Agencies, freelancers, and DIY: how to choose the best solution for your budget.
You need a new website. Your current website looks like it came from the early 2000’s at best, it’s hard to use for both you and your customers, and you know it’s holding your business back. However, you’re not sure where to go for business. Should you spring for one of the attractive template websites you’ve seen advertisements for? Hire a freelance web designer? Or turn to a full-blown agency? And given your budget, what can you realistically afford?
Many businesses approach websites with only a vague understanding of what costs to expect. The decision maker may have a friend or a family member who recently set up a website “for free,” and while they know that real websites cost more, their price point may only be in the hundreds—rather than thousands—of dollars.
Because of this, when they hear the price quote from an actual agency, many are taken off-guard. They may believe they’re being given a false estimate, or that there’s surely a less expensive way of accomplishing what they need.
This is a sad but understandable misunderstanding. We want businesses to make the best decision for their companies, and we know that’s hard to do when they’re dealing with an industry they don’t know a lot about. And, let’s face it: web development is new and ever-changing. If you haven’t gotten a new website since the dawn of smartphones (which was already/only ten years ago), your expectations might be completely off-base—and that’s not your fault.
The good news is, we’re here to educate you about your options and hopefully guide you toward a decision you’re comfortable with. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of these various options.
DIY: setting up a hosted website from a template.
If you have no money, then you’re mostly out of options. Yeah, you could track down a friend who knows some web coding and maybe they’ll be willing to help you get going, but that path will only get you so far.
Fortunately, you do have some options. There are plenty of options out there for businesses who just want to get something on the internet, and most of these are better than nothing. Hosted websites, such as Wix or Squarespace are some of the popular options, and they certainly look attractive. But beware: these services don’t provide a lot of access to their back end, so your ability to customize your site will be limited to whatever options they provide in their templates. Also, if you ever decide to migrate to a different platform, they don’t make it easy for you to take your content with you. You may be stuck manually copying over a lot of material.
WordPress.com also offers plenty of free templates to the new user, but these will have the same limitations as the hosted options we just mentioned. Many users don’t realize the limitations of template till they go to use them, and then the inadequacies can feel very restrictive. But then again, without a budget, you can’t afford to be picky.
Freelancers: their strengths and limitations.
If you have a few thousand dollars to put toward a website, your budget is right in the ballpark for a good freelancer. They can help you fit your website closer to your needs, either by designing from the ground up or by altering a template to fit.
The downside with freelancers is that they’re on their own. They’re either working on the side while maintaining a day job, or they’re managing your project against several others—with no one to help them balance the load. For this reason, freelancers can sometimes have the reputation of being a little flakey. A qualified web designer can still deliver a great product, but they’re hard to find. Without a solid referral, you could spend several thousand dollars on a product that’s not quite everything you need.
If you choose to work with a freelancer, talk to them about how they plan to build your site. Make sure that you will be able to update the end product yourself, and that their design is responsive for mobile devices. We recommend finding a freelancer who works with WordPress so that you have a reliable content management system to use. Plus, this means that anyone who works with WordPress will be able to help you with your site in the future, and that will give you better options if your freelancer doesn’t work out or if they move on to a new job.
Agencies: when you’re ready for custom service.
This brings us to the final point: how do you know when it’s time to hire a web design agency?
The short answer is: when you’re ready to devote the budget to it. Agency websites start in the five-digit zone for a custom-designed site. Anyone offering to make you a website for less than 10–15K is probably working form a template—which is fine, but has its limitations.
What agencies offer is a completely tailor-made website. They start with a design, and then build the site to match. That gives you far more opportunity to adjust what you see to fit your brand.
And of course, this goes well beyond color scheme and font choice. The entire layout of your site—the content areas, product categories, media options, and other custom functionality—all of this can be adjusted to match your vision.
Beyond this, with an agency you have the services of multiple professionals rather than the lonesome freelancer. Your project manager will keep your website deliverables moving ahead in a timely manner. The account manager can be your point of contact, answer your questions, and make sure none of your concerns fall through the cracks. And the marketing and content specialists can help put your website to work bringing in sales and new clients.
The bottom line is: you’re not just paying for added overhead when you go to an agency. You’re paying for a dedicated team of professionals to deliver a custom-built website in an efficient, timely manner. And if that website has the power to grow your sales? We bet it will pay for itself.
Put your budget where it counts.
You wouldn’t want to drop a couple grand on a pair of Italian leather loafers if you couldn’t afford a suit. But if you could afford a suit, you’d definitely not want to wear it with a beat-up pair of sneakers.
All of this to say: your business comes first. In order for an agency website to be a worthwhile investment, you need to have a healthy business and enough capital to afford the kind of website that best represents your brand online. If you’re not there yet, it’s possible you could use up all your capital and not have the resources to put your website to use.
We’re a web design agency. And we’re proud of the work we do. But we’re not here to tell you that you should absolutely come to us with your business.
If you’re not ready to invest your capital in a custom-built website, put your resources toward what you can afford. Grow your business, and come back to us when you’re ready to bring it to the next level.
We’ll be ready and waiting.