I just got the latest issue of Connect Magazine today. Inside is an article called How to Pick a Web Design Firm which hasn’t been posted to Connect’s website yet, but once it is I’ll link it here. The article is written by Brandon Anderson from i4, which is one of MWI’s competitors. Of the 17 points Brandon makes I agree with every single one wholeheartedly, except for the last one, with which I respectfully disagree.
From the article:
Is the firm launching a high number of Web sites at regular intervals for new clients?
Find a client list for the firm (typically on its Web site) and divide that number by the number of years it has been in business. If the average seems low, there is a valid reason to question the firm’s credibility. Remember, success breeds success. If the average number of sites completed in a year is low, the firm usually will charge each client more to offset its slow periods. Don’t take a firm’s word for it–physically count the number of clients served. Always make sure you are dealing with the most successful partners you can find in any aspect of your business.
Let’s think about this statement for a moment. If a web design firm is turning out a high quantiy of websites in a given time period, what does that mean?
1. They know how to sell websites.
2. They work fast.
Let’s start with #2. While faster is better, all other things being equal, often faster does not mean better because all other things are not equal when speed is the only goal. Of course you don’t want to go with a firm that takes a long time to do a poor job, that’s going from bad to worse, but you also don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of speed. Better to have something done right than done quickly in most cases. Now if a company can produce high quality work quickly, then that’s the best of both worlds. I am merely saying that the speed at which a web design firm completes their work does not necessarily mean they are a better firm.
Now #1. I have seen companies that did very good work in every aspect that stayed small and worked with a limited number of clients, nonetheless. To take a specific case, one of these companies then hired a new sales guy and all of a sudden they tripled in size. Did the company do better work after growing? Not necessarily, they did great work before and after. But the reason they grew was not because they did good work, but rather because they hired somebody who knew how to sell what they were doing. I’ve also seen several companies that produced sub-par work and yet had lots of clients because of having the right person doing business development.
The bottom line is that if a company is launching a lot of websites in a short period of time that is not a reliable basis for judging the quality of work done by that firm, and it may actually be a negative. Every client I’ve met would prefer to be the only client we were working with at that moment vs. being one of five, ten, or fifty.
So what would I recommend in picking a web design firm? Follow every one of Brandon’s recommendations, minus that last one. The most important tips to follow would be:
1. Look at work they’ve done recently. If you like it, chances are you’ll like what that firm does for you.
2. Contact references. If they’re happy, chances are you will be happy.
3. Go with your gut. Your first impression is generally correct.
4. Choose the company that has the best hold music.Liked it? Share it!
I actually disagreed with his “are the employees going to seminars to stay cutting edge?” point.
First off, don’t ever say “cutting edge.” That tired phrase is anything but. Second off, if going to seminars is your way to stay ahead of the web curve, you’re obviously behind the curve.
Other than that, great article.
I almost brought up something on the matter of conferences as well since I don’t see them as being anywhere close to necessary, and it’s perfectly possible for someone who attends design or HTML/CSS conference sessions to still be a horrible designer or coder. Most of the content presented at conferences can be found online quite easily, especially since the presenters in this industry generally post their presentations online. That said, I don’t see conferences as being anything but good and helpful and would never discourage anyone from going or any company from sending their people. But as a key factor for a client to make a decision upon? No, I wouldn’t rank it very high.
I have never worked with i4, but I know people that have and their exact words were “I will never work with i4 again.”
To be fair, there are probably such people for every web development firm out there, including my own. The nature of the business is such that it invites misunderstandings and ensuing client/developer disputes in which both parties at parting feel that they have been wronged by the other. I’ve learned to steer clear of clients that complain about the last web development firm they worked with, and to steer very clear of those who complain about the last five or six firms they worked with, as the chance of my firm being next on the list is probably a high one.
That said, in seven years MWI has probably had less than 10 clients out of several hundred who feel as though they were ripped off. In 2-3 of those cases I can say the client had a good case, although the cause has been incompetence on our part and never dishonesty, nor an unwillingness to try and make things right. That would put our “disatisfaction rating” at well under 5% which, if I’m not exactly proud of, I am willing to say is probably about as good as one could expect to find at any firm. As for i4, I have no idea myself what percentage of their clients are thrilled vs. satisfied vs. dissatisfied. Have I heard negative things? Certainly, but I am inclined to overlook such things and assume they are in the minority as I hope others, if they ever hear something negative regarding MWI will assume it is the exception and not the rule.