Yesterday a very dear, long-time friend called me to ask my advice about a website. “Sara” (not her real name) is just finishing a naturopathic degree and thought it would be a good idea to have a website to market her services.
Sara’s mainly a stay-at-home mom (most demanding job I know of) to her three incredible daughters -all under 8. She’s committed to being a wife to her husband Tom first, mom second and business owner third. So, unlike many of my own clients who need full-featured, client-focused websites to grow their business, Sara needs a small, simple, somewhat causal website with few, if any features beyond her content.
Sara and Tom are good friends to my wife and I. We all talk regularly by phone. During a casual conversation a few months ago was when Sara first asked me about what she needed for a website. We talked briefly about her business needs, her audience and writing content. We also talked about the basics, such as domain name registration and hosting. It’s this conversation that spawned her new interest in having a website.
Luckly, she found the Yahoo! Small Business website. “Perfect,” she thought when she saw that she could register her domain name for $1.99 when she signed up for hosting with Yahoo!. Cheap domain registration and easy hosting, right.
It’s true, companies such as Yahoo!, SiteBuilder, and Homestead offer some great, and easy-to-use services. If you use their templated designs, you can often have a website up very quickly. And for seemingly little cost.
Yet, as Sara and I soon discussed, there is a cost. And it’s a cost that usually goes without knowing.
Sara thought the design she was using was okay – “good enough for now.” And she felt ready to create the pages of her site using this template from Yahoo! just to get things moving.
Then she asked me a very important question…
“Dawud, if I want to stop using Yahoo!, what do I need to do to move my website,” she asked?
I said, “There’s the crux…you can’t do anything…it’s not your website?”
She said, “What do you mean it’s not my website, I’m paying for it?”
It’s true, she is paying for it. She’s paying for the hosting on Yahoo!’s servers and for the privilege to use their templates for her design. But she doesn’t own any part of the design itself. So once Sara stops using Yahoo! for hosting, she looses her website all together. The only thing she can retain is her content. But only if she gets it off “her” website before closing the account.
Most people who use these services don’t realize that if they decide to host elsewhere, be it for development, service, pricing, etc, they loose their site. So in essence, they’re either stuck with the service they initially chose or they have to start all over when they want to move.
This isn’t a bad situation for a personal or club website. Even for some small, brochure-style business sites it’s fine.
But for any business owner who wants their website to be a hub for growing their business it’s certainly less than ideal. Not only do you not own your website, it often difficult or impossible to alter the designs you can choose from to accommodate the needs of your growing business.
To be fair, there is one advantage to using templated services…start up costs. You can often get a website off the ground for a very small investment – usually under $50. This may work well for you if you have little cash flow as you’re starting your business.
If you choose that path, my advice is the same to you as to my dear friend Sara…Get a professionally designed website as soon as you have enough cash flow to do so. The investment will pay dividends even in the smallest business. Especially if your designer has the skills to help you develop and execute a web-based strategy for growing your business.
My advice, if you can, own your website. and go through the development process with a designer that can really help you craft your site into a marketing hub for your business. You really can’t measure the gains for your effort, time and cost.