Cheap / affordable web design agency advice
The how, what & why
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Yes, you can have a website for only £500 or you can even built it yourself for even less, but if you do then make sure you avoid some of the most common pitfalls and problems.
Who’s this guide for? Anyone who is considering hiring a web design agency from the ‘budget’ end of the scale and requires insight so they can make informed decisions.
The golden rules
The vast majority of ‘cheap/affordable’ web design agencies will have NO experience in marketing, branding or graphic design (even if they say they do – they really don’t ). They will find ways to cut costs and meet deliverables quicker because they win business based solely on the price of the niche service that they provide.
Although some companies have succeeded in promoting their companies effectively using a cheap web design agency, this is not the core purpose of that area of the industry. It is simply there to create a pretty looking website. End of.
Before you hire a web design agency follow these golden rules to avoid the pitfalls and problems that you could face to save your business time and money.
Use WordPress unless you have a specific reason not too
For those of you that may be unfamiliar with WordPress, this is your lucky day. WordPress was used by more than 26.4% of the top 10 million websites as of April 2016 because it’s the easiest and most flexible to use. There are thousands of themes (template designs/systems) and plugin architectures to choose from and this will save you a ton of money on coding and design costs.
Equally importantly, those themes and plugins are frequently updated so it is by far the most future proof website builder you can use. In addition, because anyone can operate the WordPress open-source content management system, you can easily transfer your site maintenance to a new website designer. This automatically bypasses the all too common problem of having to start from scratch because your original designer used some weird and wonderful closed system that only they can operate.
Also if you require anything bespoke you may to be disappointed by the options they make available but for very many, their systems answer all their customer’s needs.
I will of course leave you make up your own mind, so for a typical example please take a quick look at http://arena.wix.com/pro-designers then browse through their freelance designers’ portfolios and hire a Wix designer if it suits.
You can buy HTML templates and website developers still build websites in HTML but this has been slowly dying out as business owners are not interested in having to learn a coding language to add a title or a page to their website anymore.
Choosing WordPress, with a little guidance, is the equivalent of buying a car and then having the ability every couple of years for a small extra fee ( or even free ), to get a completely new upgrade.
Put another way a WordPress theme is like buying a car without an engine or other moving parts.
Get hosting that you control
When you launch a website, you need three things, the domain (URL), the website and hosting (where the website is placed). Hosting provide storage space for your website and in part can play a massive difference to the loading time of your website, the ability to add multiple email accounts and added security.
When you host a website with a cheap hosting company, they will usually host it in-house, as opposed to a standardised data centre. Should you later decide to change your web designer, the effect is that you will be forced to pay your current web design agency to relocate the website across to the new hosts for you.
However, if you ask from the outset for your web designer to add your website to your own independent hosting company (there are many found online e.g. GoDaddy), you will never have to have that cringingly awkward conversation and incur their additional transfer charges.
The other benefits of an independent hosting company include faster website loading speeds, 24/7 tech support, having greater control over the level of hosting required, greater uptime guarantees and generally a cheaper monthly cost. So it’s an all-round a better thing to do.
Buy your domain first
A domain is effectively your URL. Once you buy it, then nobody else can register the same name for as long as you continue to use it and renew it.
When you start a business you need to buy your domain yourself and arrange your own hosting.
If you agree to allowing a web design company to buy your domain for you (which they often urge you to do), from then on they effectively own your business. Or at least the business URL, which can be ransomed and yes this does happen. Please don’t do it! Buy your domain first and then ask your designer to link it to your independent hosting company.
You can buy your domain really quickly and cheaply through www.godaddy.com. Don’t buy anything else from them, just the domain (in the first instance at least until you’ve taken stock). They are masters at convincing you that you need additional web services and it’s easy to get carried away by their sales talk.
Read your contract regarding ownership of your own website
When you hire any web design agency you should receive a contract explaining what ownership rights you have over your website and what you can expect in terms of work, deadlines and payments.
Although increasingly rare, it still happens that businesses pay a cheap web design agency to build their website without first reading the ‘small print’. Only later do they discover that the contract presented gives the agency true ownership over the website rather than themselves. So eyes peeled for that bad boy.
Beware of cheap web design agencies that have built their own content management system (CMS)
This means that the web design agency owns all content, images, design, the whole shebang. Make sure you check your contract and discuss with your agency about what ownership you have over your website.
Don’t believe you are getting a bespoke design
If you are paying less than you probably should for a website, then bespoke design does not exist in the way you might imagine, or were led to believe.
The reason is that a good to middling freelance graphic designer will charge between £300-500 a day and will be only be able to design a home page in that time.
So to keep within very tight budgets in order to survive, cheap web design agencies use another canny method, which is to copy from another bespoke design found elsewhere on the internet without telling you about it.
They make subtle changes to the formatting, change some colours, images and the logo. They then pass the whole thing off as their own, sometimes in a logic bending but honestly held (if stretched) belief this makes the site bespoke but it isn’t really bespoke is it.
However there are realistic alternatives to employing your own graphic designer by choosing a WordPress theme design and adapting it. Please see Sec 7 ‘Try choosing the web design theme yourself’ below.
