There are a few things that I have heard over and over again over the past few years and I thought I should just address them in a blog post and get it over with. They all concern getting something for free.
When you are starting a business and want a web site, it is vitally important that you allocate a budget for it and consider it a serious part of your business plan. A good, effective web site is never going to be free. Ok, never say “never,” but I have yet to see it happen. Here are a few examples of what I hear:
1. Can you do a design first so we can see if we like it/compare it to other designers before we decide to hire you?
Sure, if you are willing to pay for it. I could spend an hour giving you a rough mock-up of a design for free, but it would not be what you wanted or needed and would not really show what I could do for you. Creating an effective design takes hours of time, thought, and consultation. A designer needs to figure out your aesthetic, goals, needs, and wants. She needs to try different things, think through the path you want your visitors to take, and make the design not only look good, but be an effective sales tool. No one with any experience or expertise is going to do this for free. Any designer worth their salt will have a portfolio for you to browse and see what they are capable of producing. If you expect a designer to make a real commitment to your project and create something that will best work for you, then you need to be prepared to make the same commitment to that designer and pay them for their time.
2. If you do a free web site for us, you will get tons of exposure, and you can add us to your portfolio!
When a designer is paid to do a web site, they still get that exposure and add it to their portfolio. Again, if you are serious about your business, you need to allocate a budget to your web site. Anyone who is willing to do a site just to add it to their portfolio is likely to be inexperienced and unable to get web design work without doing it for free. If you are willing to entrust your site to that designer, more power to you. But don’t be surprised if you are less than satisfied with what you get.
3. My roommate/cousin/brother in law will do it for free.
I hear this one a lot. If they really will do it and really have the expertise to do it well, then that is great. You are lucky. Note that I always go back and check on the sites of the people who tell me his, and years later, without exception, they still don’t have web sites. Why? Well, if you are not paying someone to do something, it is unlikely to be much of a priority for them. You are not in much of a position to nag them into doing it or to get angry with them for being slow, because again, it is a huge favor to ask and they are not getting anything out of it. When you pay a professional, you have a right to expect things to be done in a timely manner with professional service. The professional is motivated to provide you with the site because they must in order to get paid. The professional wants you to be happy because then you will refer them to others. 99% of my business comes from referrals – I don’t advertise or solicit business. Keeping my clients happy is a top priority. In my experience, when you mix personal relationships with business, you frequently end up with nothing but strained relationships.
4. I am just going to download some free software/invest in good software and do it myself.
For some people, this may be a great option. If you are a quick learner, creative, have a really good eye for design, and have a lot of time on your hands, you may be able to create your own web site. Just realize that there is a fairly large learning curve to it. I get at least one email a month from someone who took this route and made a web site, but is having lots of problems they can’t fix, or is not getting any web traffic, etc. Typically I will go look at the files, and it is sort of a mess. In order for me to fix minor problems, the site would have to be rebuilt from scratch. So essentially they will have to pay anyway for what they were trying to avoid paying for in the first place.
5. My host offers free web sites/I can use this free template system to create my web site.
These services are fine if you don’t mind your web site looking generic and haphazard. When I see a site built from free templates, I can tell immediately. They tend to make a business look dubious. I always wonder if it is actually a scam of some kind, and I certainly don’t want to trust my money with them. You get about 6 seconds to make a first impression with your web site. You don’t want to waste it with your potential client/customer wondering if you are even legit.
Many of these freebies also stick ads at the top of your page. Do you really want your web site used to advertise for other sites, without you getting a dime of revenue out of it?
In summary, you get what you pay for. If you are really serious about your business and your web site, be willing to actually invest in it.