In Singapore, a vast majority of business still believe in engaging a web design agencies to design and build a website for their business. Professional web design agencies charge anywhere between $500 to $15,000 to build a website. The stiff price tag is already very hard to swallow but if you run into any one of these of 4 web design agencies, you would probably choke to death. Here are 4 real-life stories we encountered while running WE/WEAR/GLASSES to make you think twice about going for the lowest quote.

Of course, we welcome you to enter
Of course, we would like you to enter our world – © Clem Onojeghuo

The Claims Expert

JL was a manicurist with a small salon. She needed a website to better reach out to new customers so she started sourcing for an agency to help her with her quest. After looking around, she came across an agency which claimed that they could build her a website and the costs would be claimable against business grants disbursed by her local government. According to the consultant from the design agency, she would not have to pay any cash for her new website because the government was footing the bill. She was immediately hooked.

Once JL signed the contract, the agency asked her to pay a downpayment. The invoice was for a website and several other items that included a wide format printer and photocopier, which she had neither the space nor the need for. When she questioned the design agency about the items, they explained to her that these items were listed to make her claim seem more “compelling” and increase her chances of getting her claims approved sooner. JL felt uncomfortable but the agency assured that this was how things were usually done in the industry so she paid them the downpayment.

As time passed, JL grew increasingly worried so she began she reading up. JL realized she was embroiled in a scheme abuse case and found out that she could have been fined up to $50,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to five years. Luckily for JL she was not found out. But the last I spoke with her, she is still waiting for her website to be completed and she is saddled with a number of bulky office equipment that she “bought.”

What went wrong? Business assistance schemes (also known as government grants) are schemes designed by the government to help local businesses to defray the costs of upgrading their business infrastructure and improving their productivity. In recent years, several “enterprising” agencies have sprung up taking advantage of these schemes by creating two invoices: one for the client and another inflated version to maximise the claim quantum. This is done with or without the client’s knowledge. Regardless, if the claim gets found out, the client will surely be implicated.

How to avoid this situation? Be wary of any web design or development firm that seems more interested in convincing you of their experience in claiming against these business assistance schemes over discussing your business’s website needs. You should also do your homework and fully understand what are you eligible for should wish to claim against these schemes and verify and submit the claims in person.

4 types of website design agencies to avoid
Red is for danger – © Ian Dooley

The Offshore Agency

AA was helmed by a business savvy husband-wife team, who started a spa label several years ago. The owners of AA clearly valued the importance of a website for their business so it seemed odd that they did not have any website at all.

It turned out that AA did attempt to build a website with another agency two years ago. The owners of AA found their previous agency off the Internet and were impressed with their extensive portfolio. The previous agency offered AA a ridiculously low rate which AA managed to further bargain down. The the deal was inked shortly after.

AA had the agency to create the design. The consultant sat with AA and took copious amount of notes during each meeting. Yet each time when the work came back, it was always very disappointing. Worse yet, their feedback would somehow get lost and bugs were left uncorrected repeatedly. Finally, after several tersely worded emails, AA demanded to work directly with the execution team. After much hemming and hawing, the consultant admitted that their designers and developers were from Vietnam and it was often hard to communicate fine details to them due the language barrier. He then turned defensive and accused AA of requesting for details and features that were too intricate and complex. Eventually, AA decided to pull the plug on the project when they realised this website project was consuming too much of their time and effort. Of course, AA was not refunded at all.

What went wrong? To keep their rates competitive, some web design and development agencies choose to outsource the design and development aspects of their business to Vietnam or India and only maintain a sales and management team locally. Often, due to communication challenges and language barriers, it  can be deeply frustrating and extremely time consuming to see the entire project through. You might save the dollars, but you will certainly pay with time.

How to avoid this situation? Gather a few quotations from different agencies to get an idea of how much the website you want to build really costs. At the minimum, a simple website will set you back about US$1,000. Remember, If it is too good to be true, it probably is.

The Vicegrip
Creative incompatibility can feel like a death grip – © Ian Dooley

The Uncreative Agency

HC had a clear idea of what he wanted for his website. He took a course in design and felt that he had to design chops to design his own website. All he needed was a developer to help bring his website to live. HC went through a few agencies and he decided finally decided on a development agency.

HC went to great lengths to share with the agency the designs and experience he wanted to created. However, a few weeks into the project, HC found himself in a constant loop of frustration as the agency failed time and again to satisfy him. He showed them example after example and the agency replicated the effects faithfully but the results were just simply not where he wanted to them to be.

Finally HC decided to fire the agency. He told the agency to keep the work but return him the deposit. The agency refused, citing that they had created the work accordingly but HC kept revising the brief. The agency issued HC an ultimatum: Take the website or forego the deposit altogether. HC was livid but he had no choice.

What went wrong? HC’s case falls in the gray area because the agency did not fail HC outright. Rather, they just could not bring to life the experience HC wanted, nor could HC articulate exactly what he felt was missing. What HC wanted a creative input from the agency but the agency he engaged was not on the same wavelength. Creative incompatibility is every client’s nightmare that drains cash, energy and time.

How to avoid this situation? Ask to meet the designer and developer the agency intends to assign to your project. Make sure you are comfortable with the team and are able to communicate and understand each other clearly on the same creative wavelength. Have the team send you updates in small increments so you can see how the project is evolving.

Grope you
Dariling, I will figure this out all right, you just foot the bill – © Ian Dooley

The Butchers

Another terrifying type of agency is the one that doesn’t know what they are doing. These agencies would take advantage of the fact that most clients will consider the website done if it looks right. The next time you want to update the website or add a section, you will be in for a nasty surprise. More often than not, the code is so mangled that nothing can be added or modified without breaking the website into pieces. You’ll probably have to forego your website upgrade or build a new website from scratch again. And you can be sure that you will have a fat bill to foot when it’s all done.

What went wrong? “The advent of code free layout editors brought on a wave of pseudo developers.  Usually, these “developers” are designers with little to no knowledge of coding ethics and principles. These pseudo-developers rely heavily on these layout editors to create seemingly decent websites. Their lack of technical knowledge forces them to rely heavily on plugins to meet the needs of their unknowingly clients. Eventually, the entire website and CMS is so choked with plugins and dependencies that the system becomes a sluggish and buggy nightmare to use.

How to avoid this situation? Arm yourself with some basic knowledge on the CMS you will be using and certain web development techniques like responsive web design and site optimization. Do not be afraid to ask your developer how does he intend to build your site and what tools he uses. At the end of the project, be sure to get the login details to your domain, webhost and CMS and keep these details close at hand.

You pay for what you get

Not all web design agencies are out to scam you! While most agencies out there are deeply passionate and professional, traditional web design and development is still undoubtedly an expensive and time-consuming venture. After all, most professionals have trained and worked for years to gain the necessary experience to build and design a great website.


What are my options?

For the rest of us, we designed Horlu to be of a more secure and affordable alternative to traditional web design and development. Horlu is an intelligent web design assistant who will create a completely bespoke website for your business based on the photos, color and post frequency of your Facebook Page. Click here to learn more about what Horlu can do for your business