If you're looking at hiring a website designer or SEO provider, beware! The stories we hear from fellow business owners on how they've been treated by these businesses defies description. You think you have heard bad stories about contractors being flaky or bad. Ha!
So what should you do before hiring someone to get your website up and running, and hiring someone to help you get found on the web?
Make sure you understand the basics first. We have an article on how websites work on our website here.
You want to approach this project just exactly like the media, Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau and Angie's List tell your clients to approach a construction project. Look for a website designer just like you should look for a contractor.
A referral or recommendation from a friend is a great start. If you can't find a referral, ask a potential website designer for references. Don't be shy – call their references and get the straight scoop. Don't just ask if they delivered the website – ask the references if their website can be found on the web. Too many website designers are big on the "make it pretty" process, but don't bother with the details that help a website get found. Test those references by trying to find their website yourself – if the reference is a store in a given town, search for a product in that town and see if the website appears in Google.
When you've selected the company you want to work with, make sure they provide a well-written contract that specifies a start and completion date and benchmarks so that you know things are getting done. You need a payment schedule tied to the benchmarks, and make sure the payment schedule is not front end heavy. If the company has problems with that, walk away. We hear all kinds of stories about these flakes taking money and then disappearing or, just as bad, going out of business.
What happens if and when a provider has taken your deposit or maybe a progress payment or two then goes out of business? I personally think that you should file a claim in small claims court against the owner (and make sure all their personal information is part of the contract). If the amount is larger than allowed in your local small claims court, have your attorney sue the owner. These clowns get away with this because no one calls them on it. They take the money, shut the business down and then start another business with a new name. Hmmmmm, doesn't that sound like some of the construction company owners we've heard about over the years?
Get a solid contract, check references, set deadlines and walk carefully. You don't want to be the next contractor I hear from who's been taken by a shady website designer.