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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


10 Things Not To Say When You Are Interviewing A Web Designer

January 16th, 2009

I am frequently contacted by folks looking for small business web design. My business is hopping, so I can afford to be careful when selecting which clients. For those of you who are shopping for a web designer, I wanted to share with you the 10 most common non-technical things that will cause me to turn down a job – and things that just might help you avoid getting scammed by an unethical web designer. I know these items aren’t unique to the web design field. And if you run a small business – these may be very familiar!

1. Insulting the Web Design Profession

“I know web design is really simple. I could do it easily myself but I’m just too busy.”

When you’re interviewing someone, it’s best not to start off by insulting what they do for a living. If you wouldn’t say this to your brain surgeon, then don’t say it to anyone you’re hiring, no matter what the job is. Yes, I know web designers aren’t brain surgeons, but we’re human and it hurts our feelings and makes us a little angry, which is not the mindset you want them in when we’re giving you an estimate. 🙂

2. Looking for Free Services

“I don’t have any money to pay for this but…”

For professional web designers, this isn’t a hobby, this is our full-time business. We use this income to pay mortgages, put food on the table and pay for medical expenses, just like you. If you can’t afford the services, best not to waste time. If you want a free website, find a high school student or one of the many online website builder tools. Many web developers post their prices on their websites, so be sure to review that to make sure it fits within your budget.

3. Too Much Personal Information

“I’ve been diagnosed with xxx and xxx and have …”

The people who start off a conversation by telling me way too much personal information always seem to follow it by #2, looking for free services. If it’s not relevant to your web design, keep it to yourself. Of course, once you’ve become friendly with the designer and have a relationship, sharing personal stuff is fine. Just not on the first date. 🙂

4. Procrastinators – Hurry Up And Wait

“I’ve been thinking about getting a website for x years, and I need it done within the next 24 hours.”

Many people want a website designed overnight, even though they’ve had plenty of time to actually start it much sooner. This results in heaping enormous pressure on the web designer to hurry, hurry, hurry. I’ve found that these folks, probably due to an inherent procrastinating nature, will actually be very slow to develop the website. Once they make the initial payment, the pressure is released, and they de-prioritize working on the website. Sometimes, they end up abandoning the project altogether.

5. Bragging About Ignorance

“I know absolutely nothing about the internet or computers”

While honesty is great, there’s no need to tell prospective web designers how much you don’t know. You’re setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. If you don’t understand what the web designer says, ask questions, but there’s no need to expound on how much you don’t know.

6. Out of Your League

“Can you build me a website like Craigslist or eBay or Facebook?”

Seriously, I get folks who ask me this. They have no idea how complex these kinds of websites are, and they think they can just find someone to duplicate Craigslist or eBay or Facebook, and they’ll be rich. I realize I’m just ranting now, but this post is in the Rants category for a reason. The lesson is, take a little bit of time to honestly gauge the scope of your project and the capabilities and portfolio of the web developer under consideration.

7. Technical Mumbo Jumbo

“I know all about PHP, MySQL, CGI, Ruby on Rails…”

Just because you’ve heard of an acronym, doesn’t mean you know how to program in that language or utilize that application. Don’t throw out a bunch of words and claim to know what they do unless you really do. The unethical web developer will know that you don’t know what the words mean, and this sets you up for getting scammed. Probably the same goes for auto mechanics.

8. Bid Requests With No Information

“I need a website for my business. Can you give me a quote?”

If you want an estimate, you need to give a web designer details about what your website will do, how many pages it will have, etc. You can’t simply say to a real estate agent, “I want a house, what will it cost?” The answer will be, “well, it depends on location, features, square footage, rooms, etc.” It’s the same with web design. Come prepared with some idea of what you need, an outline of what pages you need and what features you want will be very helpful. Look at the websites of your competitors to see what they have, take notes, and then you will be in a good position to get an estimate that will be accurate.

9. You’re Just One of Many

“I’m sending this same proposal to many other web designers.”

