Choosing the right design & development partner for your business.

Stanley Vaganov
Jul 26, 2019 · 12 min read

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” — Benjamin Franklin

Congratulations! You have started a business. You have thought about it long and hard. You talked about it long enough and you have read all the success and horror stories along the way. But you did it anyways! I applaud your courage.

It does not matter what business you are in, you could be a new owner of a bagel shop or homemade candle maker, or an online retail or consultancy firm. Perhaps you just thought of a cool app and hope to join the ranks of the silicon valley success stories; be the next Musk or Jobs. To succeed you will need the help of designer and/or developer who can help you realize your vision.

Preface.

Before we dive in, I just want to mention that, being a part of the design community, we collectively, only want the best for you, us and for our ecosystem that is built on design. Design is all around us, everywhere. It is our responsibility as such, to help produce the best possible and most pleasant experiences for customers and consumers. Sure, there are a lot of proud, ego driven, inexperienced, self proclaimed designers and developers. Every industry has that type of people. But for the most part I believe in the creative community and our obsessive need to make things look great, be accessible, usable and enjoyable by all. And I think you, as a new found business owner, would want the same for your customers. Great design makes for a wonderful consumer experience. It helps to ensure a long and prosperous venture for you.

Now let’s do this.

Some design help you may need straight out of the gate.

Most likely you will need a logo along with ,promotional and marketing assets. Perhaps a website? Maybe your company will benefit from the design and development of a full mobile application (app)? In any case, unless you are an avid designer and developer you will need professional help.

“No, I don’t need that, I can do it myself. My friends have told me about Wix and Squarespace and Wordpress! I will save money and spend it on things that are really important to my business. Plus my little cousin knows Photoshop so he will make my logo. I am all set”

And you know what? You may be totally right! Being a business owner and having experience working with other business owners for over 15 years I get the importance of budgeting.

Bleak forecast.

Here is the thing though: If you have never done any design or development beforehand, it mostly likely will suck! It is the most frustrating process after, perhaps, trying to get a live operator during an automated customer call.

Here are a few things that may end up happening.

  1. You will enthusiastically begin designing your website yourself. You will watch tons of Youtube videos, you will read through DIY tutorials and when you feel like a pro you will install a theme from Wordpress … and the end result will look nothing like what you bought. I won’t bore you with what comes next, but let’s just say you will be very disappointed and aggravated for quite some time. I have seen cases where people who tried to build a site themselves, took so long that they totally lost the will to continue with their business, or missed their traction opportunity due to the delay.
  2. You will spend time building a website. Carefully researching, copying and mimicking other websites that you find to be great. You will grind day after day for months perfecting it, thick and thin until it is completed. You then launch and proudly share your baby with the world. You might even guilt your friends and family into sharing it because, well why wouldn’t you? I would. But then time goes by and you feel like you are not getting any traction or business out of your self built website. Sales are simply not coming in, no visitors…crickets!

3. If you are in the 1% of success stories where you have built a site by yourself, it looks great and you are actually gaining business out of it. I bow before thee. Shoot me an email, let’s chat further. I would love to hear your story.

4. Oh almost forgot, that little cousin you have that knows Photoshop and made you a logo. Just a heads up, you no longer have a little cousin, he ruined your business.

Wow, thanks Debbie Downer…so then what should I do?

Well, gleaning from the title of this article, you probably can guess where this is headed. You hire a professional! Find and entrust someone who has done this many times before. Don’t be a hero and do everything yourself. Few people succeed on their own. Things are easier with the help of others.

However, a quick visit to social media for any guidance or help can make your head spin. People are vultures out there, I tell ya! If you happen to join a business owner or startup group be prepared to be solicited like there is no tomorrow. You will certainly encounter the following…

“ Design, development, click funnels, sales funnels, SEO, CRM, marketing, influencers, social media advertising, click baits, keywords, Google Ads, marketing strategy, UX, UI, full stack, half stack, no stack, what is a stack anyway?”

What just happened? My head is spinning…Oh wait, I forgot, I made a post in a group asking if anyone does website design at a reasonable price…Cool! I am trending with so many responses now! This is easy

Here is where it gets tricky. Filtering through the noise to see what is actually helpful to you, who is a good designer/developer, or who is just pushing their own agenda to make a sale. A marketing company or consultant may be telling you that without marketing strategy in place your site and brand will fail, while a designer is telling you that without good design and brand appeal you won’t succeed. Or, you will have developer companies telling you that none of the above matters if the site has no proper engine built. And they will all be correct to a degree. Messed up, right? I know.

In an ideal world you will want to have all 3 disciplines seamlessly working together in tandem. But this is not an ideal world, this is Planet Earth in 2019. So you need to be smart about it and here is a bit of seemingly humorous free advise:

Make a plan and work backwards to achieve it.

Make a plan and work backwards to achieve it.

Before you reach out and begin the process of hiring outsourced designers and developers you must have a clear goal. Understanding what you want to achieve in business and how good design, a website and an app play into that equation will contribute to achieving your goals.. Don’t bottle up these thoughts inside your head. Write them down, all of them. Go for a walk, watch a movie and come back to them later. When you return, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve by the end of the business year, or in five years from now?” It could be anything from having steady cash flow, gross sales of a million dollars, 10,000 customers, living debt free…whatever. Now work backwards and set up a monthly plan listing the steps you will need to take to achieve your goal. For example, if my goal is to have gross sales for the year to be a million dollars, how much should I be averaging in monthly sales to achieve it? Daily? How does having a website help me? Well if you are looking to sell online then the answer should be clear….

Now that you have a bit of clarity as to what you want your business to achieve, set some realistic, attainable milestones, and ask yourself how you are going to make it happen? Hire a professional … oh that’s right!

