By John Melchior

Small business owners have many options for website design services. Individuals and businesses providing services range from small, point-of-presence template pages, to high end, totally customizable sites that include features such as online point-of-sale systems. There are four broad types of website developers to consider. This article discusses those options and what factors make each one suitable.

1. Consider an industry specific web designer

There are many web designers who cater to specific industries. For example, a lawyer with an IT background grows tired of practicing law and opens a web development company. Her knowledge of the law and IT enables her to tailor her sales pitch to be successful with law firm managers. Or the daughter of a produce supplier to restaurants focuses her web design business on restaurants, since her family contacts helped her get in the door of dozens of restaurants. She knows something about the business, because of her family, but is not an expert.

It can be beneficial to work with someone who understands your industry. They instinctively know which aspects your business to prioritize on the website.

However, how many truly unique sites can they come up with if they focus on one industry? The former lawyer will eventually repeat the look and feel from another law firm’s site. I realize that it is not deliberate on their part. They are not cutting corners. Most likely, they have used up their creative potential for my industry.

2. Consider a site developed by a strong graphic designer

A website is the virtual representation of your business and the site’s home page is a virtual lobby. If you have an actual lobby, you do everything you can to make it presentable, uncluttered, and indicative of the personality and style of your business. Selecting a web designer with a strong graphics design background would seem like a prerequisite for any web development project.

A site with professional design elements will leave the visitor with a positive impression of your business. Someone who is strong in graphics could take your ideas and apply them to great looking webpages. The problem with only focusing on graphical elements is that you will have great looking pages but no real emphasis on marketing your products. Your brand would stand out but the products and services, under that branding, would not.

3. Consider a designer with a sales background

The complete opposite of choosing a web designer that focuses on graphics and presentation is one who emphasizes sales. In this option, your site becomes a conduit for promoting products and services. Sales professionals understand that you need to get the product in front of people if you want them to be interested in it.

What’s lacking in the person with a sales background is their inability to appreciate the importance of design elements. Not just a visually appealing site but one that offers the visitor a smooth navigation experience. If a visitor has to scroll down to find information they came for, they are likely to just leave and move on to your competitor’s site.

4. Consider a freelancer who can customize a template

A low cost option that some small businesses select is contracting a freelancer to use existing website templates to create their site. There are several websites that sell templates created by graphic designers. The lists of templates available are broken down into overall site themes.

Let’s say you have a photography business. You would purchase a template designed for a photography themed website and contract a freelancer to personalize it. They would apply your logo, change the colors to match your brand, and replace the placeholder content with your information. The low cost of this option makes it worth considering.

There are several downsides to using a template. Most template sites stand out in a negative way, because they look like they were created with a template. Elements are out of place. Some content has to be added just because something had to be placed in that spot on the template. It can make for a confusing looking site and an extremely unpolished one.

Also, since you are implementing a template that some random person on the Internet created and then was fine-tuned by a contractor, there is a good chance that the programming code in the template may become obsolete. If you are not tech savvy, you may find yourself having to revisit web development in order to have someone fix code that doesn’t work on your page. That work will most likely cost more than the initial template and implementation costs.

After reviewing the pros and cons for each option, you can go ahead and begin interviewing individual web designers. Create a list of goals that you are trying to accomplish with your website and rank each of the web designers based on those criteria. Then look at the web designer’s past work and see if those projects validate the claims the web designer made to you. At this point you should be able to make a well thought out choice.

John Melchior is the founder and CEO of Kapture. He also enjoys writing about managing a small business.