What Are My New Website Options?
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What Are My New Website Options?

Ok, so I need a new website for my business. What are my options? Should I try to do it myself, or pay someone else?

This is the big question small businesses and nonprofits face when starting up. Of course if you do it yourself, you’ll need someone available to spend time building it and keeping it up to date. And what if this person leaves your organization? Will someone new be able to come in and pick up where they left off?

There are many factors to consider when making the decision about who will manage your website. The purpose of this blog is to take a general look at the different options in 2020 and give the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you make a wise decision based on your specific situation that will prove to work well for you long term.

Over the years, the most common problem I’ve heard from clients is that they hired someone to build them a website and after it was built, they couldn’t get in touch with the person or company to update it, leaving them high and dry and not knowing what to do. There was a time when websites were scarce and it wasn’t easy to find a designer. There were amateur web designers who were young and not settled in their careers and would move onto something else after a year or two. Some stayed in business, but the market changed to mobile first (responsive web design) and they weren’t willing to keep up with the training required, leaving clients behind with a non-responsive website. if you had a designer that kept up with technology, you may have gotten a free new design because they were interested in keeping their portfolio up to date.

So your situation is that you are either interested in starting a brand new website, or renewing your current outdated site. If your situation is the latter, you could contact your original designer and ask about a refresh / redesign. If you are still paying for services like updates to your site, there’s a good argument that you shouldn’t be charged for a refresh, but that’s between the two of you. If you are looking for a brand new website, there are basically three options:

  1. Option #1 is a DIY Website Builder – This is the easiest do-it-yourself option. Websites like Squarespace, WIX and Weebly will set you up with an account where you can drag and drop elements onto the page (pictures, text boxes, headings, etc) to create your own web pages. These are pretty amazing tools and work well for a business that has someone available to build it and maintain it. It’s not real difficult to learn and most people who can use MS Office can do it. There are beautiful templates to start with and all functions and tools are included in your monthly plan. You can also set up SEO (search engine optimization) and a domain name. You can log into your account from any computer if you need to make changes. The negatives would be: limited customization (you are somewhat restricted to what the program offers), resource availability (someone will need to spend hours of time building and maintaining the site and if they leave your company, someone needs to pick up where they left off), a monthly fee to keep it published, and finally, you are at the mercy of the program / company changing or even remaining in existence. They basically own your website.
  2. Option #2 is an Open Source CMS (Content Management System) using a theme or template – This option is not as simple as option 1 and requires more knowledge of web design, including some HTML and CSS. It uses programs like WordPress or Drupal. These CMS programs are available through the control panel of most hosting accounts that you can set up and manage like GoDaddy. You’ll still pay a monthly fee for hosting, but you have more control over your website than a program like WIX. WordPress has numerous templates that can be used (some free and some at a small cost) by installing them and customizing them to meet your needs. There is more flexibility than WIX and open source means there is a community of people offering help and various plugins, mostly for free. However, there is a constant effort in this WordPress “open source” community to make money off of you when you need a new feature and go in search of the perfect plugin. Many plugins look like the perfect solution and are free, but when you go to customize it, you discover that only the upgraded version allows you to do what you need to do. WordPress is the most up and coming option these days and it seems like most web design companies only offer WordPress websites to their clients. Again, this option requires a higher level of web design knowledge than just using MS Office and will definitely take up more time in learning about making updates to achieve your website requirements.
  3. Option #3 is hiring a custom web design company to build your site for you – This option works best for a business that does not have a resource available to build and maintain the site, and prefers to have someone else managing everything. You just pay for the initial design and yearly hosting, and send them changes when needed and they post them to the website for you. The pages are mainly built from scratch using custom code such as HTM, CSS, and JavaScript, and there are very few restrictions to getting exactly what you want. Many custom design companies will use WordPress to build your site and are very good at managing all the plugins and custom code. If WordPress is used completely, this is basically option #2 that is managed by someone else for you. WordPress works great for building shopping cart sites, dynamic event management, and membership sites where the company needs to mange it’s membership, like a Chamber of Commerce for example. Some companies will set this up and even train you to manage it through the WordPress Admin page. If you don’t need these kinds of dynamic functions on your site, you can simply shoot the design company an email requesting an update and they will complete it in a day or two and let you know. Some charge by the update, or you could have a monthly or yearly fee to cover all updates. A custom built website allows full control of the files that make up your website, as opposed to options 1 and 2. A custom coded site does not depend on a website program or a Content Management System maintained by a third party to stay alive. The downside of a custom designed and maintained site is that there is some risk that the company goes out of business, or stops responding to your requests for updates. It’s important to find someone you can trust for this option that has been around for while. Check their reviews in regard to update response time and longevity in business. Custom files can easily be transferred to another company if needed, but sometimes designers that write code have different preferences and may have to reorganize the code before using it.

In general, all three of these options have good and bad points depending on your company situation and needs for a new website. If you are starting up new, have a resource available with some extra time and limited technical knowledge, and have a limited budget, Option #1 is a good one to start with. You can have a website up and running quickly, although it may not be your ultimate goal of the awesome website you dreamed of. The cost is manageable and you’ll get better as you learn.

If you fit the above but are more advanced technically and have some experience with HTML and CSS, option #2 may be a good option. As you become more knowledgeable and efficient with a system like WordPress, you should be able to meet the needs of your company as they evolve at a low cost.

If you do not have a resource available to manage a website or do not want the possible headaches of the website manager leaving or spending too much time learning, and can afford the initial cost of a custom design and future updates, go with a dependable, trustworthy company and let them handle everything related to your website for you. This option allows you to fully focus on your business without the stress of keeping your website looking professional.

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