How to select the right partner for your next web design project – and why it matters

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It’s becoming increasingly important for nonprofits to build an online presence.

Every year, the nonprofit sector sees exponential growth in website traffic and online donations. In fact, research shows that 54% of donors worldwide prefer to give online—and that number keeps climbing.

In this article we’ll break down exactly how to choose the right partner for your next web project—and why it matters, including:

  • Why does selecting the right web designer matter?
  • Why is selecting the right partner for your web design project so hard?
  • The 3 steps for finding the right partner for your next web design project

Now, let’s jump into the details.

Why does selecting the right web designer matter?

Before we dive into how to select the right partner, let’s cover some of the most important online giving statistics of 2023—and why it’s essential that nonprofits take their partner selection seriously.

According to NonprofitSource, online giving is at an all-time high:

  • Millennials are most likely to donate via mobile and watch online videos before making a gift
  • 17% of online donation form views were on a mobile device
  • 30% of donors aged 75+ say they have given online in the last 12 months

With so many donors online, a great website, or digital campaign can truly make or break the success of any organization. That’s why it’s essential that nonprofits take their online presence very seriously.

Now, before we walk through how to select the right partner, let’s understand why it’s so hard to do so.

Why is selecting the right partner for you web design project so hard?

Before venturing into the world of web design, it’s crucial that organizations first recognize why selecting a partner for this type of project is so hard.

Many people get into the web design space as a hobby, or as a means for some extra money—like helping out friends and family with their websites, for example.

So what does this mean?

Unlike lawyers, doctors, and accountants, there are no accreditation or education requirements for setting up a web design business. That means, a large percentage of web designers are:

  • Poorly trained
  • Lack expertise
  • Don’t have enough experience
  • Aren’t familiar with your particular industry or needs
  • Price their services incorrectly (often pricing too high)

This low barrier to entry is a great opportunity for new designers to start careers or businesses, however, it means that there are a lot of web designers in the marketplace that really aren’t true experts.

The following sections of this guide are meant to provide you with the tools necessary to navigate this jungle of freelance designers, small local teams, big agencies, and everything in between.

How to select the right partner for your next web design project

While there are many ways to select a partner for your web design project, there are a few essential steps to keep in mind.

1. Define your values

The most important part of selecting a suitable design partner is understanding what your organization values in a partner. The three values we’ll focus on are quality, speed, and price—some of the most common values to consider.

To understand what you value in a partner, consider these questions:

  • Do we value low cost over quality?
  • Do we value speed and efficiency over quality?
  • Do we value quality above all else?
  • Do we value working with a partner that’s familiar with our industry-specific needs, or, can we work with a generalist?

Ultimately, choosing what you value means de-prioritizing something else (quality, speed, etc.) – organizations rarely ever find partners that provide quality, speed, and great price all in one.

Understanding that these options represent trade-offs will allow you to make smart decisions when it comes to the current needs of your organization and the selection of potential partners in the marketplace.

What does it mean to prioritize quality?

Prioritizing quality means that you’re willing to wait longer for the finished project, and even pay more in order to receive a product and experience that is top-notch.

Kinds of organizations that prioritize quality:

  • Organizations that recognize the power of  well-crafted web design
  • Both scaling and established organizations that want to bring in more donors and supporters
  • Future-thinking organizations that build systems to last

What does it mean to prioritize speed?

Prioritizing speed means you’re willing to accept a perhaps less-than-perfect experience and product in order to have it faster. Typically, organizations that are evolving quickly, and need solutions ASAP, fall into this category.

Kinds of organizations that prioritize speed:

  • Start-up organizations that are scaling fast
  • Organizations that are overwhelmed with competing projects
  • Organizations that don’t understand the value of a well-produced website or online campaign

What does it mean to prioritize price?

Prioritizing price means selecting a partner that offers the cheapest solution. While most organizations are looking for a cost-effective partner, organizations that solely prioritize cost savings might not receive the best product or experience.

Kinds of organizations that prioritize price:

  • Small organizations with tight budgets
  • Organizations that don’t understand the value of a well-produced website or online campaign
  • Organizations that don’t understand the expertise needed to create a well-designed web product

2. Understand Partner Types

One of the most important differences between different design partners is the size of their business.