I’ve actually gotten requests for proposals where I could see the other web design firms that were cc’d on the email. It went right into my trash. While it’s great to shop around, try to be a little more sensitive and saavy – there’s really no need to tell folks you’re shopping around, we know that – and you want web developers to put forth their best efforts on your proposal right? So no need to let them know that you’ve send the same form-letter email to other firms – just hurts your chances I think.

10. I Need This Website To Save My Business and Make Me Rich

“I’ve been working on selling this great idea for 19 years and been unsuccessful. I’m sure that all I need is a website to make me rich overnight”.

If you’ve been trying to sell something for a long, long time and not been able to do it, it’s doubtful that a website will help. It’s really hard to sell things online, and some ideas just are not good ideas. Some businesses are so poorly run, having a website won’t help. Unethical web developers will take your money, regardless of the prospects of your success – so really try to be realistic about what a website can, and can’t do so you don’t end up wasting money and being disappointed.


So when you’re out shopping for a web designer, keep these 10 items in mind. You’re looking for someone with whom you can develop a long-term relationship, and it’s important to get started out on the right foot. Be prepared and know what you need. You want to treat the web designer with professional courtesy, and always, always, check references by contacting the business owners listed in their portfolio before hiring them. I think web development is a lot like being a car mechanic – magic things happen under the hood – and the best way to avoid getting scammed and finding a web designer you will be happy with for the long term is to keep these things in mind. And also, keep in mind that this article is a little bit of a rant – venting some frustrating while trying to help folks out there who are shopping for a web developer understand what goes on in the mind of a web developer. I’m sure some folks will not like this post – hopefully most will be able to appreciate the honesty and desire to help folks from getting scammed.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

12 Responses to “10 Things Not To Say When You Are Interviewing A Web Designer”

  1. Katie Kay Says:

    Ah! the joys of working with the public…these are really good tips.

  2. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks for the feedback – I was hoping the article would not be viewed as being too critical – and I do think it can apply to many small business owners, so thanks for the comment!

  3. Julie Says:

    I think I’ve already broken a rule or two. Will you still get in touch with me? These are great tips and valuable in many personal interactions, not just web-designing!

  4. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Julie,
    Nah, you’re totally fine, I’ve already send you a reply and hope to be working with you soon 🙂
    It’s true, these tips are probably quite appropriate for a variety of situations!

  5. Emily Gay Says:

    Honestly, I was disappointed with this article. When reading blogs of potential service providers I look for attitudes and business practices that inspire me. Please understand that just as you have enough clients to be picky when choosing them, there are just as many web design companies for clients to choose. I hope this feedback encourages you to represent more positive aspects of your client relations philosophy.

  6. Joel Hughes Says:

    great article – I wrote something similar in my blog post at:

    Emily, I think you’re perhaps being a little harsh. The final “summary” paragraph is a very level headed summary of the issues. The article aims to make it easier for clients to find the right web designer. On a different note, if you’ve written any blogs on the subject then I’d love to read them 🙂


  7. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Joel,
    I do very much appreciate your comment – and you are exactly correct, the article was attempting to help clients understand the process of selecting a web designer from our perspective, so that they might make a better decision. Thanks very much for the link to your article on the same subject!

  8. Janna Polzin Says:

    I know this post is old now, but I just came across it.

    I identify with most of them! We get #1 A LOT. Potential clients will tell us they know a lot, but just don’t have the time to do it themselves. These rarely turn into paying projects for us because they usually feel that since they know so much (or THINK they know so much) about web design & development, it couldn’t possibly cost as much as we’ve proposed.

    Many of these are good qualifiers when determining how easy or difficult a client may be on a project.

  9. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Janna,
    I very much agree. I think there are some things in life, perhaps like hiring house cleaners, where I might say, I could do this myself but don’t want to. But when it comes right down to it, they do a much better job than I ever would, so I keep this thought to myself because I know it’s better to hire professionals. 🙂

  10. Tara Kamrath Says:

    Good post. I will be facing many of these issues as well..

  11. Andrew Wada Says:

    Is it alright to place a portion of this in my personal site if perhaps I post a reference to this website?

  12. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Yes sure, as long as you make it obvious which content is from my site, by putting in quotes, and then having a link back to my website, either the article or homepage is fine. Thanks for asking. I’ve emailed you with this as well.

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