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Cheap web designer disappearingSo here’s some­thing I left out of my “Why Website Prices Vary” post because it can be a touchy subject. So first, let me say that most web designers I know are superb, tal­ented people who only want to help. That said, the exper­i­enced ones are rarely cheap web designers.

Still, I have just spoken to yet another dis­tressed small business owner. His cheap web designer had left him in the lurch with a broken website and no access to fix it.

Other business owners had told him this was “typical” of “flaky” designers. They all just assumed the worst of our entire industry. Even web designers rarely discuss it, just pointing out that you get what you pay for. Still, it is pre­dictable and avoidable.

So having politely avoided the topic for over twenty years in the field, it’s time to explain. Partly to warn small busi­nesses and startups, and perhaps to help some avoid doing it.

Sadly, yes, cheap web designers often dis­appear, giving the rest of us a bad name. So learn to spot the signs and don’t risk your business on them. Still, don’t assume malice, either. Very few deserve that.

Who Are They?

The back­grounds and motives of these web designers vary, but most think they are helping. They know many small firms aren’t very web-savvy. They know (or think) they are. What they don’t under­stand is business, or the need for ongoing support.

So they aren’t bad people, or typ­ically flaky. Some of them are tal­ented, exper­i­enced web pro­fes­sionals.

Others aren’t, but think building a business website is just a matter of a few pretty pic­tures and a DIY web building platform. As if buying a spanner could make them an engineer. They may have tried it for them­selves, or built a per­sonal site or two (which are totally dif­ferent).

The key factor is that they think they can make a bit of spare cash as a cheap web designer.

…and there’s the problem. No com­mitment. To them, it’s a bit of spare cash, and “cheap” is all that matters.

However, “cheap” isn’t all that matters. Cost-effect­iveness matters, but that’s subtly dif­ferent. After all, I’m keen on providing cost-effective small business web­sites. “Cost-effective” is an investment. “Cheap” isn’t.  Anyway…

How Is This A Problem?

The web isn’t a stable envir­onment. Nor is business. Technologies, markets, security threats and design trends all evolve con­stantly. Your website is a mar­keting vehicle in an off-road race, and any vehicle needs main­tenance. Otherwise, it will break. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll even­tually want to make changes that you can’t do without help.

So you call your cheap web designer — but they’ve moved on. Not just to a skate park, though (unless you hired a real amateur or sought favours from friends or family).

More likely, they have a new job, project or con­tract — maybe even a new family of their own. They may now make more in a day than they charged you for several weeks of site setup. Many earn over £750 a week as employees, or several times that as con­tractors.

Sadly, that means you aren’t their pri­ority any more. Possibly not even in an emer­gency.

…but they aren’t bad people. They feel guilty about that. So they “ghost” you. Like that helps.

Then you find you can’t even get enough access for someone else to take the site on. Even “your” domain name may not be registered to you. So your only option is to start from scratch on a less-than-ideal new domain name, building a site that will have to compete with your old one until the hosting or domain on that one expires.

Yes, that really happens. More often than you’d like to think.

How do I know this? Partly because people like me deal with the fallout. Partly because I’ve mentored a lot of web pro­fes­sionals, and know some have been tempted to do this, though I trust they didn’t.

How Can You Avoid This?

You can easily avoid this. Don’t treat your website like a one-off, fire-and-forget cost-cutting exercise. It’s probably the most important mar­keting asset your business will have — and it will need ongoing main­tenance. So take that investment ser­i­ously, and:

  • Pay a retainer for an ongoing support con­tract. If you don’t want to pay their rates for their time, don’t com­plain when they leave you.
  • Avoid those who won’t agree to a support con­tract. If your site is already live, get them to hand it over to someone who will support it before you lose touch with them.
  • Check how long they’ve been in business. Give newbies a chance, by all means, but have a “plan B” if you do. They may want to stay in business and support you for years, but very few manage that.
  • Ask if they can hand-code stuff — HTML and CSS at least, ideally JavaScript and PHP too. Otherwise, you’ll likely hit problems they can’t fix at some point — espe­cially if they use a platform that doesn’t give code access. It takes com­mitment and problem-solving skills to learn hand-coding. So if they can’t do that, they won’t provide decent support.
  • Don’t give them reasons to leave. They’re a vital, skilled business service pro­vider, not your employee or a shop assistant.
  • Be extra careful about bespoke coding. We’re talking web pro­gramming here, not bespoke visual design. Supporting someone else’s code can be tricky. Sometimes it’s “spa­ghetti code” that’s hard to even read. This also applies if your developer has written their own web platform. You may well be stuck with them, so make sure you have their support.

Conclusion: Caveat Emptor!

No doubt some cheap web designers will be upset by all this because they want to help, and think they are helping. So if that’s you, help those who need per­sonal sites, or get serious and offer paid support con­tracts. Small busi­nesses face enough risks as it is, and no matter how char­itable you are, you won’t be able to give away your time to busi­nesses for years on end. Trust me on that one.

Others, as pro­fes­sionals, won’t want to accept that moon­lighting makes them ama­teurs. If they provide adequate ongoing, paid support, it doesn’t.

Still, the bottom line is that those that won’t commit to ongoing support endanger the small busi­nesses they “help”. They never mean to, but it’s rare for either party to forsee the risk.

So now you know. Even if your budget is tight, don’t just look for a cheap web designer. Find a cost-effective web designer who can reduce your risks and provide long-term support.

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