Most businesses agree that having a web presence is as important as having business cards. I would go so far as to say that it is arguably the most pivotal part of your marketing mix. So you know you need one, but it’s intimidating to get started, right? There is a lot of conflicting information out there about websites and the price often seems to cover a dizzying span that can leave even savvy businesspeople lightheaded. Today, let’s see if we can bring some perspective to this challenge.
The Entry Level DIY Options
There are many companies out there that offer “all-in-one,” “do-it-yourself” options and while I’m not going to try to cover all of them, I do want to touch on WIX and Squarespace. These choices are usually ideal for mico or small businesses that need a basic presence online. The whole premise is that you can choose from predesigned templates and then customize them for your business. This sounds great, and in fact, it is for some segments of businesses. Keep in mind that this style of website building is not flexible, you can change some colors and fonts, you can replace photos and add your text. If you can find a template that works for you, then you won’t have to edit much. On the flip side, if none of the templates are working for you, then you are up the creek without a paddle as the old saying goes.
The point is that you will need to invest your own time to find the template and make the changes. A plus with both the companies listed above is that they can take care of everything from domain registration, hosting, and web development all in one place. This is very helpful for the website newbies; there is no need to wrangle multiple companies and hope they all decide to play nice. Timing is also a nice factor here. A site can be up in a matter of hours depending on the competency of the user and providing there is little to no adjustments to fonts, colors, etc. The downside is always that your website has the potential to look like everyone else’s and even worse, it might be mistaken for your competitor’s site if they use and all-in-one option as well!
Wix has the widest variety of packages in this review and has something for almost any budget; the downside is that the diversity of their packages often gets overwhelming. You can start with WIX for as little as $4 a month and spend up to $30 a month if you add in a lot of the bells and whistles and e-commerce. If you want email, Wix offers it through Google Apps, which is $4.08 per user per month, so keep that in mind while tallying your costs. The two smaller packages from Wix might look attractive, but I would highly suggest going right to the Unlimited package. The extra benefits like no ads on your site and getting unlimited bandwidth are more than worth it the minimal extra cost.
Squarespace goes with a more streamlined, straightforward approach to their pricing. They include e-commerce in all of their packages and include items like email and unlimited bandwidth that you would see at the comparable packages with Wix. Their packages start at $12, and there are only four options total with the most advanced topping out at $18. I found there were less “hidden” fees with Squarespace and I appreciated the much more straightforward pricing structure. Squarespace seems to focus on and tailor their options for anyone selling their material online. So if e-commerce is in your future and your budget is tight, Squarespace is a compelling choice.
The Mid-Level DIY Options
For those businesses that need to keep their price point low, have the time, but want more flexibility than what WIX and Squarespace can offer there is another level available to you. WordPress themes like StudioPress or Elegant Themes are two of many companies out there that provide predesigned WordPress themes for purchase. The themes can then be used and customized to the needs of your business.
The good news is that there are beautiful themes available from both these companies and you have a great deal more flexibility with the pieces your can modify and change. The downside is that you will need some skill/experience with technology and a willingness to learn what you may not already know. If you decide to go with one of these options, you will need to purchase your domain and hosting, then install WordPress on your hosting account (most have tutorials to walk you step by step through this process). Once you’ve installed WordPress, you will then need to purchase your theme from one of the companies and install it in WordPress. After everything is set up and installed, then you can begin to customize the theme to fit your needs. Keep in mind that if you want e-commerce, you will have to purchase that separately. Here are some options that integrate with WordPress.
StudioPress is a $499 one-time purchase and $99 per year to maintain the themes. That means if they put out updates to compensate for security issues or compatibility with Google updates, you will have the ability to update that in your theme as well. Again, this does not include hosting or domain registration fees.
Elegant Themes Prices
Elegant Themes offer three levels of access to their themes. The personal plan is $69 per year plus a one-time fee, and they also offer a lifetime access package for $249 that is a one time fee and waves the “one-time fee” their other options have.
Both companies have very solid reputations and offer great products. It is a matter of exploring both until you find one that fits your budget and has themes that work for you. StudioPress focuses on simple and minimalist designs and interfaces. Elegant Themes has more bells and whistles and manages them well.
The Mid-Level Semi-Custom Option
For the businesses that want a website that is more unique to them and don’t want to invest the time it requires to pull everything together we discussed above, you can hire a company to do it for you. If a company is pulling one of these together for you, there will still be some restrictions based on the template selected by you and the company designing your site. However, you will have the peace of mind that professionals are doing it and that it will be done well. It is often much faster to hire a company that does this frequently since their familiarity will enable them to complete the site much more rapidly. A good website company should be able to turn around a template site in 2-3 weeks (after they have all of the content). The price for this option can variety dramatically, but at Beacon, the cost for this style of website is $2,850.
Domain registration and hosting are typically provided by companies that build websites but are an extra cost, so be sure to ask about that if the information isn’t provided. While some companies may charge for it, having someone who understands the lingo can be invaluable when dealing with domain transfers and website hosting issues. Most companies have a policy about how they manage these stages of website development, and they are good pieces to know about before getting into a website project with a company.
The Fully Custom Option
For some businesses, what they need or want is something built for them from the ground up. These are usually considered fully custom sites and each one’s price is going to vary depending on the features included. Our custom sites have ranged in price from $6,800 up to $20,000+. Custom sites are one of a kind and ideal for the business with special requests that don’t fit within regular templates, like calendar functions, databases to manage registrations or provide resources to clients and employees.
Another reason for a custom site is to stand out in the crowd. If it is important that your site is different and not be mistaken for another business or worse yet a competitor, then a custom site is the way to go. Depending on the complexity of the site, it usually takes 3-5 months to build a well functioning custom site that can be a lead generator for your business.
Whether you are getting a mid-level, semi-custom site or a fully custom site, your website company should do a full profile with you to understand what you want to achieve with your site, who you want to reach, and how you want people to interact with your site. They should be able to steer you toward the site option that is going to best suit your budget and your needs as a business, even if that might be a Squarespace site.