I have been working as a freelance web designer in Melbourne since 1999. As I write this periodical for the webagent.com.au website viewers, I find that there are more and more people stating that they are website designers and developers. It is true that times have changed and there are many tools available that assist you in putting together a web site without too many web development skills but then there are some required skills that enable you to perform some customisation.
When I started doing this there was MS Notepad, WS ftp and Photoshop. Those were the tools you needed to put together a website design. Now there are website templates for Drupal and a bunch of other open source platforms that you can purchase for under $200. I myself use some of these templates, but the idea is to give the client the choice to alter the template to suit their branding and leave them with a reasonable looking web site at a very reasonable price. While adding value to their business.
Today I had a look in the Yellow Pages, under Melbourne website design and noticed that there were lots of website designers n there but no website addresses. How can that be. Website designers without website addresses. Anyhow I decided to further investigate this. There were serious people there doing business with legitimate website that were well developed. However I noticed a company that took up half the page with a list of suburbs. Naturally I expected these guys to be a big company. So the first thing I did (which I'd advise anyone to do) is look up their company name in Google. Nothing showed up. Thinking that I misspelled the business name I tried again. Still nothing. The only hit that resembled their name was their Yellow Pages listing.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they are so busy and care so much about their clients that they had no time to make a website for themselves. OK. Seen that before. But the other thing is that these guys are selling SEO. But if they do not come up when you search for their business name how can they sell SEO? They should at lease get a front page listing to be considered as worthy of your money.
Anyhow for those that do have a web site and do have top rank for their business name at least, check their portfolio. For example Web Agent's web design portfolio features screen captures of the web sites along with links to the web sites. Do not be fooled by images. If they do not link to their web site sample find the site they are stating was designed by them and have a browse. If you cant find it it is not a good sign. Maybe ask them where to view it, but by then you are asking them to make a good impression. :)
Other well intentioned website designers will offer testimonials on their web sites to show you a third party point of view of the website design services you offer. It is quite hard to convince someone to say something good about you if they don't want to, and if you find testimonials with real web sites behind them id trust the source. Here are the web design testimonials our customers have given us.
Please use this information at your own discretion and be wise when choosing website developers to take your money, as while I was out looking for new clients I have come across many people that have missed the signs. I have offered Web Agent's portfolio as an example of someone that is trying to be transparent, and that is what you should be looking for. That's my 2 cents worth. Peace.