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About That Small Business Website Of Yours

Published by Chris Coyier

Here's a (lightly edited) real email exchange I just had with someone in my family. I thought it would be worth sharing.

Hi Chris,

I understand that you have been talking with [another family member] about our website. I expressed to him that I would like to have the ability to change, expand, and improve it occasionally. He said that you would be willing to help me learn to do this. My concern with our web page is that, while it is pretty, doesn't entice people to buy our services as well as I would like.

The site is www.adcreate.com. Let me know what you think. I would really appreciate any advice you can share to point me in the right direction.

- Family Member of Chris'

Hey [Family Member],

This is my advice I give to everybody in your position: get off the setup where you have a "web designer person" and they are in control of everything and you have to go through them for all changes. I can't even count the number of times I've seen that go south.

The web has grown up a bit and there are services that allow you to build your own site that do a very good job at it. Then not only are you in control, but:

  • The site will look great. The templates they provide are usually quite good and easy to customize.
  • They typically use what is called "responsive design" meaning the design will look good and work on things like the web browser on your phone, or an iPad. Not that "zoomed out" thing that can be a pain in the butt to use.
  • It's inexpensive. Around the $20/month level.
  • You do it yourself in a matter of hours. Especially with pre-existing content like you have. I've seen non-webby friends do it many times and do a great job. Here's an example.

The sites I typically think of are:

http://virb.com/

and

http://www.squarespace.com/

But there are plenty more. I don't have any particular favorites, but if you find yourself looking around for site-building sites like these and find one you like, feel free to send it to me for vetting.

A lot of their "demo" sites are pretty art-y, but remember those are just demos and you can generally customize a theme very much to your liking, including choosing all your own photos, backgrounds, colors, and of course the content on each page. Here's an example of a printer website that I think does a good job.

The sites I mentioned both also have eCommerce stuff built in, so perhaps that might work for you for actually taking sales if that is a direction you want to go.

It feels a little weird to say all that as a "web designer person" myself. Like I'm shooting myself in the foot somehow, but I don't think that's the case. People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team.

There is also a middle of the road decision you could make here. You could keep your "web designer person" but insist that they help you getting your site onto a platform that empowers you to do all these things you want to do.

Remember that a website is just a communication tool. The most effective sites aren't just piles of loose content, but are dead-clear in their message and have carefully curated content that is a reflection of what you want to say and what visitors want to see. You don't have any special web skills for that.

Comments

  1. Permalink to comment#

    Yup! I stopped trying to help friends/family and instead starting pointing them towards Wix or Weebly (or WordPress/Joomla for the more sophisticated people). Unless you’re actually building a web application (as opposed to a website), your response is spot on.

    (P.S. thanks for the oodles of awesomeness on css-tricks.com in general. Saves me daily.)

    • Permalink to comment#

      Unless you’re actually building a web application (as opposed to a website), your response is spot on.

      I’m not sure what rabbit hole we’re going down here but I don’t think building a web app has anything to do with anything. It’s hard to help family/friends, period. That’s just the nature of the beast.

      I think we all agree here that it comes down to cost for the most part. Is that what we’re getting at? Aside from a few exceptions, I don’t give people a break because they’re family. If they want my services, they pay for them. I usually start at $xxxx and figure out what we can do for that cost. If they have a problem with that, then I send them to one of the services mentioned above.

      The most effective sites aren’t just piles of loose content, but are dead-clear in their message and have carefully curated content that is a reflection of what you want to say and what visitors want to see. You don’t have any special web skills for that.

      I disagree it doesn’t take any special web skills. Someone still has to write/design/craft that content.
      If someone is having problems converting we need to take a deeper look at the problem. Content is king here.

      In this particular case they just happen to be family as well. For effective SEO, using proper markup is essential. I’ve converted my share of sites that used spans instead of H1s, for example. Those template based websites only get you so far; as soon as you stray from their design (adding a sub head or what not a sub head or whatever) clients don’t know the difference.

      Even a bone-simple brochure based websites need good content. A website like Wix or Weebly only gets you halfway, getting your message out there. The problem in my experience is the content. There’s still crafting effective messaging and making decent graphics. And the marketing side. If clients don’t find value in your services, you refer them elsewhere.

      I know CSS Tricks is primarily a web development site—and technologies like Grunt and SASS get us all hot and bothered—but let’s not downplay what copywriting and graphic designers bring to the table.

  2. eWebGuy_2000
    Permalink to comment#

    You. Bastard. This is the last straw, Chris!

