So, you need to build a website? The truth is that not every project needs the attention of a team of web professionals.

On the other hand, let’s be realistic. Although everything you would need to learn to create a website is readily available, you probably don’t want to make building one your full-time job.

The good news is that when you start a website, knowledge will translate into savings. Here are a few strategies to make sure that you spend your limited budget on things that bring the most value to your site.

Assuming that you have a budget, you set aside some time to learn some basics, and you’re ready to ask many, many questions, let’s begin!

The Hidden Costs of Free

First, we need to talk. You absolutely need to budget something even if you plan to do much of the work yourself. Although you can find eleventy million free elements for your website, you’re always trading one or more of the hidden costs below:

  • Limited Quality and Selection: You’ll need to spend time to find the right item or the level of quality that you need. You may have to do some work to customize and process whatever you’re using to get it to work.
  • Restrictions on Use: You have to abide by terms of use, which can mean adding credit and a link to the creator. You agree to follow restrictions on modifying the work or using it for commercial use. For elements like logos, you’re not going to have exclusive rights.
  • Advertisements: You’ll have to see ads on the free websites or pleas for support, asking you to donate. Theme or plugin creators will often include links in the back-end of your site asking you to upgrade.
  • Lack of critical features: The features that provide the most value will only available for a fee.
  • Privacy: You may need to give your personal information, your email for a newsletter list, or opt-in to data collection.
  • No support or documentation: You may find the right thing, but you’ll have to troubleshoot any problems. Creators can discontinue support or abandon the project at any time.
  • Unlicensed or pirated versions: This has so many legal, privacy, and security risks that it’s not worth considering.

When you don’t set any budget for your website, you’re going to need to make your own trade-offs. You’re agreeing to do things like investing more time learning things or scaling back what you can do. At best, this means you’ll have to get very creative. At worse, this means paying to get yourself out of a problem or a wrong decision.

Since we know that you’ll have to spend some money on a website at least at some point, here are the best ways to spend it:

Saving Money on a Website

Start with WordPress

You’ve probably seen the ads or advice encouraging beginners to use services like Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly. Just be aware that these are walled gardens. Depending on the service, you’re going to have limited or no access to essential services like using your own domain as a free user. Since they’re proprietary platforms, it’s also not easy or impossible to export your site if you decide to use something else later.

If you’re looking to save money in the long-run, using WordPress is a wise choice.

With WordPress, you’re using open-source software, so the options are unlimited. It has the advantage of being the most popular web content management system, it has a large and helpful community of users, and so many free resources and tutorials.

You can find managed WordPress hosting plans that will handle the setup and maintenance for you for a low monthly fee, so it’s about the same cost or lower than the pricing tiers on Wix or Squarespace. The benefit is that you’re in full control of your domain and your data.

Let Your Web Host Configure the Site

For new and existing site owners, check the list of services included in your plan.

Web hosting companies have stepped up their game over the past few years. They have been adding more hosting plan levels, including ones where they do most of the work of setting up a new site. They are also offering more benefits like free domain registration, backups, staging sites, email setup, security configuration, and discounts on other services.

Remember that you’re responsible for looking after your site for the cheapest shared hosting plans. To save on technical support, make use of all the help that your host offers. Ask for advice on how to set things up whenever necessary. Some hosting companies partner with agencies and developers to give you free or discounted services if you do need more help.

Take Advantage of Free Support and Premium Plugins

WordPress technical support is also free and responsive if you use the official forums and choose a popular plugin. If the problem is a bug or a reasonable feature request, you’ll get the issue resolved in a future version.

In most cases, you can get the most value from upgrading to the paid or pro versions of the plugins you need. You get the advanced features along with faster and more personalized answers to your questions. The cost can be between $10 – $50, and some even have an option for lifetime updates. When you compare this to a developer’s billable hours, even the products that are $100 per year are vastly under-priced.

