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Why do people still hire web designers when there are website builders out there such as Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly?

web designer vs website builder

Web Designer vs Website Builder? That is the question we will be addressing in this article.

Hiring a professional website designer isn’t cheap. The cost of working with a design firm can start at $5,000 and go up from there.

So, why then would you pay so much money for a new website when you could use another service such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly and build a site for free?

The truth is, hiring a professional web designer or design firm is not for everyone.

If you’re a new business without much revenue, then using an affordable website builder is exactly what you should be doing.

However if you own a small or medium sized business, using a ‘free’ website builder could cost your company many tens of thousands of dollars in wasted man hours and even more money in the opportunity cost of lost potential revenue.

In this article we will address who website builders are best suited for; who would be better off hiring a professional; and the specific advantages and disadvantages of doing either.

What is a website builder?

So the first question to ask is what exactly is a website builder?

Long story short, a website builder is a tool that substitutes design and coding knowledge. Instead of having to know design fundamentals and knowledge of Photoshop you can select from a pre-made template design. Instead of needing to know CSS, HTML and other coding languages you are relying on the website builder’s pre-set functions and code.

The analogy I like to use is that of a DSLR camera. Back in the day it took quite a bit of skill to take a nice looking photo using a manual SLR camera. Today all you need to do is point and click and you are able to take a nice looking picture.

That’s basically what a website builder does. It allows anyone to quickly and cheaply set up a website that doesn’t look terrible, or sometimes even looks very good.

What does a website designer do and how is it different?

So what do you get when you hire a professional website designer?

The short answer is it depends on who you hire. But assuming you hire someone good, what a web designer or design agency brings to the table can be a lot.

First, a good web designer can take your vision and bring it into reality. They can take the concept that is stuck in your head or heart and turn it into a living breathing design that you can see.

If they’re really good they can get an understanding of your business and your customers and tailor the design and structure of your site to facilitate conversions to help generate more sales.

A good web designer can also help you have a unique and interesting design that sets you apart from your competitors. Nowadays all websites are beginning to look the same and having a custom designed website can help your business get noticed in a crowded space.

Going back to our DSLR camera analogy let’s imagine that you were planning your wedding day and wanted to have pictures taken to capture this momentous event. One option could be handing your friend a DSLR camera and have them take pictures of the big day.

Hiring a web designer would be the equivalent of engaging a professional wedding photographer to take artistic and beautiful photos that you could treasure for the rest of your life.

Who are website builders right for?

Should everyone hire a professional website designer? Not really. In fact, for many it’s the wrong move. Should your business falls under one of these categories you should probably go with a website builder:

Hobby

If you’re a hobbyist and looking to share your passion with others, you definitely don’t need to hire a professional designer.

Blogger

Unless you have a mature blog with an established audience there is no need to professionally design your site at first. You can always improve your design later and import all of your previous posts at that time.

Unfunded Startup / New Business

Do you have a new business or unfunded startup? You should probably just start with an affordable website builder. You have yet to prove the concept and you are better off just getting your idea out into the world to see if there is even a market for it. Once you have an established customer base and are generating revenue, then you should probably look into upgrading your site with a professional design.

Solopreneur

If you’re a solopreneur with less than $75k/year in revenue then you are probably best served with an affordable website builder.

Unproven Concept

Have a great new idea that you haven’t tested yet? You should use a website builder to see how the idea is received. If it starts making money, then consider hiring a professional.

Small Non-profit

For small non-profit organizations that is high on passion and low on funds, there is nothing wrong with using a website builder for your organization.

What’s the deciding factor?

When it comes to whether or not you should hire a web designer vs website builder, remember the timeless words of old school rapper DJ Quick:
“If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.”

Bottom line is – paying for a website should pay for itself. If hiring a web designer is a money losing proposition, stick with a website builder

Who would be better off hiring a professional web designer?

If website builders like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly are so affordable, why shouldn’t everyone use them? If a professionally designed website could cost over $10,000 and a website builder costs $50/month, aren’t you saving over $9,000 by choosing the website builder?

Not really. The reason is, it’s not how much a professionally designed website costs that’s the question.

It’s how much it will cost you and your business if you don’t have a professionally designed website.

Warren Buffett,recognized as the worlds greatest investor, says that the most important consideration when it comes to investing is opportunity cost.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is when you not only consider your return on investment for a particular transaction. But when you compare all options available, to determine what the best overall course of action is.

So let’s say you own a construction company and your average transaction runs in the millions of dollars. In scenario A you use a ‘free’ website builder and pay nothing for your site. In scenario B you pay a design firm $10,000 for a professionally designed site. Which one is the better value?

In scenario A you have the hidden cost of your employee’s time which was used to make the site. If it took a paid employee 100 hours of time put the site together and that employee gets paid $50/hr then their time needs to be factored into the cost.

In scenario B if the business lost even one million dollar contract it might otherwise have won with a more professional looking site, that cost needs to be factored in as well.

With that being said, here is a look at who might be better off engaging with website designer or design firm:

Business generating over $250,000 a year in revenue

It’s hard to put an exact number, in terms of revenue, for a business to have before getting a website. But it’s safe to say that if your business is generating over $250k/year then you are probably leaving money on the table by not having your website professionally designed

Local business in competitive industry

Do you own a local business that generates most of its business transactionally through people doing online searches? You are at a serious disadvantage if you don’t have a professionally designed website. The SEO benefits alone are worth the cost.

Solopreneur generating over $150,000 a year in revenue

If you are a consultant, a real estate professional, a lawyer, accountant or any other solo business owner offering professional services, then you would probably be better off with a professionally designed website than going with a website builder.

High transaction value business

High transaction value businesses that generates $5k or more in profit per transaction would definitely be better of with a professionally designed site. By having such a high transaction value, if you could generate just one additional sale by having a better website then the investment would pay for itself.

