I can suggest what NOT to do. Don`t get romanced by off-shore prices and have it done there unless you are 100% familiar with the company. I am still slapping myself on a daily basis for that little "idea" And I got positive feedback from US references before I selected the one I used.
It`s cost me nearly double to have the mess cleaned up. Not to mention the hours of headaches trying to communicate with people who really, when it came down to it, spoke "Techlish" and not English. I speak English, not "Techlish" so we had a problem nearly from the start of the project.
How can someone quote a project before even knowing what it`s about.
From my personal experience, There excists a way in getting a company to produce a fully funtioning web site for you with-out you having to worry about getting robbed, or short changed.
I currently acquired a huge project from one of my clients, and his concern was. Well how do I know if you will deliver what you promised, I reversed the question back at him and asked him, how do I know you are going to pay me..
We both looked at eachother and laughed...
So a good friend of mine let me in; to the secret of his success and the tools that he uses to close deals. His tools is called www.escrow.com... What you do is you have them hold your cash for you until the project is completed and you are satisfied. This is a good way to offer collateral to your clients. You put the available funds into an account and like that they at least know the money is there, and perhaps you can have them develop your web site.
Ever since I discovered this, I use it on a daily basis...
Ultimately, it will depend on what you`re willing to spend. Time, no matter how hands-on or hands-off you will be with this project, is a must. Otherwise, the final product will not meet your specifications. This is after all, something you`re going to be using day in and day out for your business.
If your budget is a few hundred to a thousand, I`d take a look at open source solutions to create your prototype. They`re free non-license software solutions to run websites that give you an idea of how a site`s backend is. While they require lots of customization, the cost is minimal and you can experiment endlessly without having to pay. Examples of e-commerce open source packages include Zencart, OSCommerce, or PHPCart. Examples of open source CMS (content-management systems) include Joomla or Drupal.
If your budget is much more substansial, then I highly recommend you beef on web languages. Knowing what both cheaper web hosts and the enterprise class professionals charge will ensure you won`t get taken on price. Knowing how large corporations handle their IT as well as developments in Web technology and the nuts and bolts help you keep on the same page as whomever you hire, if you choose to do so.