When it comes to selecting a vendor and design/dev partner, as a small business owner I would say that your main criteria and deciding factor will probably be price, followed by their portfolio, experience and trust worthiness.

When it comes to pricing

I know, I know, believe I know that budget is painfully hard to manage and knowing where to spend more and where to save is a gamble at times. I can’t tell you how to spend it or what is more important to your business but I can tell you this…

As a designer first and business owner second, it is super hard for me not to yell from the top of my lungs, Don’t cut corners on design. Invest in good design, branding, and experience because your customers deserve it. Just like the opening quote says, good deals fade, poor designs remain. If having a logo is not essential to your business then you shouldn’t spend too much. You will hear designers say branding is everything, without a brand you have no face, etc. While branding is important it is not 100% true for every business in every instance. If you are an apparel company selling through many retail outlets, then perhaps a great logo is more important to you then someone else. If you are a candle maker that personally sells at farmers markets or other one-on-one locations, and have no plans to ever sell online, then perhaps you do not need an ecommerse website right at the start, or at all. A social media page will do just fine. But remember this, whatever decision you make please spend the time to find a good designer, because having a poor customer experience will kill your brand and business in no time. And don’t let those so called professionals tell you what you need. Rather, they should advise and give options. A professional designer or a design firm should never give you a quote without first asking a bunch of questions. That is how the will really, understand your goal and the tasks you need them to do.

Imagine a scenario where you have pain or not feeling well and you go on WebMD. You self diagnose and then go to a doctor asking for prescription. Now imagine a doctor just gives it to you, without doing a check up, no medical history read through. You take said pill and get worse, turns out you are allergic to it and things are much worse now. Same logic here, how can someone from the start give you a price without knowing your story, your goals, and expectations.

A good rule of thumb to follow is:

  • A great logo should cost more than $25
  • A good designer won’t give you a price for a project without asking questions
  • A good design and dev firm or vendor will spend some time speaking with you about your needs and goals and should be genuinely curious about many things pertaining to your and your goals
  • A good designer will share their portfolio and case studies right away so you can identify if their aesthetics match your vision
  • An empathetic professional will never tell you something sucks and you should go with something else from the start . They will try to understand why you choose a particular solution and should only inform you of your options, not coerce you into accepting their decisions.
  • Only you can know your budget for a logo design or branding. There is no market average. You can get a logo for $5 or you can get a logo for $1M. Set an absolute maximum amount for yourself that you can spend and try to find portfolios that match that price and your vision.

Please note the above is my opinion based on years of experience in the industry. This is not universal truth, but it is my truth. And the advice does not apply only for logos. It applies for all creative design needs.

Questions you should be asking potential candidates

  • Ask to see their portfolio, see if you like it
  • Ask them about their process of how they work
  • Clearly align in your expectations of the engagement
  • Ask for references and testimonials if you are not 100% sold
  • Ask for price but don’t be afraid to disclose your budget. Transparency makes for fruitful results and great process
  • Ask for estimate timelines for delivery
  • Ask for written proposal if you find them to be fitting

Questions you should be asked

  • What services do you need?
  • Why do you feel you need them, what does it solve?
  • What are your goals? How does this service solves it
  • What is your budget for this engagement?
  • Do you have any specific deadlines?
  • What is your criteria for selecting a vendor?
  • What do you value the most in the potential selected vendor?
  • Samples of work that you like that is similar in what you are looking for

Where should you be looking for these professionals?

The ideal way is through personal recommendations and word of mouth. This method alleviates guess work as to fees, how good they are, and if they are trustworthy. However, if that is not an option, here are few things I would do.

  • Hit up https://www.behance.net that place is oozing with talent.
  • Look on instagram for work samples, i.e. logo and find most appealing account and slide in their DM, trust me they will love it.
  • Linkedin. If you are looking for more professional agency and want direct contact. This may work
  • Clutch.co, DesignRush, UpCity are all great platforms to find viable candidates.
  • Fiverr if you are on a budget and want to find some cost effective solution with pricing immediately available. I personally don’t like that platform and have heard horror stories.
  • Only ask on Facebook in places/groups that you absolutely trust and have had a great engagement. Otherwise you will be spammed with BS.

Final thoughts

Do your homework and careful planning from the start. Set realistic budgets for these design and development needs. No, I don’t mean having 1K for everything will do. It will only buy you a checkmark and an illusion that you have done it. Good quality products and results require realistic investment on your part. Also think in context. A good website can cost around 20k and up. That is a lot of money! Sure it is. But if your goal is to average 200,000K in sales from an online store, then 10% of investment is certainly worth it. A good logo can cost 10k+ but if it touches hundreds and thousands of surfaces ( merchandise, packaging, signage, etc…) just imagine the reputational price you will pay for a poorly designed logo that you purchased for $25 bucks. And that does not include the additional money you will spend to have it all rebranded and reprinted again in the hope you can salvage your damaged first impressions. Doing it yourself sure will cut corners and help you save a few bucks, but the damage and problems it will cause down the line can be irreparable. Designing a site yourself is possible, but it takes A LOT of work and patience. Not only must you design the site, but you must also make sure it meets industry standards, its usability is flawless, and that it ranks well with SEO. Plus it has to, look great on mobile …. Oh yea … Mobile! Given all that, I believe it would be best if you just outsource it, unless as I said, you are in that 1% where you are so patient and thorough and willing to dedicate a lot of time into perfecting it.


If you have read through all of this and still have full faith in your ability to get it all done yourself. Congratulation! Your dexterity is amazing. In that case if you want to learn more about setting up a website yourself you may find this article of use: Read here ( an article I have written some time back that will give you some tips for DIY scenario )

Stanley Vaganov

Written by

Designer | Business Owner | Advocate for good design and business ethics | Founder @ www.becurious.co

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