At each level, from freelancer to big agency, there are qualified experts who are masters in their craft. However, there are also major tradeoffs for choosing one partner size over the other.

Freelancer or independent contractor

Ahh the freelancer. The lone ranger. Flexible, nimble, free. One day they may be working out of their local Starbucks, the next they are applying for a remote work visa in Portugal.

Pros of hiring a freelancer for your web design project:

  • Their expertise can be deep
  • Costs are usually relatively low (no healthcare costs, office supplies, etc.)
  • They can offer a fresh, outside perspective
  • They can be nimble and adaptable to your needs

Cons of hiring a freelancer for your web design project:

  • They can be unreliable
  • Their skills are often too niche—meaning they lack knowledge in other important areas of web design
  • Lack of support infrastructure (if freelancer is sick, unavailable, etc. your organization is at a loss)

The big agency

Chique, hip, sophisticated. When you picture the agency, you might be seeing a lofted office space with brick walls and glass desks. A secretary leads you through a bright office space filled with fake indoor plants (or are they real?) and abstract wall art. Everyone is wearing black long sleeve button-downs and maybe jeans because they’re cool and do casual Fridays.

Pros of working with a big agency:

  • Ability to work with several subject matter experts
  • Usually offers end-to-end solutions
  • Ultra professional experience throughout
  • Significant planning and strategy around your project

Cons of working with a big agency

  • Can be incredibly expensive
  • There can be too much gatekeeping
  • Can be impersonal and difficult to get questions answered, receive support, etc.
  • Your project may be deprioritized given the amount of other clientele the big agency takes on

The small team

This freelancer is too small, that agency is too big, in walks the Goldilock. Perhaps fully distributed or nestled in a co-working space somewhere or even in a small office, this team is generally comprised of less than 10 individuals.

Pros of working with a small team

  • A true commitment to clients and high-quality work
  • Benefits of the larger agency (subject matter experts, point of contact redundancies, emergency infrastructure) without all of the costs
  • Personalized and custom service
  • Personal investment in the success of your project (in order for organization to build a portfolio of work,  scale and succeed)

Cons of working with a small team:

  • Scaling small teams might eventually become big agencies (with all the downsides)

3. Select Partner Specializations

Now that you have a proper understanding of partner types, let’s dive into understanding partner specializations and how to pick the right combination of size & experience for your next project.

Horizontal specializations

First, there is horizontal specialization. In the web world, horizontal specialization means a team focuses specifically on a certain platform.

For example, let’s say, you want to launch an eCommerce store on Shopify. Given your goals, it might make sense to find a team that specializes in working on that platform.

Partners can specialize in several different platforms, including:

  • Wix
  • WordPress
  • Squarespace
  • GoDaddy
  • Weebly

Regardless of your preferred platform, it might make sense to find a partner who is a master of it.

Vertical specializations

Second, there are vertical specializations. Vertical specialization is a specialization in which a web partner will work only with a specific type of business or organization.

For example, a partner might only build websites for real estate agents or for lawyers.

Unlike partners that don’t have a vertical specialization, these experts can:

  • Deliver a better product and experience
  • Offer niche advice
  • Provide a deep, in-depth understanding of your needs

Overall, working with a team that is vertically specialized can be extremely valuable. Their market insight allows them to create a value-driven product for you and your business. Akin to seeing a dermatologist over a generalist for skincare advice.

Which is more important – vertical or horizontal specialization?

Very few web partners will be able to offer both specializations.

We believe vertical specializations are more important than horizontal specializations.

Teaming up with a partner that has specific industry knowledge, deep subject-matter expertise, and is hyper-aware of market insights will produce high-quality results. While knowledge of the platform you use is helpful, most partners will have a baseline working knowledge of how to use them—therefore, it’s not the most essential specialization to prioritize.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right partner is essential to the success of any online web design project.

Working with the wrong partner can result in projects running behind schedule, going over budget, and even not meeting the desired quality standards. That’s why it’s essential to take the time to evaluate potential partners and decide on the best one for the job.

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