Some business owners can do it all: find the commercial space for their business, paint it, install the new light fixtures, find affordable office furniture online, source and hire all their employees via Craigslist, design their own business cards/print ads/online ads, and then actually do the work of their business too.
These people are amazing. Hats off to you, multitalented business owners!
These people are also working with the same 24 hours in a day as the people who go another route: outsourcing. These outsourcers pay a commission to the commercial real estate agent, hourly rates to the painters and electricians, flat fees to the interior designers, listing fees with online job search boards, and a package fee for graphic design. They have lighter pockets at the end of the day -- less money to invest in their business -- but more time to spend on their core work.
Rock on, outsourcers. You know your limits!
When it comes to your web site, these same two personality types also apply. Some business owners like to pay for the bare minimum of work from their web consultants, then learn to do as much as possible on their own. Some business owners want to hire experts to do everything from the design to the content to the maintenance. Which kind of site owner are you? Ths article will help you find the right balance of heavy lifting and outsourcing for your skills, budget, and style.
Heavy Workload vs. Lotsa Outsourcing
When you start the process of building a web site, there are lots of project components. If you wanted, you could manage each of these on your own or you could outsource every last one of them:
- Discovery: the process of deciding, based on your current state-of-affairs and your business goals, what your new web site needs
- Design: looking at both existing identity materials and your business aesthetic to choose a look-and-feel for your web site and online presence
- Functionality: picking the technology infrastructure and tools you need to do your business' work online
- Content: writing the words and finding the images that will make up the actual meat of your web site
- Marketing: developing and executing a plan for getting the word out about your site and your work -- including via search engines and social media
Believe it or not, you could do all of those things yourself with very minimal support from internet professionals -- or even with no support at all. However, very few people want to do that. The question is: which tasks are most likely to go better in your hands, and which are more likely to be handled better by a professional?
Heavy Workload pros: You will spend less time explaining your business to someone else and more time diving into the nitty gritty of your business model online. Real navel-gazing about how you'll do your work better/faster/bigger online can be easier to do internally.
Heavy Workload cons: If this is your first web site -- or if you're looking to make big changes -- you might not know the right questions to ask yourself. Things you might think are standard might not make your requirements list, and then later, you could discover that you're missing something big.
Outsourcing pros: Your consultants have likely made hundreds of sites. They know how others use their sites, especially if they've worked in your industry before, and will know exactly the right questions to ask. When they return a requirements document to you, you'll know how what you're getting and will be able to see any potential holes.
Outsourcing cons: The consultants who conduct discovery don't know your business like you do. They'll need to spend time asking you detailed questions about your business history, customer base, and processes. The process can feel long and involved -- and in fact, if your consultants are good, it should feel like that -- and can be expensive, especially since its only product is a document.
Heavy Workload pros: You'll save money. Design takes time, and doing it yourself is just plain cheaper. If you have the patience of a saint and all the time in the world, plus some design knowledge, this is a good way to save your budget for other things.
Heavy Workload cons: Unless you are a professional designer, you'll likely drive yourself nuts trying to learn the software and -- in the case of the styling of web content -- the Cascading Style Sheets code. It will take you far longer than a professional, and, quite often, the complexities of modern web design force non-professionals to choose either bang-your-head-against-the-desk-frustration with the complicated processes OR limited-choices pre-made design sites that offer limited, cookie-cutter templates.
Outsourcing pros: A designer who knows what she's doing will take your existing aesthetic and turn it into a web site that represents you, even if you couldn't have pictured it before she shows it to you. That's the gift of years of experience and a great eye. Hiring someone with that set of attributes means you'll end up with a beautiful looking site without dedicating hours of your own time.
Outsourcing cons: Money. This is often the most time-consuming piece of a project, and if your designer gets it totally wrong -- i.e., he misinterpreted what you wanted -- then it can be frustrating to see it and feel so misunderstood. Redesigning takes time and, depending on your contract, can cost more, too. This process is definitely not cheap.
There is no point in discussing the pros of doing your own functionality development unless your business is web development. Choosing software and platform, hosting and programming are not jobs for inexperienced do-it-yourself-ers. If you are working on a new web site, this piece is best implemented by a professional.
