Should You Build Your Own Website?

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Business owners looking to break into the recently glamorous tech sector have two basic options when it comes to creating their websites: do it themselves or pay someone else. There’s a time and place for each. Time to explore.

Do It Yourself

So when does it make sense to build your own website and what are the advantages? Good question. Here goes:

  1. You have the time.
  2. You’re broke.
  3. You’re capable.

Let’s dig into each of these for a hot minute.

You Have the Time

When thinking about building your own website, there’s a common benefit to being either Bruce Wayne or unemployed – you have the luxury of free time. For the rest of us, we need to invent hours in our day to learning and building. But let’s suppose you do have a few hours a day to spare – you’ll have two questions to ask yourself: One, is this the best use of your time? Zuckerberg built Facebook during college. And when college got in the way, he dropped out. Today, he’s too busy running the company to code. What about you? Maybe your time would be better spent learning everything these is to about the market you’re entering and then growing your brand. If you can justifiably answer ‘No’, then you’re on to question #2 – is there a price you’ll pay for the time it takes you to build your website? Will you lose out on first-comer status? Will the market evolve and render your existing product stale or inconsequential? Again, if not, get to work, slappy.

You’re Broke

First, the good news. Some people, whether out of stupidity or sheer generosity, work for free. If you don’t know any stupid or virtuous developers and don’t have any extra money laying around, you can probably hire yourself – if you’re capable and have the time. Not much else to say here.

You’re Capable

So, you have the time, you’re cheap/broke, or both. Cool. Now, can you get the job done?

If you have any web design or development experience, you’re probably in luck. Chances are, you have the raw skills to build your own website. But even pros don’t always have the chops. Design and development are separate skill sets – most techies are really good at one or the other, not both. But what about the rest of us humans that don’t spend their days and nights slinging code? There’s hope for us, sort of …

Over the past few years, do-it-yourself website builders and content management systems (CMS) have popped up for those looking to build a website on their own. There is a distinction between a tool that allows you to snap together a website and a full-fledged CMS, but for the purposes of this article we’ve lumped together the “best” website creators, below. (disclosure: we have little experience with these website creators; we do custom stuff)

  • WordPress [free]: By far, the ape in the room. WordPress began in 2003 as a blogging platform. It quickly evolved into an open source CMS platform which, today, is powering roughly 25% of all new websites. It was originally architected for blog style websites, but with it’s myriad themes and plug-ins, people have bent and twisted WordPress for all kinds of uses. WordPress is more than battle-tested and have a great community behind it.
  • SquareSpace [$8-$16/mo]: Squarespace is comparable to WordPress in the sense that you can build all sorts of websites with it and can customize to some degree. However Squarespace is a bit more cookbook style, where site owners build off existing templates and dran-n-drop elements on the page. Also like WordPress, customization of your page design is possible.
  • Breezi [$9/mo]: Where WordPress and Squarespace seem to hit their limits in terms of custom design, Breezi claims to excel. However Breezi also markets itself more as a designer’s tool, than your average Joe. Breezi has also been pushing hard it’s first-comer support responsive web design, although the latest WordPress v3.5 now ships with a default, responsive 2012 theme.
  • Shopify [$29-$179/mo]: If you’re specifically looking to launch an online store, Shopify is money. It comes out-of-the-box with all your eCommerce 101 features, from managing your store to SEO, mobile commerce and hosting. Similar to WordPress, it has add-ons that allow you to extend the basic features of the platform.
  • UPDATE (another tool, if you need a simple, templated site) Weebly

And the list goes on. There are technical challenges and shortcomings to the lot, but the good news is that these website CMS builders exist today and seem to be getting the job done, at least for basic websites – more on that later. Regardless of the tool, if you want your website to look like something your average schmo will visit and buy from, prepare to spend the time becoming proficient. And keep in mind, the cheaper and faster it is to set your site up, the less likely it is to bring you the business you were hoping for. Lunch may be free (or cheap), but it doesn’t mean it’ll taste good without a lil seasoning.

When Should You Hire a Pro?

We’ve outlined some scenarios for when it makes sense to create a web page on your own. But then when should you absolutely hire a professional? Aside from the obvious answer that you don’t have the time or feel you’re not capable, there are plenty of online business models that require designer and developer horsepower.

It ain’t easy finding a person or team that will gel with your views and objectives. The good news, though, is that the right pro(s) will have the background and chops to implement a lean UX approach, consider a content strategy for all devices and mediums, set up analytics (and goals) across all digital media and then track, listen and optimize based on actual, targeted, high-quality user sessions.