Best way to get a good website for a small business


12

My partner and I are C++ developers, not web/CMS developers and we need a decent site for our company and product launch.

I have been dabbling with wordpress and Drupal, but the results are childish at best.

I have seen lots of web site business ads locally, but frankly those seem to be a risky proposition and could be expensive.

We are bootstrapping and would rather not spend lots of money on a website, but we also want to limit our time spent on learning how to do it ourselves.

My latest decision will be to buy a WP theme (so many of the free ones are just horrible) and try that. if that fails as well I might just give up and pay someone else.

What have others done successfully?

Any suggestions?

EDIT

I have to agree with others - it is worth it to hire competent web site folks, but I have no idea how to identify and find these folks and i have no idea what this thing should cost.

It is not interactive, no shopping cart, nothing special. Just about 10 pages of content.

I have had prices range from $100 to $12,000.

I don't have time to research all the people and hand-hold - thus my entry into trying my hand at web site development.

I know i suck at it, but I am disappointed by the lack of quality from many web site designers.

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asked Oct 29 '09 at 01:14
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Tim J
8,334 points
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16 Answers


12

Your dilemma is not uncommon. In fact most, if not all of my clients, initially underestimate what an undertaking building a quality website can be. They say the same types of things about interactivity and features: they don't want any. When they see what that means to a developer and designer they are wholly unsatisfied because we are not really speaking the same language. Having links change color on mouseover is interactivity for example.

Web sites, like cars, can be had within a wide price range. For the most part, you get what you pay for and need to set your budget accordingly. You can get a Chevy Aveo site for $300, a Toyota Camry site for $1,000, or a Porsche Carrera GT for $20,000.

The Aveo site will have a color scheme that doesn't make you sick, but doesn't inspire confidence. Page layout and navigation will have big gaps. Your attention will be drawn to places it shouldn't be making it less likely that users will read your content. Every once in a while you'll find yourself at an error message instead of the "thanks for your feedback" page.

The Camry site will please Google, present your content in a non-offensive way and for the most part be entirely forgettable as it looks and feels like every other site.

The Carrera GT makes your site a destination in and of itself with pleasing navigation, intuitive menus and a gorgeous layout with complimenting color scheme. Ten minutes after a site update, your new content is the top link on Google. Users will return often even if nothing has changed.

There are some unscrupulous firms that will overcharge you, but for the most part reputation and integrity are as important to them as it is to you. So, set your price range.Google "web designer" in your area. You want these people to be local to minimize hassle, and to reduce any delays caused by inevitably miscommunication. When you find like 5 or 6 sites, look through their portfolio sites. Ignore any that are no longer using the design that company made and any designs older than a year. If anything feels awkward, blows up, or just plain doesn't sit with you, move on. Choose the company that you think will best represent your brand online and haggle over the price they quote. No hand holding, no extra time needed.

For 10 pages of static content and a good, brand-appropriate design I would expect to pay around $2,500 - $3k for a US company to complete it in 2 months. Thats mostly for design work, with implementation being billed at between $80 and $100 per hour. Flash, Ajax, or server side scripting (blogs, calendars, etc.) would of course take longer.

Can you learn to do this yourself? Perhaps. But it will take you a while to grasp CSS and semantic markup and even longer to understand the principles of design.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 02:16
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Rob Allen
631 points
  • thanks for the comments. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • +1 well put, though I'd say that (including an identity package) $300 gets you the used scooter, $1000 gets the Aveo, $2000 gets the Corola, and $3500 is the Camry ;) – Alex Papadimoulis 8 years ago
  • @Alex, prices may vary. See dealer for participation and complete rules. Must take delivery from dealer stock... – Rob Allen 8 years ago
  • '...pay around $2,500 - $3k for a US company to complete it in 2 months'. I can't believe that it takes you **2** months to do a $2.5k job. – Graviton 7 years ago
  • @Graviton - That's 2 months elapsed time for the design, development and sign-off. Coding is a small chunk of that. – Rob Allen 7 years ago
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4

We considered buying a WP theme, but we realized that we could get a lot done by just paying a little.

We got a great offshore designer to design our main page + one content page for $300. Doing this works if you know HTML and can convert the html into a template. I can definitely connect you to our designer if you want.

The other alternative is to use a site like 99designs.com - which is great in that you can publicly see what the results are - as opposed to some designers showing only their best work.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 01:26
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Vineet
1,080 points
  • I will try that perhaps. For us to spend that much time working with people it is probably just as easy for us to learn how to use something like drupal or WP. We ultimately want control of the content and process - we don't want to be stuck with some nonstandard and one-off html. We don't know html and don't have the time to learn it. Our product's domain is very challenging and there is too much work just to do for theat. We'll have to figure this out I guess. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • You will need to learn how to *use* your CMS system regardless. You will not need to learn how to *setup* your CMS system. WP is much easier to setup, so you might want to consider doing that if you are time constrained (and if you don't need the sophisticated content creation capabilities). Beyond setup and usage of your CMS, you need to consider the appearance, i.e. WP themes. My above comment was was focusing on just that part. – Vineet 8 years ago
  • On the themes side you have three options: (1) You can use an off the shelf one (free or paid) and not have to work with many people. But the appearance will not be customized to your needs - for us we wanted something that at the least said that we are in the tech domain and a startup. (2) You can alternatively follow my recommendation: getting a graphic designer for cheap. (3) The last and most expensive, but least time consuming option is to get a local specialist who does everything (design and CMS setup). This person will likely charge the premium for being a one-stop shop. – Vineet 8 years ago
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3

Have you tried Haystack? You can find web designer with their previous portfolios displayed. This way you would know the quality of design the web designer will deliver in advance by looking at their previous designs.

answered Oct 31 '09 at 09:04
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Jpartogi
1,342 points

3

We went with a company that has posted on the JoS forums and based the site off a Wordpress theme I purchased for about $40.

So far it is a huge improvement over what we had. The process didn't go as well as I would have liked, but that was our fault for not having content ready beforehand.

Initially I assumed we could get a framework set up and fill in content afterwards - that is a little naive. I realize that now. The two sort of go hand in hand I think for those of us with little to no experience.

My partner does not want to use stock photos, but I think no images makes it very stark. It is not quite a wall of text, but it isn't very pleasing to the eye either.

The next iteration will probably really make it a great site -for now it is just OK for what we want. The real value is in the content anyway.

I just figured I'd follow-up.

There is another thread on this site with a discussion and links for WP themes. Some of them are pretty good.

answered Dec 20 '09 at 15:18
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Tim J
8,334 points
  • +1 For the follow up, it's always nice to see how the advice has helped. (And also for the link to the WP theme discussion.) – Zuly Gonzalez 8 years ago
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1

Did u try Weebly http://www.weebly.com/? That might work for you.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 01:24
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Web Thinker
430 points
  • Please don't abbreviate "you". This isn't a forum for 13 year olds. – Paul Mc Millan 8 years ago
  • @Paul McMillan - won't it be great when people get enough reputation points to start editing questions. :) – James Black 8 years ago
  • @James Black - yeah... I was momentarily taken aback by the lack of an edit button. – Paul Mc Millan 8 years ago
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1

If you follow the steps below, the most skills you would need: word-processor level content editing skills and elementary photoshop editing knowledge

1) Go to OSWD.org to get a neat free template
2) Go to NVU.com to get an open source webpage editing tool
3) Work a little bit around photoshop to get your custom graphics
4) Put it up on a cheap shared hosting package (in case you don't have one already)

(Check out domainsmafia.com for an unlimited hosting package they have on offer. (My company's sister-concern). The domain name's on the house. Get in touch for details.)

answered Oct 31 '09 at 07:09
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Dhaval Doshi
29 points

1

I would try something like Zooloo or Yola. You don't want a blog-driven web site from WordPress. And Drupal has a learning curve.

Also, I wouldn't discount the quality that you can get from Odesk or Elance. Since you have the luxury of reviewing the actual work that the people have done, you can get a pretty good sense of their capabilities.

answered Oct 31 '09 at 08:57
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Pbreit
379 points
  • There are plenty of decent wordpress sites that are not blog-centric. that is not good advice. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Care to link to any? – Pbreit 8 years ago
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1

Is this a sales website you are creating or is the site for an Saas application? Regardless, if you aren't webdesigners, I've always felt the templates at http://www.templatemonster.com/ can take you pretty far. And a lot of them are gorgeous.

