Before hiring a development team, think carefully what your business is, what kind of site do you need and how much are you ready to spend for it. For example, e-commerce stores or social networks usually require more complicated work than simple informing site, and they will cost you more. When you define more or less clearly what you need, it's time to choose a web development company.
The first place to see is definitely company's site. If someone is offering web design services, they must impress you with their site immediately. Look through the site, visit different sections, pay attention to design. Do you like the site structure? Did you have any difficulties with finding information? Does everything work correctly?
The next stop is portfolio, and this is a very important page. Sometimes companies just don't have time to update their own sites, but portfolio with recent works is a must. The industry sites refer to doesn't matter. If you need online shop to market fashionable sunglasses, but the company designed e-commerce stores for garden inventory or medical equipment sellers, it's ok. They know how to do the main job - create comfortable and reliable store, which design and structure can be customized for your business. Pay attention to the general level of works and variety of them and try to rate sites as if you were a customer. Can't find any examples of studio's works? Leave the website, this company is not what you're looking for.
At professional web development company's site you won't find any fixed prices. The price of the work always depends on many factors. Sites vary by types (online stores, corporate websites, social networks, sites for media etc.), technologies used to create them, sizes and many other aspects. The kind of site you will need and features that should be added depend on your business. Fixed prices usually mean that you will get a template website instead of individual one, designed to match your needs and requirements.
So you've chosen the company you like and contacted them. When you begin to communicate, make sure that a sales person knows what company offers. He or she doesn't have to be programmers, but must be able to define what you need. Don't be annoyed because of questions they ask the more information you give, the better site you will get. It is great if you already know a lot about web design and can describe what you want clearly, but a lot of customers contact web studio just with general understanding of their needs.
It is a very good sign when, while discussing a project, company doesn't just accept all your ideas, but tries to offer you changes to make site more user friendly. Good web designer knows that UX (user experience) is the most important feature of the site and pays much attention to usability. Remember that everything should be done with end user in mind, and customer's likes and dislikes are more important than yours or web studio's.
Finally, make sure that the company is easy to contact at every moment you may need them. In different companies it varies whether you will be talking to account manager or directly to designers or programmers. There should be several ways to be in touch : email, phone, online messengers (e.g. Skype) or even your personal page at company's site, where you can see the work progress and write notes.
Of course there are much more aspects to consider while choosing web design company, but these are the most important ones. Also, have a look at our 5 questions to ask a web design studio, and good luck in your searches!