In other words: don't try this at home.
Heavy Workload pros: If you have had a web site before, or if you already have some content prepared about your business from grant proposals, brochures, or elsewhere, you may be able to reuse some of this on your site. You know your business and its work, persona, and attitude better than anyone else. Writing your own content -- and providing the visual content (photos, etc.) that accompany it may be totally within your expertise. It's cheaper this way, and you will likely be able to capture your firm's essence better than a stranger.
Heavy Workload cons: If you're not a great writer, this is an easy route to looking unprofessional. Buzzword-filled descriptions, grammar and spelling errors, and writing that's not designed for the online reader can turn off your potential customers very quickly. Not including the kind of structure that search engines are currently using to assess the readability of a page can wreck your search engine rankings. Doing this poorly can make your beautiful site almost useless as a marketing tool.
Outsourcing pros: Web content writing is a whole specialty unto itself these days. Most web consulting companies now either employ a content writer or have a bevy of freelancers to which they outsource this work. Even the geeks know that they need good writers nowadays. You'll get content optimized for the web, written to bring in the kind of traffic you're seeking, and, ideally, in a voice that's consistent with your business persona.
Outsourcing cons: It's not free, and it may feel extravagant to hire someone to write for you when you've been practicing your elevator speech for years and can elaborate on it at a moment's notice. In addition, once you start, it can be a slippery slope -- you may love the work so much that you decide to hire your writer for blog posts, brochures, and other written pieces. Ghost-written pieces are like potato chips: so hard to enjoy just one.
Heavy workload pros: You have a mailing list, an email list, a storefront, social media pages, and all kinds of other vehicles for announcing your new site. You can use all of these places to share the information you want to share, and it won't cost you a thing. You can buy Facebook and Twitter ads yourself, too.
Heavy workload cons: Do you know what time your users tend to be online on Facebook? on Twitter? Are they more likely to open up your emails in the morning or in the late afternoon? on which day(s) are they most likely? Should you put a QR code in your window? How do you make a QR code? Do people even use QR codes anymore? If you don't know the answers to these questions, they're easy to find -- it just takes time. Lots of time. Lots and lots of time and research. If you have other things you'd like to be doing with your time, too bad. You're now doing content marketing part-time.
Outsourcing pros: Professional content marketers know all of the answers to those questions above, plus answers to questions you haven't even thought to ask. This job is one of those new world careers that didn't exist ten years ago, and the pace at which online marketing changes is astounding. Using someone whose full-time job it is to stay on top of every change means you can ignore every article that comes out about the use of social media for your business, and focus your attention on other things.
Outsourcing cons: Perhaps more than any of the other services above, using a content marketing specialist means you have to give her a tremendous amount of trust. She'll be the voice of your business out in the world -- posting on social media, getting your business in front of the right audiences, sharing your content in the places she thinks will be right for you. Scads of stories of bad online marketing done by an intern or a rogue employee are enough to scare anyone into trying to manage it on their own.
Tips for the Best of Both Worlds
- Be honest about your skills. If you've never opened a graphic design program before, don't try to do your own design. If you don't have a clear sense of the difference between using an SAAS like SquareSpace and a self-hosted CMS like WordPress, don't try to make the choice for yourself. If, however, you've been writing about your work for years and feel confident in your abilities, by all means save some money and write your content yourself.
- Be honest about your time. Do you really have time to add all the content to your site on your own? Is your schedule open enough to manage your site's launch on social media and in email blasts without an assistant? If not, you'll only frustrate yourself trying to get it all done. If you have time to do a few things, pick the ones where you're likely to be most successful with the smallest time commitment.
- Choose strong partners you can trust. If you have to outsource, take the time to find consultants and partners who give you a feeling of confidence, both in their skills and work ethic and their compatibility with your personality. If you're going to turn over pieces of your business operations to these people -- even temporarily -- be sure you like them.
It's difficult to let go of the reins for any segment of your business' journey into the public eye. When it comes to your web site, however, we recommend a balance of control and acquiescence to trusted experts. There's a time and a place for both!