I also second the mention of 960. Here's an extended 960 grid that includes a nice set of default styles and layout stuff: http://www.designinfluences.com/fluid960gs/. Just keeping your site simple like this can take you far, and then it's easy to add some tiny bits of color to make it your own.

Crowdspring and 99designs are also popular choices to get designs done for you (debate aside about spec work )

answered Nov 1 '09 at 01:22
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Nathan Kontny
1,865 points
  • We sell software to financial institutions. This is not a SAAs or sales website. It is information only - nothing interactive of social media or networky or web 2.0 (wtf that means) – Tim J 8 years ago
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1

If I were in your position, here's what I'd do.

  1. Get on WordPress
  2. Buy the Thesis theme. (this is a fantastic underlying framework for customization and SEO purposes) diythemes.com ($87 single or $164 unlimited)
  3. Buy the Themedy.com lifetime package for $210. (assuming you like one of their designs) These are "child" themes which ride on top of the Thesis theme. So you get the benefit of the Thesis framework, but your site doesn't have to look like every other blog.

I was able to get this set up on a brand new website (ySurvey.com) in less than 2 hours, including customization. For $374, you essentially never have to pay to have another site developed.

I used to be all about designing/developing websites from scratch, but unless you need your site to be extremely unique and cutting-edge, I love what can be done with this combination.

(I don't have any affiliation with these services other than that of adoring fan.)

answered Jun 24 '11 at 13:35
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Business Hut
11 points

1

Pay someone to do it. Your website is the first thing your customers will see about you, and a professional image is vitally important. Even if you don't plan on paying for other parts of your startup, a website will make the difference in how your customers perceive you.

Looking like you're two guys in a garage will not get you far. Do yourself the favor and get a good design. I'd offer my company's services, but it would be bad form and frankly, we're already currently swamped.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 01:39
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Paul Mc Millan
601 points
  • Yeah, the problem is I can't know how to evaluate these people. I don't know where to look for that and we want to control the content. – Tim J 8 years ago
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1

I would say go with Wordpress and check professionally developed themes such as woothemes.

answered Feb 5 '11 at 09:07
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Nilesh
420 points

1

I'd like to offer a different suggestion.

In my personal opinion, most web designers have no clue about selling online, but this is going to be your main problem -- whether you'd like to sell your product or a form to collect leads. If you have no clue about selling online, too, getting a designer is likely to be a waste of money.

Also, target audiences usually differ. You first need to make some experiences what elements do work. A proper A/B testing solution is more important than the design. In fact, there are even businesses with web designs from the last century but they still make money.

So, I'd start with a very simple solution:

  • Either pick a proper CSS framework, such as Blueprint or 960 grid system. Sometimes, this may even be sufficient. Depending on your product, though, you may need to spice it up with stock images or a slide show.
  • Or you can simply use a standard theme for the beginning. Themeforest is really inexpensive. For example, the Quadro web theme looks fine for a desktop app. Check the cooperate category for more "serious" designs if you're targeting businesses. Of course, you may also use similar services.

Then, simply use Wordpress for a standard CMS solution, a simple CMS based on a web framework like RubyonRails or Django or maybe even a set of static pages.

The only real exception to the rule is the need for a certain emotional atmosphere. If that doesn't hold, you better spend your money on a good copy writer.

Hope that helps.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 03:15
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Claus Schwarm
1,599 points

1

This question was posted a long time ago, but here are my 2 cents.

Self-hosted Wordpress + Thesis Theme are the value leaders in blog / lightweight CMS systems. You specifically want the Thesis theme, because it was designed for easy customization of the entire look'n'feel. If you want lots of flexibility at a low price point, then you can't do much better than this. Wordpress still has a learning curve though, and if you're self-hosting then you need a VPS, and need to secure it, do backups of it, etc.

If you need a zero-maintenance solution, then Squarespace is a good candidate.

