We would all like to have the best looking website, that's a fact - but if we keep in mind that our main objective is to finally sell our product or service online, we'll realize that maybe design is not the most important factor when it comes to achieve this objective.
Professional design is probably the most time consuming part of the web development, so my first tip would be, before you are contacting a Web Design Company, to browse the Internet for companies which offer similar services and products - you will find probably hundreds of them - save in your Favorites four or five websites which you really like, print out these, and show the printouts to as many people as you can, especially to your existing customers, and ask them which one it's more likely is to make them take an action (contact, buy, subscribe) on the site. This way you have conducted your own little "marketing pool" which will add weeks and weeks of online presence and business.
Based on this little pool you've conducted you know have a good idea on how your website should look like to entice your visitors to buy your service/product.
The next step would be to contact the Web Design Company of your choice and show them exactly want you want, cutting this way 80% of the design time. The designer will probably make suggestions and additions, some off them good ones but most of them just so they can mark up the price of the design.
I would advise that you should be really firm on your feet if you really want your website to be up and running ASAP.
Another very important aspect of this design contracting process is that even you showed them exactly what you want, you have to realize that you are not the designer's only client and the designers are working on probably tens of other projects too, so I would advise you to put in the contract you are signing a very firm deadline for the site design, and ask for penalties on the design company end if it's not done in time, this way you will ensure that your project is prioritized.
Mr. Josh Szatmari is a Web Marketing, Search Engine Optimization Specialist & Web Developer, currently the Vice President of Performance Development Corporation and the Web Development Director of Hilton Head Rentals.