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!
Join the discussion 19 Comments
Love this post, Carol! It comes back to the old adage – you get what you pay for!
Ironically, I wrote about a similar topic today. Though, my post focused on the various options available. I typically agree that building a website on the cheap is not the best approach. But, I recognize that hiring a marketing firm or creative shop is not always feasible either. I think it boils down to understanding your needs and budget and finding someone who can deliver based on that.
Thanks Laura. There are so many options it can be confusing. I’m going to check out your post! Also I think there are some marketing/web companies you can afford and some you can’t. To your point, it’s about finding someone who can meet your needs within your budget but I also think that we need to rethink “budget”. Too many people are in this mindset that they don’t want to spend a lot of money on a website, it should only be a few hundred dollars and they blindly discount anything above that. Given the importance of a website, it shouldn’t be something you do fast and cheap. I bet people CAN afford a lot more than they think they can once they prioritize.
Thanks Carol. All of my prospects will see this article before they get any proposals.
Maybe we all need an intro called “beware the lady in the garage” 🙂
I’ll have to send this to a friend whose website I started. I’m her lady in the garage. The lady may be well-meaning, which doesn’t make her less dangerous.
Interesting conundrum! To your point, I think many garage-ladies are quite well-meaning. I was pretty well-meaning when I tried to hang someone’s curtains… but that didn’t avoid the giant hole in the wall 🙂
Loved reading this – especially as I started out as “lady in the garage”. I have now moved onward and upward, into the mindset that I am doing this full time and with gusto and meaning. I find I am doing more web + strategy and had been struggling to define that. Thanks for the great article.
Good for you! I think we’re all ladies-in-garages at some point in our careers but the people you want to rely on are the ones who graduate to living room sofa and maybe even office desk! The big word is “strategy”. That’s such an important part of any marketing, and a website in the end is all about marketing.
Hi Carol — great post! I agree with you that you definitely get what you pay for and that the ideal is to hire a firm that understands the design, development and marketing strategy that goes into a professional website. That being said, I also agree with @lauraclick:disqus that not every business — especially the start up entrepreneur or small business — can afford that option…at first.
That’s my customer — the small business or entrepreneur who’s building a business (online or off) without going into a lot of debt. I wrote a post recently about creating a website for under $100 to help these types of businesses get started. It may seem contradictory to your article here but I’m a huge advocate for using a professional and often outline the costs and value of doing so. I just say to start with the best website you can afford (even if that means using Squarespace or a premium WordPress theme) and scale to where you can hire a professional.
Would love to hear your thoughts on that approach.
I totally agree that it’s not feasible for every company to go out and hire the most top-notch, high-end, expensive agency they can find. But that doesn’t mean they need to put up junk, either.
I think there is a point to be made that having some kind of website is better than none at all. But I would be careful and qualify that by saying not EVERY website is better than none at all! In fact I’ve seen some where it would totally have been better to just wait it out.
With that said, you can still have a good website without spending a lot of money. It can take as little as a few hours to install and build a decent WordPress site but a lot of the work isn’t going to be building the site – it’s going to be in the planning. There has to be content, so someone has to write it. It should be GOOD content and give people all the benefits and information they need. There needs to be a goal, a call to action – all the things that make a good site which means someone has to think about all that before building the site. That’s where a ton of the work is going to come in so people on a seriously tight budget will probably need to invest that time themselves.
Personally I don’t know how you build a website for $100 (or less!) but I would love to read about it if you can send me the link. Not to repeat myself …. but I’m going to 🙂 …….
It’s about priorities. You don’t need to go into debt to build a good site. You may need to spend more time planning and thinking about it yourself, but you DO need to find a way to fund it. It’s like if you needed a car to get to work. You may not buy the Mercedes but that doesn’t mean a unicycle will do the trick!
As for less expensive, how about a single landing page? Something with a bit of information, testimonials if you have them, a call to action… you can get started like that inexpensively and not lose credibility. Plus it’s less moving parts (no dropdowns that stop working, no photo carousels that mess up your mobile site, etc).
So I guess my thought is… if you can build a decent website for a low-budget startup that works for them and pays you accordingly then that’s perfectly fine! As long as someone has put in time to figure out what the goals are, what the actions are and what content will best drive conversions, the “building” part can be made simple by plenty of DIY tools.
I still want to know how you do it for $100 though 🙂
I totally agree with you, Carol — a presence is not enough and can be more damaging then not being online at all. I’m sure we could all come up with 10 examples of this in action in minutes.
Here’s the link to my post. I didn’t include it at first because my intent wasn’t to be self-promotional here:
To be fair, my post only addresses the technical & design side of things — registering a domain, choosing a platform/theme and hosting. It’s how I built my site with Headway and I got started for under $100. The time I invested in building the site and writing the copy wasn’t included in that cost but it’s something I’ll address as part of a bigger resource I’m creating for my audience (that will include establishing measurable goals). And you’re right — that’s going to be a part of the work in completing the site so if someone’s going the DIY route, they have to be comfortable with that (I came from a marketing background).
I also think one-page websites are a great option. You can even build one for free with Strikingly. 🙂
Thanks for the great dialogue. Looking forward to reading more on the blog.
Thanks for the link…. yes, I agree that if you’re a TOTAL DIYer you can use one of those tools if you don’t have a budget. Although I don’t know that I’d call Tumblr a website…. it can suffice as a blog but for a business site you’d need something more WordPress-ish.
There’s always that trade-off between time and money. And while I still think there is a lot of merit in hiring someone who is immersed in web and understands everything from the technology to the marketing, if it’s a budget issue then doing it yourself can work as long as you’re willing to put in the time it takes to plan, set goals, and create something that functions well.
I think a lot of people take shortcuts and throw something out there without giving it the consideration it needs. They need resources like yours to guide them through~!
I do think there’s an emerging market of DIYers but they’re probably building online businesses to begin with. Most of my clients who are offline small businesses are the ones who reach out for more help.
We agree then (!) that there are room for different website options but that some things are non-negotiable to succeed — a strong design, content and sales strategy.
Who knows, maybe one day “the web professional” will be obsolete! Everyone will have their little DIY corner and the real work will come in on marketing….
Great post Carol! I’m going to use “lady in the garage” when I’m talking to prospects in the future. I tell people all the time that my biggest competitor isn’t another web design company – its either “Free” or “I can do that myself”. For the latter I’ve discovered that that expression is actually code for “I can do that myself but I’m not going to but at least it was cheap”.
With the former its all about education and getting what you pay for. More often than not “Free” ends up being more expensive either in outrageous monthly fees or in lost business. (My last blog post was on this topic http://dsm-llc.com/blog/beware-of-free/)
Great post and thanks for the follow on Twitter!
No doubt “free” is the worst kind of competitor! Ultimately it’s a completely different level and type of service but it can take a whole lot of education to bring people around to understanding that. And the costs haunt you later – it could be lost sales or a lack of function or an expensive redo. A website doesn’t have to be “expensive” but it can’t be free, either.
You share here very nice information. Your blog is very nice. Keep share this type informative post.
What you’re explaining here is very clear. There is a big difference between having some kind of amateurs building a website and someone who is a professional and whose business is to build websites. No doubt.
You also explained very well why it’s cheaper. A process that is a made up process one size all will always be cheaper then a custom work.
Nice seeing you again. and have a great rest of the week!
It’s a tough sell because a lot of people think they can do it themselves. And of course they can…. but how well? A small site, blog or startup might be ok as a quick project but a professional site is a bigger deal. There’s a lot to think about. Thanks for stopping by, it’s always great to see you!