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Should I Buy a Cheap Website? (Dangers of ‘Affordable’ Web Design)

By Tim Brown
Updated December 5, 2019
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Tim Brown
Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

Have this post read to you in a natural voice, so you can do other things:

“Be wary of anyone who says they’ll build you a web site or sell you a car for $600.”

There’s a reason these things are cheap.

And no, you’re not going to be the one person who defies the pattern. 

Why is a cheap car usually not very good? Because people didn’t want it and/or the person selling it knows it wouldn’t sell for more than that otherwise.

There is always willing to do it Cheaper

Same reason a cheap website likely wouldn’t be super amazing. The designer who creates it either isn’t confident enough in their ability to create high-value websites or has tried to sell websites at a higher rate and people won’t pay it.

So they have time.

And they wait and lower their price – and then end on something they know some people will buy at.

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I really don’t try to sell to people looking for super cheap sites

Could I create a super-cheap website? Yes. I could throw together a website in a couple of days and become a cheap website guy, and get cheap clients that didn’t really respect my work, and half the time wasn’t even making money on their website.

I know that if I wasted a ton of time on cheap sites, I wouldn’t be able to create amazing ones. 

I know that I have to ask for what I’m worth – and ask for what I need to create the best sites possible. There is trial and error involved and I’ve overpriced, underpriced, and even made a free website or two, either to be nice to a friend or for a special cause.

I’ll just say this – I didn’t have a great experience. I think it comes down to the fact people value what they pay for. Both the designer and the client need to be invested, and this means that a bit of $$$ changes hands.

You don’t want a cheap website, I promise

But if you do end up buying one, I might see you in 6 months to a year. I find so many of my clients tried to go the cheap route first, and then once they wanted to get serious about their business and really acknowledged that their website matters to the people they do business with – they want a professional working on it.

Not their neighbor’s cousin.

Not the boss’s nephew.

Not your little brother’s best friend.

A professional web designer

If you really can’t afford a website

I get many people who ask me what they should do if they can’t afford me – and I wanted to create this resource for them and see how much value I could possibly squeeze out unselfishly. (Yeah right, right?) 🙂

The hard part is – even learning some basic stuff will take some time no matter what. So here are two of my best possible suggestions for you and their drawbacks.

  • Go with Squarespace – it’s like 20 bucks a month, and the builder is relatively intuitive. The only drawback is obviously it will take some time to understand the nuances of the tool, and you might not be able to change everything the way you want it – because a tool like this has inherent limitations.
  • Go with a WordPress theme from somewhere like ThemeForest.net and self-host WordPress (WordPress.org not WordPress.com or you’ll be limited in some key capabilities) – you can use the ‘one-click install’ on places like GoDaddy for the WordPress install and then just upload the theme you purchase (usually around $60 for a premium theme.)

These are easy(er) ways to get started immediately

Web design doesn’t have to be crazy intimidating – and if your business isn’t quite profitable or crazy lucrative yet, it might be better to spend the time – instead of spending the money.

I don’t mind sending people that are in this boat to other options because I know that there will come a day when they want a more professional and intentional solution for their business – and if I’m the one that shared this interim solution with them, I might be better poised to help them when the time to invest in a better site comes.

What do I get when I finally decide to invest instead of one of the above solutions?

  • Working with a professional means you don’t have to make the same mistakes as most beginners at this – you partner with someone who’s been through this process 30+ times (in my case) and has learned something every time, and can apply that collective knowledge to your project.
  • Working with a professional means you can get a site created that isn’t limited by the ‘site-builder’ provided and can be customized infinitely to accommodate your specific needs. The above solutions would need to be torn down and re-built to accomplish this – not just added to, that’s why I suggest people that understand a website is an investment have it built right from the beginning.
  • Working with a pro obviously means less of your time... and time is money. Especially if your business is doing well.
  • Working with a pro means intentionality throughout the process. Obviously, if you’re just starting – you might default to whatever is easiest. Not so if you hire someone that has been through this process many times – for instance, I ask what is going to accomplish your goals throughout, and make sure the design and development serves that purpose, whether it’s easy or hard to implement from a technical point of view.

In closing, I’ll just say – if your business is making less than 100k a year it might be a good idea to invest time instead, but not if you want to build it in a way that won’t have to be rebuilt later. It’s much harder to clean up someone else’s work than it is to just start correctly from the beginning.

This is not to say there are not appropriate ventures to just take the time to knock it out yourself – and if you do so, I wish you good luck!

Why I don’t suggest hiring a ‘really cheap’ web designer

Yes, there are people that can do a website on Wix, Weebly, Webs or Squarespace but they don’t really know how to do professional web design. Professional web design means an intentional process with only the best solution in mind, not ‘what I know how to make’ as the guiding principle.

If you think this is your only option I really suggest just doing it yourself. It will take you both the same amount of time, and at least you won’t be wasting money on a platform that is intended as a ‘do-it-yourself’ platform. Not a ‘do it for others’ and charge money for its platform.

In short, you can’t afford to hire a cheap designer – they are cheap for a reason and will waste your money. This is not without exception, but I’ve seen too many people very dissatisfied with not give it to you straight. If you can’t afford a real professional web designer – please do it yourself.

Can I Make Money from Having a Website?

