Does that match your expected value?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid thinking about your budget in a silo – always tie it to scope or value.
  • Avoid thinking that you can have everything. Think about keeping your options open.
  • Avoid thinking about having a one and done project. Think about ongoing costs to either you, your staff or your designer.

5. Define Your Sources & Alternative Options

What type of designer do you want? And how do you find them?

The bad news is that most good website designers are not super-easy to find.

The good news is that your competitors don’t know that. If you put in a bit of work to find the right website designers – you’ll have a much better range of choices.

What To Consider

  • Good website designers have plenty of work. If someone is spending a lot of money on advertising & acquisition, then they are probably a giant agency with a churn and burn process.
  • Good website designers want to work with good clients. I used to work with web design clients, and I would take a great client for half-pay over a bad client. In fact, at a certain point, there’s not enough money in the world to take on a bad client.
  • Conversations and back and forths are not billable. That is not good for you or the designer. The more specific you are, the better.

What To Avoid

  • Googling what everyone else is googling.
  • Expecting more from a person or platform than is reasonable given how much effort you’ve put in.

Where To Look

Now – you could always do a Google Search. But I promise that you will likely be disappointed. Here are some better places to look.

For local designer / developer

Local web designers are usually horrendous at marketing their services. But many clients want a local designer that they can talk to in person.

Your approach will depend on your metro area, of course, but here’s where I’d look.

  1. Look for meetups to stalk. Web designers are always looking to upgrade skills and you can usually find some at a local workshop, class or meetup.
  2. Do a really specific Google search – one with search operators. Like this.
  3. Ask your favorite local businesses for referrals.
  4. Use city specific directories – this works especially well in smaller metros.

For a WordPress designer / developer

WordPress is an incredibly versatile content management system. It’s not ideal for every site, but it’s like 4 door SUV / Sedan of the Internet. It’ll probably do the job for you.

Now – the issue is that basically anybody can call themselves a “WordPress developer” – even if they really don’t know how the software works at its core.

It’s important to do #1 and #2 – because you’ll need to know if you are hiring a designer / developer who works with WordPress as their software of choice vs. someone who actually develops websites with WordPress.

Here’s where I’d look –

  1. Stalk local WordPress meetups.
  2. Stalk the attendees of WordCamps – big gatherings of designers who use WordPress.
  3. Stalk the community support forums of WordPress.org
  4. Do an incredibly specific Google search with something like intext:”Work with me”
WordCamp Attendees

One side note about WordPress designers – since they’ll likely use certain themes/theme frameworks – you’ll be able to negotiate a bit more on scope and do more with DIY.

For [other platform] designer / developer

Now there are plenty of other software options out there – especially “hosted options” like Squarespace, Weebly, Shopify, Wix, Bigcommerce, etc.

The key here is to understand the technology and what exactly you are buying (ie, you are paying more for a custom design over functionality since the hosted option bundles lots of functionality in with your hosting).

Lean heavily on the services’ support forums and Experts Exchange to find prospective designers.

For a general designer / developer

The great thing about web design is that you can work with a global talent pool if you want. There are challenges to working remotely but a lot of upside if you can do it well.

Again, for this search, I’d recommend relying more on internal platforms over random searches. Here’s a few examples.

99designs is a good option for contest-run design only competitions. I’ve implemented designs that my clients have bought through them. Here’s my general review.

Dribbble is the big hangout for designers doing cutting edge work.

Most developers will have a profile on Github or StackExchange or HackerNews. Look for ones who have good answers.

Fiverr is a surprisingly good platform if you are willing to try a few gigs before committing to a single designer. I’ve used them for several side projects.

Upwork is also good if you are willing to do a test project with several designers before choosing.

Tailor Brands is an AI-powered self-service platform that will develop a logo and entire branding setup for less than $100.

You’ll also find that vendors on ThemeForest will do custom work in addition to other marketplaces like CreativeMarket.

The point here is that a bit more effort into searching for good designers will give you much better options than general googling.

Alternatives to a Custom Website Designer

Now if you’re thinking “ok – I just need a simple, straightforward website, not a roundabout search” – then you’ll want to look into some Alternative Options.

Skip down to some alternate ways to get a website without having to choose a website designer.

6. Ask for Proposals

Now that you have a few website designers to choose from, the next step is to send out a proposal.

The better your proposal, the better your options will be.

Think about how you would like to be approached if you were a web designer.

Would you prefer a vague email asking how much a website costs? Or would you prefer a detailed description of a the project along with a ballpark budget range?

What To Consider

  • Providing a ballpark budget is the fastest, simplest & most accurate way to get on the same page as a website designer. Your budget does not determine your end cost – but it does determine who you even talk to. As an analogy – it’s how website designers know whether you are shopping for a used Toyota Corolla or a brand-new Ferrari.
  • Make your project easy to say yes to. Keep the next step & primary ask simple and straightforward (ie, “are you interested in the project?”, “if interested, what additional details do you need?”)

