What Can You Do Yourself?
The cost of a website could be nothing more than the time you are willing to spend, or upwards of thousands and thousands of dollars.
It’s important to understand the value of services for web design and development, but it is also important to understand what elements of a website you should take the time to learn and manage on your own.
Understanding Design Budgets
You’ve been sold on why you need a website and the numerous benefits you can reap by getting started right now. You put some good thought into what your website is going to be all about. You chose a goal, a target audience, and wrote the content for your website.
Now you’re presented with a tough choice: Do you hire someone to handle the technical bits, or figure out how to do it yourself?
Decide on your budget for the project, and know how much your expectations will cost.
While you can build an effective website for the low cost of literally nothing, you will be the one putting it all together yourself and hoping that it works. Most people are not entirely comfortable with that. Paying someone else can mean fewer options for customization, but could also open doors – depending on how much you’re willing to learn about domains, hosting, and all the rest of the technology involved.
So, how do you balance your expectations with what you’re willing to spend on a website and the technology you’re prepared to learn?
To begin, you have to decide what you can afford in up-front costs. If you want to go cheap, you need to invest time learning to do it yourself as well as you can.
If you have a little bit of cash to splurge, you can focus more on understanding good web practices and how to hire a solid designer.
So – how much money can you spend on your website in up-front costs? Following are a few guides for what your budget range can mean for you.
Please note: The web design industry moves quickly and fluctuates greatly. These are incredibly rough guidelines and cannot be guaranteed, but meant for expectation management. All dollar amounts are listed in USD, and are based on the US market.
The Ultra-Bootstrap: $0
A zero dollar budget isn’t going to get you anything when it comes to somebody else working for you – but you can totally do it yourself.
There are many services out there offering free websites. They are mostly focused on blogging services, but you can absolutely use them for regular websites.
A major downside to this is that you will usually have a web address that sits on a subdomain.
For example, if you built a free website through WordPress.com, you would end up with a website address that reads like this:
Many of these companies allow you to purchase a custom domain, although you will still be restricted to their services. This way, your website URL would look a little more professional, something like this:
If you’re willing to buy a domain independently (average $10/year) and your own hosting (average $5/month), you have a lot more options through what is called a self-hosted website.
This is usually ideal, but does require that you search these questions and learn how the internet is all put together:
- What is a domain?
- What is hosting?
- What is the difference between domains and hosting?
- What is a self-hosted website?
If you choose a good registrar and a decent hosting company, both should offer a solid assistance through either online chat or phone support to make sure you are able to get everything running smoothly.
After that, you’ll need to install a Content Management System (CMS) so that you won’t have to learn how to code an entire website. One of the most popular platforms for this is currently WordPress, which is available for self-hosted websites. Most hosting companies offer one-click installations for WordPress.
Since this book is not for teaching you how to technically build your website, that’s about as much detail as you need to understand the direction this sort of budget can take you.
However, if you’re really going to make it on your own, you should really understand the three main elements that make for a complete website.
Website Functionality 101
This all probably sounds like dark magic. Here’s a quick run-down on how a website works.
A website consists of three major parts:
- The Domain
- The Hosting
- The Files
The way these work together can be compared to a house in a neighborhood.
A domain is what you type into your browser when you want to visit a website. It is equivalent to your home address, such as 1234 Smith Street… only, for the internet.
Domains are available through domain registrars. Please read reviews before choosing a company.
Author recommendation: NameCheap
Hosting is where the website actually lives. It is the equivalent to the physical property that your house sits on, including the environment, and determines what sort of structure can be built on it.
Hosting is available through hosting companies. Please read reviews before choosing a company.
Author recommendation: HostGator
The files are the website itself. This is the equivalent of your actual house – the walls, the doors, the windows, the walkway, and every other manmade element that was built on the property.
Author recommendation: WordPress (self-hosted)
There are many tutorials on constructing your own website if that’s the route you choose to take, but this will help your overall comprehension as you start the learning process.
