DIY Your Website or Hire a Professional? The Good and The Not-So-Good
Creating a website for your business that’s fresh, innovative, to-the-point and helpful to your customers can be a challenge. A lot of questions will swirl around in your head – How much time will it take? What will it cost? What do your customers want? Where do you start?
You may even wonder whether this is a project you or someone on your team can tackle, or if it would be more beneficial to let a professional handle the process. But how do you make that decision? Here are few tips that can help you choose your best option:
DIY (Do It Yourself)
Building a website yourself isn’t nearly as overwhelming or complicated as it was even just a few years ago, especially with the advent of website builders. Previously, building websites required knowledge of various code and applications – lucky for a lot of entrepreneurs and small businesses, that’s no longer the case.
Website builders are tools that allow the construction of websites without needing to write code. They fall into two categories:
- Online Proprietary Tools are online website builders provided by web hosting companies (e.g. GoDaddy or BlueHost), typically intended for users to build a personal or small-scale website.
- Website Design Software is program that runs on a computer (e.g. WebEasy Professional 10, or Serif WebPlus X8), that creates web pages offline and that can then be published pages to a host. These are typically used by those with a beginner or intermediate knowledge of code.
Online website builders require an account with the web hosting company that provides the builder – that way you can save all of your content, images and other relevant resources in one place for easy updating. The range of services offered through builders varies between basic personal web pages and business or ecommerce websites that are either very simple or template based.
There are many companies that offer templates, hosting plans and domain names at affordable prices, and often include a step-by-step guide to build your website with their website builders. Some are intimidating at first, but most users with average computer competency will be able to navigate the process without any hiccups. Here is PC Magazine’s list of the top website builders in 2015.
The benefit of working with a website builder is that it’s a simple, clean process that requires minimal technical know-how. They usually have a large selection of templates to choose from and often have great customer service if you have a question along the way. If you need a simple online presence to promote yourself or your business, these services can provide you with just that.
On the other hand, websites built this way can be limited as far as customization; you get what you (don’t) pay for. Since the provided templates are offered to everyone who uses the service, you run a high risk of not being the only one out there with that design. If the goal for your website is to brand and market your business as unique, a website builder template might not be the right option for you.
You’ll also need to plan out every detail – logo, color scheme, copy, imagery (make sure it’s fair use!), navigation and calls-to-action. If you have a super busy, small, or non-existent marketing team, that can become a big struggle. And whatever you do, DON’T launch an unfinished website. You’ll confuse your customers and basically guarantee they won’t be returning anytime soon.
If you DIY, editing and maintaining your site is also your responsibility. That might not seem like a difficult task at first, it can be tricky navigating the content management system (CMS); especially if you aren’t familiar with it, and need to make an update now. Keeping your website updated with current content and technology can become a chore. You also have to make sure to include proper tagging, keywords and code optimization that DIY builders rarely include – these are immensely important to making sure Google can find you.
After reading the above, if you feel you don’t have the time or the skills to build, populate and maintain your website, or if you feel that the run of the mill website builders don’t have exactly what you need, then you’ll want to…
Hire a Professional
Ideally you should look for a company comprised of a team of computer programmers, designers, and marketers that can help bring your website ideas to life. Computer programmers code websites, building mostly the invisible pieces (back end) that make it run. Designers build visible (front end) custom templates, buttons, icons and creative imagery based on your brand specifications, and make sites responsive to all devices. If the firm you hire also has marketers on staff, they might be on hand to help you implement a digital marketing strategy or offer advice on how best to promote your website through various channels. Most firms will also coordinate your project under a project manager. This is the person you will chiefly, if not exclusively, be working with.
Hiring a professional web development and design firm can make building a website a lot easier. If you know next to nothing about building a website, buying a domain name or a hosting plan (or don’t even know what those are), or simply don’t have the time to DIY, a professional can guide you through it and do all the heavy lifting. If you have a vision for what you’d like your website to be, a development firm can take that vision and turn it into a reality.
The benefits of choosing a professional can be quite extensive — you’ll have access to the focus, commitment, education and insight of people in the industry who know how to shape websites to yield the most profit; whether that profit is monetary, user views, or some other indicator of performance. They can help you craft the right design, include the right functionality, and build a website that’s easier for your customers to use. A professional team can also help you adjust or edit your content, and help you maintain your website.
When looking for a firm, if you’re comfortable working over the web, you can research top web development companies via Google, YP or Angie’s List. If you’d rather work with a company face-to-face, you can look for firms near you.
Here are a few things to look for when deciding what firm to hire:
Experience. Experience shows that the firm has been around the block more than once, and will likely mean there are fewer hurdles for you to jump over. With proper instruction, they will design and program your site and get it right the first time. Keep in mind that experience in the web design world doesn’t mean 30 years like it does in other industries – there are some amazing firms out there that have been in business for less than 5.
Quality. The quality of their work can be seen in the websites they have designed and on their own website. Not only will they look appealing, but their functionality will be clean and simple.
Good Communication. Having the lines of communication open between you and your development firm is very important as you will want someone who understands your vision and ideas thoroughly so as to make the process successful. Not to mention you’ll want a point person for the questions you’ll inevitably have!
This may not be not-so-good for every company or every project, but one of the downsides to working with the professionals is a higher cost. On the other hand, you get what you pay for – and sometimes much more. When shopping around, note that an estimate from a firm is not the same as the actual cost. When you first discuss your website with a potential firm, they’ll give you an estimate of how much they think they would charge for it based on the information you give them – to that end, it’s important to understand your budget range, and know what you’re looking for.
Estimates can sometimes cover a broad base, and will depend heavily on whether it is a fixed project or an hourly one. If you have a budget in mind try and keep the estimate lower than that budget to provide yourself some wiggle room. Remember that new features and changes mid-project will add on to the cost more, so do not expect to keep the same budget from start to finish if you don’t have a full idea of what your website needs to be.
When choosing a web development firm, sometimes the cheaper option or even the more expensive option isn’t the better one; remember to choose based on experience, quality and communication.
If the firm you hire doesn’t have any marketers on staff, that can also add more to-dos for your team. You can also run into a lot of snags when working with larger development firms – with a large company comes a large amount of projects, so you can sometimes get lost in the mix. You also occasionally have egos to contend with. Whatever you decide, choose a firm based on the needs of your website and who you feel will best treat you and your business.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether you can DIY your website or hire a professional. If you’re confident in your web skills and like the customer service and templates offered by build-your-own-website companies, then doing it yourself is a great option. If you don’t have the knowledge or the time, that’s okay too – hiring a web development firm is also a great way to go. Your website is an important piece of your business plan, so make sure you select an option that makes the most sense for you, your team, and perhaps most importantly, your customers.