Back To The Scoop

How to avoid getting “scammed” on Web Design and Software Development

10 minute read

William Ford

Welcome to the jungle...

We wish it wasn’t so… but every single client who comes to us has had some bad experience in their business history when working with a web designer or development team.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it. In fact, we can.. Every single client that has ever come to us has had one of 4 stories.

  1. A friend or family member gave me a crappy site for free or cheap (hey, you get what you pay for!)
  2. I paid someone who delivered, but it wasn’t exactly what they said and it took forever.
  3. I paid someone who delivered a crappy site.
  4. I paid someone and they delivered nothing.

Regardless of which you’ve experienced - this is all too common.

Victims of Fear

Our most recent client had been stifled for the last 2 years after having paid $3500 for a website that turned out to be something they weren’t proud to promote.  They had also invested over $20,000 to a developer who said he would deliver a custom CRM solution for them only to be delivered a pre-canned CRM with just a few changes, only for him to disappear once the questions starting coming in.

These stories are all too common and when you’re not in the mix every day, it can be next to impossible to weed out who is who when it comes to technology, design, or development.  And in some cases, it can be downright overwhelming to where you become frozen in fear of picking a bad apple.

The aforementioned client happened to come to us from a direct referral.  While that made it easier for them to set aside the trust issues they had been holding onto for years, they had still been stifled due to fear of being taken advantage of again while their business suffered the consequences.

They avoided pushing clients to a website that could convert leads while they slept.  They avoided the website to the point where it was no longer placed on marketing materials at all.  This is a massive faux pas for any company. Your website is literally a 24-7 storefront for your company!

Being an agency, we often work with freelancers to achieve results that we otherwise couldn’t just by ourselves… and having been on the end of many a shady deal, we understand your fear and that’s why we’re here to help!  Whether providing consultation and reviewing another company for you or directly providing our services. We want to make sure you get the website you’re after and your company deserves.

With that being said, we also know It’s rough out there.  And when you start looking at international work, the scene gets even murkier.  Let’s dig a bit into this complicated issue and see if we can prevent some of you in the future from getting taken advantage of.

You can’t have it all

Realistic Expectations

Half of our experience is what happens to us, 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. We must be diligent in understanding what we’re getting ourselves into and there’s truly no one to blame but ourselves. Hiring for a job you don’t understand is a surefire way to come out unhappy at the end. You’re literally throwing a hail mary and praying.

Everyone wants a great product, quickly, at a low price.  Unfortunately, all three of those are just not possible.

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.

Fig 1-1: Services Relationship Venn Diagram

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?

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 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 guaranteed 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 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 who have hired a freelance designer 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 regarding customer satisfaction.  They’re also able to use previous employee’s work to highlight things they may no longer be able to accomplish - a major caveat.  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. Of course, the trade-off is slightly higher prices for (some) agencies vs freelancers.

Hiring a Consultant

If you’re not seasoned in this type of hiring, then we believe 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… Think about it...  

How do I protect myself?

Realistic Expectations

Again, we circle back to realistic expectations.  The more due diligence completed, the more realistic the expectations become because well… you’ve actually experienced it so you can start to unfold the mystery.  Everything becomes clear once you’ve had the experience.


Know someone who has an awesome site?  Ask who did it for them. People who deliver will typically 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).


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. Plus, we don’t want to be associated with companies who have a history of questionable ethics.

Portfolios, Portfolios, Portfolios

Portfolios are important for any freelancer or agency - and they 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.

Sample Tasks

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 item or portion.  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.

Fixed Jobs

Fixed jobs go both ways.  While the developer or team may be able to provide you a fixed-price, you too must also realize that there shall be no changes to the scope as defined when the agreement was made without new estimates being provided for the additional work being requested.

Clients have in the past, gone through the entire Website Blueprinting process, signed off on a project agreement, then took a back seat as design and development started, only to start throwing wrenches in the gears well into development.  And somewhere in their psychology, they believe they deserved to get more things because they had “no input” despite that we created the entire blueprint under their guidance and our business analysis which they signed off on.


I cannot tell you how frustrating it is for a team to deal with someone who doesn’t understand the contract is the contract.  And while you can most definitely remove deliverables to reduce cost, or even switch out deliverables given they are of equal value, it’s not ok to expect anything on top of the agreed project or to hold the payment in regard to getting more deliverables then agreed upon.

You wouldn’t pay a guy to mow and edge your lawn then ask him why he didn’t weed your garden and lay rock in the landscaping without having him first estimate the job and then agree on a new price for that project.  For some odd reason, it seems like some clients believe stuff on a computer just happens by itself.

Live and Die by the Scope!

Any project without a clearly defined scope is a potential trainwreck waiting to happen.  In a very common scenario, the client (you) comes to the agency with a poorly defined scope but has all the vision in their head of what they want.  When all is done and said, the vision is rarely executed against the client’s vision the way they had intended. This is why we say you must live and die by the scope!  We provide a complete list of deliverables in our project agreement which clearly define what pages, photos, videos, animations or other assets will be included and then each asset is clearly defined as to what the requirements are - beyond that we’re usually left up to our creative freedom but it goes without saying that we always deliver what is on that project agreement.  Never less and sometimes a bit more - but it’s best to ensure what YOU want is clearly discernible in written form.

Demand Specific Meeting Times

It’s important to ensure that your freelancer or agency be available during your business hours so that you can effectively and efficiently communicate with them on a near-daily basis.  I can’t tell you how many times it took us 4 days to email something back and forth that could have been discussed in 10 seconds via a simple voice conversation.

Hire a damn Consultant

If you can’t find a solid referral who matches your style and are certain you want to hire your own freelancer we can’t stress enough to get with a recruiting consultant with a proven track record to help you on your search.  This will save you more money than you think and more important, it will save you your time - which is priceless.

A recruiting consultant can help you by performing the entire hiring process for you, or they can assess pre-existing candidates for jobs you are working in.  Regardless of how and where they help you, they’re going to give you insights you never thought of.

Watch ‘em like a Hawk

Its common for teams to be exhausted by the time they’ve finally found the “designer they’ve been looking for” and take a back seat while they believe a freelance designer understands your vision without any input.  This is a huge mistake.

Check-in.  Frequently.  Demand multiple hours of communication.

Ready to stand out?

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