Should you sack your web designer?

This week I was at a conference where I was spending the day “in surgery”. The idea was that I would have a series of 15-minute appointments throughout the day. People booked an appointment with me to talk about their web presence and to help me “diagnose” their issues and provide some “treatment”. 

Over the course of the day, I met 14 different businesses ranging from small one-person firms, right through to large companies with significant turnovers. By the time I got into my third appointment of the morning, though, I was noticing a trend. I suspect your family doctor sees the same pattern too. Most people have the same problem.

It was quite remarkable, but every person I spoke with during the day had the same issue at the heart of what they were trying to do online; a terrible service from their web developer or web designer. 

One company had been asking their web developer to add a picture to a page; three months later nothing had been done. Another firm had been asking for a redesign, only to get an entirely inappropriate option clearly from a template for an entirely different industry. A further business had spent several thousand pounds just to find that instead of providing the website in a standard content management system, as had been requested, the site was built in a bespoke software program.

What became clear was a real issue that businesses have with web designers and developers. Many, it seems, are slow to respond, provide exceedingly low levels of customer service and fail to see things from the perspective of the client.

Of course, this is not all web designer firms or web developers. It’s just the ones that worked for every company I met this week. Either that was a coincidence, or the web design industry is riddled with poor quality.

Here’s what appears to be happening. Web design is relatively easy to achieve. All you need is a templated system (cheap as chips), and you can then blind people with science and talk to them about HTML and PHP, and they say, “OK, you do it”. These days, anyone with a modicum of technical skill and almost no design skills whatsoever can produce quite reasonable websites. And that’s what many web design firms do. They build a site, it looks pretty, and they move on to find another client. Because they charge low prices, these web designers need lots of clients. And that means their existing customers are at the back of the queue when it comes to additional work required or when requests for changes are made. Instead, the web designer has to focus on new business because that is where cash flow arises. These firms have no time for clients whose websites have already been built. The potential cash from those companies is much lower than the relatively higher fees from new customers.

So, the poorly served customers sigh and look for a new designer, and the whole cycle just repeats itself. 

There are two ways out of this. One is to learn how to use a content management system – and I mean really learn it, warts and all, inside out. Then build your own website and maintain it yourself. That’s not such a daft idea. For many businesses, this is an ideal option as it means they can adapt and change with relatively low cost, but in high speed. However, a company that does this often needs an attitude shift. The web becomes the business. Rather than just being an online brochure, the website becomes THE way the company conducts business, even if all the site does is generate leads, rather than sell directly. 

For many firms, they are not ready for this. The web is not central to their way of thinking and hence learning a content management system and maintaining a website is perceived as a hindrance. Or the business is too busy delivering to find the time to deal with the web.

That means for many companies they do need a web developer or designer to help them. So here’s the next attitude shift. Price. Far too many businesses see a website as a low-cost item that is done as cheaply as possible. That’s what leads to the cycle of poor service. You get what you pay for.

Think of it this way. If your business depended upon a vehicle would you buy one from someone with no motor sector experience, who charged you a tenth of the going rate, but who was really good at polishing the cars and giving them a good valet? You might be tempted by the low price, but you’d probably opt for a more expensive option. That’s because you would need to rely on the vehicle. Besides, with a low-cost dealer, there’s no servicing and no help or advice when things need attention. They’re too busy looking for the next deal to worry about people who bought a car last year.

So, why, oh why, do so many businesses fall prey to the same situation when it comes to web design? A website is something every company relies upon. It may not be bringing you in business, but in many instances, it is a business prevention object, as people end up moving away from the site to look for an alternative. Do you know how much business you are losing as a result of your website?

There are three options for businesses, it seems. The seemingly most-favoured popular choice of going for a low-cost web designer who ends up only being interested in the next deal. Or you can opt for spending time (and therefore money) on doing the website yourself, perhaps investing in a team. The third choice is to choose a web developer who costs more money than most, but who delivers an excellent service because they can afford to do so. As you can see, both the alternatives to the run-of-the-mill, common approach are high-cost.

It may well be time for you to sack your web designer. But for most businesses, I suspect it is actually time to sack the attitude we have to web design as being a low-cost element of our business. Far from being an additional cost you “just have to” pay (and therefore want the lowest price) more companies need to consider web development as the most critical investment in the future of their business.

For many of the firms I met the other day, I suggested either they needed to take on the website themselves, putting in the time investment that would require. Or I said they just needed to spend more money. But that met with frowns and sighs because their budgets are tight. Budgets are not really tight, ever. It’s just that choices are being made. Companies are choosing to spend less on websites than they are on other elements of their business. But that decision is causing loss of income through a weak web presence. 

A website is the first point of call for almost every potential customer for your business. Surely it needs more investment in terms of attitude, time and money? Many businesses spend more time worrying about the kind of desks and chairs they have than they do on a website. Come to think of it, I’ve been to offices where the desk has cost more than the website….! That’s not right, is it?

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