One of the biggest challenges you have as a business person is finding someone to build your website.
You want someone you can trust.
You need something you can afford.
And you want to know that after you cough up the cash and spend your valuable time engaging in the development process, you have something that works for your business and doesn’t float around the internet like another bit of flotsam.
You’re also in the unenviable position of being forced to decipher the various options slung at you from every direction – the DIY services advertised by everyone from your domain registrar to myriad specialty companies, freelancers who promise quick-and-simple WordPress installations, high end agencies with big words and complex sounding solutions, and any variation in between.
As complicated as that all sounds, I’m going to simplify it for you today by wiping one big chunk of those options off the table completely.
It’s one I like to call “the lady in the garage”.
Who Is The Lady In The Garage?
The phrase was born after a conversation I had with someone as we attempted to agree on the scope and cost of a web project.
After three proposal revisions, his exasperated comment was, “Why is this so expensive? My last website was built by a lady who worked in her garage. She built the site and did the SEO and I was getting leads and it was a fraction of the cost.”
Skip ahead past all of the education and explanation that I did because none of it fell on willing ears. This was a person who had set the bar at “lady in the garage” and there was no changing that.
But this isn’t me whining about how people just don’t understand the work that goes into a website.
This is me telling you that if you’re in the market for a new website, you might want to rethink your entry bar. And be careful not to get lured by things that sound good (ie: cheap) but will come back to haunt you sooner or later.
Maybe you have a “lady in the garage” – a friend, relative or colleague who does a little web work on the side or knows more than you, anyway, and that’s good enough for you.
Well, I’m going to tell you why, if you’re faced with that option, you should ignore it completely. Pretend the offer never existed. And certainly do not go out seeking it!
Your business, your reputation and your profits depend on it.
The Lady In The Garage Is Not A Web Professional
Knowing how to build a website does not make someone a web professional.
Sixteen years ago when I popped my first copy of Dreamweaver out of the box (yes, software came in boxes in those days, with CDs and everything) I built my first website in about half a day flat, and that was without knowing a single line of HTML or a darn thing about structure or usability.
I had photo carousels and dropdown menus and photos that zoomed and everything. It was one of my proudest moments and I still have those files in a folder so I can pull them out once in a while to remind myself of how far I’ve come.
Because when I built that site, I was not a web professional either.
Over the next sixteen years I studied and learned, I watched massive numbers of tutorials and took courses. I practiced and read. I watched what the professionals were doing. I tried, tested, and tried again.
The difference between me and the lady in the garage is that she’s going to pop her software out of the box and get to work building your site. She knows it’s only going to take her a half a day so she charges accordingly. And she is going to give you photo carousels and dropdown menus and everything.
But I – and other web professionals – have spent years studying, practicing and understanding why to build a website, when to use photo carousels, how to manage navigation so that visitors flow through your site and buy or contact you or sign up.
Web professionals are not concerned with building your site – that’s merely a practical task.
Web professionals are concerned with establishing goals for your site and figuring out how to measure them. They’re mindful of SEO from the ground up – not as something you drop in after the fact by way of a few title tags.
Web professionals want to know who your target audience is and what your brand image should portray. They want to ask about your customers’ needs, expectations and behaviors.
Web professionals are concerned with the details – how your site tests across browsers and mobile devices, whether or not your forms are delivering and if there is a more efficient way to get from Point A to Point B.
Web professionals are concerned with what’s going to happen to your site after it’s built because they know that there is no “the end” when you’re marketing your business online.
So while the lady in the garage is building your website – and possibly even building it competently – a web professional is thinking about building your website, planning for it before and after it’s built and figuring out how to make that site a valuable and integral part of your business.
And She May Not Be There When You Need Her, Anyway
During the course of the conversation with my prospect, I asked (completely un-cynically) why he didn’t simply ask the lady in the garage to build his new website if he’d been happy with her cost and service.
