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At Home, Designing Around the World

by Eileen Parzek
SOHO It Goes!

There is a new denizen of the creative world these days, known as a web designer. Evolved out of just about every medium of communication, thousands more have jumped in with much less background. In the same way that personal computers, and desktop publishing, created a flood of entrepreneurs, the Internet is attracting thousands of people with dreams of self-employment.

From the perspective of a potential client, it is natural to be more comfortable with employees in front of them, and understandably anxious about never "seeing" the people they are paying to develop their Internet presence. Meanwhile, the Internet DOES make it possible for talented, professional designers to work from home, and provide service to clients virtually anywhere in the world. So rather than limit yourself to the talent available in your own backyard, lets take a look at how such an arrangement works, and how to go about hiring a designer who isn't in your neighborhood.

A professional designer doing business on the Web is going to use a number of different communication tools to work with you. They will be adept at using the Internet technology to develop and launch your site, from a remote location. As long as both parties are responding to their email promptly, a great deal of communication can be handled that way. Text documents to be converted into HTML can be sent to the designer as an email attachment. Sketches of site layout can be sent from the client to the designer via fax. The telephone remains as a way of discussing business, and good old snail mail is necessary to exchange signed documents, and materials that the designer will use for the development.

The designer should have access to a web server where they can temporarily display your site, so that you can review it as it is developed. When the time comes to mount the site on your hosting, the designer should be able to use FTP (file transfer protocol) to move it over, using the passwords you provide to them.

Now that you know how your site might be developed by someone out of town, the first hurdle is determining the reputability of the person you are considering. You may have encountered a web site that you really liked, followed a link in the credits, and hopefully found an equally pleasing site to behold. When contacting the designer, feel free to request references. If they have been doing this for a while, they will be able to provide you with references from past clients, attesting to their professionalism, ability to complete the job, and what a pleasure it was to work with them. The designer's portfolio is a critical part of evaluating how their talents might work for you, so be sure to visit the online portfolio they display.

Once you are assured of their reputability, supply the designer with as much information as you can about the project you are proposing, and ask them for a quote. Shop around, and investigate what the price range will be for the quality you are expecting, but beware - the old adage "you get what you pay for" usually holds true, as in any business. No doubt you will find lower prices, but will you be getting proven quality, or reputation, or reliability for your deal? It's something to think about.

Perhaps the most important part of the process, whether the designer IS the kid next door, or a professional 3,000 miles away, is to have it in writing. Conduct a proposal and quoting process via email, but once those terms are agreed upon, expect to see a contract. Most professional designers will have an agreement which outlines what you can expect, what their responsibilities are to you, what elements you are buying for your web site, the payment terms, and the licensing/copyright issues of any custom design work that is involved (ie., illustrations they develop). This agreement protects BOTH you and the designer, but of course, you should feel free to have your own attorney look at it.

These are exciting times we live in - small businesses being able to compete for business around the world, designers being able to develop your site without ever laying eyes on you, and endless information at our fingertips. The rules of doing business today are changing as quickly as they can be defined - don't limit yourself, your business or your information.

Eileen 'Turtle' Parzek is a veteran marketing designer and online communications consultant who has been working from home and virtually since 1995. Her business, SOHO It Goes! ( specializes in providing technology driven design, marketing and communication services to small businesses and organizations.

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