Joey Rubin, a partner in the Los Angeles restaurant Neighbor, had a website for his business. But he realized it wasn't enough. He wanted something unique, something that better mimicked his carefully thought-out brick-and-mortar operation and offered more freedom to showcase images. So he hired design firm Original Thought to come up with a new one. "We built the brand, the restaurant, the interior, the kitchen, the staff," Rubin says. "We had to build an original site, too."
His experience is familiar to many founders. By now, if you have a business, you have a website. But as your company grows, you may find that the do-it-yourself site that you built for little or no cost on a platform like Wix or Squarespace no longer meets your needs. Maybe you're in the market for a signature look that stands out from your competitors', or maybe you need more than you once did--a more sophisticated system of cataloging products, or the ability to process simultaneous transactions, or an inventory-tracking system that can scale. If so, it may be time to hire a developer, a designer, or a consultant--or some combination of the three.
First, says Melanie Spring, founder of the marketing strategy firm Branded Confidence, decide what you'll need from a new site. Do you need a calendar that communicates with a back-office reservation system, or an online catalog of products that's tied to a back-office warehouse? Both require an API--an application protocol interface, which is how web-based systems talk to one another--and typically a developer who can enable that communication.
Be prepared to take a hard look at your budget. Brent Lightner, founder of the digital agency Taoti Creative, has a simple rule: "If you have less than $10,000 to invest in your website, figure out how to make Squarespace or Wix work. When your budget is closer to $25,000, think about hiring a developer to build a more customized site." A consultant, while an additional expense, can help you sort through the options if you have complex needs.
Mukesh Vidyasagar, a founder of Cappsure It, which sells software that allows landscapers to track field crews' activities in real time, hired a marketing consultant with online design experience to map out an upgraded version of his company's site, which had been built with Wix. "He laid it all out using Elementor," says Vidyasagar, referring to a website building tool that works with the popular WordPress platform. The new version "is way more sophisticated" than his original site, which had limitations with load speeds and integrating other kinds of marketing software.
You should also keep in mind that more users now access websites from mobile devices than from computers. That means your new site should be designed to shine on smartphones. "Don't worry so much about the desktop version of the site," says Spring. "Design backward. Think about the mobile users and what they can see."
Originality is key, but avoid the temptation to layer on too many bells and whistles. What can you do without? Video with sound and "too many moving things," Spring says, can put off potential customers and make websites take longer to load. And remember that Flash, Adobe's software for viewing multimedia, may have been all the rage in the aughts, but now it's out. "Kill it," says Spring. "Your phone doesn't process Flash," which, given current web-browsing trends, makes it all but irrelevant. If no one sees your beautiful
new site, does it exist at all?
Finding Your Next Web Developer
1. Scan Your Favorites
Have no idea how to find a developer? "Find a site that you really like," says Melanie Spring of Branded Confidence, "and scroll to the bottom to see who did it." It's easier and a better bet than trolling online job boards.
2. Ask--Then Verify
Once you've amassed some potential candidates, either freelancers or agencies, let them take the wheel. "Say, 'Here's what I want to do. What do you recommend?'" says Brent Lightner of Taoti Creative. But then look at other sites they've created with the content management system they recommend for your business. "Make sure the agency you hire has experience in the platform that it'll be using," says Lightner.
3. Check Compatibility
Find out what plug-ins are compatible with the platform they're suggesting. For example, "How easy is it to use with a Shopify add-on?" asks Spring. OpenTable allows restaurants to process online reservations without building a proprietary system, and many health and wellness businesses use Mindbody to manage class schedules and sell sessions.
4. Consider Contingencies
Then, assess your ability or someone else's to update the website if the developer is unreachable. "Ask them, 'What's the ability for someone else to work on it if you get hit by a car?'" says Spring. "'Are you documenting it? What training do I need to update the site, and can you document that also?'" Rubin made sure that he could update his restaurant's site at 11 p.m. on a Saturday without having to call his developer. "We're able to control it fully," he says. "It's our website."