Alas, the truth of most lady-in-the-garage stories: she went off the grid. He couldn’t get in touch with her. He couldn’t make any changes to his website. His leads had dropped off. His site was nowhere to be found in search engines anymore.
The reason, of course, that the lady had disappeared is because she wasn’t a web professional in the first place. She had nothing invested in building my prospect’s website or any other.
When she had made her money and was done, when building websites was perhaps not as fun or as profitable anymore or when she felt like tackling a new hobby, she moved on.
And my prospect was left with nobody to call and no one to guide him through changes in technology, Google SEO updates, customer expectations…
His site was flotsam.
Sadly, this is a story I hear quite often. So many “developers” disappear, whether mid-project or sometime afterward never to be heard from again. Prospects come to me and tell me their site is being held hostage – not out of malice but simply because there’s no way for them to access it or anyone who can.
Even the most perfectly built and functional website in the world won’t help you much if you can’t get someone to change the phone number on it after you’ve moved.
Just recently before we signed a contract with a new client, he asked an incredibly valid and important question: “What reassurance do I have that you’ll be here tomorrow?”
And the answer was simple: because this is our business. It’s our lives, our passion and the way we pay the mortgage. No websites, no house. It’s as simple as that.
Garage lady most likely had another job. Maybe even a full time job. When garage lady felt like it, she moved out of her old garage and into a new one without a single thought for “clients”.
We’re going to be here tomorrow because we’ve been here for sixteen years and because we run a business. Barring tragedy, there is no option to get up and quit. And in that case, we have a business continuity plan so our clients can access their data and be passed into the hands of others who can help them.
Perhaps most importantly, the welfare of our clients’ businesses does not depend on us.
Non-professionals sometimes take shortcuts or do things inadvertently that can really harm your business. In a too-common horror story, someone’s lady in the garage registered the website’s domain name – and then disappeared – with the domain still registered in her name. At that point, you’re dead in the water. Not only do you have no way to change your website but you can’t even start over. Your “old” site will float out there with your business name and your content forever, unless you can get in touch with garage lady.
Keep in mind before you hire someone that you want to be reassured that you’re working with someone whose business it is to make sure that your business functions – and not who is merely capable of building your website.
Stop Saying You Can’t Afford It And Put It In Perspective
I’ve had the cost-debate many times during the course of my career. And inevitably there’s that person who shuts the door on the conversation by stating that they understand the cost, it makes perfect sense but they just can’t afford it.
End of story.
And I say: yes you can.
It’s a matter of getting your priorities straight.
You may not think so, but saying that you can’t afford a professional business website is as good as saying that you can’t afford to run a business.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to spend a lot but I am saying that you have to pay the right price for what you need and sometimes that’s more than you want to spend.
If you’re so busy looking at the cost of your website, you’re going to completely miss its value.
I understand shoestring, believe me. We started our business without a single loan or investment. We put in our own money for startup costs and incurred credit card debt for bigger expenses.
We couldn’t afford development software – but we did.
We couldn’t afford legal contracts – but we did.
We couldn’t afford high end computers with extra processing power – but we did.
And maybe you can’t afford a good business website – but if your business is important and you’re serious about it, you will.
There’s an inherent cost to running a business and as trendy as it is to be a shoestring startup with nothing but a dream and some time on your hands, running a business is a practical matter. It requires time, know-how (and learning how), lots and lots of effort and yes, money.
When you’re ready for a website, spend wisely.
Taking the inexpensive offer from the lady in the garage may be a short-term fix but it can leave you with a less-than-functional website, a lack of planning and forward-thinking, a stagnant site that loses customers and fails in search engines and eventually with no recourse but to start over anyway when your “web person” moves on.
Think smart before you trust someone to build your website. Find a professional, ask questions and think long-term. You’ll save yourself a whole mess of pain and aggravation later.
What do you think? Have you ever found yourself stranded by your version of the garage lady, or wondering why your site isn’t performing? Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment!