This post will give you a whistle stop tour of the most common red flags on display with some of the UKs most incompetent and unscrupulous “experts” (read: fake experts).
There’s a big difference between being incompetent and being unscrupulous, one is intentional the other isn’t; and yet both create similar stressful outcomes for you, the client. So I’m using the term “dodgy web designers” rather loosely, to simply refer to dangerous people and set-ups that are likely to cause your web project to suffer or fail.
It’s also important to note that a single red flag could be a false positive. For example, instant replies to your reach out could indicate either a desperate web designer, or one that’s just incredibly on-the-ball when it comes to communication.
First Thing’s First – Not All Web Designers Are Made Equal
The first thing to understand is that freelancers and agencies come in many different shapes and sizes. Some have more skills, people, experience and properly refined processes and systems than others – they all make a difference to the quality of the website you receive and the experience you enjoy/endure to get it.
Your budget will largely determine what type of web designer you can afford but here’s a quick breakdown of key roles within web design:
Someone who uses design software to design a website. Sometimes they cross-train and learn how to use low quality website builders like Wix or cheap/free WordPress themes (not to be confused with bespoke, high quality and hand-coded WordPress themes) with some knowledge in apps and technology, they can muddle through with basic websites.
They lack technical and coding skills, often they end up building nice looking websites but they need to be replaced within 2 or so years for clients with even basic expectations of upgrading website functionality over time. They will also be of little to no help if your website goes down or suffers technical problems.
Someone who writes code to build efficient websites optimised for speed. It’s common for them to believe they are experts in design and user experience but their overly analytical approach to life prevents them from understanding and using websites in the same way as others, resulting in terrible design and confusing language. Don’t let them near your website or sales copy either!
Someone without design or development expertise who relies on extremely rudimentary DIY apps to build very basic websites.
Avoid like the plague unless you are on an extremely limited budget.
Know Who You’re Working With
In reality you need many different types of expertise and output to build a website that has a meaningful impact on your business, such as marketing and sales.
If you can only afford one freelancer, make sure you get the right type. Personally, I’d hire a web developer because even if the site doesn’t look great, it’s much easier to fix that than a horrible, bloated and poorly built website that doesn’t do what you want and needs to be rebuilt every couple of years.
If you can afford an agency then be sure to ask them about their team and who/what types of expertise will be supporting your project.
If you work with us you get access to highly affordable website packages, a bespoke guarantee and a full growth team of coders, designers, marketers, salespeople and strategists – you won’t find many others who can top that.
Recognising Dodgy Web Designers & Situations
As a freelancer of 8 years and an agency owner of 6, I’ve been around the block quite a few times and have learned to identify the red flags raised by dodgy web designers. Read on for the good stuff!
Not Requiring a Contract
Contracts are extremely important for various reasons (a key one is explained further below). If you don’t use one and you’re working with a new web designer you’re much more likely to get burned and end up with a site that looks terrible or simply doesn’t work.
If at no point you are sent or asked to sign a contract, it’s a sign of business immaturity and a big red flag. Initial costs will be lower, yes, but your costs will actually be higher if you risk it, get burned and have to start over with a new web designer.
A good contract, like ours, will specify key project details such as scope of work (this should be at least a couple of A4 pages), terms and conditions of working together and a clear payment schedule.
Large Up-Front Payments
Payment schedules typically include 50% up-front and 50% on completion, or 3 evenly split payments. Some will charge slightly more up-front because there’s a big problem with clients not paying invoices for web design projects.
If, however, you are at any point expected to pay more than 75% of all funds before at least 60% of the website is finished (usually the first few pages will be completed, to your satisfaction) then you’re dealing with someone who potentially expects cash flow problems because they don’t know how to manage their business properly.
Or they’re simply trying to do the bare minimum needed to push you to the limit of how much money you’ll send them before they do a runner.
We opt for 50% up-front and 50% on completion for smaller projects and typically three mostly equal payments for larger ones.
Full Payment Due Before Snagging Starts
Snagging issues are defects that need to be put right before the project is considered completely finished. In both construction and web design, projects are plagued by issues that would be more appropriate in a list titled major bugs.
As soon as you’ve paid that last invoice, you’ve lost all bargaining powers and you just have to hope that they make good on their promises. In many cases web design projects are left unfinished or bodged and it’s simply hoped that no-one notices until their standard 3 month snagging duration lapses.
We include snagging as part of the core build phase, so you won’t receive your final invoice until every last bug has been fixed.
Lack of Published Pricing on Their Website
A mature and reliable agency understands a few things, like:
- The profiles of businesses they can add the most value to
- What level of service these clients need and how they like to work
- The needs and pain points of customers and how to deal with them
- How long their web design services take to complete
- How much they need to charge to achieve profit goals
- How streamlined processes create consistent output and results
- Businesses don’t trust web designers easily without evidence
Transparent pricing isn’t just helpful for clients, it’s the sign of a mature and experienced web designer that cares about customer experience and who knows their trade well enough to publish pricing publicly and still commit to them without fear of operations and processes falling apart.
