Do not spend too much on your website – a word from a web designer

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So you are starting a business or want to build a website or ecommerce store for you existing business. While looking for web design company to do the job for you you will hear a lot about the importance of “building your brand online”, avoiding cheap designers who will cost you more than expensive ones, getting what you paid for and so on. Very little is being said about the return on your – potentially substantial – investment.

It feels surreal that in today’s economic environment a need exists to defend value. And in web development business the value of the product sometimes painfully resembles this of houses during the property boom.

I know that all those American success coaches say that when you start something you should burn the boats and bridges, throw out the parachute and jump. Been there and I wish they followed their own advice themselves.

If you are starting something on the web there is no way to tell if it is going to work – until you put it in front of customers and test it in the wild.

So – following the advice of many of the web design companies around – you splash out on your website or shop, put it online and wait. Happy waiting, nobody is going to come. Seriously. “Build it and they will come” – this is not going to happen. The guys who charged you an arm and a leg for your website knew it since the day one. They – very likely – deliberately sold you service completely unfit for your purpose.

Yes, design is important to some extend, but mostly it is the pride of the business owner. Do you want to make money or show off to family and friends? What is important to you?

Do you remember old Ryanair website? It was butt-ugly and it was one big trap aimed at getting you to buy some useless insurance and God knows what elese. On top of that it was extremely difficult to navigate, search for flights, do anything you were supposed to be doing there.

And what happened? People were still flying Ryanair. Why? Because the product and price were right.

If the product and price are right, people will buy, even if the website is a nightmare. If they are no good – you can have the best website in the world designed by the same guy who did the design for Apple and it will not change much.

One more thing – people have to actually know that your store / website / service etc exists – no matter how much money you spent to get it done.

This is what I would advise you to do. And please appreciate that by telling you this I am effectively sawing off the branch I am sitting on – being a web designer.

Spend as little as possible on the initial website / ecommerce setup. If you do a shop, get a cheap one that meets your minimum specs. If you need custom application – pay only to develop crucial functionalities, the bare minimum to get the thing to work.

Then spend money on acquiring traffic. Once you have traffic, and your products/services are viewed by potential buyers you have a chance to start making money. If the cost of getting a sale is small enough to leave you in profit, you are on the right track. Simple.

If you spend big on developing your website and afterwards you have no money left for advertising – you have already failed.

This is one most important thing you have to know going into ecommerce or building a website for you business: people are not going to come to the site automatically. Getting them there is costly, requires a lot of work and you will compete with everybody else in your area of business.

Even if your site’s content is relevant, it will be months before you start seeing a little of free traffic from search engines. Keep this in mind when evaluating what you should spend your money on. If you do not pay, nobody will visit your store.

Just to make it clear: I am a big fan of well designed, functional websites. I love attention to details and tweaking stuff until it is perfect. I am more than happy to do this for customers when I am certain it will give them the return they expect.

This whole article applies to startups and people who maybe have an established small/medium business, but they are trying to get it online. If you have the funds, compelling vision and can take financial risk – by all means hire the proper design studio.

If you are starting, testing – do not bet your life’s saving on this. Go cheap and see. Learn and gather some data, get things going fast. If there is a potential in whatever you are trying to do, it will show no matter how much or little you spend.