Saving Money on Graphic Design

Choose Subscriptions over Individual Stock Graphics Downloads

It may be counter-intuitive, but a subscription can be the way to save most on stock photos, illustrations, and videos.

Since it’s rare to have a design that doesn’t go through multiple revisions, it’s nice to be able to change graphics without having any further costs. A subscription is usually the same cost as buying a few items, you typically have access to higher quality work, and it lets you set a fixed budget in advance.

Use Professionally-Designed Templates for Print and Online Marketing

If you’re not creative or don’t have someone creative to design for you, the best option is to buy templates. Even for people who have some design experience, the results are sometimes better than spending hours work out a design.

You get the advantage of someone’s design expertise along with a way for you to make it your own. You can get templates for almost everything like print brochures, banner ads, social media campaigns, presentations, or documents, so there’s no excuse to do this on your own.

Use Adobe’s Editing Software

Using the free software that comes with your Mac or in Windows is going to limit what you can do. Much like with WordPress, you can find an unlimited amount of free resources if you use software like Adobe Photoshop. Since Adobe offers a cheap monthly subscription, this could be worth the cost if editing images or using free or low-cost templates is something that you routinely do.

Choose a High-Value WordPress Theme

For WordPress site design, a great theme should offer individual page designs, not just a pretty homepage. For example, a theme that includes what you need to build a beautiful contact page or a product list will save you more time than one with just a generic sub-page layout.

In many cases, you may only need free themes or plugins. Look for themes that are listed in the official WordPress.org Theme Directory. Those themes have to pass a review of the coding quality and security, unlike other theme and plugin selling sites.

Choose free themes that have a paid version. It’s more likely to be updated regularly in the future, and you can upgrade to get better features. If there is a problem that requires troubleshooting or custom code, you can contact someone before looking to hire someone else to fix it.

Saving Money if You Need Expert Advice

Know When to Get Help

Saving money is a good goal, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your project or mission. Uninformed decisions or having the wrong strategy can cost many times what someone might have charged for the work.

If you feel like you’re getting over your head, especially with technical topics, you can turn to tutorials and courses. They can give you more context and walk you through a subject in more depth than you would find from Google searches. Just make sure that the information is up-to-date and relevant to your goals. Most instructors or platforms will also grant you access to online study groups or forums where you can get more help.

Post in Online Forums or Groups

So, if you need help with a specific issue, you can post on any of the many online communities to get more personal advice. This could be on specialized forums, technical question and answer sites like StackOverflow, or any number of Facebook groups.

Take the answers you get with a grain of salt. Just be aware that those who respond might not give you the right advice, experts might disagree, and everyone has their own biases or agendas. That said, when you ask questions, be sure to give enough context about the problem and examples since your fellow members don’t won’t have much time to spend following up on your issue. When you do get a helpful response, make sure you understand the implications or ask to clarify.

Use Freelancing Platforms for the Right Type of Projects

If you choose one of the many freelancer sites, have well-defined tasks with specific technical requirements and a clear way to evaluate the work. Knowing how to measure whether the freelancer has met the project’s requirements is essential. You’ll need to be able to decide when to release payment or send work back for revisions.

Discussions about broad strategy and advice beyond the current project aren’t normally within the scope of these services.

Getting Help from Local Consultants

If you need more extensive or ongoing help, it will make sense to hire someone to help. Since the cost of a website can vary from one company to the next, you’ll get a sense of what it should cost by getting more than one quote. To be prepared, you’ll need to figure out these three things:

  1. Details about what you’d like to accomplish with your site
  2. A time frame or date when it needs to be launched
  3. What you’d like to spend

Even if you don’t end up starting a project with someone, always be nice! You may be surprised at how helpful some people will be. If the timeline or budget is not something they can meet, you can ask for advice to point you in the right direction or for a referral.

There’s always the possibility that a little kindness will save you money on future projects.

Good luck!

This article was originally published on the PM Digital Consulting blog.

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