Where possible we’ve created fixed price packages and plans for our core services and “from” pricing for everything else, we did this to help customers understand (without all the fuss and all the calls) whether or not they can work with us.
Web Designers Who Can’t Actually Code
If all you need is an extremely basic website with just some key information on the services you offer, this might not matter too much. If you see your website as vital to your sales efforts in any way, it’s imperative that you don’t hire a web designer who relies on plug-ins for everything.
Literally every single client we’ve worked with who had a website prior to working with us has a list as long as their arm of problems caused by poor build quality due to the web designer not being able to code.
From it taking 3-6 weeks to make small changes and even longer for larger ones, being charged excessively for small tweaks but not having the access to make changes themselves, to simply being told they can’t have certain basic functionality as it’s too complex and the site taking 6-10+ seconds to load because of too many plug-ins, this is not the kind of web design experience you want.
Small Teams / Solo Web Designers Who Work on All Web Platforms
If you’re going to hire a freelance web designer, beware those who tell you they are experts in many different platforms. One person can only learn so many things, so they may well have become proficient in 2-3 platforms (I’d still be sceptical) but it will mean less capacity to be expert in other key areas like client and project management, communication, operations, web design, marketing etc.
You can’t be great at everything and you don’t want to find that out the hard way but asking what web platform they use the most, and then asking about their strengths in other key skills like UI/UX, website and email hosting, modern design etc – all of which come with their own unique challenges.
We took the path of becoming expert WordPress developers because we know that a platform is only as good as the web designers (or developers) who use it; your web designer(s) will create more limitations than most website platforms these days – unless you’re using something horrible like Wix or WordPress/Shopify themes and page builders.
So, you can rest easy knowing that if we build your website it will be done properly.
Their Portfolio is Filled With Ancient or Terrible Web Design
There’s a strange phenomenon in web design. Non-designers seem to love bad design! I’ve seen this on both sides of the fence, from adjacent experts like developers to clients in creative fields like product design.
You can familiarise yourself with modern design by searching for “web design inspiration” online or by looking at sites like Dribbble.com
For B2C this is very important because consumers are bombarded daily with, and very sensitive to, design and brand trends – no-one sees being out of date as a positive. For B2B it’s a different situation, because so many companies treat their logo and brand as disposable, but if you’re an innovative, value and purpose driven company wanting to stand out, embracing modern design is by far the best way to signal that you are not a dinosaur.
You can also take a look at our portfolio, it’s filled with examples of modern web design.
Lone Wolves Pretending to be Big Agencies
The word agency implies that a certain level of success and significance has been achieved.
It’s also synonymous with higher price points, the upside being increased reliability, a wider range of skills and higher level of assumed competence.
You can understand why everyone and their dog wants to promote themselves as an agency these days. Unfortunately many of them are clueless freelancers trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They want you to believe they’re bigger and better than they really are, and they don’t want to put the hard work in to earn the right to call themselves an agency.
These people are forever reliant on taking shortcuts to achieve their goals and not the types you want in charge of your new website.
Have a look at their website and check out their team page. Scope them out on Companies House and firstly check to see if they even exist and secondly check out their company’s financial accounts to see if revenue seems in-line with a company that’s hired at least three other employees.
You don’t want to start your relationship on a lie, not with a key supplier.
They Won’t Commit to Giving You Full Back-End Access
There are many reasons a web designer won’t want to give you full access to the website you’ve paid for, they’ll tell you that as a non-technical person you’ll probably change something and break it, so you don’t need access to the admin area.
To be fair this does happen a lot, but it’s not a good reason not to give you full access to a website you’ve paid good money for.
Another reason (also common) is that they’ve had many clients leave them in the past for giving a shit service, not making things right when they go wrong, generally not being very good and taking forever to make basic content updates or additions.
They’ve learned, you see.
No, not to be better at their job, but to withhold access so that it’s much harder for clients to take their website elsewhere.
If you have admin access, another developer can easily clone the website, audit it and move it to their server.
We always give users full access to their website, all files and all backups.
Be Careful or Get Scammed – You’ve Been Warned!
I don’t like being the bearer of bad news but there are wrongun’s out there and if you don’t protect yourself they’ll take advantage of you and your web project will suffer as a result.
At the other end of the scale you do have to trust your service providers or growth partners otherwise your relationship will suffer and so will the results of your projects; no-one wants to work with a client who always assumes the worst.
The only way to proceed with confidence and be capable of trusting new partners is to know and understand the threats dodgy web designers pose and how to protect yourself and your company against them.
Or just work with a company like us that provides bespoke guarantees for every website they build. Whatever your goals and requirements, we’ll weave those into a personalised guarantee to give you ultimate peace of mind.