When considering whether or not to work with a web designer, first take close look at the company's or designer's portfolio. It's important that you like the looks of websites that they've made in the past. If you do not like their work, it's simple: Do not call them.
Try to make a list of a few designers or firms what work you like. Then, set up time to talk to them. During your discussions, the most important thing to find out is whether they are knowledgeable about marketing.
There are thousands of graphic artists who will be perfectly happy to make you a website, and there are tons of programmers who will do the same. But only rarely will they be able to make a site that is effective for your business. If you want to have the best possible website, what you need is a digital strategist.
How do you know if a designer you're considering is also a digital strategist? First, inquire into their development process. If their process does not have a "Discovery" stage-ie, a stage in which they schedule time with you to discuss strategies and goals-then it's probably best to walk away from that designer.
In short, the development process should include several stages:
2) Information architecture
3) Graphical user interface
5) Programming and testing
Do the designers seem like they plan to simply make a pretty site for you without first consulting you about your specific needs? If they're not going to involve you in the process, there's a good chance you'll be spending your money on a nice-looking but ineffective site.
Also, it's extremely important that your web designer will be handing the PSD files over to you. The PSD files will allow another graphic artist to make changes to the design (if needed). If they're unwilling to commit to this, run!
Other things to consider:
* Will you have the copyright to your site? It's fine if the designer wants to have the right to put your site in their portfolio, as long as you're the actual owner of the site.
* Are Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing among the designer's main concerns? They should be.
* Do they use a Content Management System (CMS) to make their sites? This is very important, as if there is no CMS you'll end up having to pay your designer for every site update, which would quickly get ridiculously expensive.
* Finally, make sure that you're going to own your own domain name. Do not use a designer that wants to retain ownership of your domain. I've worked with clients who were being held host by a former site designer, and it's not a fun situation.