If you want to bring in a pro, there are some questions you’ll need to ask. Bids can vary by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars so you want to make sure everyone is quoting using the same criteria. This will allow you to compare bids and make choices based on an even playing field.
No matter what, a good design firm will be willing to answer all your questions before they put together a proposal in writing. Don’t let them wrap your project in mystery and jargon. If you don’t understand something they say, make them clarify it.
Always get bids from three different firms. Bids should always be in writing and identify everything you’re getting for the price, including the timeline and budget. Ask that bidders provide you with a “fixed cost bid” only. Don’t fall into the trap of bids based on hourly rates. That’s a good sign of a rip off and your budget will spiral out of control quickly.
If you have a set budget, let the designer know up front. There are a lot of ways to get the same level of functionality and quality at different price points. A design firm will often ask you for a budget range so they can craft a solution that will fit it.
Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure each company provides you with samples of sites they’ve designed. Nothing is more telling than examples of previous work. If their portfolio isn’t up to snuff, your site won’t be either. Just be sure that you look at 10 or more of their designs. You can never punish a designer for a one client’s idea of what looked good. However, a bunch of ugly sites can’t be blamed on the client roster. They probably just aren’t good designers. Do your homework with this in mind.