If you’ve decided that now is the time to establish a professional website for your business, congratulations! You’ve made an important decision that has held many small to mid-sized businesses back for years.
We’re too small for a website!
We can’t afford to invest in a website.
Our business is conducted locally. We don’t need an online presence!
None of our customers will look for us online. It’s a waste of time.
We get everything we need from social media accounts for free.
These are just some of the misguided explanations that business owners, entrepreneurs and small organizations use when blowing off the job of establishing a professional website. Unfortunately, many of them resist a website project because they don’t have the time or technical knowledge to do it themselves. By putting it off, they hand business to their competitors by failing to compete in the online market.
You’re one giant step ahead because you understand the importance of establishing a strong internet presence for your brand. The next step is determining how to bring that website into reality and ensure that it drives profit, generates leads, or accomplishes other goals for your company.
You don’t just want a website. You want a productive website that works for you. That only happens if your website is designed with intention by a professional. This is where the old term “you get what you pay for” comes into play.
This guide is going to take you through all of your website building options, including DIY and outsourcing strategies. We’ll discuss everything from the cost to the expected time frame for each option, and then we’ll walk you through a series of questions that will help you choose between those options without wasting time.
There’s no time for analysis paralysis. You have an amazing website to design! Let’s get started exploring your options.
3 Ways to Build Your Business Website
There are three primary methods used by businesses to establish websites. They either do all the work themselves, hire website design and development professionals to create their own internal teams, or outsource to freelancers and agencies. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, and every business must determine the right strategy for their unique situation.
Some businesses and solopreneurs take a two-step approach to website establishment. They start by throwing up a quick website on a cheap website builder. That establishes their online presence quickly even if the website leaves a lot to be desired. The goal is to later invest in a professional website. Unfortunately, the unprofessional starter website often tarnishes the brand’s reputation and discourages buyers before the pro website is ever created.
It’s best to create a professional site that supports the image of your company or brand right from the start. Let’s dig into the details of all three strategies available.
Strategy One: DIY
The first option is simple: build your own website.
This is a good option if you have at least moderate web design and development skills. Design refers only to the look and feel of the website. Development is the hard work of coding the site to ensure functionality. Both sets of skills work together to ensure your visitors have a smooth, satisfying experience from the first load through the exploration phase and to the end of the purchase cycle.
If you don’t have design and development experience, then you can use drag-and-drop website builder services like Squarespace or Wix. These platforms make it fast and easy to create basic websites with one or multiple pages. You start with design templates and then select from a variety of customization options to change the colors, fonts, and basic look of your website.
What Does it Cost?
DIY websites are your most affordable option. You can do it for less than $500 upfront. In fact, it’s possible to establish a website for $100 or less, and you can have it ready to launch in a day or two if you aren’t too picky about features and design.
The following expenses are necessary to create your DIY website:
- Domain Name – about $2 to $20 per year
- Hosting Service – under $20 per month for most shared hosting services
- Website Builder – $12 – $50 per month, depending on plan selection and platform
The initial investment is attractive if you’re on a tight budget, but keep in mind that you will have to pay monthly expenses for the website builder and hosting. You will also have transaction fees if you allow visitors to buy products from your website. Other fees may apply for some platforms.
Timeline & Complexity
DIY websites can take a few hours, a few days, or a few months. Some are straightforward and simple to create. Others require a bit of research and time investment if you want to modify a template to create a more advanced design.
A variety of factors come into play here:
- Experience Level – If you have little to no web design and development experience, it will take you longer to create your own website.
- Complexity Desired – It doesn’t take much effort to use a pre-created template with few or no modifications. If you want to modify the template to create a more unique web design, then it could take you longer and may require more design expertise.
- Builder Chosen – If you go with WordPress to build your own website, there is a learning curve and it can get quite complex. If you go with a builder like Wix or Squarespace, it’s less complex and is often much faster.
- Availability – The more time you have available to build your website, the faster you’re likely to progress.
- Substantially cheaper than internal hiring or outsourcing
- Can save time if you work fast
- No need to consult with professionals
- Many DIY websites look unprofessional or amateurish
- Advanced website features are time consuming if you’re inexperienced
- Some templates and builders are difficult to modify
- You must do all maintenance and updating on your own after the site is created
- Many DIY websites don’t perform well for online marketing or SEO
So, where do we stand with DIY websites?
They’re a reasonable option if you just want to quickly establish an online presence without investing a lot of money upfront. If you aren’t picky about design features and functionality, you may create a quick website that is satisfying at least for the short term.
