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Archive for January 30th, 2012

Ideas for finding a QUALITY DESIGNER to build your author website

So we’ve been talking for weeks now about the importance of your author website to connecting with prospective readers and making sales. Here’s the question: Who should do your website for you? I completely understand issues around budgeting and why – if you have some natural (or learned) skill at it – you might want to build your own website. WordPress offers excellent tools for creating a pretty nice-looking DIY site.

However, there are a number of good reasons for finding money in your budget to hire a professional Web designer. Among them:

  • Hiring a professional designer can save you time.
  • The Internet changes constantly – your website should reflect that dynamism and change with it.
  • A friend/relative will never prioritize your work the way a paid designer will.
  • Some designers have good SEO knowledge and skill that can benefit you.
  • A pro will be able to optimize your site for various browsers (and mobile devices).
  • If you want a site that makes a splash of any sort, you may need the design skills of a professional.
  • One thing that will make your site look great – and work well – is a finished appearance, which a professional designer can do for you.

So, once you decide you will make the plunge and hire a Web designer, how do you find the right one for your author website? To be honest, more than any other industry I’ve encountered, this field is rife with the sketchiest of feedback in terms of the quality of service providers. I long ago lost count of how many friends, colleagues, and clients have told me they were misled, ripped off, or had otherwise bad experiences with Web designers. That is just my experience, but ask around. It seems to be an unfortunate trend in the industry. What that means is that it is up to you to do your due diligence and make sure the designer you’re hiring is worth the money before you plunk down a dime.

Here are some things to consider before making a decision about which designer to hire.

GOALS FOR YOUR SITE. Is your site going to be mostly a brochure site where prospective readers can come and test drive a sample chapter or two? Are you looking to build a speaking career around your book? If so, that site is probably going to be somewhat different. Do you want a forum where readers can interact with each other? There’s no right or wrong, but you must know before you begin what you want your site to do. Then, go find a designer who can do it.

EXPERIENCE. The best designer may or may not have a ton of experience under their belt. Either way, you’ll want to look at sites they have already created to get a feeling for whether they synch with your goals for your author website. There may be something to be said for hiring a designer who specializes in author sites; however, you probably don’t want a cookie-cutter site that looks like a bunch of other authors’ sites, either. So make sure the designer you hire has the breadth, imagination, and listening skills to capture exactly what you want to create in your site.

As thenextweb.com puts it:

Web designers come in various shapes and sizes. Many specialize in one technology or another, and further, some specialize in specific visual styles or servicing a particular demographic. I know of a few designers who do nothing but political sites all day, every day — and they nail the style that they are known for.

While expertise in a style can be useful, and an agency or freelancer that targets your specific area might sound great, there are some who simply re-hash the same few designs over and over again. There’s a big difference between knowing a particular style of design well and innovating within that style, and trying to make a living as a one-trick pony with under-developed skills.

FREELANCE vs. COMPANY. The next thing you want to decide is whether you will hire a freelance designer or an actual Web design company. Each has its pros and cons, but in this industry neither is a sure bet – so again, do your research!

WHERE TO LOOK. The best place to begin is by asking other people (authors) whose sites you like: “Who did your site?” They will likely give you honest feedback about their experience working with their Web designers. Another place to look is on Web design galleries (a Google search can get you there). If either of those options doesn’t pan out, you can always try the freelance sites like Guru.com or eLance.com. The most important thing to remember is not to rush this process. Find a designer you feel good about, and whatever happens, go with your gut.

LOOK AT THE DESIGNER’s SITE. Make sure you visit the designers’ sites to see how they represent themselves on the Web.

Sitepoint.com recommends asking yourself the following questions, at minimum:

  • Do they tell you who they are and what they offer?
  • Do they appear to have the specific skills you need?
  • Do they have a portfolio you can view?
  • Does the designer describe their technical background?
  • How well do they use color on their own site?
  • Are their page titles appropriate and informative?
  • Is their site easy to navigate, and to get back to where you began?
  • Would your visitors/readers like a similar navigation system?
  • Are all their pages accessible, with no broken links?
  • Is the overall page design consistent?
  • Can you easily find the Contact Page and Site Map?
  • Are things on their site aligned properly?
  • Is the text on their site easy to read?
  • Do the pages load quickly?
  • Do all links open in new tabs or new windows?

PRICING & CONTRACTS. Other things to consider are pricing and the sort of contract they offer. Pricing for Web design runs the gamut from several hundred dollars to many thousands. Of course, part of that has to do with the complexity of the design, but unlike many other industries, a high fee is not always a guarantee of good work. I like how thenextweb.com puts it: “You might find that many really talented designers aren’t charging particularly expensive rates, so don’t take their previous work as an indicator of price.” And as far as a contract goes, it’s always a good idea to get someone with some legal acumen to look over any contract before you sign it.

REFERENCES. Lastly, remember to get references! Find a few people who’ve worked with the designer before and get input from them. Remember, though, consider the source. If three out of four tell you they had a great experience, there may be more to the story for the one who did not.

Yep, it’s going to take some work, but when you end up with a site you (and your readers) love, you will be glad you made the effort.

Happy hiring!

MARCIE

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