    • Permalink to comment#

      If you think about it, for people with simple requirements and low budget, it’s actually better if they do it on their own.

      Website Professionals, like yourself are for the people who are looking for something that meets their specific requirements, something done professionally. People who are willing to ‘invest’ in their online presence, it’s for those people.

      So, chill man! You don’t want those small projects anyways.

    • tfcwebdev
      Permalink to comment#

      lol. He totally missed the joke.

    • LOL!

      Vin… ;)

  3. Does this mean that web design is dead?

    Or is this as much for us designers and developers that have unwittingly become content-jockeys and web masters unwittingly?

    • UNWITTINGLY!

    • Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to change a million things for Joe Blow’s online shoe store every week. I want to do what I enjoy doing, which is build websites. God knows there’s enough work out there for anyone with a decent skill set.

  4. Jesse
    Permalink to comment#

    I think the truth is that most family members with small business websites don’t want to customize or learn something new.

    They often prefer a list of changes via email.

    The solution? Make it client-editable and then edit via the admin interface yourself.

  5. Much of my business comes from people who tried to do it themselves. Most people don’t have the skills to build their own site and do it well.

    Of course, I do more than throw stuff up on a page, I coach my clients about content and SEO.

  6. Hey Chris,

    Can I recommend my website http://www.sitebuilderreport.com as a resource? I’ve reviewed 40+ website builders and have a pretty good birds eye view of the website builder world :)

  7. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    I’ve had WAY too many people try and fail to build something on Squarespace or Wix themselves to think that your average Joe can just pop on there, pay their $20 and away they go. At least 4 of my clients tried and just gave up because it took to long to figure out and contracted out a site with us. Too many business owners are too busy doing what they do every day and have no desire to spend 20 hours putting a site up and figuring out how to control it.

    • Patrick
      Permalink to comment#

      I totally agree with you Josh, Some people are just just unable to comprehend the error messages that failure brings or unable to link the design catastrophes to poorly coded source files.

    • Permalink to comment#

      Couldn’t agree more. As much as I like the development side, the design and content creation and strategy side—figuring out what clients actually need, massaging their messaging, choose proper type treatments, etc. —is what clients are paying for and that’s what trips my trigger. I’ve often said to clients “you guys get back to what you do best: running your business. Let me handle your marketing side.”

      An aside as well: a lot of business owners are too stubborn or just too inside their own boxes to see their business the way the general public should see it. That’s not going to help them on a site like Wix if they don’t even know where to start.

      Just because the tools and templates are there doesn’t mean content is dead. The same thing happened when computers and software took over paste up in the ’80s. Designers thought they would be out of a job but it’s really just a transition of skills. Just because MS Publisher/Word makes it easy to create a flyer design doesn’t automatically make you a decent designer. The only thing that’s changed is the medium.

  8. Paul Ferguson
    Permalink to comment#

    Good advice.
    I’ve helped a few friends get going on something like wordpress.com, give a little advice and spend an afternoon maybe with them tweaking bits then leave them too it. If they need more and they seem keen then another afternoon to switch hosting but do all of it with them, on their machine, email etc.
    Now dread emails from friends regarding old sites from the days before Squarespace et al.
    Can be just as fun if they are keen to learn.

  9. Robert
    Permalink to comment#

    I wouldn’t send anyone to a build it yourself web site place. They all ought to be called murphyslawwebsites.com because everything… well, you know. I also disagree with your statement that a web site is “just a communication tool.” Today, and for the foreseeable future, it is THE communication tool.

    There are far too many variables that take a long time to learn and understand for the non professional to make their own site. Any one of them perplexes the average web site owner: from UX to content writing. No, I recommend they search for a web developer in their area that provides a content management system (e.g., WordPress), and content development and optimization guidance.

    • We’re talking small business. Typically they don’t have the budget to do things like hire a UX team or content strategist. For the money, I’d pick Squarespace any day. And I’ve suggested it to many business owners that weren’t quite ready for that next level. Just like I suggest CustomInk to someone who can’t afford me to design them a t-shirt. Or [insert printer with online design tools here] for business cards.

      These people want to get the most for what they have. It’s not a perfect solution (and I tell them that), but it’s something. These are the people that will one day hopefully have the money and see the value in what we offer. And when you help grow a business like that, you steward your future as a web designer/developer.

