What You Get for $300 in the World of Web Design

In the past two weeks alone I’ve had five phone calls where people have told me they’re stuck, and need my help, and need it urgently. Here are some paraphrased quotes from each of those calls, and some of my thoughts on each scenario. These are more common than one might think:

The guy I hired to build my site got stuck and can’t finish it.

There is a growing “industry” of people out there who, forgive the cliche, know just enough to be dangerous. They can install WordPress, get you a nice looking $49 theme, and try and find existing plugins out there that can do what you need.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this process. It saves you a lot of money. Guys like this charge maybe $500 dollars, including the cost of the theme. When the client is easy, they make a huge profit, because it only takes a few hours to get something like this all up and running.

Until you need more. You see, when a real developer builds a plugin and puts it out there, whether it be for free or paid, they’ve typically built the plugin initially for a particular project. Some client needed A, B and C functionality, or they had a need for it themselves and after putting it all together, decided to share it with the world. Those developers are great people, especially the ones who give it away for free.

But what happens when you start needing X, Y or Z. Or even A, B and C tweaked a little. Few people from the original paragraph above will be able to do that, and even fewer will know how to do it right. What happens when there’s an update to WordPress or the plugin? Will everything they’ve done break? If so, you’ll either need to pay for someone to do it all over again (a situation I just ran into last week, and had to turn down because the client already spent her entire budget on the first round of tweaks), or not upgrade anything and risk security holes in your site that’ll leave you vulnerable to hackers. Bummer.

My site is tanking with SEO…I have no idea who to trust or what’s wrong.

This is so very tricky. There are thousands of SEO companies out there. They can get you to the top of Google fairly quickly, and often do it on the cheap. But they’re what is referred to as blackhat SEO. They try and trick Google, and it works for awhile. But Google has the combined power of a bunch of human genii and the entire world’s information at their disposal, and they lack a good sense of humor. So when they find out you’ve tricked them, they fight back by penalizing your site. And it’s significantly harder to get your rankings back after being penalized than it is to put the hard work into your site in the first place.

At that point, guys like me don’t even want to mess with your site because of the relative cost prohibitiveness of it all. You now have to pay for the good stuff, and for fixing all of the bad stuff. Bummer.

Well I was doing it myself but I need some professional help.

This is fabulous! DIY is wonderful. I try and fix stuff around my house all the time, and sometimes I get it to where the duct tape holds and everything works…for awhile. If you’re honestly interested in learning how to build the web, and understand some basic design principles, you can definitely build your own website.

But if you think that you’ll compete with professionals after a few days of reading through a few blogs, you’re probably kidding yourself. Just as I can’t drop out my car’s engine, rebuild it, and trust that it’s going to start when I’m finished, neither can the average Joe Internet build a website that’s going to look great, work on all browsers and devices, and rank high with Google.

If you’re willing to put the months into it that it takes just to get decent, then yes, you’re all set. But if you’d rather focus on your actual business and leave the heavy lifting of HTML, PHP and all things between to someone who knows what they’re doing, then by all means, do it. Your time is valuable, just as is mine. I can do in an hour what will likely take you ten. My hourly rate is $100 / hour, though, so unless you only credit yourself to making $10.00 / hour, you may want to rethink where you should focus your efforts.

I paid $350 for this site and it doesn’t even work. Can you just fix what he did?

The short answer is, “Yes, probably, but…”

Lets do a car analogy. Say you have a decent 1998 Toyota 4Runner. Great rides, they last forever, though everything old eventually has an issue or two. One day your transmission gives out, and your nephew tells you he can rebuild a tranny any day. “Just buy me some beer,” he tells you.

Two weeks later you find out that he’s ripped your transmission out, along with the back axl and half of your engine. So you call up a tow truck, head on over to the mechanic, and he tells you what?

“Uhhh, yeah, I can fix it, but instead of the $3000 I usually charge, you’re looking at something closer to $7800. Oh and I can’t start for another three weeks.”

Same thing for web design, if someone has butchered your site beyond belief, it’s not like I can just go in and put a few bandaids here and there and you’re good to go. I’ve got to figure out what they did, how to fix it, and then actually do the fixing. Most of the time you’re better off just starting fresh with a professional.

And we get to the grand point of this post. Again, there is nothing wrong with building your own site, or buying a cheap site from Wix or getting a free site from WordPress.com. There’s really nothing wrong with even buying a $350 site from someone who’s pumping them out with pre-built themes and widgets and whatnot. If it’s a hobby site, I’d add.

Your cross country road trip blog. Your archive of grandma’s recipes. Your gallery of pictures of your kids. I don’t need to spend $3000 on a photo shoot just because I want some pictures of my children, I just whip out my iPhone and take the pictures. But I’m not trying to make a living with the photos I end up with.

If you’re looking for a business website, something that you can be proud to point customers to and know that they’ll be impressed when they show up, then you might want to start thinking about hiring a pro.

A $350 website is kind of like a $350 car. Sure, it has wheels, a steering wheel, maybe even a working tape deck, but do you trust it to get you out of your driveway? Do you want to pick up your date in it, and what is she going to think when it breaks down?

If you’re running a successful business, you probably understand the value in being somewhat unique. McDonalds, like them or not, understands that part of their success came with having those same golden arches above each of their restaurants. They knew that the packaging was as important as the product, even more so I suppose, as we all know that a Big Mac is neither good for you nor big, but we seem to keep going back. Twenty Gazillion served going back. On the other hand, the little hot dog vendor selling franks on the corner of some street may have a better product, but when you see his little cart (if you ever see it) and hand written sign that looks like he may have borrowed the cardboard and sharpie from some gutter punks, you have no idea what to expect.

Now don’t get me wrong, mom and pop is the way to go. I’d rather buy from a hot dog vendor in the street than McDonalds any day. But from a business standpoint, there’s no doubt who’s doing it better.

I’d like to think that the ideal place to be is somewhere in between. Maybe you want your business to grow to become a local chain, maybe you’re happy staying just big enough to support you and your family. Either way, you’re not going to get it for $350.

Again, you might get a car for that much, but in the long run you’ll just have purchased yourself a $350 driveway ornament…

Up Next: Web Designers, Push Yourselves! Then Thank Your Peers