This website building strategy works best if you have some web design and development experience plus a good understanding of how successful websites are created and maintained. It goes a lot deeper than doing basic keyword research and throwing them into your content repeatedly. In fact, doing that will work against you rather than for you.
This is not the best way to build a website for your business if any of the following apply:
- You want to create an extremely effective, profitable website with a strong brand representation
- You don’t have the time or desire to build your own website from scratch
- You have no technical knowledge of website design or development and don’t want to learn
Strategy Two: Hire Internally
The second option is to employ your own web design and development department. That may include just one expert with a lot of experience or a team of professionals with different areas of expertise.
Don’t count working with freelancers. That will fall into the outsourcing option that we will discuss next. For now, we’re talking about bringing on employees capable of handling your website design, development, and maintenance needs. You can work with them in the office or manage a remote team, but you will need to recruit, hire, and pay them a salary or hourly wage.
What Does it Cost?
The cost of hiring and retaining employees is substantial and lasts long term. Even if you decide to hire seasonal or temporary workers, you will have the following expenses:
- Recruitment – You either run ads online or pay a headhunter to find suitable job candidates for your business. Consider the investment of time as you will need to interview and discuss the opportunity with each candidate in addition to any recruitment fees.
- Onboarding – Bringing an employee into your business requires some investment as you bring them up to speed on your project, brand, and company goals. You may need to buy electronics, office supplies, and other equipment to set up your team as well.
- Space – If you don’t want to work with a remote employee, you may need to invest in a larger workspace to accommodate your new employees.
- Wages & Benefits – You will have to pay your internal team, which is a substantial expense.
Timeline & Complexity
This is one of the most complex options because you have to go through the process of finding and hiring the right professionals. Perhaps you can then step away from the details of designing and launching your own website because you have professionals doing the work, but keep in mind the ongoing paperwork and expense of managing employees.
The timeline for creating a website in this manner is hard to specify. It will take you some time to find the right employees and bring them on board, following all legal steps from a business and tax perspective. Your professionals may work fast to get the design concept down and start developing the site, but it can still take a lot of time to create a complex design from scratch.
- Your hired professionals will focus only on your business’s web design and development needs
- You can invest a lot of time into creating your website because you have a dedicated team of pros
- Your team can put up a great website quickly and then continue developing more sophisticated features over time
- You can include marketing, copywriting, and other professionals when creating your team
- Hiring and maintaining an internal team is expensive
- There are legal and tax issues that come with hiring employees
- Not all businesses have ongoing needs to keep an internal web design team busy
- It takes time to find and hire the right designers and developers
Hiring an internal team of website designers and developers isn’t reasonable for most small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s not even reasonable for many mid-sized businesses. The initial expenses are high, and it’s even more expensive when you look at the long-term maintenance of the team.
Also, most small to mid-sized businesses don’t have a need for ongoing design and development work. If you don’t have complex plans for advanced features or intend to substantially expand the website over a period of years, you may find that creating a DIY website or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer is the right choice.
Strategy Three: Outsourcing
We’ve finally arrived at your third option for building a website: professional agencies and freelancers accepting outsourced assignments.
This is the best option for most entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized businesses because it doesn’t require any technical web design or development knowledge and is far more affordable than hiring an internal team. Think of it as the middle ground between teaching yourself everything you need to know and paying professionals to focus only on your needs.
Outsourcing is essentially sharing a team rather than maintaining your own. You will know that your professionals are also serving other clients, but you won’t think of it because they will give your project all the time it needs to develop smoothly and efficiently.
That is, it works that way if you outsource carefully. You should work with a website professional who hits all of these qualifications:
- Strong online presence. How do you expect them to create an effective website for you if they haven’t already done the same for their own business or freelance services? Look at their website as the first example of their skill level.
- Similar work experience. Can they show you at least a few examples of their past work? Is any of that work similar to the type of website you want to build? Freelancers and agencies have to start somewhere, but most will have some type of portfolio to show what they can do.
- Comprehensive Services. Do they have any services other than website design and development? You may look for a freelancer to quickly crate an effective website, leaving the maintenance to you. Or, you can look for an agency with a full package of services that will help you maintain the site after the launch.
- Easy contact information. What does it take to speak to a live person, and how knowledgeable is that person about the services offered? Legitimate agencies and freelancers aren’t difficult to get a hold of in some manner. If you can’t find them now, how will you find them if you have a problem with your website?
- Free consultation. This is important because you don’t want to risk it with an agency or freelancer unable to meet your needs. A free consultation is a great opportunity to ask questions and get to know the professionals ready to build your website.