You can find links to free learning resources at http://annedorko.com/build-your-own-website
Low-End Budget: $500
If you learn how to run an effective website, you can make this budget work well for you. Do the preparation yourself, and then hire someone to set up something nice without breaking the bank.
However, from a designer’s perspective, a budget website is usually problematic for the following reasons:
- The client doesn’t understand anything about building or running a website.
- The client is very vague because they don’t know the goal for their website.
- The client is unfocused because they don’t know the target audience for their website.
- The client expects to get a lot of features for a very small budget because it “sounds easy” even though they have no idea how to do it themselves.
The idea here is to not be one of those clients. A happy web designer means you’ll get better service and end up with a website that works for you.
There’s a lot you can do to prepare for your web designer before you hire one. That way, when you do start paying someone else for their time, you can get exactly what you need without wasting time or money.
If you were to hire one designer to do all the work in this price range, you could expect to find:
- Possible inexperience
- Low-end features (e-commerce being out of the question)
- Poor project planning (based on no project plan being provided by the client, and no budget provided to make one)
- May overcharge for a CMS
- Designs based on existing templates (this doesn’t mean it will be a bad design!)
You may find a diamond in the rough, but chances are you’re looking at student work or someone new to the field.
Even so, all hope is not lost!
If you are willing to lay the foundation, create a solid project plan, and prepare your content in advance – you could spend the same money on anexpert who will help you refine your efforts and put it into something beautiful.
Within this budget, hire a designer only after you’ve done your homework. Find one worth paying for based on what you cannot do for yourself. Use the chapters in this book as a structural guideline for laying out a) which elements you’ve got covered, and b) which you need someone to handle for you.
Mid-Range Budget: $1,500
Once you get close to this range, you can start getting big ticket items, custom designs, and agencies who really put a lot of effort into the details.
Whether this is cost-effective for your needs is up to you to decide. Often, it is best to start with a smaller budget option. Then, once you have come to understand your website well, have increased sales from the results, and gathered initial analytics – take your requirements to a bigger agency who will help you make the most of your situation.
At this level, you can begin asking for e-Commerce solutions, highly optimized user interfaces (UI) that provide unique user experiences (UX), and tools such as A/B Testing (e.g. does the red button or the blue button make more sales?).
This price range is ideal for the average small business, providing everything that you need, without being too over the top. You’re here for quality and return on investment, not every shiny feature.
What to expect from a designer in this price range:
- Decent industry experience
- Real features available to you (example: a basic e-commerce solution or an online forum)
- A fully integrated Content Management System
- A unique or highly customized design
In other words: Hire a designer if you are going to require a super custom design, or features like e-commerce or an online forum. The addendum to this is that you should still save yourself money by investigating what you CAN do on your own first.
BONUS High-End Budget: $3,501-$10,000+
The chances that you, as a small business owner, need a website in this range (let alone have the resources) are unlikely, however at these levels you are starting to play in the big leagues. Up here, things are less predictable as to what exactly you can get for your money.
Will you get a thousand things that all work OK?
Or, will you get a few simple things that work FANTASTIC?
You should be severely picky once you’re throwing this kind of money around. Find a web development team that is sincerely interested in what is going to be effective. Make sure that all of your website specifications are spelled out clearly in a way that you understand. You should know exactly where your money is going, and how it’s going to improve your website in a way that makes you more money. While these things are all true of any budget range, you have the ability to be a lot choosier here.
If you have done your homework, completed everything you possibly can yourself, and you know that what you need is a tool that is way over your head… then you can consider getting a website at these levels. You will thank yourself for doing as much as you can on your own when your money is being made to go as far as it possibly can.
Make sure you have:
- Researched free solutions for whatever your needs are (e-commerce, online forums, blogs, etc)
- Attempted to set up free solutions for your needs
- Considered hiring a web designer to touch up your free solution in a lower budget range
…and then, and only then, should you invest in an insanely huge website. Your money at this range will do wonders for you as a marketing budget instead of being wasted on a website that will get you marginally better results than a website in a lower budget range or even better – a free website. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you have to pay for an expensive website for great results.