I read a devotional every morning (or at least I have the best of intentions to do so). I recently read a passage that left me puzzled, and quite honestly, it didn’t tap in to the most Christ-like part of my soul.
The passage discussed the importance of churches having websites to reach their communities.
“Yes,” I thought, triumphantly. "Finally, churches are starting to understand the importance of having a web presence!” I may have even done a fist pump while reading.
The passage went on to say, “There really is no excuse for a church NOT to have a website, because websites are free!"
Reading that line felt like a punch to the chest. After spending years honing this craft, agonizing over uncooperative lines of code, developing prototypes, and working with clients who have become close friends, it felt demeaning to have what has become my life’s work be marginalized to something that literally has no value.
But I’d be lying if I said that you can’t get a website for free (Sigh).
And maybe that’s why reading this harsh truth hurt so much; it hurt my pride. After all, you can’t get an accountant to do your taxes for free, or a lawyer to draft your will for free. But if you want a website, anyone with an Internet connection can use a service like Wix or Wordpress.com to set up their own website absolutely free of charge.
But what is free really?
There’s an common analogy common in web design circles comparing websites to cars. When you’re 16 years old, you might be lucky enough to get your dad's old truck as a gift. All you have to do is pay for gas and insurance. Similarly, if you’re starting a new business and don’t have a lot of cash coming in, you can use a free or cheap service to get a starter website up and running pretty quickly.
The problem is, that old truck isn’t very reliable...and it won't get you the kind of attention you want. You’ll spend time and money on repairs, and find out pretty soon that an upgraded vehicle (or website) is well worth the price tag.
Understanding website costs is confusing. There are DIY shops out there that charge mere dollars a month for website designs and hosting, but there are agencies who charge tens of thousands of dollars on websites.
Here are three approaches to website design, with pros, cons and approximate costs for each.
Companies like Wix, Squarespace and GoDaddy offer website builders that are inexpensive and fairly easy to use.
DIY builders come with limitations:
You will be confined to the available templates, and moving things around and reformatting pages will be very difficult or impossible to do.
With templates, you’re often limited to the amount of customization you can make to the color scheme, fonts and images. If you have a unique brand that you want to showcase, building with templates will be frustrating.
DIY builders have come a long way since their early days. You can now use them to sell online, accept appointment bookings and more. However, if you need customization for these features (for example, if you wanted your shopping cart to allow you to ship orders to multiple addresses), then you would be out of luck.
Estimated cost: $15-$60/month (approximate)
If you don’t have the time to build a website yourself, but you also don’t have the budget for an agency, the freelancer approach might work best for you.
If you do choose to work with a freelancer, be careful of these pitfalls:
Single Area of Expertise
You’ll rarely find a true jack of all trades, and freelance web designers are no exception. If you are looking for someone with exceptional coding and design skills, you will be hard pressed to find both of those skill sets in one individual. If you need additional services, like copywriting or marketing consulting, you will likely have to hire additional freelancers, which means more people and projects to manage.
Your Website is Chained to a Single Person
We have worked with many clients who previously worked with freelancers. Some of them were left without recourse after their designer quit freelancing to take another job or retire. Others simply fell out of contact and couldn’t be reached. Before I inadvertently start a war against freelancers, I will say that this is not the norm. Most freelancers are competent and reliable. However, if your website is too important to tie to a single person, then you may want to use an agency.
An agency will have a team of people with different skill sets to take on your project. You’ll usually have a project manager, a designer and a programmer working on your project. The project manager will help keep your project on track, and a team of separate designers and coders will ensure that your website looks great and works the way it’s supposed to. You’ll also have more security with an established company, especially if they have been around for a while.
The obvious con is that a site developed by an agency will cost more than one you can get from a freelancer or a DIY builder. If budget is a constraint, then you may consider another method until you have grown enough to afford an upgraded agency website.
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