For years I worked as a graphic and web designer for clients who were mostly small businesses. At one time or another, almost all of my clients asked me how they could keep their design costs down. My business has always been small, too, so I understood their concerns and I put together some tips for how to work with a designer to save on both web design and print design. I am always amazed by how many people have their own businesses, even part-time businesses, and so many are thinking of getting a web site. Today I’m going to share some of my web design saving tips, and I’ll follow up with the print design tips at a later date.

How to Save on Web Site Design

1. Decide what you need

There are lots of things that need to come together to get a web site up and running. Thinking about your project details before you meet with your designer will help them to come up with the best solution to fit your company’s needs. Consider what kind of site you want–how many pages, the type of content, whether you will require photography or artwork, if you want ecommerce capability, if you want to maintain your site or parts of your site yourself, if you’ll need hosting, what kind of search engine optimization you’ll want, and whether you’d like a blog, newsletter, or other features. The estimate a web designer prepares for you will be based on the details you present during your first meeting or meetings; the more specific you can be, the closer that estimate will be.

2. Decide what you like

It’s also important to consider what design style or styles appeal to you. What colors do you like? What navigation methods do you prefer? Are there any other web sites that you like? What is it that you like about them? The “I’ll know it when I see it” method is fine with many designers, but probably the most expensive choice for you. Most web designers will be happy to provide multiple options for your consideration—just be aware of the expense involved with that!

3. Prepare your own content

While design firms may offer photography and writing services, these content development services are generally not included with your site design, but are additional expenses. Developing your own text from your existing promotional materials—brochures and flyers, for example—will save time and money. A good digital camera is an absolute must for most business owners today, and will pay for itself very quickly.

4. Provide content in digital form

Do you want your designer doing word processing, data entry or photo scanning for you? To save some of these costs, provide your content in digital form (Word or text files for your written content, jpeg or gif files for your photos and logos). Be sure that you’re providing only your final drafts of materials; editing clients’ revisions and rewrites to text after web page layout has begun can be very time-consuming (and thus, expensive).

5. Make changes you can afford

Once a proposal has been submitted and agreed to, and designers have started your site design, you may want to add in a new feature or an additional page. This is usually not a problem—most designers will accommodate your changes. Please realize that items not included in your original proposal will take additional time that may affect your project’s schedule and will most certainly affect your budget. When you request changes, ask for a modified agreement or an estimate for the proposed changes so you will not find any “surprises” on your final invoice.

6. Remember that more bells and whistles will mean more expense

So you want special animation and forms? No problem! Most designers can provide customized programming and features to make your site unique. These solutions can often be time-consuming, so be sure to mention them so they are figured into your estimate.

7. Consider doing your project in “phases”

One of my former clients used to say he had “champagne taste and a beer budget”! If you find yourself in the same bind, consider breaking up your project into phases, making sure your designer is open to the idea. Perhaps you can start with the basic site, adding a newsletter, blog, or mailing list over time. MySpace or other social networking pages can also be developed once your main project is addressed. Sometimes it’s easier to budget for these additional features if they are spread out over time.

In general, the more planning and preparation you can do as a business owner–thinking through your project, finalizing your graphics, photos, and text, and providing them in digital format–the more you can save. And that’s always good for business!