Hiring Web Designers on Craigslist

The Dangers

I'm not about to say that Craigslist is full of scam artists and charlatans; by and large, my experience with the site has been very positive as both a consumer and a poster. However, there are a still a couple of things you want to guard yourself against.

In the Web design field in particular, these are the things to be watching out for:

 What to Watch For

Before you delve into researching potential candidates for building your site, you can check for a couple of easy-to-spot warning signs.

  • Unreasonably low rates. I know, a $50 website sounds like a dream come true, but if you save your $50 and add another $50 to it next month, you'll be likely to get something of infinitely better quality. Someone charging that little for a site doesn't value their time, meaning they either have tons of it because they don't do this professionally, or they aren't taking any time to build your site. Neither one speaks of professionalism, and neither deserves your money.
  • A generic ad title with lots of weird characters or excessive capitalization. An ad titled: “******YOU WANT TO CALL US TODAY because we're THE BEST!!******” is probably not written by someone with a lot of business experience. If they use a few fancy characters, it's not necessarily a bad sign (after all, even professionals want to be noticed), but if the text is generic as well it could add up to a warning sign. Look instead for an ad that clearly says what's being offered, without a large amount of hyperbole or generic, un-directed excitement.
  • Misspellings and typos. While an “a” where an “s” should be isn't the end of the world, keep in mind that this ad represents the person with whom you're about to trust your online reputation. Their ad is a direct income-generator for them, and is probably more directly important to them than your site will be. If they can't even spell-check an ad, what kind of attention to detail will they have for your site?
  • Creepy behavior. If the person insists on meeting in a private location, requires your credit card before you've signed a contract, or just generally makes you uncomfortable, don't hesitate to break off the connection. It's more important to protect yourself than to be polite.

Do Your Dues

First and foremost, remember that it's your responsibility to do your Due Diligence. That means it's up to you to make sure you don't get scammed! There are a few things you do to screen advertisers before you even call them.

  • Check for a business license.Not all competent Web designers display business licenses, but if they do, it's a good sign they are serious about what they do. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and pay a lot of fees to get properly licensed, and if a designer has one, it shows he or she means business and isn't just in it for a little summer cash. It also shows concern with doing things right on all levels. Go to the applicable city's main .gov website and look for a link to “verify” or “check” a business license to make sure it's legit.
  • Check out their website. Any Web professional who doesn't have a website of his or her own should not be trusted to make yours, plain and simple. Assuming he or she has one, you can see what kind of work they do by looking at the site's quality. What you're looking for here (besides just the fact it exists) is not necessarily the style of the site; after all, this is their site, not yours. You want to see the quality of the site. Is it easy to get around? Does the design feel like it accomplished what the designer was going for? Can you find what you need? Does it feel finished?
  • View their portfolio. This should be on their site under a heading such as "profile", “portfolio,”. This is where you can see what they've done for other people. See if the styles vary or if they all look similar with just a few colors swapped out. Obviously every blog will probably have a header, posts and a sidebar, but they won't necessarily all have an image in that same spot on every page, or the same font type and size, or the exact same positioning of the “comments” link. Excessive similarity of the structure of a site could be a sign of either lack of creativity (not good) or use of a template (definitely not good).
  • Run a Google search. Put the designer's name and the name of the business he or she represents (if applicable) through Google and see what pops up. Do you find numerous consumer complaints or scam warnings? Do you find the designer at all? Be especially wary of anyone claiming to perform SEO who either doesn't show up in a search for their own name or shows up with a wash of negative reviews. If you see a lot of social media profiles, some guest blog posts and press releases – or at the very least, their own main site and nothing outstandingly negative on the first three pages – it's a good sign they're safe to consider doing business with.

 

Things to Ask

Now that you've looked into the designer a bit on your own, it's time to ask a few questions straight out. While it's always possible for the designer to lie, if you've looked into the things above you're probably dealing with someone at least somewhat trustworthy.

  • Do you have references? Most reputable web designers will have a list of sites they have done and a list of satisfied customers to go with it. Many times you can hear the answer itself and read a lot into it. If they respond to a reference request with "..um well yes, I could, but...(insert excuse here)".
  • Do you use templates? This one can be a bit sketchy since some designers start with a template but do so much editing that once they're done, it might as well have been built from scratch. What you want to make sure of is that your site will be unique and worth the money you're about to spend.
  • Do you use HTML or Flash, or both? Flash has allowed the quick creation of “flashy” websites for years. Unfortunately, it is also not supported on iDevices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) because Apple has a beef with the technology. It's also poorly understood by search engines, so you're not likely to come up in a search on Google if your site was built using just Flash. Some really neat effects can be created using Flash, and it's not a bad thing in moderation. However, a lot of those effects can also be achieved using other technologies such as JavaScript and HTML5/CSS3, many of which will show up in any browser and all of which will be more search engine friendly. If you want an animated banner on your site and your designer wants to use Flash, that's no problem; but if you find a designer that wants to use a different technology to achieve the same effect, that's even better. And if your designer wants to build your whole site in Flash? Find someone else; too many people use mobile devices to make it worth your while to pay for a site they can't see.
  • Will you cover ongoing maintenance? Some people mistakenly assume that once a designer builds a site, he or she is obligated to maintain it indefinitely. This is most certainly not the case, and a contract including maintenance will usually run hundreds of dollars more than one which concludes once the site is built. Another possible arrangement is often to have a contract detailing the initial work and an agreement of hourly rates for future adjustments. Just make sure you know what you're getting in this regard so you aren't surprised down the road.
  • Is there a contract? No one likes legalese, but a proper contract shows professionalism and will protect you as well as the designer. Different designers will present the contract at different points (after the consultation, before they begin writing code, etc.), but make sure one exists.
  • Read your contract. I know, it's not a question, but it's important and will answer some questions you didn't even know you had. When the designer gives you a contract, don't just sign at the bottom to get the work rolling. Read it through and make sure you understand the terms of what you're getting. Will you have exclusive or non-exclusive rights to your design? Will they be placing a “designed by” link at the bottom the site, and will they be using it in their portfolio (and does either matter to you)? Will you get all the assets (art, logos, etc.) when they're done? Are you required to write your own website copy (text)? All this and more is included in the contract, and it's there so you and the designer both know what you're getting into.

Concluding Thoughts

Finally, make sure the person has a personality you can work with. You need to be able to communicate your company personality and vision to this person and trust him or her to express it. Whether you prefer friendly or formal, cheerful or down-to-business, you can probably find someone who both designs well and doesn't clash with you. Often reliable companies also offer other related services such as SEO or Web Hosting.

This isn't an exhaustive list; in fact, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other things to ask or watch for when hiring someone from Craigslist. The important thing is to make sure you do your research and look into the person you choose to build your online presence. For many, it may be your business' first impression, and you want it to be a good one!