1.Surf the web. The odds are there are dozens of sites that you admire, or that do something similar to what you hope to achieve and do it well. Find them, study them, and take some notes. Write down what you like, and what you don’t like - and why. Keep a file.
2.As you surf these sites, make note of the credits at the bottom. See who designed them, and if possible check out those designer’s websites for a portfolio of their other work.
3.Cruise the premium Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla theme sites if you choose one of these platforms. Find out what theme is in use on the sites you like, and who designed the theme. It may be that you will end up buying a theme you like and reducing the role of your designer to customizing it.
4.If you have friends who have web sites you admire, question them on their choice of platform, designer, theme, etc. Ask about functionality. If there is something you’d like to have that you don’t see, ask about that as well.
5.When you have settled on what you want to do, get at least three designers to look at what you have, and what you want, and provide you quotes. In the quotes make sure they include costs for training you on use and maintenance, for updates to the site, and for emergency troubleshooting. As you communicate with them, take note of how quickly they answer, and how helpful they are. You may be working with them for a while.
6.Avoid trying to be “too cool” with your website - particularly if you aren’t independely wealthy. Flash and crazy color schemes, and animated gifs all may seem like a “way-cool” idea when you first see them. In most cases they distract people from the focus of your site.
7.Keep it as professional as you can. Weigh each feature you intend to include for its usefulness and utility. It’s okay to have a few “fun” things but don’t let them overshadow your reason for having the site.
8.Build your site around your content. Whatever it is you intend to promote, sell, share, or advertise, try to put your mind in a place where you can imagine coming to the site as a user, customer, etc. and design it the way you would want to see it if someone else built it.
9.Your front page should provide access to every important aspect of your site, and should do so without the necessity of scrolling. Don’t hide anything you really want people to see, the average surfer won’t click through to something they have to work to find.
10.Do not be intimidated by your designer. It’s easy to let them make your decsisions for you, to make you feel inadequate for your inability to do things on your own, and in general to take over your project. You are hiring them to build YOUR site…remember that, while you are collaborating, you are in charge of the project, and it is - ultimately - your design and thoughts that should be reflected in the final outcome.