When you've been living without a web site for a long time, gathering the intestinal fortitude -- and what you imagine to be the appropriate funding -- to build one, it can be incredibly difficult to hold reasonable expectations for it in your head. Even if you already have a web site, and therefore believe you have a sense of what goes into the development process, your understanding of what is involved might be skewed by any number of factors. At some point, there will be a moment when you realize the time has come to hire someone and jump in, head first. Now that you're ready, you realize you should have launched the darned thing yesterday. And it should have been awesome.
Sadly, the old chestnut "You want it fast, cheap, and good? Pick two," is extra double super-accurate when it comes to building a web site. Today, I'd like to talk about what happens in each combination and, if your project has some limitations, how to pick the best combination of these options. Just like with chocolate chip cookies, there's a million ways to make a web site.
Fast and Cheap
This is the biggest temptation for most business owners. If someone tells you they can build you a full-featured web site for $500 in 3 business days, that's what you're getting -- a great price and fast turnaround. So, what are you likely missing? Quality.
How This Gets Done: To make a website quickly without spending too much billable time on it, developers use templates, pre-built functionality without customization, and an approach very much like those slice-and-bake tubes of cookie dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. The site will work, and it will be done quickly, but it will look a lot like the other sites this firm has done before.
Advantages: Your commitment of everything is very limited. You can get a site up and running for not much money and, given the timeframe, not much input and collaboration required on your end. If you don't love it, you haven't wasted much time or money. If you have an event (tradeshow, opening, etc.) coming up, and your budget has been blown elsewhere, this is the only way you can get a site up and running.
Disadvantages: Obviously, we're not talking about a quality marketing piece for you. Someday, even if that's not today, you'll regret having ignored quality in favor of "just slap something up there quickly, and don't spend too much on it!"
Fast and Good
You're opening your boutique in two weeks and, for whatever reason, you just now realized that you couldn't build the web site yourself. Maybe Etsy has been enough for you until now, or maybe you tried something with an SAAS like SquareSpace or Wix and decided it was beyond you. Now you are in a blind panic and reach out to a web developer that another nearby business owner used and liked. The deadline is absolutely FIXED. Cost is not an issue; this site needs to be fantastic and done yesterday, whatever it takes.
How This Gets Done: The developers working on the site will put in long hours, both with you in person or on the phone or over email and alone, at all hours of the day. They'll spend some of their (a.k.a. your) budget on outsourcing whatever they can to get it done more quickly, and marking up those hours to make it worth their while to supervise these external resources. They will ask you to make decisions quickly, and they'll probably put you at the very top of their list for the short time you work together. This is the web site equivalent to the most delicious gourmet cookie you've ever eaten, a real treat you savor.
Advantages: When your developer gives you a price for a rush job and you say "fine, fine, just DO IT," you can pretty much guarantee that you have their full attention. In addition, if your priorities are this intense, your developer will also have your full attention whenever she needs your feedback on any piece of the project. This builds a strong working relationship which can last into future -- hopefully less frought -- stages of your web site's life cycle.
Disadvantages: Your developer may develop more than your web site -- she may develop the sense, right or wrong, that you have deep pockets and poor time management skills. To avoid this, make sure you explain the situation in as much detail as you can so that she knows why time is so short and money so low a priority.
Cheap and Good
Some might argue that you can't get something good for cheap, but I have seen it done. Here is where your neighbor, nephew, or old-college-friend-in-a-career-change come into play. It may be that someone you know is willing to build your site for cheap or even for free, either as a favor or because they're trying to gain exposure and build their portfolio. It's not the worst option in the world...unless you are in any hurry at all.
How This Gets Done: Who knows? Someone read a book, or took an online class, or taught himself from an online tutorial. There is a lot of trial and error, building and tearing down and rebuilding and experimenting. Your developer may disappear for weeks at a time, and then suddenly need answers from you about several things all at once before disappearing again. At some point, it gets launched, and then the developer may or may not stick around to support the site going forward. If this web site was a cookie, you ate it at a potluck once. It was awesome, but the person who baked it moved away -- or maybe they improvised it without a recipe, so they can't make it again.
Advantages: Obviously, cheap is good, and when good comes for cheap, how can that be bad? (Say that three times fast.) Having something you like that didn't cost much is a business owner's dream.
Disadvantages: Did you want that web site done this week? This month? This quarter? Maybe that will happen. It's hard to say. After all, exams are coming soon for your college student nephew, your neighbor just got a new job that's keeping him pretty busy, and your buddy decided he wants to take a class in Joomla before he gets back to working on your site. If you're not paying a real professional for a real project, you very well might eventually get a good product -- but it's not going to be soon.
Let me be honest: the best option -- better than any above -- is to adjust your expectations and your planning process. Quality should be the number one driver of your vendor selection process, followed by some combination of time and price priorities. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.