How to Hire a Web Designer: What to Look For

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Hire a Web Designer

I realize today’s topic is a pretty off topic. But, as many of my regular readers know I just finished going through the redesign of Frugal Rules and I’ve received quite a few questions as to what you should do and look out for when hiring a web designer to redesign your blog. So, I thought I’d answer that in the form of a blog post. 🙂

While my wife and I have plenty of experience seeing clients of ours hire a web designer, this is the first time I’ve gone through it for a personal site so by no means am I an expert. Seeing as that I have no experience in designing sites this meant I needed to hire out the work in order to get the look I wanted.

What many don’t know is that my journey in getting Frugal Rules redesigned has actually lasted a little over a year. The initial experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, but taught me some important business lessons. That said, I believe that when you’re looking to hire a web designer, you need to ask yourself one question as you get started:

“What do you want the new design to accomplish?”

It sounds like a simple question, but don’t skip it. There are many things you could be looking for, such as: Improved navigation, cleaner look, opportunity for increased sales, etc. Once you have the answer to that it can help guide you in finding and choosing the right web designer.

What to Look for when Hiring a Web Designer


There are, of course, many other things you need to look out for and ask when hiring a web designer such as:

Quality generally comes at a price: I know as personal finance bloggers we generally hate to spend money. Heck, I hate it myself. But, that can be a problem when you want quality. Assuming you do not have the skills to put together a site, you’ll need to hire it out. You could go the Elance route and get someone who will do it on the cheap or hire a designer that costs more. That is not to say you can’t get quality going the virtual route, just that it might be difficult. With that in mind, be prepared to spend money if you want to hire a web designer.

Know what you want: We see this in our business quite a bit. A client gives us a job and they have little clue what they want. That usually ends in frustration as we go through multiple rounds of edits to try and hit the moving target our client provides. The same is true of a web designer. This doesn’t mean that you have to have the entire site mapped out, but give your designer some direction as to what you want. If there are sites out there you really like show them to your designer to give them some ideas. Without lifting them entirely of course. 🙂

Be prepared to wait: This really isn’t a complaint, but more of an observation. Web designers, in general, tend to take more time than they estimate upfront. Know that going into the relationship so you can set your expectations accordingly. You will also want to know when they’re scheduling you to begin work. This is vital to know. If they are vague as to when they can start or how long (generally speaking) the full job will take them then it might be a sign they’re overscheduled and you should look elsewhere.

What happens after the launch?: You need to know what they’re going to be able to do after the launch of the new site. Will they be around to provide maintenance and will there be a cost with that?

What form of communication do you prefer?: This is a simple, but important question to ask of your designer. You want to make sure you’re on the same page in regards to changes and edits so knowing how they prefer to communicate can be a lifesaver.

What does the price include?: This should be spelled out in the agreement. You want to make sure you’re not going to be surprised by any add on costs that will take you over budget. Make sure that both of you are aware of what the price includes so you can go into the project with the appropriate expectations.

Check references: This is a no-brainer, but vitally important. You want to make sure the clients they’ve worked with are happy with what they have. Ask how the backend performs now that the site has been redone as the answer could communicate how well the designer does his or her job to given direction. This also means looking at samples of past work to make sure they’re sites that don’t make your eyes bleed.

Do you really need a professional designer?: This is an important question to ask if you’re on the fence about hiring a web designer. The fact is that a professional web designer can be expensive, relatively speaking. Are you just wanting something simple that looks clean but very little in terms of bells and whistles? If that’s the case, then it’s likely you’d be well served by going with a common theme, using the Genesis framework, and customizing it yourself. The last thing you want is to spend money if you really don’t need to. This is especially the case if you’re just starting a blog and wanting something basic.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but just some of the things I learned along the way of getting Frugal Rules redesigned. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about myself…mainly that I’m not patient. 😉 If you have any questions about hiring a web designer, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to answer them.


Have you ever gone through having your website professionally redesigned? Are you more of a DIY type when it comes to designing a site, or would you rather entrust the details to someone else with more experience?



Photo courtesy of: Alper Cugun

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • Timely post for me. I just asked in the Yakezie forums about when and why to get a custom site. I think the price tag is way too high for me right now, but I think my site doesn’t look “professional”, which will probably impact its ability to make money at some point. So there’s a trade off there… Maybe I need to look at the Genesis framework, but then again, I don’t have much time at the moment 🙁

  • I spent MONTHS looking at designers and narrowed it down to four. I ended up hiring one of the four and made an initial payment. We even met up at Caribou (he was a local guy). He made a decent logo, but I wasn’t blown away by his designs so I’m back at square one. So frustrating.

  • This is an awesome guide – especially the part about it taking longer than the estimate. I don’t have a web designer (yet) but it’s on the horizon! Thanks John!

  • Greg did some of our redesign and we hired out the rest. Honestly, it’s probably time to think about getting it redesigned again. It’s amazing how quickly a site starts to look outdated!

