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What to look for in a Designer or Developer (or Agency)

9 minute read

William Ford

Finding a competent designer or developer can be a daunting task. In the sea of designers and developers, where do you even start? Who is who? What am I even really looking for? While it can seem overwhelming, there are some telltale signs of things that you will want to stay away from when looking for a design or development freelancer or agency. Let’s take a look at some of those below.

Responsive

Look for: Teams that respond quickly to inquiries and are even available during off hours. Many freelancers are willing to answer basic questions or inquiries that will roll into the next day during their off-hours. This really helps keep a project moving.

Avoid: People who take the entire day to respond and then come back with vague answers.

Depending on your level of technical ability, you may notice that teams answers are vague. While sometimes this is good for the sake of comprehension for the client, sometimes it’s intentional to make the project fall in their favor. This takes a seasoned technical lead who can debunk their claims in short order.

Good Communication Protocol

Look for: Companies who established a defined method of both real-time and documented back and forth regarding a project. Accountability is everything in business!

You should not have to be the one pushing good communication protocols. While at G13 Studios we have developed our own requirement of communication protocols with teams, most great teams we’ve worked with also had a great communication protocol and we either went with our protocol or merged the two together to satisfy both parties.

Avoid: Companies who want to communicate strictly via email, or are not going to be available for real-time discussion during your working hours. While at first, you think that taking calls after business hours might be for you, it can start to weigh on you.

Whichever you do, make sure that the other team is also pushing for the same. As a designing and development team it’s crucial for us to have good responsiveness from a client and so we push for it and that’s what you should be looking for.

Fluency in your Given Language

Look For: Individuals who demonstrate a clear understanding and command of the language you prefer to communicate in.

Avoid: People who will not communicate via both written and oral forms of communication. Sometimes things are easier explained via voice and sometimes things are more clear and accountable for when in written format.

Make sure you spend ample time in a voice conversation with your team. Google translate has done wonders for teams being able to talk back and forth, it also can become the lynchpin of a communication setup. Up front, it seems like everything is hunky dory and eventually, as the complexity of the project unfolds itself, the communication continues to break down further and further. Ensure that the team you’re hiring is both fluent in writing and spoken word in your given language.

Availability in your Timezone

Look For: Teams whose work hours overlap with yours.

Being in the US, sometimes it’s great when we can hire individuals from Canada, South America, Mexico and the like. While they’re thousands of miles away, they are still in the same time zone and it makes communication very easy.

Avoid: Teams who have no overlap and won’t provide some availability for daily discussion at your discretion

While project managers or agency representatives may be available during US business hours during the sales process, it’s very common for the developers to work normal hours in their country which usually results in less than desired amount of overlapping hours for discussion. It’s important to discuss and negotiate the availability for discussion during the project hiring process and should be a stipulation of the project in general. We absolutely write these requirements into our job posts when hiring.

Referrals

Look for: Referrals from professionals who have had awesome sites created for them

Avoid: Referrals from someone who knows someone, but has never had them do work for them.

When a business or individual stakes their actual money into something, everything becomes much more real. So unless someone has had work done by this individual, or for some reason has a great relationship with and has watched this person deliver a number of projects, even then… BUYER BEWARE.

Portfolio Examples that Match

Look for: Portfolios that make sense.

It’s very common practice for agencies and freelancers to pass off work that was completed by someone in their agency as their own, current work. After years and years of reviewing portfolios, it becomes obvious to me when a company will be a crap-shoot vs a guaranteed deal.

Avoid: Portfolios that are dated, or where there isn’t a clear indication of style.

It’s not enough to just have a cool design. They should have proof of being able to create something within your look and feel. We will always provide a completely obligation-free design vibe mock that will show the client that not only do we have the capability to do what you’re wanting, we completely understand the vibe we are going for. This sets the project off on the right foot, ensuring that both people have already aligned on the same page. You can’t have it all

Price, Quality, and Speed Paradigm

Everyone wants a great product, quickly, at a low price. Unfortunately, all three of those are just not possible. Below is a diagram that shows you the relationship between the 3 points of concern for clients during their decision-making process. Once you understand this relationship, you begin to become more realistic with your expectations from those you are hiring. You understand that if you want the best quality for the best price, you will be waiting. If you want the best quality and you want it yesterday, you will be paying. The sooner we wrap our heads around this, the sooner we can make more effective decisions with what we really what out of our solutions which is usually quality! The diagram speaks for itself. Learn this and we’ll be able to set our expectations out of your team more realistically on the macro.

Low Price vs High-Quality

In our experience, people come to freelancing sites not for quality, but for a price. What happens is that you end up scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for a diamond in the rough. Now, I am by no means saying that there isn’t great talent in the freelance pool. Of course, there is! But people tend to assume that they can find someone to do anything they want for $10/hour no matter how high level it is. This thought and methodology can lead to being a very tedious and costly process. It’s also a point of liability if the person doing your hiring is not absolutely versed in the design or development field for which they are hiring. Everyone thinks they have an eye for design, but it’s much, much more than that.

Go in with a quality standard and don’t budge from that standard rather than going in with a specific price in mind. If you seek out freelancers or teams that meet your standard of criteria then work within your budget, you will come out with something much closer to the results that you would expect. If you go in wanting to pay minimum wage for Van Gogh than you’re never going to be satisfied.

Who do I Hire?

