Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life. Wherever you have something vaguely technical, some unethical business operators will take advantage of your lack of knowledge by recommending something you don’t really need, and therefore making you pay much more than you need to.
And the web or digital industry is no different. Take the website of one small Melbourne consultancy for instance.
Their incumbent web designer had actually done the right thing by creating their website with a reputable website platform provided by an international technology organisation. Apart from being backed and supported by a large and reputable business (unlike the enthusiast-built and supported Open Source platforms on the market), it was a truly ‘extensible’ platform that would grow with the needs of the business, enjoy full technical support and free upgrades, etc.
Unfortunately, the web designer was unable to continue to service the client, so they approached me to redesign their website. They also approached another web services firm.
Salvaging = savings
The very first thing that we do when we assess a website redesign is identify how much of it can be salvaged. Why spend our client’s money on something that doesn’t need altering?
There is a misconception among smaller business operators that the website is a single creative development, like some kind of brochure. And that like brochures, if you want a new website, you have to start again from scratch.
But this is not the case.
Websites, in fact, comprise three separate, main components – design, technology and content.
Design refers to the appearance and navigation of the website; technology is essentially the software and functionality of the website; and the content is your creative components – words, pictures, animation, video and so on that tell your story.
Designing for the near and distant future
Reputable web professionals know that the website needs of a small business are constantly changing. So they will create the website in a way that provides the business with as much flexibility as possible with regards maintenance and changes.
So they will provide a technology platform that can add commonly-used functionality (like a shopping cart) at either no or low cost. Such a platform will allow new designs or even a good template design to overlay the site rather than start again from scratch.
And they will provide an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) so that you or your webmaster can easily make content changes and, again, keep it in place whenever you want to ‘overlay’ a new design.
Disreputable providers won’t do any of this. They will establish your website and suggest you come back to them when you want to alter any aspect of the website whatsoever – no matter how big or how small. And that is their ticket to extracting maximum, usually unnecessary charges from you.
Throwing out the baby…
Unfortunately, despite the incumbent provider setting up the website in this correct way, the alternative provider falsely inflated the cost of altering the current website, and then in turn recommended switching to a major Open Source platform instead.
Such an approach meant the price was at least double that of making the changes but retaining the current (and very workable) platform.
The best way to avoid this kind of scam is to be more specific when asking for major changes to your website. Don’t just say ‘we need a new website’, focus in on what it is specifically that you want changed.
So if you’d like to change the look of the site, ask for a website redesign (but not a change of website platform). Or if the copy is no good, ask for a rewrite of your website copy.
Even if both of the design and copy need work, that doesn’t require you to replace the website platform it sits on – unless it too is insufficient for your new requirements.
The savings you will get from taking this more specific approach will be very significant indeed.
Best kept secret in town
The reason you don’t hear this advice from most web designers is that they make their money from designing in and manipulating their platform of choice – when at least nine times out of ten the technology side of your website is available ‘out of the box’ without any programming or coding required at all.
Need even more good reasons for impartial advice on this increasingly critical aspect of your business? No sooner had I discussed the matter with the business operator in question than I get an email from an existing client of ours. It appears they had received a cold call from a competitor with, guess what? The same offer. They too were trying to convince the client to switch website platforms when they didn’t need to.
Definitely no rest for the wicked!
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.