  10. I have to disagree with you on this for a few reasons.

    As has been stated in the comments, some business owners just don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to build their own website, even on an easy site builder like the ones you mentioned.
    By finding a trustworthy freelancer or small web development business to handle the website, the business owner is also investing in the local economy and supporting another small business. If everything works out, both the business and the developer win out in the long run.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t business owners who do have the time and drive to run their own website. In fact, some of my clients are that way, but they know that if they have an error or want to do something more than change content (or if they just get too busy to update the content themselves), they can call me for the work.

    Basically, I’m saying don’t just tell businesses that build-you-own-website deals are the end all.

  11. Roger
    Permalink to comment#

    Great topic! I’ve been wandering through the exact thought process for the last couple of weeks going back and forth on it finally agreeing to build a website for a friend’s (almost like family) business. It’s a business agreement so I’m charging him my set rate costing him a lot more money than if he built one with a website builder. My reasoning for the decision was that I am the designer/developer and understand building a website is not for how it looks, but for how it works. It’s about affecting the bottom line of his company. During the discovery process the first question I had for him was, “Why do you want a website?” His answer, I suspect, was typical to most non-design folks. There was a vague idea of advertising his services to new and existing customers. During the discovery process his eyes were opened to some of the challenges, he hadn’t even considered, of the corp operating procedures of his company. Of course, we then went on to discuss things like branding, identity, and intelligent design for SEO. Someone can have a beautiful website, but now what? It just sits there pretty as a picture, but ineffective for the companies bottom line. Even though website builders now days have some great tools for addressing things like SEO and such, they aren’t able to address the special needs of a unique entity only human interaction with a client would be able to. If my friend just needed a website that didn’t involve affecting his business bottom line I would have recommended one of those really cool website builders out there today.

    • tomByrer
      Permalink to comment#

      I side with you Roger. If people only want a plain ‘business card’ website where they get 90%+ of their business from face-to-face networking & warm referrals, & they only have $200 for a web site, then they should do most of the work themselves & have a pro to come behind them & spend a hour shrinking JPGs, honing SEO, microformats, etc.

      But if people expect more than rare leads off their web site, they better spend their money & write it off as an investment, because they will lose business to their competitors who will spend the money.

  12. silvia
    Permalink to comment#

    Each client (friend, family or otherwise) is different. It’s our job to identify their needs and that includes their tech competencies. Some folks can easily be set up on a Squarespace or a Wix site etc., and with little or no effort they are off an running. Others not-so-much, they need much more hand holding.

    I think it’s our duty to help select what the best tools are and then guide them. More often than not we wind up assisting in more of the Business side ie: Marketing/SEO/Messaging of the game if we aren’t totally hands on designing/developing.

    I vette each project based upon their competencies, budget, willingness to trust and learn. Those shake out what tool to use almost every time.

    I also think it’s fantastic that we have the ability to select from so many varied options. Many of which as Chris pointed out allow us to help the small guys while allowing us to work on the bigger more complex projects.

  13. Totally agree with you Chris. Even as a web designer starting out, I find that pointing people to Squarespace or LightCMS can be the best solution for what people are looking for, providing they want a website for very little or no cost. Of course, if they need help setting it up, I’m happy to charge for that.

    Business owners may not think they have the time to learn how to build their site, but they certainly have time to market their business. Their website is merely an arm of their marketing department. Business owners need to have an ownership mentality when it comes to their online content, and even if they don’t have time to invest in the building of their website, they need to at least have control over their content once the site is built.

  14. Katrina Adams
    Permalink to comment#

    Woof. I used to work for a company similar to Wix that built templates and provided a CMS for small business to use, and the final service we produced was… filth. Horrible. Ineffective. The business model was to hook naïve customers on a putrid product, milk them for as long as they’re hoodwinked, then dump then when they realized there were getting nothing out of what we were providing. You’ve doomed your [Family Member].

    Nobody is able to do competent or effective web design/development, even provided with a template or framework, right away. Unless you have a stellar or unique product (a true rarity in our miserable world), you need to hire a professional to manipulate your users into buy the trash you’re selling. You will not be able to do it yourself. Why would you ever give someone advice otherwise? Yikes.

  15. Joe
    Permalink to comment#

    Small businesses can get these cheap services all they want. When they turn into a big company and need a real website… they can call me. That’s how I like it anyway!

  16. Levente
    Permalink to comment#

    Depends on.
    If you don’t want to work for free for somebody because they are a family member and you want to get rid of the situation this way, then I see how this works for one.

