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A free website: what is the true cost?

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As a small business owner myself, I enjoy working with other small businesses. I get to meet lots of inspiring and fascinating people. The idea of building a business up from your own spare room or back garden excites me.

I also understand the pressures small businesses and startups are under. I know how hard it can be to find the money to fund your marketing strategy. As a result I know that means the budget for your company website can easily be squeezed out of existence.

However, I simply don’t think any small business owner who finds themselves without a website (or with a highly unsuitable website) can afford to accept the offer of a ‘free’ website. Of course you’d expect me to say this, but just humour me for a moment and let me explain my reasoning…

The value of professionals

At the expense of sounding trite, I’m prepared to repeat the following famous maxim because it perfectly sums up my perspective on this matter:

If you think a professional is expensive, wait ’til you try an amateur.

Paul ‘Red’ Adair

To illustrate my point further, compare web design to a different industry for a moment. Imagine you’re looking for a building contractor to build your new dream home. A friend gets wind of this news and says: “no need to pay a professional! I put up a flat pack shed last summer — let me handle this, I’ll build you a house for free!”.

No matter how well-intentioned, you’d be ill-advised to take your friend up on his kind offer. Obviously a building can collapse and injure people, and you’d be crazy to take those kinds of risks. But a bad website will damage your brand, and lose you potential customers. Just spare a moment to think about what that could cost. Unless you get lucky, that will most likely be the true cost of a “free” website.

Free as in “free beer”

Personally speaking, I am the kind of person who’ll try to save a few bob wherever I can, and I sometimes find a free offer hard to refuse. If you’re considering the offer of a free website, I can relate to the kind of dilemma you might be in right now.

However, as business leaders we have to think strategically and consider every expense of time and money in terms of investment. It’s not just a question of “what will it cost me?” but also “what return will I get out of it?”.

Building a free website is a weekend well-spent

If somebody you know is building websites for free, that means they’re doing it as a hobby. And that’s great, because building websites is a lot of fun and very rewarding. But how long have they actually been doing it for? And just how much do they really know about it?

If they enjoy building websites and they’re good enough at it, they’d be insane not to charge for their time. So it logically follows that you should expect significant compromises will be made somewhere — can you afford to make those compromises with your business’ virtual shop window?

And spare a moment to think about it from the opposite angle: seasoned web designers are good at pre-empting the kind of problems that can end up costing you time and money further down the road. We know which technologies are most suitable to meet your needs, and we are experienced enough to steer you clear of costly mistakes.

Time is money

Being an amateur also means that your well-intentioned friend is most-likely building websites in their spare time around a full-time occupation. So it’s worth considering how amenable they might be to your requests to “just add this there”, or “can we just try the heading font in purple this time?”

Fundamentally we’re talking about the unavoidable trade-off between time and money. TLDR; if you want to save money, it’ll probably cost time (and vice-versa).

For example, how long might it take your friend to complete the site? Or to make changes to things you’re not happy with? How soon do you need your small business website up and running? As a general rule of thumb I’d recommend getting a website up sooner than later as this will give you more time to collect data about its performance ‘in the field’ so to speak.

And most importantly in my view, don’t forget that this is a friend or family member we’re talking about here. Sadly enough I’ve had clients come to me in the past who’ve told me horror stories about friendships breaking down over a promise made to build a free website. A good friend is worth a lot more than a website.

We don’t do sales, we do solutions

Whether you’re looking for your first website, or looking to refresh a current site, contact us and we’ll have a chat over a coffee.

You might be afraid that you don’t have the budget to pay for a professional, or your temptation might be swayed by a friends’ kind offer to build you a site for free. Either way, we’d be more than happy to help you explore your options — without the high pressure sales pitch!

Image by Steve A Johnson (Own work) [CC-BY-2.0], via Flickr