- Availability. If you’re outsourcing to a solopreneur, how many other jobs are on their table? How much time can they realistically devote to your project? Agencies may have more team members to distribute the work, but not necessarily. Make sure you’re working with a reliable professional able to give your website project the attention it deserves.
There are two ways to outsource your website design and development, but let’s look at the basic information for outsourcing in general before going into those specific options.
What Does it Cost?
The cost of outsourcing a website depends on a variety of factors, including the type and complexity of the site. The more hours it will take to create and develop the concept, the more you can expect to invest in the project. In most cases, you can expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 or possibly more for a top-quality website from an experienced professional.
It’s possible to find freelancers willing to do the work for less than $1,000, but keep in mind that this industry is like most others in that you get what you pay for most times. If you’re going to pay someone to design a fast, cheap website, you might as well go the DIY route and save even more money with a good drag-and-drop website builder like Wix.
Timeline & Complexity
The time it takes an agency or freelancer to complete your website project again comes down to the details of the job. Some basic websites are created within weeks while more intricate sites may take months. It depends on the amount of work involved and the time given to the project by your professionals.
The complexity of this website building strategy is minimal for you. Once you do the legwork of selecting the right professional to outsource the job to, you can allow them to do the work while providing input as needed. You don’t have to worry about creating graphics or writing content yourself, so you can focus more on watching the project develop and keeping up with milestones established for your contract.
We’ll talk more about what it takes to work successfully with a professional website design and development agency in a moment.
- Professionals will do the job right the first time around
- Access to a wide variety of technology and resources possessed by professionals
- There is no learning curve because you have a pro doing the work for you
- Significantly more cost-effective than hiring your own internal team
- May have some help maintaining the website for long-term success
- You will have a website designed for today’s virtual world, including SEO and other factors
- Your internal team can focus on more important tasks
- More expensive than DIY websites
- It’s not as fast as building your own website drag-and-drop style
- Some freelancers aren’t as professional and reliable as you think at the start
- It takes some time to communicate and coordinate with a designer or developer for a long project
Outsourcing to an agency is the most cost-effective and efficient option for most small to mid-sized businesses. There are times when working with an individual freelancer may work as well, but agencies have the availability and expertise needed to handle a variety of website projects from simple to extremely complicated. They also tend to have more resources available and greater customer service skills to ensure your experience is satisfying from start to finish.
If you know that the DIY route isn’t for you and hiring an internal team isn’t possible or desirable, working with an agency is the best option. Let’s take a closer look at the two ways you can outsource a website design and build: freelancers and agencies.
Hire a Freelancer
Freelancers are simply individuals who work for themselves as website designers and/or developers. They may work with other freelancers, but most are accustomed to completing projects on their own with only input from their clients.
You may find a freelancer willing to work for much less than a design agency, but keep in mind that many will not put the same resources and time into completing the project. If you have a simple website idea and just want it put together rather quickly but professionally, a freelancer may do the job at a reasonable rate.
In general, there is a rule of thumb to consider when selecting between freelancing with an individual or outsourcing to an agency or company: Freelancers are great for specialized tasks. Agencies are perfect for comprehensive digital products that ensure your online presence is strong, consistent, and effective.
Work with an Agency
When you hear most people talk about outsourcing any type of design or development project, there’s a good chance they’re talking about working with some type of agency. An agency will offer a collection of services designed to interlock. You can choose just one of those services or add on others to create a complete digital solution for your needs.
Agencies operate more like businesses than most individual freelancers, so you should notice more structure in the way they tackle a project.
The following types of agencies may take on your website project:
- Digital Marketing Agency – These agencies offer website design and development as well as services related to marketing, branding, and eCommerce sales.
- Landing Page Agency – These agencies specialize in crafting effective landing pages. They may or may not offer additional services.
- Ecommerce Agency – Shopify is a great example of an eCommerce agency. They specialize in creating online storefronts that make selling products and services online easier.
- Website Design Agency – These agencies are similar to digital marketing agencies, but they focus more heavily on website design service. They may also offer a range of marketing and branding services, but they can also just do design and development.
Choosing Your Website Building Strategy – The Checklist
How do you decide which website building strategy is right for your business? Working through the following questions will guide you in the right direction.
- What is the purpose of your website? Think about what you want to achieve. Will you consider the project a success if you generate a certain number of leads each month? Perhaps your purpose is more focused on branding or improving online sales. Identify exactly what you want the website to do for your business.
- What is your maximum budget? The more you can afford to invest, the more room you have to pay a professional web designer or developer what their services are worth. It’s important to stay realistic on what you can spend to complete the full project.
