No, You Really Don’t Want A $200 Template

At Web-Op, we’ve heard some prospective clients look at our bids and announce “We’ll get ourselves a $200 commercial template”.  Wow!  Think of the up-front cost savings!  Of course, that’s ALL you get with a $200 template.

First off, a canned template is likely to need customization immediately to fit your logo and corporate colours, unless your name is “The Lorem Ipsum Corporation”.  The sample images may show your competitor’s products, or nothing useful for your business.  Chalk up 10 to 20 hours of graphic design time, at $50 an hour or more, to fix these problems.  In tne end, the requisite changes may be so severe that your purchase ends up only a “skeleton” of tables and boxes that you can hang appropriate imagery on.

Running Tally:  $700-1200

Now you have a website, but it’s a shell.  That template probably only came with enough text to stretch the boxes on the screen to their intended width, or generic copy.  Someone has to write it, and in addition, someone else should read it.  It’s always worth the expense to have a second set of eyes scanning that content.  You need someone with the guts to say that “Interactive Business Synergy Solutions” is a lot less clear than “Wholesale Janitorial Supply and Uniform Service”.  If you hire professional developers, they’re reading and checking the content as they put it into the new site.  But if you have to stick with in-house staff, it’s worth paying a few users fifty bucks a head to be in a focus group.

Running Tally:  $800-1300, plus the cost of copy

If you knew you had a specific need ahead of time, you might have started with a template designed to work with a back-office system like Drupal or Zen-Cart to do the heavy lifting.  This decision shows some foresight.  You’ll have the facilities to manage an updated news site or a shopping cart.  However, even the easiest to use of these systems requires you to do a significant amount of setup to ensure that when you go live, credit card payments don’t get sent to the Central Bank of Zimbabwe.  An experienced developer may well have done this several times over, so he knows the catches and the correct choices.  You can either spend $300 to eat the first order that went astray or locate a press-release that disappeared, $300 worth of extra time testing and bug-fixing these components ahead of going live, or pay an experienced developer $300 to do things right in the first place.  The choice is yours.

Running Tally:  $1100-1400, plus copy

Finally, all web development contains significant amount of repetitive work.  It could be fixing the bad HTML Microsoft Office dumped into fifty documents.  It could be describing 30 new products for a shopping cart.  But these are hours that you won’t get back with a template.  If you earn a reasonable $20 an hour, expect to spend between $200 and $500 on this, for a small site.

Running Tally:  $1300-1900, plus copy.  You’ve already spent over a thousand dollars more than you originally planned, and the site isn’t live yet.

Finally, spend $1,000 to hire someone to go through your site, add keyword-focused your titles and headers, and remove the boosted Wikipedia article copy to ensure that Google sees the site in a reasonably positive light.  Now, at last, you can go live!  Once you buy hosting and set the site up, of course.  Depending on the type of backend you’re working with, this can easily be a day’s labour.

Running Tally:  $2100-2900 plus copy and hosting.   The site is finally ready to go live, but now every corner you cut to get it even THAT cheap will begin to show.

After a few weeks, you’ll probably find you long for certain features, perhaps ones you wrote off in order to accept the affordable template.  Either you’d better start learning PHP, or you’re going to have to hire a new developer.  Since he’s new to your particular project, it might take 20 hours for him to do what someone who had built the site from zero could do in ten.  So add another $1,350 to cover that extra ten hours of labour.

Final Total:  $3,450-4,250 plus the cost of hosting and acquiring copy.

You chose to accept a wide range of compromises, little if any on-going support, and only minimal expert guidance, and it still ended up costing in the same ballpark as having professionals do it right the first time.

Building your own website should be approached like other do-it-yourself projects.  While many of us can change an oil filter and save $20, or even add a new phone jack to save $75, few of us would try to replace our transmissions or install central heating.  We simply don’t have the skills to do the job.  Producing a quality web page requires at least four distinct skills:  research, programming, graphic design and writing.  Many smaller organizations, and even some larger ones, don’t anticipate that they’re going to have to call in professionals when they reach their limits.  That’s when $200 turns into $3000+.