Choosing which is best for you is a matter of time and money. CRAIG REARDON
By Craig Reardon
Feedback from my blog of last week on Website DIY or DIE (including feedback from our friendly SmartCompany editor) suggested that many business operators and managers are still not across the various options available to those looking to establish a professional website.
And given the rapid pace of the website solution space, that’s not that difficult to understand.
It wasn’t that long ago that the only website establishment option was to have a good web designer build one for you. But at last count now there are no less than seven ways to go, and possibly more.
Here’s a rundown of the options and some insights into which may be best for you.
Hire a ‘code level’ designer/developer
What I mean by this is an individual or firm that builds websites “by hand” by writing website code in one or more languages such as html, xml, php, my sql, shockwave and others.
This option is best for those who want a website that requires unique and customised functionality that isn’t available as a pre-built module or “widget”. It provides maximum ability to be customised to your specific requirements, but is not cheap. Anyone hiring developers to hand-code their website needs either deep pockets or good contacts in India!
But at least this way you can negotiate to own the technology – which may be important as it is the basis to your business.
Learn to write code yourself
Learning the skills of writing software code allows you to explore the world of software development in your own time, and even be paid for it. But be prepared to invest years to reach a professional level. Of course that doesn’t even account for the design skills required to make it look professional as well.
Really only an option if you are looking for a longer term career change.
Hire a ‘software level’ designer/developer
Software-level designers/developers are those who don’t write any of the above code themselves, but use web design and development tools to build multi-functional websites.
They use website design software such as Dreamweaver, Frontpage, Flash etc, and often tap into open source software modules to provide the technology “back end” to the website. Given that most website technology is easily duplicated to form the basis of further websites, this method can yield impressive results for increasingly lower costs.
While this option is less expensive than having a website “hand-coded” it still requires considerable labour and hence expense for a professional result – particularly given the plunging cost of professional “bundled” solutions.
Learn to build websites using design tools
At first glance the notion of building a website yourself using tools that aren’t that difficult to master might seem like a great way to save on paying web designers to do it for you, but don’t be misled.
The skills required to achieve a truly professional result are considerable. Like photography, graphic design is one of the most under-rated skills around. If you can’t make a website look good, you have failed the very first fundamental.
Usually the time taken to learn these skills is far better spent developing your business in ways you are already skilled up in. Don’t fall for the trap.
Buy a bundled website solution
The array of multi-featured yet affordable website solutions (confusingly called all of “off-the-shelf”, pre-built, application service provider or software-as-a-service) on the market today is nothing short of amazing.
Whereas only a few years ago the notion of a fully professional website with easy to use content management system, secure shopping cart, customer relationship management system, email marketing system etc etc would have cost well into six figures, nowadays you can pay both of establishment and ongoing hosting/lease for literally under three figures each.
That’s right, a website solution formerly the domain of Top 500 companies for little more than the cost of a new set of business cards.
And despite what you might hear, the custom graphic design that is often included in these solutions is as good as anything the top advertising agencies are producing.
With technology and design being taken care of, that leaves all the important content preparation, optimisation and integration. After all these solutions are nothing but a great looking “empty shell”.
If you’re well versed in page layout, writing for the web, search engine optimisation etc etc, you could tackle these tasks yourself. But again, the time may well be better spent on your business by hiring an affordable professional instead and maintaining rather than building the site.
Hire an independent webmaster to build for you
As an “independent webmaster” myself, I have to disclose my bias toward this method. But it’s quickly becoming a very popular one for time and cash-strapped smaller organisations.
Rather than work for a design or development company, the independent webmaster works for you for an affordable casual rate. When catering for your requirement and budget, they will impartially look at all available technologies and recommend the most appropriate.
They will then work with you to establish the website, carrying out all the content preparation, optimisation and integration tasks to create a fully professional website and support it as required post-launch. Where they don’t have specific skills for your requirement, they can source it at industry rates.
While this approach costs more than building yourself using a bundled solution, it still averages less than half that of having a tool-level designer create it for you, and probably half again than a hand-coded developer.
All of the above
The latest method – and one that is just emerging – literally combines all of the above methods.
It works for organisations whose requirements are predominantly met by a bundled solution, but who require some custom development for a small components of the website.
For example, a corporate website with a product that a standard shopping cart technology doesn’t have the flexibility to cater for. Or a standard business website that is required to present products using Flash animation and technology.
Instead of approaching an expensive developer for the whole requirement, the bulk of it can be met by a bundled solution with only a small component requiring the specialised skill and cost of a developer.
This method can be managed and co-ordinated by an independent webmaster. Net result – professional website with unique features for a fraction of the cost of building it from the ground up.
This ever-evolving range of ways to skin a cat is as much a hindrance as a help to the time-strapped business owner or manager.
But knowing who’s who in the web zoo will save you much time spent briefing the wrong provider, and most of all save your organisation a packet in both of the short and long term.
Have I missed any? Let us know your thoughts below.
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au
Peter Daams writes: In addition to “buying a bundled website solution”, you could also easily “get a bundled website solution for free”. Depending on how complicated the site is that needs building, this could be more than enough for many businesses.