The world of the web is a subject many people don't understand or even fear. However, a basic knowledge of the web is something all entrepreneurs would benefit from.
I've often seen so-called web design companies sell sub-par websites at an over-inflated price.
A website is quite a big investment. It can often range from 2000$ -10 000$ and upward, depending on its function. For a start-up, that's a huge chunk of cash! However, nowadays your presence on the web can make or break your company which why most people bite the bullet and make the investment.
Yes, your website, if done correctly is probably your best marketing tool. It works day and night, and can attract business from all over the world. Not to mention that it has replaced the yellow pages (when's the last time you actually searched in the phone book for a business number?) If your potential clients don't find you online, chances are they won't call you.
The problem I have is that a vast majority of people don't research the basics of the web before meeting with he company that will be building their site. Think about it. I know hardly anyone who would normally jump into expenses before researching what their purchasing beforehand. If I want to buy a DSLR camera, you bet your ass I'm going to make sure I get the best product I can get at the best price. I will probably be researching for weeks before making the jump. A website should be treated the same.
Make a list of questions to ask the developers before meeting with them. Make sure they use the latest technology (or at least not 10 year old tech). Ask if they make mobile friendly sites. Do your homework. You don't want to be stuck having to re-build your website in a few months because the company you've hired are using deprecated code (yes, it has happened before).
And don't be fooled by how visually pleasing their websites are. You can have a gorgeous website that takes nearly a minute to load because its programming isn't worth shit. I don't care how beautiful your site is, I'm not waiting 60 seconds for it to load and your clients won't either.
I know it's a pain, but if you don't want to pay 5000$ for something you'll have to re-structure in a year or two, take my advice and do a bit of research before you commit.