The user experience has become a hot phrase in the pro AV industry; installers and integrators constantly think of the UX when dealing with end users. But are they thinking about the end user’s experience with their websites?

The website is often the client’s first introduction to your business, and first impressions matter. So how do you choose someone to design your site and ensure positive client interactions?

It starts with asking the right questions and identifying obvious red flags during the interview process—recognizing and avoiding red flags can be the key to protecting yourself against a bad business deal.

Here are five big red flags to watch out for when choosing a designer for your site.

Vague Answers
When you ask a digital agency a question—whether it’s about process, timelines, or communication—their team should be able to give a clear, detailed answer.

For example, if you ask an agency, “If my website goes down, whom do I contact and how long before I can expect a response?” they should be able to answer those questions without missing a beat. If you are instead met with something like “Well, you shouldn’t run into any trouble, but if you do, call us up and we’ll figure it out for you,” then you have reason to worry.

If the digital agency can’t give you a clear, concise answer to a simple question, make a note of it and keep listening. If you continue to receive vague answers like this in response to other questions you ask, you’ve got a clear red flag.

Sketchy Timelines
A reputable digital agency will have a tried-and-true, step-by-step process to build and launch your website, and they should be ready to walk you through what those steps entail. Likewise, every website project should have a definitive timeline assigned to it, along with a set of agreed-upon milestones at various points on the timeline.

An agency that can’t provide concrete details regarding your project’s process and timeline is not an agency you want to work with. Why? Because the lack of accountability puts you in a vulnerable position. You’ll have no idea what’s going on with your website until the agency deigns to release those details to you.

Scope Creep is Allowed
Making changes to a project after signing a contract and establishing a statement of work is known as scope creep. This could mean adding a few extra pages, implementing a new ecommerce element, or requesting copywriting services that were originally not planned for. When not handled appropriately, scope creep can add up to additional time and cost, causing friction in the process.

A good agency will call out scope creep when it happens. A bad one won’t. If you’re sending out-of-scope changes to your digital agency, and they don’t point out that those changes aren’t included in the terms of the agreement, that’s actually a sign of an unhealthy company. When the agency isn’t strong enough to tell you no, that means they don’t have healthy boundaries.

A healthy company will address changes like these upfront by saying, “This was not in the terms of our agreement; we’re happy to do it, but it will cost more money.” This demonstrates that the company is willing to protect both your agreement and their product. After all, changes usually cost the agency money, and if they aren’t passing those costs to you, they’re absorbing them (and they can’t do that for very long and remain solvent).

Unclear Cancellation Policy
It can be uncomfortable talking about when things will end, especially when your relationship is just beginning. But in reality, every relationship ends. That’s why both parties in a business relationship should agree on terms of cancellation. If your digital agency is uncomfortable even broaching the subject, that’s a red flag.

If they jokingly laugh off the question with a “Why would you ever want to leave us?” spiel, then be prepared for a messy breakup down the road. If they make inflated promises about how they’ll ensure you never want to leave and bend over backward to keep you, chances are you’re not dealing with a reputable agency.

They might have good intentions, and there may be no scam involved, but when you choose to leave that company (again, not if, but when), it’s going to be a sticky situation because they don’t have a process in place. You’ll have to ride the learning curve with them should you ever decide to leave.

It Doesn’t “Feel” Right
If the behavior exhibited by the agency rubs you the wrong way during the initial interview, you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. While it’s important to keep an open mind, you should still listen to your gut.

It’s like feeling a pebble in your shoe. It only bothers you a little at first, but if you don’t take off your shoe and remove the pebble, it’s going to feel excruciating after about a half mile of walking. If something annoys you or makes you uncomfortable at the beginning, you’ll be even more uncomfortable the longer you let it go.

By keeping these red flags in mind as you interview prospective web designers, you will be well equipped to evaluate your choices, narrow down your top candidates, and ultimately, select the designer that makes the most sense for your project.

Having a strong partnership with your web designer makes for a successful website. And your website should be a crucial part of your business. It’s often the first thing your clients will see, and, if you want to grow your business, it has to create a positive user experience.

Drew Barton is the former webmaster for CNN.com and the founder and president of Southern Web, an award-winning digital agency specializing in web development and digital marketing solutions. He is the author of The Buyer’s Guide to Websites: What You Need to Know to Get the Website of Your Dreams. For more information, please visit, www.southernweb.com.



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