All site owners want to get their websites built cheaply, as well they should. There’s no reason to pay more than you have to—including paying anything at all if your needs are best serviced by a Facebook page, a Tumblr account, or a WordPress.com blog!
However, some questions around price are a red flag. Here are a few:
- “How much does a website cost?”
- “What’s the cheapest way to get a website?”
- “Will you build me a website for $X?”
Site owners with unclear strategies view their websites mainly as cost centers, and end up wasting their money.
These questions are symptomatic of people who don’t know why they want a website. Because of this lack of strategic clarity, they look at their sites mostly as a source of costs. The end result is a badly executed website that never meets anyone’s goals for it—in other words, a waste of money.
The Problem: Viewing Websites as Cost Centers
Thinking of your work online as a cost to minimize, rather than as investment to optimize, will work against you.
Wanting to get a “cheap website” is most people’s common-sense starting point, and a lot of marketing pushes you in that direction as well. Squarespace, for example, frequently appeals to how cheap it is “to create an exceptional website.” If someone said it during the Super Bowl, what could be wrong?
Unfortunately, thinking of your work online as a cost to minimize, rather than as investment to optimize, will work against you. The reason is that you’ve forgotten about the return from your work online: what you get for the cost. All the quality sacrifices you make (bad developers, half-hearted solutions, “it works for now” hacks) reduce the value of your site, to you or anyone—not just its cost. If you think only about cost, you’ll end up with something cheap that brings in no value in return: you’ll waste whatever money (and, more importantly, time) you do spend on your site.
Think of ROI, Not of Cost
No matter what your needs online, you can’t be thinking solely in terms of cost. Instead, you have to be thinking in terms of maximizing return on investment (ROI)—value you receive divided by cost—whether the value and costs are financial or otherwise.
Many businesses need complex solutions: elegant and full-featured online stores; impressive, beautifully designed corporate sites; or even complex web interactions like Airbnb bookings or Kickstarter campaign tracking. In any of these cases, simply minimizing costs will leave you with something too low-quality to generate a return—meaning 0% ROI.
…And Do It For Cheap, If You Can!
There’s no need to spend unnecessarily, but think in terms of ROI in any case.
Again, there’s no need to spend unnecessarily. There are lots of needs—blogging, connecting on social media, sharing video or audio content, setting up landing pages—that you should be able to meet without spending anything at all. Even a simple informational site shouldn’t cost very much, depending on the quality you need. (After all, Ford.com is basically an “informational site,” but you wouldn’t want to build it on Squarespace like you might a local dog grooming service.)
At any rate, the existence of cheap solutions doesn’t change the need to think in terms of ROI. Some needs (like uploading a YouTube video or starting a Twitter account) simply cost less money to meet online than others (like creating an online store, elegantly designed and full-featured company website, or greenfield web application). In any case, you still need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing—what you hope to get in return, and what it’s worth to you—or you’re wasting your time.
What Are You Investing In?
Every investment you make in your website should add value to either your life or your business. If that’s not the case, you need to head back to the drawing board.
Thinking of your website as an investment can quickly change your view of the tradeoffs you make during the development process. For example, stiffly built free site builders might not be great from an ROI perspective if there’s good reason to believe you’ll want to use your site in a new way someday: starting over from scratch will put you at a strategic disadvantage.
So the first thing to have in mind when you approach web developers is: What broader goal are you trying to accomplish with your website? Every investment you make in your website should add value to either your life or your business. If that’s not the case, you need to head back to the drawing board.
What returns will your website generate, and when? Will it increase the number of new customers you get per month? By how much, and what are those new customers worth? Will it help you promote your forthcoming novel, and to how many fans? What’s that readership worth to you? When you understand that your job is to leverage your investment in your asset (your site) to generate returns, you’ll start to think more strategically, and you’ll make better choices.
The point, boiled down, is just to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Something we’re thinking of getting tattooed on our own foreheads (and you might like to remember too) is: Every investment deserves a clear plan. Don’t spend a dollar or an hour before you know what you’re doing, and you’ll never get caught in the trap of viewing your website solely as a cost center.
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