DIY (Do it Yourself) web design

Most entrepreneurs start their business on a shoe-string budget. Since their 401-k is relatively worthless and there’s not a heck of a lot of equity to tap in their home, a startup entrepreneur often relies on family, friends, fools and credit cards as their main source of startup funds. So, when a custom web designer explains that it’s going to cost three to five thousand dollars for that fancy new website, it’s easy for that budding entrepreneur to choke on his last cup of Starbucks coffee that he is going to enjoy for the next 12 months. What is a startup to do?

Do it yourself (DIY) websites may be an option

There are several ways that you can create an affordable website on a shoestring budget:

1. Predesigned themes/templates

What is it?

A predesigned theme or template is exactly as it sounds. A graphic designer thinks about the primary components that most companies, industries or standard websites need and creates a generic, stock-like website that will fulfill general requirements.

What are the benefits?

These are often professionally designed. If you hired a professional web designer to build one of these for you, it would likely cost anywhere from $2,500 to about $5,000. If the website theme or template was designed to work on top of a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal then you can likely get your website up and running in a matter of hours. Total cost would be less than $100 by the time you paid for hosting and your template.

What are the downfalls?

There are three potential problems with going with a pre-designed website theme or template; 1) there could be one or more websites out there that look and feel exactly like yours. Even worse, if your competitor chose the exact same theme then it could cause confusion among your target audience. 2) If the theme or template was not designed to work on top of a CMS then you may have to know or learn HTML (or hire an HTML programmer) to get it up and running. 3) The cost and trouble of customizing a theme could end up costing as much as if you had built it from scratch.

2. Website tonight options

What is it?

Many hosting companies like GoDaddy and Yahoo feature do-it-yourself (DIY) web site wizards where you select various components of your website like; color theme, background patterns, floorplans and stock photography. The components are assembled on the fly and your website is ready by the time you complete your selections.

What are the benefits?

With half a dozen design variables and dozens of options per variable, there are hundreds of potential combinations making it unlikely that no two websites look exactly the same – especially after you put in your own content and images. Often, these options are free when you host your website. You also have a bit more control over every aspect of the web layout.

What are the downfalls?

Usually, these look like do-it-yourself websites. It’s like going to a professional hair stylist to cut your hair versus having your mother do it. Usually, you can tell the difference between a professionally designed site and a hacker’s site. Also, while you may have more control over more aspects of the layout, inevitably, there will be one or two tiny little things that you may want to adjust but simply cannot given the limitations or constraints of the system.

3. PDF to HTML

What is it?

Through either automation or manual means, a static graphic design can be sliced, diced and converted or translated into a working website through HTML and CSS web code.

What are the benefits?

It is typically less costly than a complete custom design and can look exactly as you desire. It can be created in a matter of days versus weeks for a custom design. You typically have more control and it definitely looks more professional.

What are the downfalls?

You still need to hire a professional graphic designer to put design the website and create a PDF or PNG image. A PDF or PING image is basically a static snapshot of a potential website. It’s not quite as instantaneous as a predesigned theme or do-it-yourself website. It make take days instead of hours.

4. Off-shore development

What is it?

Instead of paying $150-$200 per hour for Silicon Valley web designers to custom design a professional website, you hire a low-wage designer in a developing country that has a lower cost of living and lower overhead. Often, you can hire off-shore web designers for less than $50-$60/hour.

What are the benefits?

Obviously, cost is the primary benefit. Also, you can usually get very nice designs. Many developing countries specialize in arts and crafts so they tend to be a bit more artistic or colorful in their designs. You can also be a benefactor or contributor to desperate people who don’t enjoy the same economic benefits or opportunities that we take for granted in the United States and other developed nations.

What are the downfalls?

Often, off-shore developers do not speak or understand English as perfectly as native English speakers. So, sometimes there is a loss in translation and you may not get exactly what you want or had envisioned. With little legal recourse, you may send money overseas and never see anything in return and with little or no way to find the buggers who took your money. There may also be high transfer rates to send money overseas. Finally, some folks from some countries just don’t understand Western culture and may just not get what you are trying to do.

So, the good news is that budding entrepreneurs on a shoe-string budget have options – weigh them carefully, get recommendations and use your best judgement.