Creating a website will take several hours, probably days, of your time. If you can’t afford that time, have not-so-hot computer skills, need advanced programming, or are simply not interested, there are thousands of developers who can set up a website for you.

Many “companies” are actually single person freelancers, working out of a home office. The advantage of working with a freelancer is that the cost is going to be lower than going with a website development company with employees and an office as overhead. The disadvantage is that your developer may get sick, delaying development. With a well run company you have more assurance of continuity.

Whether you go with a single person or a large firm, it’s important that you know what you want your website to look like and to say. A good designer can format your design, and even copywrite for you, but the clearer you are about what you want, the better the job your developer will do. It may help both you and your designer to find a few of your competitors’ websites that you like. That will give you both a good place to start.

Also, remember that you will have to proofread your website very carefully. No one is perfect. No team is perfect.

What Makes a Good Website developer

It’s a buyer’s market for web designers right now. You can get a good web developer to set up your site very reasonably. The hard part is figuring out which are the good web developers.

A good website developer should provide all of the following:

  • Graphic design

    Also known as “look and feel”
    A good designer should be fluent in Adobe Photoshop© and Adobe ImageReady©, in Macromedia’s Fireworks, or other graphics creation tool.

  • Page creation

    Ask whether the company develops in native HTML or uses a tool such as Front Page. Such tools produce bulkier, and therefore slower, pages. Besides, someone who is not intimately familiar with the tools of web production is not rea-ll-ly an expert, any more than a guy who sells pre-printed wills is really a lawyer.

  • Programming

    There are a number of good programming languages for the web. If you are tied to a particular host, make sure your developer can program in the host’s environment. The biggies are UNIX vs. Microsoft. Of course, hosts are cheap and easy to find, so if you really like a particular developer, ask him if he’ll transfer your site for you to a web host he’s confident in.

  • Promotion, marketing and site optimization

    Ask whether the developer knows how to optimize pages for search engines. For starters, ask her what a metatag is. If she doesn’t know, look elsewhere.

    Also ask what your developer plans to do to publicize your site. Will he set up some link exchanges for you? Will he submit your site to directories such as Skaffe and DMOZ? Again, if he’s never heard of Skaffe or DMOZ — look elsewhere!

  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills

    If you find a brilliant and talented web developer who doesn’t abide by your wishes, you may get a terrific site, but it won’t be the site you wanted. You don’t have to marry the guy, but you do have to get along with him sufficiently to get the job done right. In addition to artistic and technical ability, your developer must be willing to listen and to accept criticism.

How to Find a Website developer

One good way to choose a developer is to ask for a recommendation from someone whose site you admire. It doesn’t have to be someone you know in real life. Most people are flattered to get an email telling them how much you like their site and would they please give you the name of the developer.

Alternatively, there are online directories, like the ones listed on this page and in our geographical listing of web developers. Some of these directory sites give you the ability to request quotes from several developers who will respond to you online. If you find a developer on one of these directory sites, ask him or her for a list of sites they have done. Then call or email the webmaster or other contact person listed on some of those sites. Ask if those clients were satisfied with the quality and timeliness of the developer’s work, and whether the developer showed an understanding of their requirements and a willingness to listen.

If you’re willing to deal with people strictly by email, phone and IM, there are programmers in India and Russia who charge very little. Many of them frequent these online directories, so be aware that the person answering your bid request may be half a world away.

This is very important: Make sure you get a written contract that spells out precisely what your developer is going to do for you.If time is of the essence, get some wording put in about time frames. And make sure your contract states that you own your name and the work the developer does for you once you have paid her.

Some dont’s in picking a website designer

  • Don’t yield to the temptation of hiring someone without a track record, just because they’re cheap, or they’re someone’s nephew.

    You want someone who will complete the job when he says he will, and who will produce a professional looking website. Also, you don’t want any hurt feelings if you your friend’s nephew does a rotten job and you have to tell him so. Nor do you want to be reticent about asking for changes because someone is doing the website for you as a favor.

  • Don’t be impressed by awards.

    They’re easy to get. For example, this site is a Planet Top Site. Your site, too, can be a top site. Just follow the link here and add your site. They’ll provide a graphic for you to put on your website in exchange for a link to them.

  • Don’t be impressed by a slick marketing presentation.

    If the firm is dominated by marketers, they may undervalue their technical talent. Some of the best companies are two or three person firms whose members are all actual designers and programmers. Three other things to consider:

    • One: A marketer is overhead for a design firm. That means the firm that hires one has to charge you more to pay the marketer’s salary.
    • Two: A marketer knows how to sell, not the nits and grits of how to make a website. You might as well start the process with the person who’s actually going to make the website.
    • Three: You may love the marketer you meet with initially, but that’s not the person you’ll be living with during the creation process. You need to be sure you can communicate with the person who’s actually going to do the work.

For a listing of designers by location, go to this site’s web designer directory