Ah, money. This is one place people don’t feel comfortable talking about when working with designers. I’ve worked on everything from multi-million dollar projects to bootstrapping non-profits and after almost 12 years in business (and hundreds of sites later) I’ve learned when to save and when to spend. It may sound counter-intuitive coming from a custom site designer, but I truly don’t want you spending your cash on things your business isn’t ready for.
Here’s a brief primer on when to save and when to spend the bucks on the 3 biggest sources of online expenses.
Logo: When to Save
Do you know how many bad logos I’ve seen over the years? This is often a place where people scrimp, designing it themselves in PowerPoint or *shudder* hiring it out to a crowd sourcing site (and guess what, that logo you paid $99 for is probably already being used by someone else or even worse, has been ripped off from a corporate entity that WILL find you and sue you!)
If you’re not going to spend the money on a vetted designer, I’d much rather you not even go down this road. Logos determine the look and feel of a site, and if you’ve got a poorly designed logo, it cheapens the look of a site — and that’s hard to recover from! If a site doesn’t feel credible, people aren’t going to buy your product, use your service or want to contact you. Instead, go with a simple typeface treatment that doesn’t lock you into an inferior design.
Logo: When to Spend
If you are selling a physical product, need signage (such as for a physical location) or will be working with printed materials I DO recommend that you invest in a proper logo. This needs to be created BEFORE you start designing your site. A proper logo design exploration will help determine your colors, your typefaces and your stylistic direction.
Photography: When to Save
If you’re not sure what your business is (and how you’re going to make money) this is NOT the time to spend $3000 on headshots. Barter with a friend, work with a student or find some other way to get inexpensive headshots, location photographs or other photos.
Note: Lack of funding is still no excuse for poorly lit photographs and red-eyed monsters!
Photography: When to Spend
Want to start booking speaking engagements? Ready to step into WHO you are? Building a professional custom site? Then it’s time to upgrade to professional photos. Remember GIGO — a term used by programmers that means “garbage in, garbage out.” Send high-quality photos to your designer and you’ll get a better end result.
Note 1: Still in process of building out your studio/physical location? DO NOT send your designer photos of unfishished spaces (yes, I have literally gotten photographs of bathroom rough-ins. Is that really what you want for your client’s first impression of your space?) Wait until the project is complete, then have professional photos taken – it’s worth it to wait to have incredible persuasive imagery for your marketing materials and website.
Note 2: I didn’t have my own picture on my site for the first 5 years of my business – I’ve always worked on a referral basis. Now that I’m speaking, consulting and launching my own products, it’s important that people can connect with me visually. It also proves helpful when networking at events – just make sure your pictures are an accurate (if airbrushed) version of yourself.
Website: When to Save
Are you just starting out and don’t have a clear vision of what your business is? This is not the time to invest $$$ in a custom site. As a designer, I’d much rather you have an established business and clear understanding of who you are and what you do. The clearer you are about what you offer and what your business is, the clearer your communication will be with your designer – and then your designer can best serve you!
Not sure of what you’re doing but just want to get something up? There are tons of free-low cost template resources to get you started. I highly recommend working with a solid WordPress framework and pre-made themes such as Genesis* created by reliable companies — that way, when you are ready to upgrade, it’ll be easier to transition to a custom solution.
Note 1: Keep it simple, keep it clear — If you’re not a graphic artist, keep the imagery to a minimum. I’d rather see a clean, uncluttered site with a strong call to action than a bazillion home-made graphics in 30 fonts.
Note 2: You DO get what you pay for – if you go the cheap/DIY route, understand that your site will probably look homemade and kludged together. Prove that your business concept works, then save the $$$ to upgrade later.
Website: When to Spend
Got a solid business and you’re ready to take it to the next level? Are your current clients frustrated with your home-grown site? Have specific functionality requests that go beyond your cousin’s high-school’s son tech skills? Want to show that world that you’re the EXPERT in your field? This is the time to work with an established designer – someone who will work with you long-term as you clarify your brand and create a cohesive identity across the web.
Don’t be shocked if the designer recommends starting from scratch. If you’ve been bootstrapping it until now and used substandard work, it’s probably time to tear the house down and build a solid foundation – from the underlying framework of your site to a solid content and structural review. You’ll be more satisfied in the long run if you trust your designer than if you try to save elements from your $300 budget site. Aim to create a long-term relationship rather than hopping from cheap designer to cheap designer. Most established designers I know would rather work on a long-term basis to see their clients grow and evolve.
Note: Did you spend 30k+ on your buildout and you still want to DIY your site? There’s bound to be a huge disconnect between your online presence and your physical location – your site is most likely your visitor’s first impression, not the imported tile in the bathroom.
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*I am a firm believer in total transparency – I provide affiliate links to only those products I use and recommend to my own clients.
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