Smile for the camera
There are moments that I look in the mirror and wonder how I ever plucked up the courage to stick my ugly mug on the front of my website. I did it though and overcame any natural pangs of embarrassment and self doubt. So hopefully now you and anyone else are able to see for yourself that I am a real person of integrity and that the passion for what I do carries forward onto the page. I recommend that you seriously consider adding your own images to your website, even if (like me), you’re not quite Brad or Jolie.
If you own a nice camera, don’t be afraid to take a few complimentary snaps of yourself and your office or workspace. Let the customers put a face to the business and gain a feel for you. If you are going to use a cheap / affordable web design agency then take the initiative and to step it up by making your business as personalised as possible. It simply can’t fail to pay dividends for you.
Try choosing the web design theme yourself
If you have no eye for design, no firm idea how your website should look and feel or want to consider all available options, then a very viable starting point is to choose a design theme from the thousands out there online, then advise your web designer to start from there.
This approach will save a huge amount of money and reduce your overall costs considerably. I will also avoid the constant to and fro of potentially awkward conversations about your bespoke designs and provide you with a greater chance of getting exactly what you want in far less time.
In my experience, https://themeforest.net offers the best website design themes and for the modest price of around $50 you can have a far superior look than most of your competitor’s website designs.
When choosing a web design theme you want to make sure it has at least a 4-star rating. If you cannot see any rating or it is less than 4-star then do not buy it as this theme could have potential problems you don’t need. Hiring a skilled web designer to fix them afterwards is not the way to go.
The benefit of choosing a theme is that they come in such a great variety of styles, looks and feels. With your theme selected you can quickly progress to your next job of creating your text, images and any videos you may choose to add.
Find your own images & icons
Once you are happy with the look and feel of your planned website you will need to find images and icons that will compliment it by type, colour, size, pattern, background and orientation. This is an incredibly important aspect of the work and there is nothing stopping you from doing it yourself, I recommend it in fact.
Take the time to find your images. There are various websites that specialise in this area and some images are free but for my money www.istockphoto.com is the best and has the widest selection. They employ a credits system starting at £20 but as standard you can get three images for that sum but others can cost a little more.
You will see that all their images have a watermark across them which is removed on purchase. You can quickly see which (if any) other sites have used the same image and judge it’s affect by right clicking the istock image, selecting ‘properties’ then copy/pasting the image’s URL into the reverse image search site http://www.tineye.com/.
If you need great icons then www.iconfinder.com is also really good for finding a range of different icons. Think about what services/products you are selling and choose the icons that you think fit your design and images.
Remember that this approach is used by companies to get you to buy their photos in the future or sign up to a monthly plan, so if you decide to sign up, then make sure you save your details so that you can cancel your account when you are finished.
Seriously important email set up advice
Bit technical but don’t set up your email via POP3 (which is a way of connecting your emails directly to your computer or phone), ask for IMAP instead. IMAP, syncs with your mail server so they are always retrievable but POP3 doesn’t, meaning that if your computer dies all your emails die with it. Seriously Ouch!
Hiring Indian freelancers/agencies
the debate continuous
When you start thinking about cheap web design agencies, your mind can easily drift towards the cut prices offered by freelancers or agencies located in the Indian subcontinent or countries where English is not their first language. Potentially saving hundreds of pounds for work done can seem very appealing.
Nothing against people in India, Pakistan, SriLanka or Bangladesh or elsewhere but from my experience dealing with web developers from abroad has been frustratingly time consuming and made even more awkward due to time zone differences. The additional time and effort far outweighs the money you think you are saving, just when time is most precious. With luck you might be delighted and wonder what I’m blabbing about and I’d be pleased for you but had you asked me first I would say forget it.
“Oh I’m so clever.” I hear you say, “I’ll ensure the work is done on a fixed price basis from pre-established tasks”.
So far so good, but here’s the problem. If you hire a staff member in the Indian subcontinent or elsewhere abroad on a fixed price with a set list of tasks, you are doing so in the belief you will not need to keep asking for additional changes to your design and at extra cost.
What you need requires pin point accuracy and the understanding of every nuance absolutely first time around is undeniably key to the success of your business. However messages can and are easily lost in translation when dealing with foreign markets. There is just too much room for misinterpretation.
It is not uncommon to spend up to an additional 30-40 hours more time literally tearing your hair out wondering why your designer simply cannot understand what you mean.
If you are adamant about using a freelancer/agency from abroad then make sure that the person who is actually building your website, and not the account manager, possesses exemplary English.
Talk to them on the phone first and have a 20 minute chat. Ask about the work they have done in the past, the difficult design situations they have dealt with and speak with them about how they found working with business owners from other countries before.
Please remember that in India for example, their working day starts around 5am (GMT) until about 3pm, so make sure that you are available to have a regular conversion with your designer in the morning.
After a couple of weeks and what felt like a good rapport with the freelancer, he felt confident to increase the fixed price to a month. Once the money was paid into the freelancer’s bank account he never heard from them again and there was nothing he could do about it.
It’s never happened to me and yes it could happen anywhere in the world. So take it as you will but I’d be letting you down if I didn’t at least make mention of it.