How to avoid paying for a website that looks like POO!

How to avoid paying for a website that looks like POO!

Last month, two separate clients contacted me within half an hour of each other. Both were beside themselves. They don’t know each other, but they certainly know each other’s pain; paying good money for a website they hate.

Or as one of the two clients phrased it so eloquently, a website that ‘looks like poo’!

help our website looks like poo

In both cases, I had seen red flags waving wildly well before the websites began to take shape. (But I knew better than to say I told you so.)

It’s certainly rare to receive calls like this twice in one day. But I do get them more often than you might think. Often enough to know how many so-called ‘digital agencies’ are out there taking money from ill-informed small businesses in return for blatantly substandard work.

And boy, does it make me mad.

Obviously I’m a website copywriter, not a website designer. But as a communications professional, I do whatever I can to help my clients walk away with the best possible finished product. And nothing makes me cringe more than seeing my carefully crafted words slapped online without a trace of design integrity.

Over the years, I’ve seen businesses make every mistake in the book when hiring a web designer – and the outcomes are never pretty.

Here are eight of my best (or worst) true stories, along with some important lessons for you to take away.

Don’t become the client who… PAID PEANUTS

I almost fell off my chair when one client revealed the amount she paid her website designer…


Yup, you read correctly. $400.

No wonder her website looked awful. And no wonder the service had been abominable.

The only solution for this client was to farewell her four hundred and move on. Sure, it’s not a lot of money to lose, but the whole palaver sapped her time and energy.

What small business owner needs that?

Lesson #1: Don’t get seduced by super-cheap web design deals. Quality always comes at a price.

So how cheap is too cheap? You should expect to pay at least $2,000 for a basic professionally produced website. But realistically, closer to $3,000.

Don’t become the client who… NEVER SAW OR SIGNED OFF ON A DESIGN

Remember that website I mentioned earlier? The one that looked like poo?

That poor client was blindsided the day their website went live.

When I asked who signed off on the design and why the client didn’t run it past me earlier, they informed me that this was also their first glimpse of the site.

That’s right. Their website was designed, built and published without any client input whatsoever.

Unheard of. Un-freaking-believable.

Lesson #2: Website production is a two-stage process: 1) design 2) development (or build). Under no circumstances should your website designer move to stage two until you are 100% satisfied with stage one. And your new site should never GO LIVE until you give the explicit go-ahead.

Don’t become the client who… HIRED A TECHIE TO DESIGN THEIR WEBSITE

Newsflash: Website design and website development aren’t synonymous. They are two very different skills. And it’s extremely rare to find someone who can do both well.

This particular client hired a WordPress developer who chose a template, whacked on their logo and plonked in the text – applying zero design finesse.

Back-end developers should never take the lead on design. The uglier websites you’ve come across were probably created solely by developers, with no input from a designer at any stage.

Lesson #3: Ensure your website team includes a designer as well as a developer. Your designer will determine your site’s look and feel (i.e. branding, colours, imagery and so on) and your developer will build your site – making sure it functions as it should.


I’ve witnessed many horror stories about businesses that entrust their company website to a student – or to someone they’re connected to personally.

One client even engaged their uber-talented niece… who also happened to be a student (yup, two in one). But the worst part? She wasn’t even studying a relevant qualification. She was an industrial design student with no experience designing websites.

Another client engaged their cousin’s new husband, probably out of obligation. And when my client was disappointed with the initial designs, she felt she had no choice but to just ‘go with it’ to keep the family peace.

Then there was the client who paid a major university good money to be a real-life guinea pig for a group of second year design students. And guess what? She ended up with a final product she couldn’t use.

Lesson #4: Don’t engage inexperienced students or people you know personally – just because you can. Keep it commercial and professional at all times. Mates’ rates and family favours are never worth it.

Don’t become the client who… HIRED A DOOR-KNOCKER

The website development industry is cluttered and cut-throat. And some fly-by-nighters go to great lengths to win business.

An unfortunate client of mine chose a company simply because they appeared on their doorstep at the right time.

Big mistake.

The website ended up looking rubbish. What’s more, the company that built it disappeared off the face of the earth a couple of months later. And because the site was built using a proprietary CMS (rather than an open source platform such as WordPress), my client had no option but to start from scratch.

Time and money down the drain once again.

Lesson #5: Only consider web designers that have already completed work for someone you know and trust. It’s no guarantee of course, but it’s better than going for someone off the street. Surely.


Last year, I managed to stop one client from engaging a web designer who was just starting out. Not because he was a newbie. But because he had no portfolio to speak of.

After a little undercover work (thanks, LinkedIn…), I discovered that their new website ‘designer’ had been a real estate agent for 20 years – until six weeks earlier.

Holy moly!

Of course everyone has to start somewhere and there’s nothing wrong with giving a newbie a break. But being new to the game is no excuse for not having a portfolio. I know several designers who created websites for family and friends at no cost to establish credibility before entering formal commercial arrangements.

A word of warning though. Having a portfolio isn’t enough. Take the time to scrutinise it by asking yourself:

Do you like their style?
Are their designs creative and engaging?
Does their portfolio show diversity across brands and industries?

And if you see a website in their portfolio that you particularly like, ask the designer how much that other client paid. If it’s a lot more than you’re willing to spend, you won’t get the same quality.

Lesson #6: Make sure your website designer has a meaty portfolio with plenty of examples of sites you like. And if you don’t have an eye for design, ask the opinion of someone who does.


This client engaged me to write and oversee the design of a new corporate brochure (not their website). And as part of that process, I needed to look at all their existing communications first to get a feel for their branding.

That’s when the confusion set in – the moment I discovered that their (newly launched) website showed no resemblance to any of their other marketing materials.

Hell, it didn’t even include their logo.

When I asked my client how their business managed to get by for 30 years without a corporate logo (which is what I had understandably assumed), she assured me they did have one. It just never occurred to the web designer to ask for it.

If they had, they would have seen that my client’s corporate colour was navy. Not the pastel green that was plastered all over her new site.

Need I say more?

Lesson #7: Make sure your designer takes an interest in your brand identity and asks to see all your existing marketing materials before starting the design process.


Last year, one of my clients was underwhelmed with the first cut of her new website design.

It happens. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a lost cause.

However, when she asked her developer (yes, he was a techie – see Lesson #3) to meet up to discuss the design and clarify her vision, he declined, stating that email was his preferred form of communication.

Sometimes when novices dislike a design, they don’t necessarily know why. They just know it’s not right. That’s why you need a provider who’s willing to thrash it out with you.

In this instance, my client decided to move on and engage someone else as she simply couldn’t see a way forward with the first developer. A messy financial dispute followed.

Lesson #8: Choose someone that’s a clear, open communicator. They should be invested in the relationship – not just the transaction.

But please, don’t be disheartened. I see many happy stories too.

In recent years, I have formed strong relationships with a handful of web designers that I now recommend to my clients with complete confidence.

Put simply, they get it right time and again. And boy does it feel good to protect my valued clients from all the trials and tribulations of working with substandard service providers.

Everybody wins.

Have you had a bad experience with a web designer or web developer? What lessons did you learn that others may benefit from?