As websites, apps, and bots become more prevalent and expected as part of the routine of doing business; there's been a concurrent rise in "build-your-own" platforms. These subscription-based, monthly, or annual services help you deploy your "website in a day," and many current solutions exist. For example, if you search for "build my website now" or "DIY cheap website," you'll find numerous solutions that allow you to log in, automatically go to a dashboard, and use building blocks or pre-determined themes and layouts to deploy a working website with limited technical knowledge, in a rapid time-frame.
Some of the most common solutions that you will have seen for freelancers like portrait photographers, wedding planning, caterers, marketing and communications professionals, dietitians and nutritionists, psychotherapists, counselors, coaches, clinicians, and other similar providers are: Wix.com, Weebly.com, Strikingly.com, and GoDaddy's "Website in a Day".
Some e-commerce providers that need to process financial transactions online use platforms like Shopify, Big Commerce, and Squarespace.
In addition, many businesses use content management systems which might be self-hosted, such as Wordpress.org, or hosted on a platform, such as Wordpress.com. You may also see Drupal and Joomla sites represented, each of which has millions of deployed platforms.
Combined users on these platforms number into the tens or hundreds of millions, so there is no lack of subscribers to these types of tools, which are helpful, standardized, and straightforward.
When building your own website property, or investigating what it takes to launch your own website, you may receive estimates of $15 / month to $30,000 one-off to deploy your website.
How do you decide on what tool to use to build your own website?
Are off-the-shelf websites helpful to your brand and image, or do they damage your credibility as a business owner?
What tools work best for your current stage and where your company is growing?
There are a few ways to think through the professional nature and seriousness of your website.
On one hand, if you are starting out with extremely limited time (say, you need a website in the next 2 days), you know exactly what content you will place on the pages, you only need informational pages, no other functionality, and you're fine with a pre-built theme, then an inexpensive DIY solution might work well for you.
On the other hand, if you're looking to build, grow, and sustain your business, if your competitors use more sophisticated solutions and your site needs to be at the same or better level, if you need to integrate functionality or tools to help your business run, or if you need to fine-tune the customization or look-and-feel of your digital delivery, out-of-the-box DIY solutions might not work in the long run, or they may only be appropriate for a quick temporary solution during the first phase of your business launch, and will need to be replaced as you grow.
Here are some positives about using a website platform builder such as Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace:
• Easy to launch
Many of the website builders are intuitive and utilize a drag-and-drop interface, with very basic file uploaders and an easy-to-understand range of font, styling, and color options.
If you're comfortable with web-based data entry, these are a good fit.
• No technical skills needed
If you're reasonably comfortable with typing, uploading images, and choosing from a menu of options, you are probably able to do your own website deployment with minimal ramp-up time.
(see attached video)
• Free domain name
If your business needs to get up-and-running without a dedicated domain name (such as "yourbrand.io" or "yourbusinessname.com," you can use some of these tools to get a free version of a domain name. That URL will include the third party platform in the link, similar to "http://your-business.thirdpartyplatform.com" or "http://thirdpartyplatform.com/your-organization."
• Straightforward look-and-feel
The layout boxes for each of the different sections of your pre-built site will be limited but can work for a basic approach: you'll usually utilize a header and footer, a left and/or right sidebar (as needed), or columns with different blocks inside of each column, or one main section of text. Some sites may allow you to implement multiple pages, or you may be limited to placing all your content onto one page, which is then linked from the menu bar to sections of that one page.
• Mobile-friendly, responsive out-of-the-box
Up to half of all website traffic now gets routed through mobile devices, so assume that 50% of your users are accessing your website through their iPhone or Android or watch or tablet. A website builder site usually offers a simple mobile-friendly version or one that is responsive out-of-the-box and ready to render well laptops, iPads, handheld devices, and any size screen.
Here are some negatives that may impact your long-term plans for using a DIY or subscription-type website building tool.
• Default URL is not your own brand.
The default URL, which might be again be something long such as your-business-name.theirplatform.com, doesn't center your hard-earned visibility about your business name. Whenever possible, you want your domain name to be yourname.com, including on your web properties as well as your social media.
• Limited layout and themes
Your website will be limited to the available styles that the company offers so you might have a look-and-feel that is more "generic" or "generalized" - this will not represent the uniqueness of your brand.
• Generic look-and-feel with few customization options
As a consequence of using a pre-built theme, you will not receive many customization options, so for example, your logo may have to be cropped to fit the size available; or the colors offered may not be your exact shade from your logo. More importantly, the "style" may not match up with your other marketing collateral such as brochures, business cards, videos, or social media headers.
• Limited integration with other tools i.e., e-commerce, blogging, help desk, or calendaring software
Many clinics require efficient ways to manage a patient load or to collect online forms, or manage requests for reservations. Care providers might be offering a variety of services i.e.; an acupuncturist might offer three types of appointments or might offer physical products like herbs and supplements, along with services such as a 45-minute appointment.
Health providers, in general, must be cautious with the type of booking, calendaring, invoicing, and information request software that is required to comply with regulations and run an efficient service using online tools. The management available from out-of-the-box solutions may not fit those needs or might be too "jumbled together" when trying to integrate functionality into your website.
How to Decide
As you make decisions on where to deploy your precious capital and time, you'll want to consider the following. The solution you choose must be:
A) Allows the content manager to update pages in a timely fashion:
Can you easily log in and post to the website? For example, is it simple to add a new product or service, update a product description, change the pricing or shipping and handling policies, or add a new blog post, article, white paper, or directory listing? Can your content manager upload new photos with the click of a button?
If so, then the barrier to you posting timely information will be low, and your website will remain "fresh" and updated (and therefore, relevant to both search engines and your desired customers) regularly.
B) Appears at the same level, or ideally better, than competitors
Many potential clients, patients, or customers, are browsing a list of 5-10 similar service providers in your location. Does your company serve a defined geographic range, demographic, or key phrase? It's worthwhile to research the top results for businesses that are competitors or close allies: what do those websites look like? How polished or choppy are they? Look for grammatical errors, links, font and style, images, and overall effectiveness in the delivery of information.
Your website must be equivalent to, or better than, what is available in your current ecosystem. If you have a less-professional presence (see the "Cons" list above), potential customers will be dissuaded from engaging with your business.
C) Integrates with the functional tools you need to run your business
Identify the top needs you want your website to fulfill for you such as lead generation, email signup, reservation booking, creating a client account and uploading basic files, exchanging private messages, or building a customer profile. Understand and priority your business needs and then find a tool that helps you deploy those needs with minimal "kludge factor" of forcing together very disparate solutions. An all-in-one solution, specific and targeted to your industry, will be helpful.
D) Provides support and maintenance
You'll need reliability and uptime on your digital tools: you want customers to easily book and manage their appointment, or pay online or in advance with your services. Having a support team or an easy way to access a help desk or submit a ticket for support is a must, as is ongoing maintenance and updates of your existing tool.