How to Make a Business Website
“I need a website. How do I get one?” This is a common question we get. Back in 2001, this was a much simpler question: the answer was, “Hire a web designer.” Today, it’s more complicated because of the wide range of solutions available. If you don’t know anything about building a website, it’s overwhelming. This is a step-by-step guide to figure out what you need to do.
Scenario 1: You just need an online brochure and you are not picky about design.
This is the most common scenario. You don’t need to sell anything online. You don’t need to blog. In fact, you don’t need anyone interacting on your site other than to read what you write. You just need to share the information about your business with the potential customers. OK. Then:
Scenario 1A: You are tech-savvy and enjoy learning technical things.
If so, we suggest using hosted website solutions like WordPress.com, Squarespace, and Wix. With around $20 a month, you can have a website. You don’t need to hire anyone. These services will guide you through the whole process. They have countless design templates you can choose from. As long as you are not highly particular about how things look, these templates should suffice.
Scenario 1B: You are not tech-savvy and/or you don’t like doing technical things.
Hire someone to be your technical advisor, and ask him/her to set up your site using one of the services above with your directions. You supply the content and she will populate the site with it. The good thing about hiring someone is that you would actually get it done. She can function as a motivator. We all tend to lack discipline when it comes to self-promotion because income-generating tasks have higher priorities. It’s nice to have someone who is pushing you to get it done. Having another set of eyes is nice too. Otherwise, it’s hard to see ourselves objectively.
But hiring someone is not cheap. You would need to pay for her time, so, we are not talking about $20 a month. Depending on her rate and how long it ends up taking, it can cost a few thousands or more. You could do some of the work yourself to save some money if you don’t want to spend that kind of money.
Scenario 2: You just need an online brochure but you are very particular about how you want your site to look.
This is sort of like getting a custom-tailored suit. It will be expensive but you will get exactly what you want. Keep in mind that it won’t necessarily look better than the templates you can get for $20 a month. Your custom-tailored suit wouldn’t look good on other people no matter how expensive it was because it was tailored to the unique shape of your body. With this option, you are not paying to look better objectively; you are paying to get exactly what you want. In fact, exactly what you want may be ugly but you would still have to pay a lot to get it.
If this is what you want, you need to hire a web designer. Don’t hire any other type of designer as web design is highly technical. Print designers wouldn’t know how to design for the latest technologies. And, if you want to avoid hiring a team of people, make sure you hire a web designer who is capable of building the whole site on her own. You would not want to be in a position where you have to coordinate between the designer and the programmer. You would essentially be working as an inexperienced project manager. That is a recipe for disaster. You want the designer to manage your project, which means she should quote you a fixed price up front.
Expect to spend at least several thousand dollars. If you are not willing to spend that, this is not a path worth pursuing. You would be better off using one of the templates.
Scenario 3: You need more than an online brochure.
For instance, you want an online store, collect money from members, people to fill out a form, access a database online, or control access to content. These are common needs these days. If you have a successful business, you are likely looking for ways to streamline your interaction with your customers, members, employees, and vendors.
Scenario 3A: Your business is conventional.
In most industries, you can find specialized website solutions. Just try Googling. Say, you are a therapist; Google “website for therapist.” You will find a few companies offering template-based websites that have features that therapists would want. Squarespace and Wix may also have the features you need. If you want a conventional online store, and if you’d be happy with using a template, there are many hosted e-commerce solutions like Shopify.
As in Scenario 1A, if you are tech-savvy and enjoy learning technical things, you should be able to do this on your own, in which case you could have your online store for a few hundred bucks. After all, these solutions are designed for non-technical people. But be honest with yourself. “Enjoy” is the operative word here. If you don’t enjoy learning technical things, you will procrastinate, make excuses, put it off, and never actually get the site up and running. When you buy a gadget, like a digital camera, do you enjoy reading the user’s manual in bed? If not, at least hire a technical advisor.
Scenario 3B: Your business is unique.
You need a custom web application. It’s no longer a “website” at this point; it’s an application. Think of Airbnb. They have a proprietary application designed to scale their unique business model. Most startups have custom applications because the whole point of doing a startup is to try something nobody has tried before. Naturally, there wouldn’t be any apps available to support their business model.
If you have a unique business model or operate in a unique way, you need to hire an interactive agency to build a custom application. If you have a large business, it might make more sense to assemble an internal team of developers. If you cannot afford to have a team of full-time developers, an interactive agency is your best bet. Don’t be tempted by the idea of hiring freelance programmers, just because doing so would be much cheaper. It’s true; you could hire a freelance programmer for $40 to $80 an hour when agencies charge $100 to $200 an hour. But think about what happens when your programmer jumps to another exciting project or gets a job at Google. How are you going to maintain the system? It won’t be as easy as hiring another programmer to take over it. Most talented coders hate taking over other coders’ work because they have their own philosophies for how things should be built and what technologies should be used.
Also, programmers are highly specialized. Most of them wouldn’t know much about design or user experience. What makes life easier for the users, makes programmers’ life harder, and vice versa. So, there is a conflict of interest. Unless you have experience managing a web development project, you can’t competently manage a team of developers who do not speak each other’s language. It would be a costly mistake.
In this scenario, expect to spend at least $10,000. This is a complex service that requires a significant amount of time invested up front in order to estimate the cost. It wouldn’t make sense for a competent agency to invest this time unless your budget is more than $10K.
In the late 90s, most websites were just online brochures. We have come to expect a lot more from websites, so, when thinking about building your site, you need to think in terms of conventionality or uniqueness. Naturally, the more common your needs are, the more solutions are available. The price you need to pay is a function of this spectrum. It’s not necessarily about how good it looks or how well it works. (Most Squarespace websites look good and work well.) It’s about how common or unique your needs are. If you are just like everyone else, the degree to which you can succeed is limited. Being unique is risky but the potential pay off is much greater. This might be the most difficult choice you have to make.