Building a website: Where did all the money go???

Making something work on the Internet is, generally speaking, either pretty easy or very difficult. I can't explain why that's so often the case, but I suspect it's to do with the fundamental simplicity of Internet technology. Perhaps it's like working with Lego pieces: you can build anything easily, as long as it's a wall or a box.  But try to build an airplane or a car with your bag of a thousand Lego pieces, and it becomes orders of magnitude more challenging.
I'll get back to the Lego analogy later, but for now, let's look at the typically tortuous website delivery project that most small companies experience.

An investment in a website breaks down loosely into the following categories:

  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Static content
  • Fluid content
  • Support

More often than not, the budget — if there even is one — gets eaten up quickly by the design process. That's when the vendor and the client spend time working out what the website should look like, and molding a template to conform to that design, instead of choosing a pre-built design from a catalog. They hammer out where the menu should sit, colors, fonts, footers and animations.

The problem is, that design process drags on and on until the project runs out of money around the six-month mark, having spent perhaps $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the requirements. Graphically, it might look like this:

The big mistake is to try to create a new design. Heretical as it sounds, I'm here to tell you, no small company should need to design anything on their website beyond their logo, which has probably already been done. That's because a perfectly working design is waiting out there somewhere for you to use, and it costs about $50. Off-the-shelf, tested, working, rock solid, responsive across all devices, and rock solid. Did I mention rock solid?

Small companies can't afford to design a new website for the same reason most of us can't afford to design a new house.

You may have to make some minor design changes to the template, but keep these to an absolute minimum. More often than not, it's not worth it. Invest your resources instead on content.

Spend the money on content, not design

If, instead of designing your own special website from scratch, you choose from the tens of thousands of available designs available, you would all but eliminate that usual design cost. Right there, you save yourself tens of thousands of dollars, but there are more benefits, which I will go into later in this post.

Here is the optimal expenditure chart for rolling out an effective website:

The trap most small company owners fall into is that they believe there should even be a design process. 

Imagine how hard it would be to assemble a Star Wars fighter craft with a big bag of Lego pieces. Now, compare that to buying the Lego Star Wars fighter craft kit for $100 in your local store.

Most website projects run out of budget before they go live. So, there's going to be a lot of friction as who gets to takes responsibility for that.

The reality is, designing your own website makes about as much sense as designing your own automatic dishwasher. When there are so many to choose from off the proverbial shelf, why would you!

Why use an off-the-shelf template?

  1. It's Responsive, which means it will behave well on all devices, from iPhones to tablets to big screen desktops.
  2. It has all the contact-us forms built in.
  3. Slide shows, touch-screen support, image galleries, fonts, styles, demos, footer, headers and menu bars are already working.
  4. You know exactly what your website will look like.
  5. You can go live within a couple of months.
  6. There are few if any surprises.
  7. Your website will be far more robust.
  8. The design has already be tested and perfected by dozens or hundreds of others before you.
  9. You save lots of money, which can be spent on something that gives you an excellent return: content.

The next big expenditure is creating content, but it can be done in stages. If you skip the design process and go live quickly, you can begin to add content much earlier, and start seeing the effects much earlier too.

How important is content, and how much of it is needed?

Content creation for your website, it could be said, is like exercise. If you do absolutely none, you're taking a big risk. If you exercise every day, you greatly increase your chances of success. Still, some people die young after lots of exercise, and I know a few chaps in their 80s who still smoke. There are outliers in the field of web content, but you are more likely to succeed if you add new content often.

Some businesses need new content every day; some several times a day. But most companies can get way with two or three times a week. And like exercise, it's more important that you do at least some, If you spend an hour every other day exercising, you will probably stay healthy. Think about how much exercise you need every week, and most likely, you will need to spend the same amount of time adding new content to your website. And as often.

90% of small business websites need between two and seven new pieces of content in their website every week. Each piece might be a new blog entry, an FAQ entry or a house for sale listing.

And again like exercise, don't worry about supreme quality.
Just go do something.

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