Startup Resources
April 30, 2014 by Julia Camenisch

What does it take to get that proverbial “match made in heaven” between a business and a web design firm?

The time-tested wisdom of relationship advice columnists says that good communication, realistic expectations, and mutual respect go a long way toward heading off trouble. As it turns out, advice for solid partnership with your web designer is exactly the same.

Maria Pentkovski, oDesk’s interactive art director, has a lot of experience in this regard. She’s been on both sides of the fence — working both for the client and as the client.

Having seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in these partnerships, she recently shared some helpful advice on both how to hire remote web designers and developers and, in this post, how to maintain the ideal client/freelancer relationship.

Spend time negotiating

You may have found the perfect web design company, but don’t commit to anything just yet. To get this relationship off to the right start, you have to sort through some important matters and make expectations clear — for both of you.

  • The first issue you need to settle is price. In order for the web designer to give you an accurate quote, you need to provide a realistic picture of what the job entails. Pentkovski advised that, before going into negotiations, you should “be someone who has an idea of what you want with your website, including what your purpose and goals for the site are.”
  • Second, determine milestones. Even the best designer can only work so fast. Discuss a schedule and figure out when deliverables should be ready at each stage of the process. Make sure you’ve both signed off on this.
  • Finally, think long term. Your site is likely to need updates and/or redesigns in the future. “You definitely want a web designer or developer who can come back and make updates to your site. You don’t want your site to stay the same for an extended period of time,” said Pentkovski.

But don’t expect these changes to be free or cheap; now is the time to discuss those future updates. “It’s a good idea to have a monthly retainer or to work out a deal where there is a different hourly rate for different kinds of work, such as content update versus design/coding work.”

Carry your share of the load

The web designer can only work with what you give her. That’s why your input into the process has got to be top priority on your to-do list. “The designer needs to know your business goals and branding; they’ll take that information and build from it,” Pentkovski pointed out. Supporting those business goals is site content. Have you figured out the details of what your website will actually contain?

If you’re really clueless on the matter, your web design firm can give you input. If you already know what pages you need, get that information to your agency contact as soon as possible. And as Pentkovski noted, don’t make it difficult to wade through. “Many times, I’ve seen the client send a big document, completely unorganized. It’s important for the client to think ahead and figure out what pages they want and what should be on each page.”

It’s not a one-way street

Remote work relationships are most successful when based on mutual respect. You haven’t just hired someone to “get ‘er done.” You’ve hired a web design expert who knows his field well. Make use of that specialized knowledge by listening to his input.

“Create a relationship with them that is more than just handing out tasks and giving direction,” said Pentkovski.

“It should be like a collaborative work relationship, where one benefits from the other. Share ideas without telling them exactly what to do. As designers, we’ve learned to take those ideas and create visual representations of them,” she added.

Designers are natural problem solvers: give them freedom to tackle the challenges in your website. Their expertise is a powerful tool to take your business to places that you couldn’t get to on your own.

First-time clients often have a learning curve when it comes to working with web designers and developers. What other advice would you give on how to have a successful relationship? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.