Let’s skip the preamble here. You clicked this link to get our take on things you should consider when establishing an online presence – so onward!

First, we are going to offer the following in our recommendations:

  • Financial Recommendations: We will break the recommendations down into dollar amounts available to spend. The dollar amounts are semi-arbitrary and could almost as easily be converted to “a little, a little more, and a lot” so don’t get hung up there.
  • Tips and Tricks: There will be a list of things for you to consider, be that potential pitfalls, lists of options, hacks and tricks to be on time and on budget, and more. This is the meat of the advice.
  • No Tech Knowledge Required: We are going to assume you have limited technical knowledge and no interest in managing your website’s code. This post would get egregiously long if we did that, but let us know if you’d like another post with those thoughts in mind!
  • Staffing Thoughts: Ideas for how and when to add additional resources or bring in outside help (be that development, design, user experience, photography, a full blown agency, whatever) will also be included.

Next, there are a few ground rules that we feel should be applied consistently across the spectrum of dollar amounts and never tossed aside.

The Golden Rule: Achieving Your Objectives

  1. Begin with the End in Mind: Establish clear goals for why you think you need a website and ways you’ll be able to tell if you were successful. For example: Our restaurant foot traffic is declining and we believe that people are going online and ultimately landing at our competitors.
    We will see $1,000 average increase in daily sales after a month of the website being online.
  2. Test, Validate, Assume Nothing: Research your hypothesis in step one and validate that what you truly need is a website. This typically means you’ll need to solicit feedback from your customers or target audience. The biggest place we see people fail here is not being willing to adjust their preconceived notions – just because we want something to be true, doesn’t inherently make it true.

If you stopped reading now and just applied those two steps honestly and genuinely, you’d be leaps and bounds ahead of most people, small businesses, and enormous organizations no matter what you choose as the next step in your website generation journey. To be clear, we aren’t insinuating that this is easy to do, but it is certainly doable and necessary at every level.

Individual or Personal Website (little money $0-$1,000)

Often individual or personal websites are actually the easiest ones to tackle, but I’d argue the most overcomplicated. Do you need a complex, custom, XYZ hot newness, special thing – almost certainly not!

The crux of the decision you’re going to have to make around website platform really revolves around this one large question – do you need a Content Management System (CMS) for your website?

  • How often do you post anything online right now? We are talking social media, blogs, anything. If the answer to this is anything other than frequently, you probably don’t need a CMS or at least don’t need a very robust one unless you plan on dramatically changing your current behavior.
  • Why? Good question, having things easy to customize is not necessarily trivial and many services will try to eat your lunch money getting you to get features you have no need for at all. Let’s just get something stable online.

No CMS Needed
Cool, you don’t need a CMS at all. Got any aunts, cousins, nieces or nephews that write HTML and CSS? Have you always had an itch you wanted to scratch and learn a new thing or two over a couple of weeks? There are a lot of options where you can find someone that is reasonably familiar with the web to use and help you achieve your clear goal – I hope you’re picking up on the less than subtle plugs we are making for the golden rule.

Don’t overcomplicate things and remember the golden rule (yup, that’s twice in two sentences and I’m not sorry about it), begin with a clear end in mind. If your goal isn’t to have the most dynamic, interactive site in the history of sites, don’t worry so much about the web developers credentials and ditto for a web designer, pretty does not necessarily mean functional or in line with your goals.

Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Find the Right Collab: Find a site that allows you to shop around for a freelance web developer/designer. Keep in mind what your end goal is and you should be able to review work and get questions answered without spending a dime. Major corporations have months long pitch processes where agencies spend thousands and thousands of dollars to win work, if the person you’re planning on spending time working with can’t answer a few direct questions and help you understand how they’ll help you hit your goals – it’s time to move along. Two recommendations: Upwork – Good for finding many options and odds are you could find a specialist that has experience working with someone just like you. And Freelancer – post a project and get an idea of what professionals would charge and offer you for the work you need done.
  2. Space on the Web is Cheap: You should be paying virtually no month over month hosting fees. It costs companies all of $0.000006 a month to host a low trafficked, static site these days, so there is no reason that if you’re not updating your site basically ever that you’re paying $10, $15, plus every month for your site to get hit by a few hundred people. (For the tech enthusiasts, subtle plug for Netlify).
  3. Money isn’t Everything: Let’s not talk money. Obviously we need to look for options in our budget range, but focus on results and come back to cost. Remember… the golden rule.
  4. You do You: It’s totally ok to do none of the above and choose one of the more customizable options below.

Yeah, I need to be able to update my site on a moment’s notice. 

Cool, no problem. There are tons of options out there for hosted and not hosted options that allow customization on the fly. Let’s review a couple of them.

  • WordPress
    Cost: WordPress hosted is $3-8 a month on the low end. With a million other options.
    Ease of Use: Steep user learning curve because it’s highly customizable.
    Future Proofing: WordPress isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
    Vendor Lock in: Little, WordPress is open source and can be used anywhere.
  • Squarespace
    Cost: Squarespace is $12-16 a month on the low end.
    Ease of Use: Hands down the easiest website builder I’ve seen thus far.
    Future Proofing: Squarespace has raised around $300 million dollars and is considered a Unicorn. Unless the world changes in some dramatic ways, you’ll be alright.
    Vendor Lock in: Relatively high, Squarespace is proprietary, but it does appear they aren’t interested in unnecessarily locking people in.
  • Wix
    Cost: Wix is about $11-14 a month on the low end.
    Ease of Use: Very easy.
    Future Proofing: Wix has a $7 billion market cap. Enough said for the moment.
    Vendor Lock in: Again relatively high (if you didn’t pick up the subtle hint, it’s kind of tomato, tomato between some of these)

Tons more options: You can do a google search and find a TON of other options, but again, look for something that does what you need it to do and don’t worry about marketing hoopla. Find something you find easy enough to use and not a stressful process of getting online.