What To Avoid

  • Avoid sending lots of feeler emails with no intention of hiring.
  • Avoid sending an email with too much information or too many asks.

7. Follow up with Questions & Request for References & Portfolio

However the designer communicates upfront is how the project will progress. Communication never improves over a project – it only degrades. Look for a high benchmark to start.

What To Consider

  • You are using your requirements, questions, and details to get prospective web designers to rule themselves out.
  • Think about your priorities – sending too many questions is just as bad as too few.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid dictating the entire process. Remember that the designer’s questions for you can tell you as much as your questions for them.
  • Avoid making the designer do too much back and forth. If you think a call will be necessary during the design process, do this entire step via a phone call.

8. Request Contract & Project Plan (and declines)

Tangible expectations in writing help everyone in every engagement.

At this point, you should be able to choose a website designer.

The next step is to request a contract and a project plan from the designer that you want to work with.

A written contract helps *everyone* in the project. The contract should spell out “deliverables”, costs, responsibilities, intellectual property rights, and an adjudicating body.

A project plan helps *everyone* understand expectations, responsibilities, and timelines. This does not have to be complicated. It should communicate clearly though who is responsible for what and when.

Lastly, for the designers that you did not choose, be sure to send a polite decline. Even if it’s as simple as “Thank you for providing this information. We have decided to work with another company. We will keep your company in mind for future project & referrals.” You’ll save the everyone needless follow-ups.

9. Follow up & Communicate Clearly

A good website designer cannot help a bad client.

What To Consider

  • The website is going to be *yours* so you need to make sure you have all the information you need to make decisions.
  • Make sure you have all the technical documentation in your control.
  • Remember that a lot of design work depends on fast, accurate feedback.
  • Budget for not only time but also money for incidentals (ie, photography) and technical issues.

What To Avoid

  • Interrupting the project plan and micromanaging.
  • Providing the wrong feedback at the wrong stage.
  • Avoid verbal conversations without follow-up written documentation. Phone call notes are essential.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Choosing a website designer does not have to be a daunting process full of frustration and unknowns.

It does require that you clearly understand what you want, when you want it, and to clearly communicate your expectations.

If you are trying to find a good website designer – follow the process and you’ll be set!

Alternate Conclusion & Next Steps

Now – if you have read this post and found it useful…but…

You’re thinking “I just need a website! It’s 2020 – I just need a simple, affordable, quick standard website – not a complicated purchase with contracts and whatnot”

I hear you. I have friends who have been there. And there are options out there – but it’s not a quality custom website designer.

Here’s some options –

#0 – DIY w/ Automated Branding & Design

Many design options (including the ones below) require you to coordinate your branding, even if you are able to purchase assets like a logo or social media photos. But that leaves a lot up to you.

There is one company that focuses on completely automated branding – Tailor Brands. I’ve begun using them for my side projects. They AI and machine learning to create a whole range of design assets & guidelines.

They also have a bundled website builder or you can use them to complement #1 through #3. Check out Tailor Brands here. Read my review here.

Other website builders also bundle a logo designer with their software. Wix has a template driven logo designer as does Shopify.

#1 – DIY with a Website Builder

There are companies that specialize in businesses with a budget and no design or technical expertise. They provide hosting and pre-made templates all for a single monthly subscription. You might not get all the functionality that you want…but you will get a secure, fast, good looking website.

To find the right website one, take my website builder quiz or see my recommendations here.

I also have an online store builder quiz with recommendations here if you need ecommerce.

#2 – DIY with self-hosted WordPress

WordPress is a the most popular, most supported, and most versatile “content management system” on the Internet. It’s free community supported software that you install on a hosting account (ie, you rent part of a server from a hosting company). The software has a learning curve, but you’ll have 100% control and 100% of your options open. You’ll also be able to call in specific experts on specific problems. Or install do-it-all themes / templates.

I wrote a WordPress Website Setup Guide here.

#3 – Purchase Website Design from a Hosting Company

This option is a blend of #1 and #2 – if you want full control over your site with unlimited options for the future…but don’t want the learning curve of setting up a design yourself, then you can sometimes purchase website design services from a hosting company. They are usually able to provide these services much cheaper than an independent website designer since you’re also using their hosting services.

For these projects, I recommend InMotion Hosting – they have great support and are the hosting company for this website. See their design services here.

Other resources include –

  • How To Try WordPress Before Purchasing
  • Choosing Your Website Color Palette
  • Features Customer Want in a Local Website
  • Building Different Types of Websites with Templates

For any specific questions, see my contact page.

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