    However, if 1) it’s not a hobby project but something where the success of a business is at stake, 2) you’d like them to have their successful website, 3) you don’t want to see them go deeply frustrated after a great deal of struggling, I wouldn’t advise anyone to try and build their own website without extensive learning beforehand.

    How I see it:
    Web is just crazy complex these days. Understanding all its little aspects and how these little components (should) play together to achieve the quality that we expect is not done with some clicking around in a few afternoons. It’s a profession, where you get, maintain and improve your position by life-long learning.

    According to my – admittedly limited – experience, premade products that promise to solve your needs out of the box, don’t really deliver:
    a) not even what they promise: I have spent time on forums helping people to tame/customize their opensource CMS’s
    b) or, even if they deliver what they promise, in the end, expectations won’t be met, because it’s not exactly what the recipient has on their mind: “nice and all, but I’d like to do some customizations here and there, some additional feature elsewhere.” There comes the hard part: for that, you can learn years until you get to a point where you can build exactly what you want. But, by that time you yourself have (had to) become a web professional too.

    In my opinion:
    if you run a business, and that business not only needs a website but also needs you to keep it running in the meantime, then you need that web-professional: you either spend a lot of time away from your business – becoming a web-professional – or you’re not likely to have the website that you really wanted, or: you you can ask someone to do it for you.

    Except for the sad part, where even if you ask someone who was supposed to be a professional, neither delivers the thing that would satisfy you – because that can also happen.

    That’s exactly what got me into learning web development – years ago.

    (I also summed my feelings up in 140 chars some time ago: https://twitter.com/eager_hun/status/417694088616345600)

    Little amendment to the overall message: if you are interested and ready to take it seriously, then dive into learning web competences, some nice moments are ahead; but you can expect to need way beyond a few afternoons for that.

  17. I have seen so many cases when small business owners would get a website and once it gets published the problems start. They either lose contact with original developer, or have hard time chasing him down. Sometimes they pay little to get the site built, sometimes they pay a lot. In every case, they get a really bad deal. Just recently I was trying to help a friend to fix his less than ten-page site and realized that it was built on Joomla. Why do you need to deal with thousands of CSM files to host less than ten web pages?

    What I figured out is that for majority of them, online website builder (Weebly, Yola, Wix, SquareSpace) is sufficient enough. So when I get asked to help, I normally move them to Weebly (since it’s the only free, no-ad option), and if they outgrow it, they can either upgrade to a non-free version or move to a more advanced host.

    After doing this for a number of friends, I outlined the process in a short blog series (in case, someone is interested): http://alekdavis.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-build-cheap-website-for-small.html

  18. I’ve gotta agree with some of the comments before – this sounds great, but seldom works in practice. You’re assuming that the small business owner has a certain level of technical competence, or they have time to invest in learning it.

    As a counter example: I just bought my first house. It needed a paint job. Painting is like, dead simple, right? You can go to Home Depot and pick up the parts. There’s online guides that can help you through it.

    But I have a business & a family. So I happily paid a professional to do something I could pick up and do in ~40 hours. I’d estimate ~40 hours is how long a non-tech person would have to invest in Squarespace before they could start selling things.

    As easy as it’s gotten, it still takes a long time for new folks to start using these systems.

  19. Permalink to comment#

    Tell them self-hosted WordPress and point them to YouTube. It’s #1 for about 100 reasons. What more needs to be said, really?

    Curious why you mentioned virb and not WordPress, Chris?

    Thx,
    Greg

    • …WordPress is a chore to learn (What are themes? What are plugins? What are widget? etc), a chore to choose a decent theme for (there’s so many crappy themes out there it’s turning into a bit of a mine field), and a double chore to maintain (everything must be kept up to date or things can get go south quite quickly – security etc). Add to that the fact that simply updating plugins can break things (did I mention it’s a huge chore to learn how to backup and even more of a chore to work out how to restore/fix when things break?)) and that solid support is usually either hard to find or expensive and you’ve got the beginnings of heaps of trouble… I’m not trying to answer for Chris (I’d never be so bold), but I can see how WordPress might be too much effort for a complete beginner… P.S. Don’t get me wrong, I personally LOVE WordPress – however I’m always reluctant to recommend it to people who have zero web skills… maybe Virb has a shallower learning curve?

  20. Permalink to comment#

    Of course if you just want a simple webpage, with little need of customizing the design, sure go ahead, do it yourself.
    But, if you need a custom website, tailored to your requirements; you need to go to the professionals. A website is an online representation of your Business. Investing in a good one is only a smart move in this day and age. Gives you an edge over the competition.