The nice part about the options listed above is that they all come with pre-made templates that you can just pick and go with, no need for customization. Spend that money on a photographer and maybe some ad spend versus creating some unique experience for your site when all people really want to know is what time your classes are offered at your gym and that your website is clean and professional.

Subtle tangent: Squarespace Designer, Wix Designers – Super cool options to put a brief out there of the work you’d like done and see what happens so you don’t have to go the road alone of picking a design and functionality that best helps you achieve your goals.

Small Business Owner (slightly more money $1,000 – $50,000)

The focus now needs to shift much more towards the golden rule and away from just getting something out there. For perspective, $30,000 spend at $60 an hour for a Web Developer is 3 working months of effort. You decide for yourself, but managing a relationship for that long with a web developer or any project team is tricky and I’d argue is one of the main causes of people feeling burned by this whole process.

Note: I am a developer… so please don’t take this lightly that I’m saying we shouldn’t be the first place you go!

All of the advice from the individual/personal section still applies so it can be used as a guide as well. The true differentiator here should be the focus on investing more heavily in getting it right versus getting something out there.

Here are a few possible options of places to look for a good resource to help you get things done:

  1. Look for a referral: We know, talking to people is hard nowadays, but let’s get around that. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend, acquaintance, whatever where they got their work done if you think it could be translated into something suiting your needs.
    Word of mouth can still be one of the most effective ways to find what you’re looking for… despite what any techy tries to tell you.
  2. Use a search tool: Honestly, I don’t have much experience with these tools, but a site like Agency Spotter may help at least get you some leads to research more fully on your own.
    It is nice that you theoretically can search by location and specialties.
  3. Offshore some help: We don’t necessarily need to be precious about where the people are that are helping us. If you can put in the leg work to do your homework and build a relationship with someone overseas that you feel can get you where you need to be you shouldn’t shy away.
    I can say that some of the most capable technologists I know of don’t live stateside so let’s not fool ourselves into thinking only an American can help us get things done.

Things to look out for:

  • Opaque Value Offer: Can the people you’re working with clearly articulate how their choice in user experience, design, and technology are going to help you achieve your goals? If not, run, don’t walk.
  • Custom-ness: Almost nothing you have implemented should be truly custom at this point. Tech stack, strategies, anything. Custom = difficult to update and maintain in the future, which in turn equals more money. The only exception to this rule is that things which truly differentiate your offering should be custom – be that a design aesthetic, some algorithm, content, whatever, but there is likely no reason every single wheel should be reinvented.
  • Missing the Golden Rule: See the first bullet again. Seriously, can they clearly articulate how they are going to conduct some user research or give you help in establishing clear metrics for success? These are requirements at this spend level because you’re likely not spending multiple thousands of dollars on a hobby project and you need to be able to establish a clear return.

Big business / Enterprise ($50k+)

As stated in the previous section, we can still apply the same logic we’ve talked about thus far – just now the stakes have been raised even further. Once we enter this range, for most people and organizations we are definitely in the serious commitment territory.

Therein lies the big differentiator at this spend level – the relationship itself.

You and the people you choose to work with will be very intimately connected around some of the most important details of your business (and likely theirs). Don’t take this part lightly!

For a small bit of context: this is almost exclusively the domain in which an agency like ISL works. We offer that only as context for what you should expect at the other levels – will you get a full service agency at $2,000? Probably not. Will you get one for $50,000+? You damn well better.

Here’s a brief list of things to consider about doing and not doing when beginning down the road at this spend level.

Do:

  • Golden Rule: For the love of all things good, don’t forget the golden rule. This should be just as important (if not more) at this spend level.
  • Set Money Aside for Post Launch: Consider making a budget for a retainer up front. Web presences evolve, have issues, and need regular maintenance. A prospective agency or group will be all the more invested in getting you something great if they know they are going to have more calls and meetings with you well into the future.
  • Find a ‘No’ Person: Find a group that challenges you and ask questions. Sure, it’s nice to have a group that affirms you constantly, but at this spend level it should be a major red flag if you walk into the room and everyone just starts nodding. Do they want you to be successful or just want your Benjamins at any cost?

Don’t:

  • Associate with Icky Folks: Hire an agency or group to work with that you can’t stand, support, or just don’t have a very good, transparent connection with. Apparently the reports of Beyonce walking out on a major apparel brand for not putting together a diverse pitch team that represented her ideals may be false, but the spirit of that action is exactly what we are talking about.
  • Be Inconsiderate: Give nebulous challenges to pitching companies to see how many hoops they’ll jump through. The most successful relationships we have seen are ones that are respectful and transparent on both ends. This includes setting up specific tasks that will help you in deciding on who to work with, while also being committed to being timely and communicative. And again, you don’t want a company that is just trying to win your money at all costs, you want a partner that is invested with you.

At the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s right for you, but if you have questions or want help along the way, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can reach me at alexb@isl.co or on Twitter at @alexbarbato4, or if you’re interested in how ISL might suit your needs head straight to the expert, Josh (our Associate Marketing Director and all around good guy).

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