- What is your website maintenance strategy? Getting your website up and running is only the beginning. Some great sites fail to deliver results because they’re poorly maintained. If you’re unable to invest the time and talent that is required to keep the content fresh and accurate, you may want to consider working with an agency capable of building and maintaining as part of a comprehensive website service.
- What is your design vision for the website? Do you want a simple site with minimal content, or would you prefer a large site with a growing blog and lots of information for viewers? Are there specific design features or color schemes that you want to incorporate? If you already have a website that isn’t performing well, identify features that you want to keep as well as those that need updated or eliminated.
If you don’t have a design vision or your vision is complicated with a lot of advanced features, you may consider working with a professional rather than going the DIY route.That is the best option for many solopreneurs and businesses, so we’ll talk a bit more about working with an agency next.
Working with a Professional Web Design Agency
You know that working with an agency is the best option for the development of your website. There are some things to keep in mind as you search for the right agency, sign the contract, and begin the work.
Web Design Agency Payment Structures
There are three ways that an agency may structure payments for website design and development services. Some may give you an option of two or all three methods, so it’s important to understand what each system entails.
One-Time Setup Fees + Monthly Retainer
You pay setup fees as an upfront cost and then continue to pay monthly retainer for the duration of the project. The amount of the retainer and the services included each month will vary, so make sure you thoroughly discuss the details and read the contract in its entirety.
In most cases, you will take ownership of your website domain and pay for your own server. The agencies job is to complete the design and onboarding work to get your website up and running.
The downside is that many agencies don’t include maintenance work in these contracts. That means you won’t receive any assistance with SEO, backups, or site optimization. Your contract may or may not include fixes for bugs that develop or future design changes. You can remedy this by ensuring that the contract keeps the agency open to on-demand work in the future.
You agree to share some of your profit or revenue in exchange for the design and development of the website. Make sure the contract is clear whether you’re sharing revenue or profit, what percentage you’re sharing, and that cost is fully calculated and transparent.
This pricing strategy is more like accepting a business partner than paying for a service. There is a lot more risk involved than just outsourcing to an agency, so make sure you understand the contract fully before signing.
Most agencies won’t offer this option today, but it is possible in some industries.
Monthly or Annual Subscription
You pay a subscription fee once a month or year. Since you don’t have the setup fees, there is less initial investment with this payment option. That just means you’re likely to pay more each month or year. If your contract is introduced with a low subscription fee, you may find that fee going up in the future as your project develops and demands for resources increase.
If you’re offered an introductory deal, ask about the agency’s normal rate. Are you willing to pay that rate? If not, make sure you have a plan to switch to a more affordable agency once the fees escalate beyond your budget. Low introductory rates are designed to get your business but won’t always stay on the table.
Finally, make sure the agency has excellent customer service in place. You may need troubleshooting or other guidance along the way.
Questions to Ask Before Signing a Contract
The agency has presented a contract. You have discussed and agreed upon all the details. Here are some final questions to ask yourself before signing:
- Is the included website maintenance package worth the price? Will it provide adequate ROI?
- Does this agency provide adequate communication and follow-up? Will they keep you in the loop on progress and setbacks?
- Does your chosen professional understand your vision for the project?
- Is the pricing clear and transparent? What are the chances that you will encounter unexpected or hidden fees later?
- Do you suspect they’re over-promising? If it seems too good to be true, most likely it is. Most agencies want to work with their ideal clients and not just anyone, and they are upfront about their availability and work practices.
Are You a Difficult Client? Final Tips for Working with a Designer Successfully
- If you underbid, you will also get less back from your design expert. No one wants to get the short end of the stick. Every expert wants to receive fair payment for their time and knowledge. You will get the best results when you compensate fairly.
- It’s important to communicate your vision and goals, but then step back and allow your professional to work their magic. They may have different approaches and options that you aren’t aware of upfront. Give them some room to work without micromanaging.
- If something doesn’t go as expected or isn’t up to your standards, make that known right away. Remain respectful, but communicate clearly to solve problems as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the end to complain about everything you didn’t like because corrections at that point will delay the project and may add fees.
- Don’t assume you know exactly what your expert is doing. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you may not see or hear about. If website design were as easy as many people think, more would go the DIY route with beautiful results.
Moving Forward with Your Website Project
If you know that now is the time to move forward with a new website, start talking to people about your options. Contact agencies and freelancers to see what they think of your vision. This is an investment that can pay off tremendously for your business as long as you approach it with an open mind and select the right professionals to do the work.