    Anyhow, if you need it done professionally Cybernext is the way to go.

  21. I see where Chris is coming from in this article. I also have seen the end results of some people using a pre-made template from one of these resources. Without a basic grasp of CSS or html, these templates look just like that…templates. They are often akward and give clients a generic image of the company. Additionally, my wife is a small business owner of a Yoga Studio. She is also technically savvy. She does NOT have the time to sit down on top of all of her other responsibilities and learn how and design her own site. People outsource these tasks for a reason, ** they do not want** to do it themselves.

  22. Chris D.
    Permalink to comment#

    here, here.
    I do the same thing. After growing up supplying free computer tech services to family I eventually learned that; unless I’m going to run a serious business from this, I am basically being taken advantage of. I turned to giving free advice instead, allowing them to learn for themselves, take initiative, and be in command of their own issues.

    Squarespace, weebly, intuit, …
    stock photos, creative commons is good to know of
    stick to font styled logo until later
    99 des for serious people
    There’s a lot of info we can give to short-cut them to success without doing it for them. The clever ones will appreciate it. Ignore the rest ;-P

    • Working for family members and/or friends = heaps of unpleasant Scope Creep… horrible! P.S. for future reference: it’s not “here, here” but “hear, hear!” … just saying. ;)

  23. Jonny
    Permalink to comment#

    Bookmarking this!

  24. i agree with you

  25. Permalink to comment#

    Sorry but sometimes you forget there are small webdesign/webdev businesses too.

    For me (i have begun in 2013), if these small businesses with small projects chose me over Wix, i can eat (i exagerate a little)… (yeah even with a small budget).

  26. Chris L
    Permalink to comment#

    Sounds like there’s an opportunity here. A pro to set up Squarespace templates for the average small buainess owner.

  27. Permalink to comment#

    Totally agree, and I actually wrote a blog about exactly the same thing last week. I run an agency and we refer extensively to Squarespace if someone just needs to ‘get up online’. Later on, they can spend that budget on a more powerful site, if they need it:

    To try and force this into an analogy here… if you wanted to take up bike racing, but hadn’t really cycled since you were 12 years old, when you sort of enjoyed mucking about on a bike, would you start today, by spending months researching and building a top-of-the-range custom bike yourself, by hand, picking out all of the best components? Or would you do a little research, figure out what seems to be a decent, affordable, entry-level bike, and give that a go for a few months, while you figure out if you’re actually any good at the sport?

    You’ll get onto the road months sooner by choosing the off-the-shelf option, and then if and when you find that you’re getting decent, enjoy the sport, and actually need a better bike in order to step things up, you’ll have a far better idea of what sort of bike is going to be best for you. At that point, you can buy exactly what you need, not what you assumed you might need, back when you had no experience at all.

  28. Great post, I also agree with pretty much everything on here. Family members and friends are hard to do websites for. I ended up building and maintaining a website for a band for over a year and didn’t see a single penny because I was ‘a mate’. Wish I would have read this before!

  29. paul
    Permalink to comment#

    Chris Coyier recommending that someone just use a template? Is this then end of the freelance web designer as we know it? Is our industry dead?

  30. It’s simple math guys: if the small business owner earns 500 usd per day and needs 2 days to get familliar with this “web stuff” and setup a boring page, i’m sure he is willing to pay you at least 1000 usd to setup a semi-custom wordpress site. It’s called opportunity cost!
    When he only earns 100 usd per day, it will be a pain to work for this client and get paid what you deserve. So you better send these guys to website builders. Serious business owners know the importance of differentiating from the competition, so they are normally willing to pay for a custom solution, as their own time is to expensive to learn the “Web stuff”.

    Best Regards
    Mario, CEO Alpha-Magnet GmbH

  31. Matt
    Permalink to comment#

    I’ve been visiting this site for a while now and I have to say I’m a little surprised to see this article. I understand where Chris is coming from particularly when family is involved. I, like many others here have helped move businesses away from template services.

    The design universe seems universally opposed to crowd sourced design work. The principal argument being that it forces designers to invent a solution to a problem without first getting a good understanding the specifics of the problem and goals that the client is hoping to accomplish. The client may end up with 100 designs, none of which meet their needs. Isn’t surfing for templates the same kind of cart before horse approach.

