Web Design Firm or Consultant? Which do you recommend?

Hello everyone. I am not sure this is the correct venue for a discussion of this nature, but I thought I should give it a try at the very least.

We are a small company with an existing website that was designed by a marketing firm several years ago. This site has not been maintained throughout the years and now needs a complete overhaul. I have convinced the powers-that-be to either hire a Web Design Firm, or contract a Web Consultant to complete this overhaul.

I have partial technical specifications complete, and I suspect our solution to complete those specs, develop the site and train someone in Marketing to maintain areas that are subject to updates. I also want the solution to bring ideas to the table and help us improve upon our specifications. I also want to own the code when the project is done, and I want the artwork to be available in layered files for updates as necessary. Our current artwork is all flat file so I cannot even change a title.

The question is... should I hire a firm, or a consultant? I have some thoughts of my own, but I thought I should best prevail upon the experts!
Who is Participating?
It depends on the level of inhouse expertise you have.  A contracted consultant, will need to be managed.  You cannot just let them have a free hand if you have folks on staff with the necessary technical background to cut through the bull and make them deliver then it is a way to go.

On the other hand if you are going to have a non-technical interface with the developer; and it sounds like you want that to be marketing;  you are better off with a firm that can give you a range of skills including managers who can communicate at the executive level and translate down to there technical people.  It will probably cost more, but you will get better value than trusting a consultant who who can't effectively manage.

To be honest, a firm can set u back up to 5K. In my opinion a free lance web designer would probably be the best solution, especially for a small company. I myself am an unemployed free lance webdesigner. <edited by COBOLdinosaur to remove advertising>
> I have convinced the powers-that-be to either hire a Web Design Firm, or contract a Web Consultant to complete this overhaul.

If design and e-commerce is the main concern then this is the best site for web design and all of that :

I suggest good designs for your it to attract more clients and better add it should be user friendly. Template monster acctually
provides good design that can handle all of your needs and also if you have anything needed to be customize just contact
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If you want to read more about them here it is :

Hope that helps . . .

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Hope that helps . . .
dqtaggart -

....Web Design Firm or contract a Web Consultant?

Everybody and their nephew is a web designer nowadays, hell even my neighbors 10 year old has two websites!

In my job I see hundreds of websites a week but I am lucky if I see one in a week that has been designed by anyone who knows anything about marketing or Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Sure I see lots of great, colorful, professional looking designs but are they ever going to be seen by anybody? Most of them are worthless because they have not been designed from the ground up to rank highly in the search engines.  Neither has there been any e-marketing strategy in place from the beginning to aid the design decision making process.  These site owners have spent thousands of dollars on a design and build and the ROI is zero.

My recommendation is to go straight to an SEO specialist, formulate the e-marketing strategy with them and then get them to build the site for users AND the search engines. SEO specialists often design and implement sites themselves but if they don't offer this service they will always have an extremely competent designer who works with them.

Here are a couple of slightly relevant PAQs

Reliable SEO companies

What do you want from an Online Marketing Company

If you find a designer who convinces you that they know all about SEO the chances are you will be back here in a year asking how you can get your site ranking higher in the search engines and increase your traffic. It may be too late by then but please feel free to ask any e-marketing or SEO questions you may have over on Web Development ---> Online Marketing.

Good luck with your project!

- duz
Also, you may want to consider the purpose of your website. From the fact that it has not been matintained for several years I would guess that it is more of an online brochure for your company rather than a direct revenue-generating. From a business point of view that makes the website a cost rather than an investment (from my point of view of an e-commerce web developer). You have to weigh up how much it means to you as a business in financial terms and then decide how much you are willing to spend on this type of advertising and how much revenue you can get from it.

For example, I had an old client with a turn-over of 50 million gbp a year who decided that all they needed was a brochure type site with some flash animation and some SEO work that cost them a couple of thousand pounds. The site more than paid for itself but only because they realise that to their target audience, a simple information based website was all they needed.

I completely agreee with duz' comment that SEO is essential in a marketing plan to get the best from a website. The most expense website in the world is one which no one ever sees.

I beleive the best thing to do is ask a mix of both contractors and firms and find out which suits you the best. Don't forget to consider upkeep and maintenance as monthly updates are really the minimum to keep you site relevant and up to date.

Good luck in the search.
dqtaggartAuthor Commented:
Thank you all for your input. This is not the usual type of question on Experts, and I appreciate your attempts to help educate me.

andrey_2007 - I have to say your comment makes me smile; however, I found the cost of a contractor to be around 20k and firms came in around 35k. Perhaps I did not offer enough information regarding the scope.

COBOLdinosaur - Your comments were especially helpful as I realized I do not have the technical expertise to manage a consultant at a $75-$85/per hour rate.

duz and bloodredsun - your comments were good; however, our company does not rely on its web site for marketing or commerce. We are in a niche-market and we would rarely be found by a blind search. This is to be more of an artistic showplace.

Thanks again to everyone, I split the points accordingly. We will not be starting until January, so look to illesfoods.com at the end of February to see how it went!
Glad we could help.  Thanks for the A.  :^)

Good luck with the project.

dqtaggart -

>We are in a niche-market and we would rarely be found by a blind search.

Thanks for the feedback and I am NOT going to disagree with you but for the benefit of future readers I am going to tell a story.

A client of ours in a niche 'business to business' market wanted a showcase site to display their products. They were adamant that they knew everyone in the industry and that potential customers knew them. The site was simply an 'online updateable brochure' as far as they were concerned and as long as they could print the website address on their stationary and give out the address on the telephone that was all they wanted.  They did not want any form of SEO built into the contract.

We agreed but SEOed it anyway :)

In the first three months after the site was up they had a casual enquiry from Australia from a company who wanted to 'represent' them there. As a result they ended up with a new joint venture company in Australasia which now has sales of $10 million and rising.

In the next three months they had a similar enquiry from China and as a result they now have two Chinese companies, having expanded their product range through the initiative of their new Chinese partners. The Chinese venture is turning over $50 million.

These chance contacts would not have occurred had we followed the clients instructions and of course we would not have had future business from them at many times the value of the original contract :)

Serendipity of this kind is rare and cannot be planned for but not SEOing a website could be the worst decision of your life - the problem is you will never know!

The 18th century lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson would not have been surprised by the concept of 'serendipitous marketing' for it was he who said "Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks".

- duz
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