Follow the money

As stated before, your website is an investment. Really! And like any good investment it needs to generate a positive return. Meaning your new website should bring in more additional revenue, that you would not otherwise have gotten, than the cost of the website itself.

Advantages and disadvantages of a website builder

So now that we know who should be going with a website builder, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of going with it.

Advantages

Affordable

The main benefit is obviously the price. For a small investment you can have a website up on the web.

Fast

You can have your new site up within a day using a website builder. When hiring a design firm it will typically take 4-6 weeks from start to launch.

Decent design

Many of the current website builders offer decent looking design and templates. The key to making them work is to copy the template design exactly. Any additions you make to the design will probably only hurt.

Disadvantages

Not professionally designed

While many website builder templates look good, few of them really look great. You also won’t have the benefit of someone who understands marketing and visitor conversions to help optimize the conversion design of your site.

Generic

A lot of people have recently been jumping on the ‘free’ website builder bandwagon and because of this there are a ton of people using the same templates and designs. Most website builder templates are all beginning to look the same giving them a generic and unoriginal feel.

Looks like a template

It’s hard to put my finger on it but I can almost always tell when a website is using a template. There’s just something about the look that has that templaty feel to it. I think most people are able to spot a template as well, which is not that great if you’re using one.

Poor SEO

Here’s a little secret. Most website builders have terrible Search Engine Optimization. They do not offer very robust tools when it comes to optimizing your website for search traffic from Google. Also a good design firm can offer a ton of benefit when it comes to proper keyword research and website optimization.

Lost potential sales

As we discussed earlier the opportunity cost of lost potential sales have to be factored in when considering the cost of using a ‘free’ website builder.

Can be frustrating

While the backend user interface of these website builders are meant to be easy to use, they often aren’t. It can be frustrating to work within a rigid framework trying to realize a vision you have for the site.

Time intensive

What is your time worth to you? Better yet, if you have employees and they are busy working this what is your employee’s time worth to you? What else could you be doing with that time? This all needs to be factored into the true cost of the website project.

Advantages and disadvantages of a web designer or design firm

Still not sure whether or not you should hire a professional website designer? Here is a look at some advantages and disadvantages of going that route:

Advantages

Professional design

When you hire a website designer you are hiring a professional. Someone whose job it is to understand design best practices, fonts, colors, harmony and balance. They also have an understanding of user interface, information architecture and how design impacts visitor flow. All of these skills are brought to the table when you hire a professional.

Unique design

Remember the Matrix Reloaded? Yeah it was a terrible movie. But remember when Agent Smith started cloning himself that the matrix was overrun by a sea of Agent Smiths? Well that’s how things are beginning to feel in terms of design. All websites are starting to look the same because they all use the same templates. Hiring a website designer allows you to have a unique and original design.

Optimized for conversion

Most templates are not optimized for visitor conversions. They really can’t be because they are trying to appeal to a broad number of user types and can’t be designed to create a clear conversion path tailored to your specific user path. When hiring a web designer, at least when hiring a good one, they will help structure the design in such a way that it is designed to optimize conversions – which means more leads and more sales.

SEO optimized

A good website designer or firm should have knowledge of Search Engine Optimization and be able to do keyword research, help identify the best keywords to rank for and make sure your site is tagged and structured to be optimized for those keywords. Most website builder platforms have minimal SEO tools.

Ongoing support

Ever been on a live chat with tech support talking about how you need to update your DNS when you don’t even know what the heck a DNS is? Not fun. When you hire a professional, those problems go away and you get to pick up the phone and talk to a human being who will solve those problems for you without being made to feel like a simpleton because you don’t understand tech jargon.

Saved time

Is your time worth anything to you? When you hire a web designer you are buying your life back, or at least many hours of it, by paying a professional to deliver results rather than spending countless hours banging your head against a wall, or teaching yourself a new skill that has nothing to do with your profession.

Disadvantages

Higher upfront cost

The main challenge with hiring a professional design firm is pay the high upfront cost. If cash is tight this can especially be a problem.

Longer time to launch

Having a custom designed site takes time. The development time alone can take 2-3 weeks, so expect to take about 6 weeks to have a professionally designed website. When using a website builder you have the instant gratification of having a site up right now.

You may not love the design

Here’s a scary thought. You might pay a web designer thousands of dollars and not love what you get. It happens. Here’s a hint, if you don’t love the web designer’s portfolio, you probably won’t love what they do for you.

Quality varies

The web design industry is a bit like the Wild West. There is a low barrier to entry to put up a shingle and call yourself a website designer. Because of this the quality varies quite a bit when choosing a designer. Two things to judge a design firm by are their portfolio and their reviews. If both of those aren’t great, keep looking.

Wide range in pricing

How much does a website cost? That’s a good question. Talk to 5 different design agencies and you will get 5 wildly different quotes. It can be a real challenge knowing what a good price is when hiring a web designer

You might not own your website

Be careful when hiring a design firm. Make sure you have full ownership of your site once the website has been launched. There are design firms out there that handcuff you into an ongoing maintenance plan and do not give you ownership rights to the site. This doesn’t happen all the time but it’s worth being aware of.

Conclusion

So back to our question, web designer vs website builder? Which one is right for you? The bottom line is, most websites are built with a commercial intent. The purpose of your website is to make money. Whether or not you should hire a website designer vs. using a website builder comes down to risk vs. reward.

If you aren’t making much money, don’t have much money or have an unproven concept – haven’t proven it can make money, then you should go with the most affordable option available and not spend your money hiring a design firm.

If you are making money, value your time or your employees time and feel that you are losing potential business by not having a professionally designed site, then you should hire a professional.

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