    I also think that having visited the site in question, and seeing the name of the company responsible for it’s development in the footer (located half way up the screen… sigh…) that it’s a little wrong outing them like that. If anyone there sees this post, I’ts going to make for an uncomfortable conversation.

    My two cents.

  32. Permalink to comment#

    I find the reply that Chris sent to be mostly out of bounds to what the family member was asking. They were asking for specific feedback on what could make their site better. They were not asksing for best practices on how to manage your website (internally, external vendor, etc).

    I’m honestly suprised of the length of response without actually addressing much of anything they asked for. Surely you have so much experience developing cool sites you could provide your expertise.

    I think there is a transition when web people graduate from helping small businesses to big projects that they turn their nose up to the unique problems small businesses have in managing their web presence. Rule #1, they don’t have time, or know how – to manage their website. Asking a small business person to learn WP or SquareSpace usually ends up in a stale site that is not well thought out.

    Let’s always remember to address our clients unique situation and issues, and not present some predetermined response based off our own jaded mindsets. Bottom line is small businesses depend on their website for business, and it can either go very well or very badly for them, regardless of who is responsible for managing it. And not all ‘web guys’ are created equally – however isn’t the point of this community to create better web guy / gals and make the web better for our clients?

  33. Michelle
    Permalink to comment#

    Working with friends and family can be the most interesting :-)

    Yet, a business owner hires different people for different tasks. Sure if they are technically proficient and have lots of time they can use some of the low cost services and get rolling. Many business owners would also benefit from sitting down with a web design person.

    Suggesting a hosting company that specializes in the CMS they are going to use (if WordPress go to a company that specializes as a WordPress hosting company), makes sure the hosting company is doing updates, does the backups for them, and handles the email questions, helps a lot.

    Admit to doing more WordPress sites because owners can make changes. I keep a backup. Repeat a few times “if I am needed to fix site, site will go back to this” Repeat a few times “if site is over a year old we will be doing a makeover”

    I find repeating a few times very helpful :-)

    Then there are all the “Have you READ the PCI agreement?, isn’t PayPal great?” “If you ask for that information you have to keep it secure” “More men are red/green color blind than any other colors” “Icon images are great, but you still need text for those who don’t know what that icon means” LOL, I could go on.

  34. Lots of interesting comments, thanks to all and to Chris.

    I have assisted a couple of non-profits with WordPress site set-up, recently. I helped them pick a host (I recommended GoDaddy, because their WordPress install and update is good and their support is especially good). The clients already had their domain names.

    One of my clients did not fancy learning to use the backend, but the site sees very infrequent changes, being primarily an informational site. The other was very keen to update and maintain the site.

    Finding appropriate free plugins for WordPress can be a challenge, but there are good plugins available and nice themes, some of which (like Weaver II) allow a lot of additional customization. Clients will likely need someone who can build a child theme for them (Weaver II includes a starter for that), although I try to steer clear of code customizations as much as possible. It’s good if the client has a designer they can turn to, who can pick their colors and logo and such.

    Marketing is not the priority for my clients so far, and PayPal is the payment gateway of choice. I’ve used the WooCommerce plugin and they offer other payment gateway choices, for a shop.

    The folks who offer CMS websites actually make their money on the hosting. Maybe there’s a trade-off with using an open-source versus a for-profit CMS, between ease of initial setup and long-term expense.

    That said, I would agree that there are always many more hours involved in a project (even WordPress setup) than can actually be billed for, and so far what I’m doing with open-source CMS’s is more of a hobby than a profession. Lots of Drupal professionals out there, though, and companies like Pantheon that are taking that to a whole ‘nother level (now with WordPress, too, I believe).

    cheers!

  35. …this is a really excellent post (of course), and at first glance I just thought “spot on Chris” … but then, after thinking about it a bit more I have to say that there will always be people out there who just don’t know enough about websites to be able to build themselves a good one… whilst the actual making a website is now a something a trained monkey could probably do (click here, click there, type some text here, choose an image there etc), knowing what text to have, where to have it, what images will help conversions and even down to what looks good and what doesn’t takes real skill! The web designer’s is to guide the client and ensure they end up with a site that fits their needs – needs which, 9/10 the client probably isn’t even aware of…

