As online entrepreneurs, we know that our website is one of the most important aspects of our brand. It’s where people get the whole picture of our biz and the person (or people) behind it, and where they find out if we’re the magic answer to their prayers.

It’s also where a boatload of our time, energy, and stress is centered within our business.

For anyone who’s not a web designer, not a coder, or not a DIY queen, the website can be a scary, confusing place. We often use a free or low-cost theme, then play around until we figure out how things work. But we’re often left with more questions and problems than answers. “How do I change this color? This font drives me crazy; where can I switch it out? I want to put my signup form over HERE, not there!”

Despite all this, most of us end up with a site that works. Or at least one we can stand until we can afford to have a professional design and build one for us. But when does it actually make sense to pay someone those big dollars to create a custom website just for us?

When Your Current Site Isn’t Getting the Job Done

A lot of us notice early on that our websites are lacking in some way. Either they don’t have the built-in widget areas we need to feature our most important information, or they don’t allow us to customize things the way we prefer.

Any time we’re trying to add something to our website but can’t because of theme limitations, we get a little frustrated. Eventually, those little frustrations evolve into a big ball of dissatisfaction. When you feel that way, you should know that it’s time to upgrade your website to something that will serve you, and your client, better.

When You Have Extra Money to Blow

Obviously this doesn’t happen often. So let’s change this to “When You Can Afford to Invest”. Because that’s what we’re really talking about here: investing in your business.

When a custom website costs anywhere from two thousand to a million dollars (or in the famous case of the U.S. government, 18 million), you need to plan carefully for that major cost. You don’t want to spend your entire income and savings on a website, thinking that it will be the answers to your prayers and it’ll provide instant return on your investment. While that can happen, it’s not always the case, and assuming that it will be for your biz is just naive.

Instead, save your pennies until you have enough set aside that paying for your custom website won’t impact any of your other business expenses or operations. How do you do this? Start searching for the designer/developer you want early, find out their prices, and then put your money aside until you reach the goal. And actually, I recommend that you save an extra 10–20% of the cost, because chances are you’ll decide you want an upgrade, need an added feature you didn’t consider before, or run into some unforeseen obstacle. I’m feeling the need to tout the Boy Scouts motto here: “Always be prepared.”

When You Can’t Resist Temptation Any Longer

For a lot of us, our biz is like our first (or third, or twelfth) child. We like to spoil our children; to make sure they have everything they need to be successful in life. That might mean we buy them new clothes (pay a designer), provide them with the latest technology (hire a developer), and put them through college (finesse the SEO, perfect the site speed, and give everything a thick coat of polish).

As humans, we can’t help wanting the products of our lives to shine. So it’s natural to dream of a big splashy website (or a small elegant one) for our business.

When you can’t say no to that desire any longer, you’re going to invest in your website, whether it’s the smartest use of your resources, or not. Just remember, don’t let your fancy new site bankrupt your biz. No designer’s work is worth the end of your company.

How to Plan for your Custom Website

There are a couple steps you should take when you start thinking about investing in a custom website for your biz. They can happen in any order, but going through each of them ensures that your new website will be the best it can be.

  1. Plan your Website Needs: Going through the process of figuring out what you really need for your website (pages, optin forms, blog layouts, content, etc) will make finding the perfect designer and keeping your budget on track a lot easier. When you know ahead of time that you’ll be needing a client portal or using a membership plugin, it allows you to focus on finding a designer who specializes in those sorts of things. On the flip side, when you don’t need those things, it helps you keep your budget on track by going with a less pricey designer who transforms the simple into the remarkable.
  2. Determine your Budget: You can’t hope to get a new website up and ready to go without having an idea of your budget. It dictates the quality you’ll get out of your investment, and the level of expertise in whatever designer you choose. While not everyone can afford to drop a couple thou on a website, if you plan carefully and really identify your needs, you’ll discover you can justify it for the RIGHT design. My advice? If you find a designer you love and know they’ll do amazing things for your brand, but can’t afford them, wait a little longer. It’s better to keep your existing site in place for an extra couple weeks or months and end up with the right website instead of dropping your standards to fit your budget, only to discover it’s all wrong when it’s done.
  3. Find a Designer + Developer: Whether your designer + developer are two separate people or the same, you need to find people whose style you like, work you trust, and personality you get along with. The close relationship between a client and designer is often overlooked in the excitement of the new toy: the website. Once you’re into the process, this can become a problem because you’re reliant on each other for deliverables, feedback, and regular communication. If the two (or three) of you don’t mesh, you’ll end up irritated with each other and finishing the site won’t be the fun process you were hoping for. But before even that, make sure you’re researching your potential designers to make sure their work is solid, their clients have wonderful things to say about them, and their business is legitimate. Nothing worse than getting hustled over the biggest investment in your biz.

Hopefully all of this has helped you figure out if you’re ready to invest in a custom website for your biz, and how to start the process. When it all goes smoothly and you end up with a product you love, you’ve hit success. If it goes the other way, or you’ve had bad experiences in the past, I hope you’re able to push through and come out the other side stronger. Remember, research is your friend!