If you want a handful of mostly static pages with a goodlooking design, then a proposal could be:

  1. Head over to your favorite designer for hire site (99designs, Elance, etc) and set up a request for a design. Keep it to something that would be easy to realize in HTML, i.e. simple columns, header, footer. You're looking for a Photoshop file as the end result.
  2. When you have the design, send it to one of the PSD -> HTML conversion services. These are generally small shops in low-cost countries which will create a full HTML page for you from a Photoshop file for fx 199 USD.
  3. 'Cut' the HTML file up into header, footer etc and put each into its own separate file. Use a simple PHP include to include these sub-sections into each individual page you make (just like old-school Server Side Includes). Create the pages you need, and upload them to any webhost that supports PHP (no database needed). You may need to do a little bit of PHP programming, for example to highlight the current page in the navigation menu, and similar little tweaks. You can find cut'n'paste PHP recipes for all common needs by googling.

A good thing about this DYI PHP templating approach is that each delivery to you is small and self contained. You should be able to find portfolios for the suppliers you're working with, asses the quality, and get a reasonably good result at a low price and with relatively low risk.

The downside to this DYI design competition is that it will take time. Just writing down what you want, steering the designers in the right direction etc will take some time and energy. But if you want a good end result, then you'll need to involve yourself and micro-manage to some extent.

answered Dec 21 '09 at 15:25
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Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points

0

Here's what I plan to to do:

  1. Hire a visual designer and give him lots of information on what we want to convey.
  2. Take his visual design and have someone code that up as CSS3+Javascript+HTML.
  3. Do the draft of the text myself (I've got a fair amount of sales and Marcom experience).
  4. Maybe have a copywriter review it for possible improvements.
answered Feb 3 '12 at 22:59
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Clay Nichols
737 points

0

Depending on your service you could do a barter for the website.

10 pages, no interactivity, should be just a couple days work, depending on how much you have laid it out.

You could look at something like: http://bluefish.openoffice.nl/, and see about just laying out the page yourself.

Then, you may decide that you need a designer more than anything else, as they can come in and make it look more polished, perhaps some tweaks on graphics, or colors, for example.

By doing the initial layout, when you talk with people you could ask then what they would change, and see how competent they seem, at least at UI design.

By bartering you may be able to find someone that wants a free subscription for a year, or something, for doing it, if your site appeals to that person.

I am considering offering a program for the gym I go to, as it would simplify their process of having parent sign children into the daycare, and they could just give me a years free membership, or something.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 01:54
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James Black
2,642 points
  • I'd tend to disagree with the first part of your advice: part of what you're paying a good designer for is content layout, and a good web person does more than writing a couple stylesheets for you. If you've already laid out the content, you unnecessarily tie their hands in the overall design. Of course, don't forget that in the end, the content is YOUR responsibility, not the designers. – Paul Mc Millan 8 years ago
  • Bartering is not going to be useful for us. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • @Paul McMillan - If they are trying to cut costs then doing what they can, without learning css and html, would be beneficial. I recently had a client tell me that they wanted their site to look much like another site, but I had some comments, such as the fact that on IE the model site looked different than on IE. So, even if they have something they like, to make it work well on all supported browsers will take work, but it gives you a starting point as everyone has an idea what they want. – James Black 8 years ago
  • @Tim - If bartering won't work then your best bet is just to develop a network that includes some web designers and see what kind of deal can be made. – James Black 8 years ago
  • Network? Why can't I just go hire someone? why does everything have to be a network? – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Though you are a C++ programmer, doing a good website requires different skills. You could pay a lot of money to a company to do this, but, how well will they really work with you? If there is someone you know, that knows someone that they can vouch for, then there is a better likelihood that this person can work with you, as your friend should have an idea what type of person would help you. When you hire a stranger, it is harder to judge whether their skills will match up with what you need. – James Black 8 years ago
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-1

If your website needs aren't complex, use static HTML website. For 10 page content website, Wordpress would be overkill. Static HTML websites are servered to visitors with minimal server processing. With Wordpress, you'll waste your resources in PHP and MySQL processing. Less resource consumption means more traffic in same cost. So, go for static HTML website.

When it comes to designing, go to Weebly and create a website. They have many good-looking professional templates. The service is free as long as you agree to keep "Powered by Weebly" link at bottom of the website. Just, export the website here and you'll get all HTML files without "Powered by Weebly" link. Host it. Done!

To edit website, log in to Weebly, edit your website and export again. Replace previous files with new ones on server. Done!

answered Aug 30 '12 at 19:21
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Sachin Shekhar
260 points

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