  36. Jecka
    Permalink to comment#

    Wow. Not sure how I feel about this post. Although working with friends/family is tough I don’t think I would brush the person aside as much as what was done here. A web person is more familiar with what a Wix, squarespace etc site could offer as well as it’s hurdles for a newbie who would need to learn it. I myself have also told folks to try these sites especialy those who are willing to attempt building a site themselves. I did consulting on the side for them, fixed a few bugs they ran into here and there and this was also with them using the CMS help offered by the system. Pretty much cost them the same amount for them to build it alone with my help on the sly as it would have if I just did it directly. Granted, yes, I work with small businesses, artists, individuals etc and sometime the CMS is more of a pain in the neck and they have no interest in doing it themselves as it’s not what they’re good at. I also set parameter so I don’t get updates from them constantly as well. What they do get is well functioning site with bells and whistles, that works and also has SEO, flawless checkouts and great content and some great marketing techniques to boot! Also, some of the CMS templates etc aren’t all that great and are very cookie cutter. It almost stifles the creativity a site could be if you don’t fit into the parameters of its design unless you hire someone to change it and customize which most small businesses can’t do. Not everyone can afford to brand themselves and they all need to start somewhere and learn why it’s important how you represent yourself to the web world and beyond. Not really sure this article is all that helpful.

  37. It feels a little weird to say all that as a “web designer person” myself. Like I’m shooting myself in the foot somehowIt feels a little weird to say all that as a “web designer person” myself. Like I’m shooting myself in the foot somehow, but I don’t think that’s the case. People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team., but I don’t think that’s the case. People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team.

    I’m very glad to see that a professional like you thinks it this way. I’ve seen too much posts and comments from (mostly Italian, as me) web designers who seem to think “everyone needs my professional service, I will be magic with their SEO, even if it’s just a one man personal blog, WordPress is for idiots” or stuff like that. This really bugs me, because as usual in my country everybody seems to believe that they are the most important professional man, and that anything else is just trying to steal their business.

    The truth is the one you said, not everybody needs a dedicated agency for web development. For sure big companies need it, many average companies do, too. Some very small (even family-size) companies might not need it all the time, or just need to pay a professional to set up a CMS and then use it themselves. This is especially true (and happens a lot) in southern Europe, where the financial crysis is far from over.

  38. I think one caveat missing from the conversation is that an average Joe the Plumber cannot build a website. Period. Even using exiting templates and drag-and-drop tools offered by website builders like Weebly, Yola, SquareSpace, etc. Not to mention more complex frameworks, like WordPress. And an average Joe the Plumber does not want to build a website himself. He has better things to take care of, like his primary business.

    As web developers who are used to building web apps from scratch, we might think that creating a simple website using a website builder is easy. And it is. For us! But for a typical small business owner, who does not know the difference between CSS and HTML, has no idea what SEO is, or why responsive design is important, not to mention intricacies of social advertisement, branding, legal aspects, basic design principles, color theory, etc, building a website is still a mystery, regardless of which tool they use. Sure, they can drag and drop page elements and build something resembling a sixth-grade project in a few days, but it will still look like crap. Although, to be fair, there are lots of small business websites built by “professional” web designers that look marginally better, but still…

    What I’m trying to get at is: website builders are great tools for people who know how to build websites (from scratch), but not for people unfamiliar with web technologies. If a small business owner is tech savvy and is willing to learn, a website builder will allow him to take over the site maintenance and minor updates without having to pay the monthly support fees. It also simplifies maintenance because you are not tied to any technology or framework, don’t need any tools installed, and for a number of other reasons. In short, website builders are awesome tools for building small business websites, but they still do not eliminate the need in web professionals. At least, during initial development phase. Assuming we want to achieve at least semi-professional look.

  39. Chris Howard
    Permalink to comment#

    Bookmarked this one,thanks, Chris!

    I’d add another reason.

    If you use one of those DIY sites, you will learn a lot about website requirements, which if you ever do need a “web design person” you’ll be much better informed about your needs and therefore provide them a much better brief, instead of “I wanna a website that’s cool. And stuff.” (And then spend the next 6 months adding requirements and wondering why the designer can’t get it finished.)

    Even tho a little knowledge can be dangerous, I’d still prefer the client who has that DIY experience and so understands their needs.

    • Permalink to comment#

      And then spend the next 6 months adding requirements and wondering why the designer can’t get it finished.

      Hahaha!! :’D

  40. A hammer and a chisel don’t make you a Michelangelo, but these tools allow you to create something great and so do these website builders called Weebly, Jimdo, Squarespace, etc..

    Of course, a person who has talent, an apprenticeship and passion will always achieve something more impressive than the average guy. And these talented people will always find their place in the business.

    People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team.

