How to Avoid A Frustrating Web Design Horror Story

Published March 23, 2023

Are reviews enough to determine if a web design or development agency is a good fit? Over the years, many business owners and entrepreneurs have shared horror stories of their experiences with web designers or agencies.

Some things I’ve heard include:

  • Some web designers spend more time arguing with those who hire them instead of helping them or giving them what they were hired to do.
  • Some web designers and agencies don’t communicate well and create frustrations, miss deadlines, or demonstrate general apathy and disrespect for their clients.
  • Still, some overpromise what they are capable of doing and end up giving their customers inferior websites that simply don’t perform.

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

I’m going to share that with you today.

Know What Questions of Web Designers or Agencies in the Interview Process

If you’re reading this article, you are likely not in technology as a business. You may be in manufacturing, service, or retail sales. You are amazing at what you do. However, you don’t want to know everything about websites, layouts, graphic design, PHP, MySQL databases, servers, and search engines.

Here is the good news; you don’t need to know all of this to determine if a web designer or agency is qualified, will work with you, and give you more than you asked for.

A gut feeling is not enough. Your instinct, which is uninformed, may mislead you.

What you do need to know is what are the right questions to ask and not to ask.

Here are the most important questions:

What is your philosophy of business?

What you want to know is do they understand basic business concepts in relation to the purpose you’ve established for a website. Especially if the purpose is marketing and sales. Never ask how many websites they created in your industry. Ultimately, that doesn’t mean much.

What you are doing is setting the environment that will establish the conversation moving forward. You don’t want to waste your time. What you do want to do is get them thinking in a business mindset so that they will ask you the right questions that will help them understand what you want the technology to do for your business.

Can They Explain What You Should Expect?

You would be surprised at how many web design freelancers, and even agencies, don’t have a formal process to see a project through to the end.

Is there a documented process for the handoff between the sales team and the production team when the project kicks off?

Is there a step-by-step process they to share with you the order things will go in?

How will they communicate with you when they need something from you?

What you should look for is a checklist you can see that shows what the project entails from beginning to end with a timeline.

I’ve had clients who held projects up because I needed things from them. When they don’t provide things to me they get upset that the site isn’t ready to launch on time.

A checklist with a list of who is responsible for what is vital to hold everyone accountable for doing their part.

The bottom line is that a web design agency should have a checklist they can show you beforehand so that you will know what to expect through the process of building your website.

How Does the Company Get Paid?

Every company needs cash flow. Yours is no different and neither is a freelance web designer or web design agency.

Do they have a process that leads to consistent cash flow?

Here is the reason for the question.

Let’s say they are hired by company A. Company A gives them a 25% or 50% deposit. Keep in mind, the company at this point has enough money to pay some or most of their cost to build your website. They have not met all their expenses let alone make any profit.

The majority of agencies get paid based on completed benchmarks and launching the website.

If for some reason company A holds them up or doesn’t provide the web design agency information in a timely manner they will run out of money in the very near future. Therefore, they must focus on earning another sale and company A’s website is now on hold. While they are prospecting company A may be ready to provide them with what’s needed to get the project going again.

Now, the website design agency has been hired by company B. There is a short burst of cash flow. However, they start immediately on company B’s website while Company A’s website waits.

Okay, I hope you see the dilemma, especially for the company that is not well organized.

The solution to this problem is that a good company should either have enough business that it’s not a problem or another solution: Structure payment plans instead of getting paid by benchmarks which may be out of their control.

When a web design firm is charging by benchmarks it will become unfair to them and you if they are held up due to something out of their control; namely the client.

We recommend a deposit of between 25% – 50%, depending on the price and other factors, and then equal payments between three and six months until it’s paid in full.

It’s fair to all and helps ensure that cash flow is never a reason your site isn’t built as timely as possible.

Miscommunication and Overpromising

Miscommunication and lack of proper expectations are what usually leads to conflict between a web design agency and their clients.

It can all be avoided by getting the answers to the three questions above and hiring an agency based on these questions.  You can always ask more questions, the more the merrier. But at a minimum these are must ask questions.

You do not need to get involved in understanding PHP, databases, etc.… Anyone can talk jargon, try to impress you, and overpromise on what they can’t deliver.

If a web design agency can’t:

  1. Communicate and understand the basics of marketing and sales.
  2. Share a process with you so that you know what to expect.
  3. Lay out a clear path for payments that eliminates cash flow problems


When it comes down to it, you want to know they can, and will, communicate with you well; provide a roadmap to completion, and ensure that your project is as important to them as it is to you.

The three questions help ensure that you have the right team to help you accomplish your business goals through your website.

David President,
Design Source Media

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