  • One thing I found very helpful was to look at a ton of blogs and choose design elements I liked from each to give my designer a reference point. I also found my designer by checking out the “designed by” portion at the bottom of someone elses blog.

  • I am more of a DIY person. I will surf other sites and when I see something I like, I will try to copy it. Many times I am successful, just through trial and error. But with that said, I know what is over my head/I can’t handle and farm them out to others.

  • When I had someone do my logo a while ago, I realized that I like a lot of communication and back and forth because I want it to be perfect. I think I’ll remember that in particular whenever I hire someone else to make sure it’s a good fit.

  • I was pretty casual about hiring a web designer during my last re-design a couple of years ago, because the designer was a fellow blogger who I trusted. I learned a bit about web design and then redesigned my site recently with a paid theme and my own knowledge.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    Well, you know how I roll John! It can be hard to find a good designer, but once you do, then you should keep them on speed dial!

  • Thanks for sharing some good advice, John! In our search for a graphic designer one lesson we learned was to find someone who was busy. We found that usually the people who produced really quality work couldn’t fit us in right away and we had to be willing to wait. That was a good sign for us, because those who had lots of time usually weren’t as busy because they weren’t as good.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Deb! Being busy is a fine line to walk though. You don’t want someone that’s too busy, otherwise it’s just going to push back them getting to your work. It also can show they can’t manage their assignments, which can further delay your project.

  • Good info that I’ll bookmark in the future when and if I do a blog re-design. I toy with the idea all the time, but have yet to pull the trigger, mainly because I can’t quite answer the question yet where I want to go with mine.

  • I ended up using a designer that I met at a networking breakfast for my blog and company site. It was my first time using a designer, and I felt as though I trusted her so I put my designs in her hands. I am happy with the results, but feel like I was let down in a number of ways as well. I now have to get another site designed and I am using the brother of a friend, and I am happy with the cost, but not the communication. After going through this process twice, I have realized that web designers are like some other professionals (lawyers and accountants) where I wish I had them as friends, I could trust implicitly and they wouldn’t cost me a fortune. For the record, I have found none of these for friends and I am still looking.

  • Kim says:

    I think my lack of technical knowledge really killed me when I did a redesign. I was able to say what I wanted the site to look like, but did not know that having all those things maybe didn’t function well or at least the designer did not know how to make them function well. I think a good designer would tell you that you can have this or that, but it will be really slow or won’t help the ease of navigating the site.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I could not agree more Kim. A good designer should be able to tell you those things and help you come up with viable alternatives to accomplish what you’re wanting. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case – in many industries.

  • Thank you for the valuable information. It has always seemed to me that there is a real trade off to using a site like elance. The less you pay, I think, the lower the quality is likely to be. you should be aware of that going into a virtual work relationship and set your targets realistically.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Not a problem Brad. I agree, there is a trade-off but I think you’ll find that in the physical realm as well. I think it is possible to find someone good on Elance, it just might be more difficult.

  • Kassandra says:

    I am currently planning for a site makeover, starting with a new custom logo. I am still debating on whether to buy a theme and deal with it myself or pay for a site designer.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Very nice on the new logo! That is a tough decision to make, so make sure to take your time with it. Like I sort of touched on, I think it really goes back to your goals for the site as well as technical ability.

  • Thanks for the tips. There’s always lessons learned when you venture out into the unknown. I’m currently using a free theme and designed it myself. But I’ve been thinking of buying a theme and working with the genesis framework. As you mentioned I want something basic for my blog and probably don’t need to spend a ton of money right now.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That sounds like a great approach to take Raquel. From what I understand the Genesis framework is very user friendly and you can do some nice things with it. Best of luck!

  • I am spoiled because Tanya just handles everything for me. 🙂 I do agree wholeheartedly though that you want someone who communicates with you regularly and listens well. When you’re new and just starting out, a free design may suffice but if you plan to take this seriously, then eventually you need to call a professional. Your website is your storefront and it needs to not only appeal to people but function well too.

    • John Schmoll says:

      You’re pretty fortunate to have Tanya as I know you feel the same way. 🙂 That said, I could not agree more. It’s what generally makes the first impression and if you plan on taking it seriously then you may need to upgrade at some point.

  • Amy says:

    Your post reminded me an old boss in marketing used to say: “Tell the client you can have two out of three – cheap, fast, good.”

  • I looooooove site design. I was just telling someone today that picking domain names and logos and colors is one of my most favorite things. Probably why I have a domain buying problem. :/ So many ideas, so little time!

  • Ben Luthi says:

    Definitely good timing for me. It’s sad when you prefer to stay in the admin of your site rather than see what everyone else sees 🙂

  • I’ve enjoyed learning how to build a site using the Genesis framework. It’s time consuming though if you don’t have the design/coding background…or the time to do it. 🙂 I would recommend Studiopress and their Genesis framework to anyone though…made the basics of formatting and running a blog really easy.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I’ve heard great things about those as well Brian. From my limited knowledge, we were able to get the original design just fine – I just didn’t want it to look like I designed this one. 😉

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