When you’re a small business owner, you don’t have your own web development department. In fact, when anything ever gets done with your website, it’s probably you!
And, if you’re like most small business owners, you didn’t go into business because you wanted to spend hours trying to figure out why a certain image will not line up on the screen the way you want. It can be so frustrating, many well-meaning small businesses hardly ever update their websites at all!
Beyond keeping your website’s content fresh (which is a task hard enough), there’s the larger issue of keeping the website itself up to speed with your business’s changing needs. You may have hired someone to “build a website”. At the time, it was fine. But chances are, since then you’ve wanted to add some things. Either you never thought of them at the time it was built, or your customers are hinting that they’d appreciate online ordering.
Whatever it is, you’re faced with limitations of the site itself. Maybe you google around for solutions, and find a way to pay for a service that does kinda-sorta what you need. But it’s not ideal: your website isn’t doing what you want, and you end up paying for several other web services that don’t quite do what you need either.
Why Traditional Thinking about Small Business Websites Sets You Up for Failure.
For years, small businesses have been told they need to buy websites the way they buy cars — laying out a big lump sum of cash to hire someone to build a new website every few years, then “driving” it until you can’t take it any more. Then you pay another lump sum to buy a new one.
This Probably Sounds Familiar:
Small business owners invest a significant amount of capital into a site that immediately, like driving a new car off the lot, begins to lose value. It loses value, but not for the same reasons as the car. With a car, its the use, the wear and tear, that eventually ruins it.
With a website, wear and tear isn’t the issue. It’s that the moment you say “done” and stop development, it’s standing still in a world where everything else is moving forward at breakneck speed. Four years from now the website will perform exactly the same as the day it was completed. But 4 years from now, in comparison to what customers will expect and the business will need online, the site will be miles behind.
Nearly every client I’ve worked with has experienced this. The website I build for them is not their first. I’ll ask them about their current site, and they’ll chuckle and say, “Well, a few years ago we had some other site, but it wasn’t what we needed, so we got this one we have now, and it’s not really what we need now, either.”
A Website Is Not a Like Car…
A car is a thing someone builds in a factory. You buy it and drive it until it wears out. Once it’s built, you can do some custom work on it. You can add a remote starter. You can change out the radio for a nicer one. You can paint it a different color. Stuff like that. But it is what it is.
A website — even a custom website — is not like that. Businesses that are successful online realize that a good website is designed to change with time. Think about Amazon. Amazon would be a distant memory today if it stuck with the website it started with. Think of other businesses you enjoy visiting online. You keep coming back because their site is not the same as it was last month.
… So Don’t Buy a Website the Way You Buy a Car!
A website is something you know is going to need to change and grow with your business. To be successful online, your small business needs to approach its website the way those successful online businesses do. You don’t need to “build a website”. Instead, you need a plan for Continuous Website Development.
That might sound daunting. You already have enough frustration keeping up with your website. And you don’t have your own IT department. And you don’t have a big budget.
If that’s you, I have some good news!
Even on a modest budget, continuous website development can work better for small businesses!
Let’s take a look at a cost comparison:
The Cost of “Building a Website”
The Traditional Way:
Lets say you’re a small business owner, you’ve crunched the numbers, and you can set aside $8000 for a new website build. You contact a developer who can quote you a reasonable amount of what you want for within your budget.
You and your developer get to work. You start with the design, which goes through three rounds of edits and takes a few weeks to hammer out. The developer builds out most of the site over the course of, say three weeks. You have another couple rounds of changes based on the staging prototype, and that takes another couple weeks of back and forth. Then your developer asks you for content, and it takes you another (optimistic, because content is always the hardest part) four weeks to get together, and with the content entered you decide a few other things need changed before launch.
Just reading that last paragraph was exhausting! We’re now just over 3 months in and there’s nothing online yet. And that’s provided everything goes smoothly.
After the site launches, you discover that you really do need some of those other things you thought about at the beginning, but trimmed from the project to stay within budget. Or you discover, now that it’s up and running, that you never thought of something that would be ideal for your business to have.
You have to decide whether to invest in the additional costs to add on, say another $4000, or to do without. If you’re cost sensitive, you’ll probably do without, and already your site has less value than what you paid – frozen in time, its decrease in effectiveness has already begun! Or you invest the additional money and sometime next quarter you have something closer to what you want. But by then something else has come up. At some point, you say, “enough.” Until 4 years later it gets to the point that you really do need a new website all over again.
So, divide that total $12,000 investment into 4 years. That’s $3000 per year, or $250 per month. For a site that for the first 6 months isn’t online – so, really divide your money into 3.5 years: that’s nearly $290 per month – and you’re still frustrated that you can’t do a lot of what you’d want with it.
Not to mention, it’s a big hit every 4 years or so to plan for a new $12,000 expense. Large lump sums are hard on small businesses. I know. I run one. If you’re limited to what you can raise in a lump sum, you’re naturally limited in what you can do in any given generation of your website.
The Continuous Website Development Way:
Let’s assume the same $8000 budget to start. You contact me and we agree on a Continuous Web Development Retainer, where for $300 per month, you get 4 hours of consulting, design and development time, every month, from now until we decide to call it quits, and we’re going to determine together, as we go, what needs to be built and in what order.
In the first month, we spend 2 hours hashing out what your initial priorities and strategy are going to be. We spend one hour putting up a simple website with the very basics to get your presence online, and we spend the fourth hour looking at initial design considerations. Now, in the first month, your site is already up, is accurate, and you’re starting to get found online (or at least you’re no longer living with the embarrassment of that old site you’ve been cringing at for the last year).
You are online by the end of week 2!
In months 2 and 3, we spend less than an hour on planning, since we already have a plan, We spend 3½ hours each month on design, A/B testing what you like and don’t like as we go. Meanwhile you’re adding content to the small initial site that immediately enhances your online presence. As you add content, you start to get a 1st-hand feel for what elements of your site are more important to develop sooner, and what can wait.
By Month 3, your site is growing, and the design phase is taking shape. At this point, you’ve spent only $900 of the $8000 you originally budgeted.
In months 4–6, we continue to develop the design. As different design components are solidified, we work them into the live site as we go. Meanwhile, because it’s on your front burner, you continue to add content that keeps your visitors coming back.
By the end of 6 months, your new site is still in its infancy, but it’s solid, it represents your business well in its design and content, and you have a very good feel for what needs to be added next. And you’ve only spent $1800 of the $8000 you initially thought you might need.
By now you can see where this is going. At the end of 3 and a half years, the same amount of time a one-off build would actually have been online, you’ve paid the same $12,000 you ended up paying for doing it the old way, but:
- You haven’t had to come up with $12,000 all at once.
- You’re not going to have to come up with another $12,000 wad to replace it next year.
On the other hand:
- Your site has been an effective and growing part of your business, returning on your investment the entire time, without the frustration.
- You were never hamstrung with not being able to move in a different direction that you hadn’t anticipated.
- You continue to develop your website, so future investment keeps building on what you have, getting better and better each month, rather than starting over.
Having developed it in the direction it needed to go as needs arose, it long ago has become a monthly investment that more than pays for itself.
Look at you! Your business is actually making money online!
This Is How iCaspar Web Development Does It
I believe that building for the long term pays off, not just for the big players, but for small businesses, too. Drip by drip, month by month, without large outlays of cash, you build an asset that pays you back.
And, if you’re ready to start investing in Continuous Website Development, either with a new website, or seeing what’s still possible with an existing website, here are a some helpful questions to get you started thinking: