Web Development

> To Customize or Not to Customize? That is the Question.

At a recent grip-n-grin networking event, I was asked by a business owner whether they should build a custom website for their business, or if a templated solution was the better choice. This is a common question, and it’s a fair question to ask. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each.

A templated website can be assembled quickly, requires no programming experience and many packages start at less than twenty dollars per month. Sounds great, right? It is. There are a hundred good reasons to choose a templated solution, but each case is unique. On the other hand, a custom website, even a small custom website, can quickly escalate in costs, from a small solution of a few thousand dollars, to over ten thousand dollars for a robust site with editing, user and back-end database functionality. At first, twenty dollars sounds much more reasonable than a few thousand dollars, but like everything in business (as in life), there are trade-offs. Here are a few tidbits we’ve learned over the years.

There are a thousand good reasons why a website should be built, but let’s focus on a few broad scenarios we come across on a regular basis, and what we recommend. Every situation is different, so view these scenarios as general guidelines, not rules. Individual circumstances determine what type of site is needed, and as we will discuss, there are several scenarios when a custom website is the better choice for your business, and vice versa.

Scenario 1 – The Small Start-Up

For the small start-up, typically with only a few people, a templated solution is typically your best option. Online provides like Wix, GoDaddy, WordPress and many others have templated ready-to-go website options allowing you to easily build a “static” website in less than a day, and do so with zero programming experience. If you are short on funds (as is typically the case for many small start-ups) and you have a reasonable amount of patience, building a small website using one of these online tools is smart and inexpensive, particularly if you suspect the site will undergo significant content changes over the first year. Conversely, if you are a specialty start-up, like an architectural firm, general contractor, custom home builder, interior designer or a real estate law firm, a custom website is often the better option, even for a start-up, and especially when what you are selling higher priced products or services, and you want to make a lasting first impression.

Templated solutions work well for many small businesses, but only until (a) too much time is being spend managing content and or (b) the templated solution has reached functional capacity, a typical occurrence as companies grow.

Scenario 2 – The Custom Company Website

For many small businesses, the need for a custom site arrives on the day the templated solution no longer gets the job done, or when a set of requirements can no longer be fulfilled by the template, or when a need arises for a back-end database. For example, we once built a custom website for a company who wanted to add a jobs board to their company site. Their templated site worked well for three years, but they had no way to add a database to the site since the site was built completely in HTML. After meeting and discussing several database options, coupled with very specific field and reporting requirements, along with the requirements for different persona types, the client decided that the best long-term option was to build a custom website and accompanying .NET database application. As a second example, a client had a templated site that was working well, but they wanted to add the ability to write and send legal updates to six-hundred underwriters across three states, on a monthly basis. Since the updates required industry specific fields, automated emailing services and industry specific content editors, a custom designed Content Management System (CMS) was their only option. A third case involved a company that had no need for a content management system at all. Rather, they had very specific requirements to update their company’s site design, but their template was to cumbersome to support their graphic design requirements. For this company, a complex custom design was their highest priority, a priority that made their templated solution obsolete.

Cost alone cannot and should not be the only consideration in choosing which type of site you company needs. Yes, cost is an important variable, but so is opportunity costs, sweat equity, future ability to adapt and grow your site, design and content control, to name a few. If you know you’ll eventually need a custom site to support your enterprise, you must weigh the cost/benefit of spending versus investing in your site presence. You must also weigh your branding control and your overall site presence. There are good reasons small businesses invest time and money to build a custom site instead a templated site, but there are also times when a templated site is the smart play, even if only for the first year or two.

The perfect solution today can change tomorrow. We’ve helped many small businesses move from a templated to a custom website, and interestingly, we’ve also watched company’s change focus, begin a scale-down and move from a custom to a templated solution. This was especially true after the 2009 market meltdown.

To learn more, or to schedule a meeting to review an upcoming project you may be considering, contact our office at 623-322-1417.