Depending on what you do – a web presence could be extremely important, or it could be somewhat of an add-on. If I’m honest with myself, I understand that some businesses acquire customers very easily because of the inherent demand – and some businesses could do all the promotion in the world and never get one customer.

Somewhere in the middle – are the people like you and me who have to promote our goods and services to get them out in front of the right people who may or may not know that they need what we have before they see it. 

For these people – a website is likely a very good option to share what they do, or share their product, explain it – give them the rundown of how it will help them, or solve a problem they have. Back in the day, this might’ve been left to a brochure – a synopsis of your value proposition complete with images, bulleted lists of key benefits all presented in as professional way as possible. 

Now ‘brochure’ style websites are easy enough to create on the surface – through a Wix, Squarespace, or even a WordPress theme and some elbow grease, but what if you want to add a feature that doesn’t come standard with the template you’re using – or if you want to stand out from the crowd of other small businesses and entrepreneurs.

A template has limitations for both standing out from the crowd (cause inevitably other people can make a cheap website like that too,) or if you want something they don’t have a built-in function for in a way that blends seamlessly with the site you’ll want a developer to help. If you built it cheaply in the beginning, those things cost more to fix down the line, because they’re often poorly coded and require time-consuming overhauls.

Can you make money though your website?

You can indeed – if you know there’s enough demand to fuel leads in through the website, and if you’re willing to either expend time or energy to market the site. Unless you have the exact perfect niche with crazy demand, and low competition – ‘if you build it, they will come’ is just the plot of an old movie, not our modern reality on the web.

So having a decent niche, and ongoing promotion of a website will be crucial. Whether that be paid ads through search engines like Google, Paid social ads, creating amazing content that serves your core demographic, educates and then provides a way for them to buy or contact, or a combination of all of these – you’ll likely need this promotion strategy to make money from a website. 

Your website is an online representation of your brand and gone are the days of people pulling out their hefty yellow pages book to look up your company. Now, people head to Google, and they expect to be able to find out everything about your brand in less than a minute and to have an enjoyable experience while they are doing it.

People’s expectations for web design are far higher than they were even just a few years ago. In part, this is because of the mobile revolution which allows us to search the web no matter where we are. Most older websites aren’t optimized for mobile devices, and therefore many had to update, and when they did, they often modernized their design simultaneously.

The result was a sudden jump in the quality of the average website, and for you as a business owner, this means that your customers have higher expectations. In the past, you might have been able to get away with a Wix or Weekly website, but now even your local butcher and grocer have a customized website with beautiful graphics and great mobile experience.

So, the question is how much should we pay for web design? This question might seem simple, but the answer is incredibly complex and will depend on how much you can afford to spend, who your customers are, how much you want to grow this year and what your competitors are doing.

If you are operating in a competitive industry, it’s more important to give yourself an extra opportunity to win over potential customers. While if you’re the only business in your area that offers your products or services, you might be able to get away with a cheaper and inferior site. But for the majority of companies, web design is a simple and effective way to win extra customers and build a trustworthy and adored brand.

Your Website is Your Brand

The value of a website for your company is going to depend heavily on what you expect the site to look like and what its purpose is. If you offer an online shopping experience where customers can purchase products or arrange for a service, your website is a direct sales channel and therefore an incredibly important component of generating revenue for your firm.

Whereas if you see your company site as a hub for information and for people to get access to your opening hours, the website is far less critical and therefore you might choose to spend less.

The value that your site brings to your company is in direct correlation to what you invest in it.

If you choose to invest wisely and create a beautiful digital experience where your customers can arrange for your services online, you can generate a tremendous amount of profit through it. Plus, it prevents you from having to answer the phone and arrange appointments manually instead. Whereas if you refuse to spend enough, you’ll end up with a lackluster experience that doesn’t inspire customers to shop with you.

When people aren’t sat outside of your storefront, your website is your entire brand to them. What do you want your brand to say? If you want it to encourage customers to spend their hard-earned money with you, your web design needs to speak to them, and for this to happen, you need to work with a professional.

You Get What You Pay For

You could choose to work with a foreign agency or freelancer, but you get what you pay for. Experienced and professional web designers that speak your language and can communicate with you efficiently aren’t cheap, but it’s an investment in your business’s future.

The beautiful thing about web design is that you can pay for it upfront and then have very minimal costs for months and years to come.

Typically it’s wise to invest over 50% of your marketing budget into your web design when you first pay your designer and after it’s completed the website upkeep will likely drop to less than 1%.

The cost of web designs starts at a few hundred dollars and goes to tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most impressive designs. You get what you pay for when it comes to websites and considering that it’s a one-time purchase that has such a large impact on your brand, it’s often wise to spend more and get the results that you’re looking for.

Functionality for You

Another important factor in your decision will be the level of functionality that you desire for yourself. What happens if you want to edit your logo or upload a blog post? You don’t want to pay a web designer to do these small changes for you. For this reason, it’s often useful to choose a platform like WordPress which gives you a simple backend that resembles Microsoft Word, so that you can quickly make changes and additions to your site yourself.

Do You Have the Time and Skills to DIY?

If you don’t have the time or skills to build a website yourself, you will need to hire a web designer, period. If you fail to do this, you’ll end up with a lackluster site that doesn’t feel cohesive and won’t generate the results that you’re looking for. With this in mind, you’ll need to budget for a designer that matches the expectations that you have. If you want a top site, you’ll need to pay top dollar.

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Tim Brown
Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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