That’s a big question and depends on what level you’re really ready to take on. The safest bet would be to hire a local agency. Someone who knows how to take a job from start to finish and is someone you can meet up with in person who has a standing name in the community. If you believe you’ve got the technical chops to handle managing someone, a freelancer might be more your speed. We’ll break down the different ways to hire below.

Hiring In-House

While hiring an in-house designer seems like a good idea at the beginning, but you may come to quickly realize that your designer has a “style”. Most of us do. At G13 Studios, we have 3 designers on the team and still often reach out to other teams depending on the style we are after. This is how we consistently nail the vibe and theme of what our clients are going for. Believing that we can nail every style as a designer is absurd and a sure-fire way to deliver less-than products that actually end up putting undue stress on designers. It’s like assuming every musician should be able to play AND nail every style put in front of them. It’s just not realistic.

The other reason hiring in-house designers is tough because most teams just don’t have enough firepower within their marketing department to regularly use the designer to the level which they are paying. This ends up in the form of discontent from management which eventually ends in the designer being let go shortly after the website has been completed. If this is your agreement, great. But most designers are not just looking for a one and done scenario, especially if they are being hired in-house. Like most people, they are looking for consistent, long-term work with a job they can grow with.

Hiring in-house is the most time consuming and requires the most hands-on management of any of the options. We do not recommend this for most small companies who have minimal design and technical needs.

Hiring Out-of-House (Freelancers)

You don’t know what you don’t know. Yeah yeah yeah…but what do we mean?

How astute are you in design? What about development? What about the delivery requirements? Are you familiar with WordPress? How about vectorization of graphics? What about clean code standards and architecture? Can you review code? Do you know what makes for clean code and bad code?

There are 1000 questions and answers that go into building beautiful design, websites, and apps. When companies decide they want to “save some money” they will send someone who mentioned having heard they could find freelancers on this site or that site, so they dive in. They post a job offer and they start interviewing candidates. Without extensive experience in hiring designers or working directly in design, there’s a good chance you’re settling for less. In fact, I think all of you reading this now can attest to that. We’ve all been there, no matter how bad we don’t want to admit it.

Hiring an Agency

Agencies are a bit more transparent and easier to find public information on, regarding customer satisfaction. They’re also able to use previous employee’s work to highlight things they may no longer be able to accomplish. However, an agency will employ multiple people which is an easier methodology into ensuring that your needs will be met as they will have various resources to achieve the results versus a single freelancer who may not be completely suited for what you’re after, which turns into hiring multiple freelancers and you’re only 1 step from becoming your own agency. You can see why hiring an agency would appeal to some, especially those who have limited knowledge in the delivery of production-ready assets.

Hiring a Consultant

It’s paramount for you to either hire an established agency or use someone that you are certain is seasoned in the things you are after and consult them to help you perform the hiring process. It’s silly to think you’re willing to spend any tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on building something important for your business but you don’t want to spend less than 1% of that budget on having someone help consult the process for you.

So how do I begin?

Set Realistic Expectations

Half of our experience is what happens to use, the other half is how we respond. Not getting “ripped off” isn’t always the fault of the designer or developer. While they may have agreed to complete your project in a ridiculously short time frame for an amazing price, it wasn’t a fair deal. That’s where seasoned veterans in project management and deliverable production allow you to set realistic and mature expectations of the teams you’re hiring. While I’d love to blame everything on the designer or developer who gave you way too good of a deal that was quite literally too good to be true, it’s all really all our own faults for believing it in the first place. To get spiritual on the matter, we are the root cause all of our own suffering.

Look for Referrals

Know someone who has an awesome site? Ask who did it for them. People who deliver will continue to deliver. There is a reason they have built the skill set and want to continue their trade. More often than not, even with a little rapport with a company, they will be happy to tell you who create their website or app (as long as you’re not a direct competitor).

Do your Research

If a company has really done anything wrong, it’s pretty easy to find out. Freelancers are harder to find information about outside of the platform you’re hiring them from. However, it’s obviously very common for a disgruntled customer to get on a number of platforms and expose a company for any shady dealings they may have done. Our operations team performs thorough research both on a portfolio front, but as well as a PR front. We ensure they walk the walk, and talk the talk.

Find Portfolios that make sense for your needs

Portfolios can be helpful, but also can be deceiving. Companies may have a designer on their team for a short period of time who delivers high-quality work, only come to find out that they no longer have that level of designers on their team while still touting the work. As an agency, sometimes we reach out to other teams. Delivering the exact experience your client is after isn’t always just achievable by our team, so we’ve hired many teams and freelancers to help us along our way. We have run into these exact experiences more than we’d like to admit. And this comes with an extensive application and interview process. We’ve had teams passing off others as their work. We’ve even had people sitting in for others during the interview process! It’s crazy what you’ll see after 15 years of being in the trenches.

Willingness to Prove Skills on a Super Small Level

When we reach out for freelance help, we will post our job with a sample task. It’s easy to push off other people’s work as your own, but it’s tough on short notice to fake it. For example, if we post a job with 10 items that need to be completed, we will ask that they complete the first task depending on the kind of time commitment involved. Or if we need something specific design, we will start with a small asset from the entire concept and see if they can get on the same page. This saves tons of time down the road. It’s easy to get woo’ed in by a freelancer only to have them not be able to get on the same page as you after you’ve hired them which results in wasted time and effort on everyone’s end.

Your product is our product.

Amazing design coupled with a team
who cares, makes for happy clients.