Hiring a Web Designer vs. Building Your Own Website

You want the first thing people see on your website to be an image mosaic of your photography.  You want to upload a viral video of your crazy web contest.  You want to sell your handmade crocheted bunny key chains to the entire world.  But, you’re also a small business owner or entrepreneur with little to no knowledge of how to build a website.  Which is the better option for you—hiring a web designer or building your website on your own, with the help of site builders?

In my previous blog post (No More Excuses for Not Having a Website!), I pointed out that  a surprising number of businesses don’t have a website.  However, there is a growing number of small business owners who would like to create a website to help market their businesses.  They just don’t know where to begin, or how much time, money and effort is involved.

We at ChooseWhat.com highly recommend that small business owners with little knowledge of websites begin by using a website builder to create their websites.  Because they’re low-cost, user-friendly and accessible, website builders will work for most small businesses.  But when your business grows, and you need a more complicated website, you might want to hire a web designer.  Check out our comparison below to help you make your choice.

Comparison of Site Builders to Professional Designers

Cost

Depending on the type of website you want to build and the functionality you want to have, site builders range from free to less than $100 per month.  Comparatively, freelance designers typically cost somewhere between $500 – $1,500, and full-service design firms usually cost from $2,000 – $5,000.

Customization

Site builders allow you to utilize and edit pre-made templates to customize your website.  They typically allow you to change the main graphics, insert your brand logo, insert pictures, insert Google ads and customize multiple pages.  E-commerce site builders like Volusion also allow you to create a store front to sell your items online, to set up security for credit card transactions, and to outsource shipping.

Freelance designers and design firms not only style your site so that it showcases your custom logo and headers, they can also create multiple custom graphics.  They can custom design the navigation of your website, so that you are not limited to what you see in the template, and can usually add JavaScript, database or email functionality as well.  Overall, professional designers can give you more design flexibility, as well as help you optimize your site for search engines.  However, with a bit of knowledge, you can easily optimize your site for search engines using site builders.  (Check our How to Build a Website guide to learn more.)

Hosting

Site builders are typically bundled with an online hosting plan for one low monthly cost, which is rather convenient.  Having your site hosted and built through one company simplifies the process of creating and maintaining your site, since you’ll only need to contact one company to handle technical issues.

If you’re using a professional designer, s/he will either host your site on their server or sign up for a hosting plan on a third party site.  Either way, you’ll probably still have to pay a monthly hosting fee, in addition to what you’re paying the designer(s).  It would be ideal if your design firm could host your site on their server, so that they could handle any hosting issues in-house.  However, you won’t necessarily save more money with in-house hosting, rather than going with a third-party monthly hosting service.

HTML Skills Required of You

Site builders don’t require you to know HTML or any other programming language.  However, they do require you to familiarize yourself with their particular systems or interfaces.  It may take a bit of time for you to orient yourself, so that you can start adding different elements to customize your site.  It also may take a bit of time for you to pick a site template that works for your business.  This is especially true when creating an e-commerce site, as e-commerce site builders give you a vast array of options to help you create a store front, shopping carts, preview buttons, etc.

Professional designers eliminate the guesswork and can pretty much handle everything from coding your website to optimizing it for search engines.  But, the downside is that you won’t be compelled to learn anything about how your website functions, which is fine, until you encounter problems or technical issues.  Then, you’ll have to call the designer and wait for them to fix the problem, which, depending on their schedule and number of clients, may take a while.  If you want to change or re-design the site after the designer has already technically completed the project, you’ll probably be charged for additional work or “consulting.”

Turnaround Time

You can build a simple information website or e-commerce website on a site builder in a matter of hours or days.  Most professional designers will give you an estimate of two weeks, but it can actually take them up to two months or more to create, test and tweak things.  Again, it all depends on how complicated your site is and how much functionality and flexibility you want.

Maintenance and Support

Most web hosting/site builder services advertise 24-hour maintenance, monitoring and technical support.  This, however, does not ensure that your site won’t go down or that it will be back, up and running quickly.  The more reputable companies, such as GoDaddy, HostGator and Yahoo, tend to be better about actively monitoring your domain and alerting you if any problems arise.  But, it’s really up to you to maintain your site and make sure it functions properly.

Although they have more direct control over your website, a web design firm might not necessarily be better at maintaining your site than a hosting service.  The size of the web design firm is a good indication of how attentive they’ll be to server issues and how quickly they’ll respond to your questions/concerns/requests.  Maintenance and support should be included in your monthly fee (for hosting companies) and in your invoice (for designers), and should not cost extra.

Whether you decide to use a low-cost website builder or a professional designer to create your site, make sure that you are absolutely satisfied with how your website looks and functions.  Remember that a little time and money spent on your website is really an investment that can lead to a dramatic pay-off for you and your business.

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