Whether you operate online or not, it’s essential to have a standalone web presence of some form or another. Some business owners find that they can start and run a business in its early stages entirely on social media – but for the majority, this should be viewed as a stepping-stone to having an actual site.
The difficulty for startups is that web design can be extraordinarily expensive. If you’re not absolutely clear about what you’re after when you approach a web design agency, the exercise can set you back thousands upon thousands of dollars, and still not yield an acceptable outcome.
As a startup, it’s best to approach web design with humble intentions. Dispense with notions of a vast, beautiful, custom-built site for the time being – it’s likely that all you need to start can be made for less than $500.
“You need to think about what your clients really need to get from you,” says Veronica McGowan, owner of PR Help. “They probably need to be able to communicate with you electronically, but that doesn’t mean that you need to have a beautiful website. Don’t punch above your weight – do the basics.”
Hosted web design services are the simplest way to design a functional website. They give people with little or no web design experience the ability to custom-build their own websites using pre-built templates and drag-and-drop interfaces. Squarespace, Google Sites, Big Cartel and Big Commerce all offer good ways of creating simple, functional websites – the latter two are even expressly engineered for online retail.
Clara Cassidy, owner of Custom Printed Bags and Boxes, started her bespoke packaging business on the back of one such platform. Although the resulting site is quite rudimentary, it provides a way for customers to contact her with quote requests, and assures them the business is alive and well.
“People have to know that you’re current and that your business is still running,” she says. “It’s still a free website that I’m using. It only cost me $60. They have thousands of templates that you can choose from. I don’t mind so much there’s not hugely complex HTML behind it. The only reason you’d get it professionally made and invest $20,000, is if you wanted lots of search optimisation and that sort of stuff.”
One of the benefits of choosing this approach to web design is that it’s entirely housed online. You can access and update your site from wherever there’s an internet connection. Given that hosting is included in the cost of subscription, that’s one less budget constraint you have to worry about. The downside is the limitations – any site built with a hosted platform is limited by the templates and functions offered. While it may feel liberating to have complete control over the design, if you don’t have the experience, then you might struggle to create a site that’s user friendly.
A more comprehensive option is to build a site using an open source content management system (CMS) like Joomla or WordPress. As anyone is free to use and edit this type of software, there are significant communities of web developers that create themes or templates for businesses to purchase and use. Depending on where you purchase a theme, it can cost anywhere between $50 and $200.
As open source software like WordPress is free, the only outlay you have to spend is on a hosting package (at a cost of between $8 and $20 a month) and the time it takes you to learn how to use the software using tutorials found on WordPress.org. If time is a major constraint, then it could be worthwhile to find a freelance web developer to tweak your chosen template as required.
It’s important to accept that if you build a website cheaply, it’s going to have limitations. The beauty of an open source CMS is that it’s scalable: if you need the site to grow with the business, then you can employ a designer to modify it as you need.
Provided you have a clear idea of what you require in a site, and don’t get too ambitious, this is unlikely to set you back more than $500 in total as an up front cost.
Hosted site cost: $8-40 per month
Open source CMS site cost: $15 hosting per month, $150 theme, $450 designer input.
Read Step 5: Establish core costs.