The Wrong Way to Shop for and Build a New Website

Website Redesign Crowdsourcing

The Wrong Way to Shop for and Build a New Website

When I first started 816, the business was limited to my skill set, so it was a graphic and web design business, with some content development thrown in. It grew, albeit slowly, and the referrals I got reflected those skills.

Over the past couple years, I’ve refined the direction of the business to target a specific type of client and to deliver to him, her, or them a certain structural style of work.

Why? Because they’re the kinds of people with whom I prefer to work. Because I like getting out of bed and being energized. Because I had grown weary of spending hours doing work merely to get paid.

But how do you explain to someone—particularly someone you don’t yet know, a new lead, or even worse a longtime client—with a limited knowledge of web development that it’s been those years of experience that have led you to conclude that every website project should include a UX component? That that’s why your quote is higher, your proposal more dense, your level merely … higher than what they see when they google “hire website designer.”

Especially with website redesign—if you’re serious about the success of your business—if you don’t take the time to step back and evaluate the goals of the website, how it’s meeting them or not currently, and how to better acknowledge the user, that’s a fail.

It’s a fail.

(If you need proof of the importance of UX, I recommend checking out this case study in which we undertook the momentous task of transforming a monster into a mermaid.)

Arrogance in the Bidding Process

“But I need a new site and I like your style! I don’t have to care what you have to do to build it, and I know I can get it for less.”

I credit Paul Boag’s excellent book Website Owner’s Manual for first bringing the concept of UX to my attention. The book changed my perception of what a website could do—away from Prettier & Tidier Pages to Structured & Evolving Entity.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to fall harder for web design as a process, but UX did it. Perhaps it’s my background—I hold a B.A. in Philosophy. All that logic—the ifs, the thens—not just of what it could contain and how it could look, but how it should behave and how it should be organized.

The reason I’ve pivoted 816 away from merely being a design firm is that I was doing strategy and UX anyway. However, I was being price-shopped against freebie and cheap-o website builders, cousins and uncles who “knew some HTML,” and generally bad professionals in my own field.

Irritating, to say the least, and undervaluing of my skills as well.

What some [arrogant] people don’t get is: Flattery doesn’t work; I’m not going to lower my price just because you happen to like my work. (When I put it that way, it sounds kind of ridiculous that I would, right?)

Treating a real web professional like he or she is starving doesn’t work either—as if we should be thankful for the work when the client could simply use a website builder. (If that’s what you wanted to do, you wouldn’t be contacting us, though, right?)

One of my favorite business truths: Once you’re solely competing on price, you fail.

I never wanted to have to do that, and yet I found that despite my effort to elevate my service offerings, leads and even clients were still seeing me as a design-task monkey, whose calls to discuss their project or business were just … chatting.

I attribute this to a few ignorance-related factors:

1. I Changed the Game.

I’ve reconfigured the business a couple times since founding it in 2009, so former or long-term clients from back in the day will, of course, tend to think of me as a graphic & web designer, still on whatever level I was on when they started working with me. I’m working on this.

2. Squarespace Has More Money Than Me.

Squarespace, Wix, and other website builders have spent millions misinforming the public about how Cheap, Easy & Quick it is to build a Great Website.

I love this article that succinctly distinguishes when to hire a web developer versus using a website builder:

Don’t hire an amateur website designer. Seriously, you’re better off postponing building the site. There’s a long list of reasons why an amateur website designer will give you headaches. I won’t go into the list here, but it’s probably no surprise that designing websites is a very complicated and involved thing. You need someone you can depend on….

It can be tempting to try to hire a web designer purely based on price: lowest bid gets the job.

But if this is how you are hiring a web designer, it shows me that you lack any real criteria for deciding which web designers are good or bad.

I used to be a website designer, and the reality is, the field is not like plumbers or electricians where there is a (very general) parity among expertise in the field. A plumber is generally a competent plumber. A web designer is not always a competent web designer.

Finding a good web designer is challenging. Do some research. Try building a website yourself using a website builder (even if it doesn’t work out, it will make you better at hiring a web designer).

That’s not necessarily tried-and-true, but it certainly weeds out the people who simply can’t afford to hire a web developer. As a strategist, user experience designer, and web developer… I should cost more.

But most people are still afraid of the idea of DIY web design, so they’d instead like to hire a professional web developer to “You know, just use Squarespace or whatever… Can you do that?”

No. No I can’t. But your 15-year-old son can. He’s not reliable? Then wait till you have the budget to hire someone like me for what I CAN do.

3. WordPress Is Misunderstood.

Since CMS-based WordPress sites are easy enough to maintain, another poor assumption is that they’re just as easy to plan out and build. And WordPress is free, so what exactly are they paying for?

People operating under this misconception don’t understand the process that has to occur before and after a website build, that it’s not just about pasting together words and pictures (although if that’s your firm—relatively insulting—impression, please see #2 above).

4. Slave Labor—Sorry, Crowdsourcing Kills Value.

Crowdsourcing websites offering on-the-cheap, quick-turnaround design and development services have diminished the overall value of what, if done right, should be a process. But point of fact, crowdsourcing is only cost-effective for the designer if s/he can pump out low-quality (i.e., shitty) designs in little time.

This brilliant piece by Steve Douglas at thelogofactory.com gorgeously rants about how Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks’ billionaire founder, and a few other gigantic brand names have crowdsourced designs using contests.

Trouble is, it’s a copyright and trademark quagmire. And as is always the case, it’s the designers that are out the time, talent and creative energy, without one iota of protection for their efforts. All of this to benefit rich—and growing richer—businesses that seek to exploit their unpaid efforts. In any other industry or profession, the arrogance of such a premise would be unthinkable, and if implemented, unforgivable.

In short: Crowdsourcing is inviting slave labor—supporting exploitation—and only paying one slave. If you’re going to do it, please don’t tell me about it.

What to Do?

As soon as I get an inkling that a potential client will require heaps of education to reach past the ingrained thinking of #2-4, I pass. I have to.

Underbidding doesn’t work. I win the client by undervaluing my time and suffer in the long run.

Playing into the ignorance doesn’t work. I spend frustrating hours trying to educate the client anyway, constantly having to justify decisions and cost.

So, I seek a balance: The client who understands that web design (or branding, for that matter) is a multi-faceted process requiring many steps—not a two-week endeavor for thank-you-ma’am satisfaction. One who respects the experience I bring to the table enough to let me guide the process without devaluing my work, while working with me to accomplish goals and actually improve their businesses.

And if I get the sense that that isn’t going to happen, I gently close the door.

Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass via Compfight

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Sarah Williams

Founder & director of 816 New York and passionate about all things strategy.

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