    However, I have to deal every day with people that just want to build a simple website as easy and cheap as possible. They don’t want to struggle with website hosting, technical issues, updates, coding, FTP, etc. Quite often these people are already pretty frustrated, because some friend told them to use WordPress or some other CMS. Typically, the friend is out of town now and nothing is working. If their only choice would be a professional webdesigner, I’m quite sure they’d experience a situation like this “How Webdesign goes straight to hell” This is no fun at all for a professional webdesigner and no future reference that will boost your career.

    Therefore, I’m quite happy that these tools exist, because they allow people just to do what they want: create a simple website (in Comic Sans with cat photos and yellow links on white background) ^^

    And if you wanna try it yourself, feel free to check our website.

  41. Tobias
    Permalink to comment#

    As someone who is a freelance web designer and I’m the only person in my “company”, I often interface with smaller sites and budgets. Sure, there’s a line I won’t go below, but if people have the modest cash investment, I provide consultation, design, branding, SEO advice, content layout, hosting advice and lots more. Yes, some of these things can be bought at squarespace, and many still cannot. Many will never be able to be purchased at a do it yourself site. You need human interface and interaction. And most of all the guiding hand of someone skilled and experienced.

    I mean, I see what you’re saying. That the dreaded “friends and family, help me for cheap” call can be avoided by deflecting them off to Squarespace. And I agree with that. But, at the same time, you come off as a little bit elitist and shortsighted. “People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team. “ What about other designers, like myself, who still take small jobs? I don’t fear Squarespace, but there’s no denying that there is a certain market segment that could pay $1500 to get a website designed , or, just go for it on Squarespace.

  42. This use to be my exact recommendation, and sometime it still would be. However, I’ve come full circle for most clients and tend to recommend a web designer for all web needs. A skilled web designer can publish rich content and assure it’s effective. A business owner isn’t going to be as effective, even with tools like squarespace. If budgets are tight, I recommend doing as much as possible within the budget, even if a web designer is using squarespace. This is no different than any other DIY kit, most seem like a good idea from the outside but it’s quickly realized a skill is needed in order to get quality.

    • I completely agree with you. I work at a web development firm that mostly works with small businesses. We get SO many clients that tried to design their own site. They just do terrible things…

  43. Pedro
    Permalink to comment#

    My pardons, but I disagree.

    The first problem with this is that it’s quite possible for a small business to hire a decent freelancing front-end developer that would build the site very well. With tools like Wix, there are no specific options for branding, the SEO is bad, and there are limitations with what you can do.

    Whether or not there is a small business or a large business requiring design, there is a needed concept of branding, and without being able to provide a proper style guide, a decent logo, the right typography, proper colour schemes or decent user interaction, a site will not help much. The job of a designer is to be able to provide a service for a client to solve a problem that they can’t do or don’t have the time to do.

    What’s more is the concept of web semantics. What’s the guarantee that the user will know when to implement an H1 vs a P tag? How many designers and developers, nevermind users, use div tags for everything? Now granted, I’m not sure on how Wix does it, and perhaps it does it automatically for them, but most editors I’ve seen still use h1-h6 and so on, unless someone bothers to research (and lots won’t), you tell them all differences between figcaption, caption and blockquote, lots won’t see why you can’t use them all for the same thing.

    I’d be curious on the CSS as well, many of these use drag and drop functions, which makes me wonder if that will lead to the code being filled with position absolute elements everywhere and left/right/top/bottom instead of using normal position for main elements.

    For those who require a small website, a static website can be made by any decent web designer, and for dynamic sites if needed, there’s WordPress which is not that large to work with and client friendly to teach them how to update, or Perch that’s even tinier.
    There’s more to design than just a pretty picture, and I feel recommending these build it yourself sites reinforces the view that anyone can do design and that it’s just making a pretty site.

  44. Terry
    Permalink to comment#

    Never help your relatives with what you do for a living. Help them move, babysit, wash their car. Just don’t do what you do professionally… and do the same for them. You’ll be happier in the long run.

  45. I try to get anyone I consult with weaned off any third-party web designer etc. who is meant to do an ongoing job unless there’s a very good case for that (and with small start-ups it is often just too expensive). And instead I try to get them onto a WordPress installation at a reliable hosting company. Then I normally also advocate setting up WP multisite, as I found that changing to MU later can disrupt a few crucial settings like permalink choice etc. By the time they’ve then been reset it can happen that Google spider was just there that very moment and one has to 301 a lot of links. Ugly.

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