This may come as something of a shock, but the owner of the company is not the face of the company. It's true! Nowadays, your website is the real face of your company - it's the first thing most people will check when they're thinking about buying from you... so how do you go about choosing a web design company that can actually build the right site for your needs? Well, here are some things to think about.
Testimonials and References
A reputable web design company will have a number of testimonials from previous customers. However, don't focus only on their presence - read the testimonials in their entirety, find out who wrote them, and then look those people up. There's a good chance you'll be able to locate them, especially if the name of their company was included in the testimonial.
From there, you'll have to make a judgment call - remember, having a customer base composed of smaller companies isn't a bad thing, it just means that a design company might be focusing on smaller businesses instead of larger ones.
Portfolio and Experience
Your new web design company should also have a solid portfolio of work - active sites that you can visit to see how they perform. Don't forget to check the site for a citation - it's usually located at the very bottom, either centered or on the right, and that's one way of verifying that the company you're looking at actually made the site.
This ties in with examining the portfolio, and you should be able to do it at the same time. Take a long look at their sample sites and ask if you think something similar would work for your company. The truth is that the average web design company is probably building off of a small number of templates, decorating a frame with whatever a given client needs. This tends to give their sites a consistent style, which isn't always a bad thing - the graphics may be different, but most sufficiently optimised websites are similar to each other because that's what actually works.
If you're expecting a site coded from the ground up, you'll need to make that clear from the beginning.
If you're contracting a company instead of an individual, ask to see their offices and meet their team members in-person. Keep in mind that you may not actually visit an office, per se - many people involved in web design work from home as a way of keeping their costs down, since they see no pressing need to lease office space when they can just communicate with their team remotely. Consider meeting them at a nice cafe if there's no office.
It All Comes Down to This
In the end, you'll generally get what you pay for when it comes to a new website - and customers are savvy enough to spot a professional job when they see it. Taking the time to get a properly-made website tells others that you're serious, capable, mature, and a good company to buy from or partner with. Sloppy websites just make people think that you're not in touch with the modern economy. First impressions are everything in the modern business world - and you only have seconds to make it. If you like the designers and like the work they've created, then you've found yourself a winner - if you don't like either of them, then keep looking. This isn't a time to cut every cost as far as you can - it's a time to do the job correctly.