What I’m about to say is going to annoy some people – but I feel strongly that it has to be said as I’ve made this costly mistake before.
You don’t have to hire a website designer – at all.
“How DARE you say website designers are pointless… how DARE you!!”
Take a number sir (or ma’am) – my wife is a website designer so she gets first dibs to whack me over the head with her Chanel bag (a rusty screwdriver isn’t her style… she’s a designer, after all.)
I really don’t have a death wish – so just hear me out.
I want to tell you a quick (and tragic) story about Steve:
Steve hates his 9 to 5 job.
“Life HAS to be better than THIS.” He keeps telling himself.
On an average day, he needs an IV to constantly drip caffeine into his veins just so he can make it through the day.
He read about how a lot of people got OUT of the rat race by starting an online business. Out of sheer desperation, he decided to give this website thing a go.
The first thing Steve sets out to do is to hire a web designer to build the most awesome website he could afford, which was $3,000.
After a month and a half of back-and-forths with his designer, he finally unveils his spanking new, custom designed website. He has NO DOUBT that his one-of-a-kind website will get the traffic and sales he paid for!
Months past, no sales — People could barely find his website in Google!
Steve is so confused — “My website design is more expensive and better looking than any of my competitors! Their websites look like something from the 90’s and don’t have any of the cool features my website has! Why am I not getting any sales or traffic?”
This is a very common story that many failed online entrepreneurs share.
Now, the sad thing is, that was us!
That was us back in 2010 when we failed at our very first online business venture.
Here’s the stone cold truth — it was not our website design’s fault. It’s was OUR fault. It still pains me to tell you our story…
So, why did we fail?
There is SO MUCH to building a successful online business. Things like understanding what potential customers really want, content marketing, paid advertisements, sales funnels, conversion optimization, search engine optimization, and so much more.
All of these take time and dedication to learn and to experiment with.
Out of all the confusion, website design seemed to be the one thing we can control and accomplish now. We can throw money at a website designer and get it done with minimal work on our end.
So, like scared little kids, we hid behind our custom designed website and prayed to the internet gods that our website will auto-magically start getting traffic and generate a million bucks — HUGE mistake.
Go ahead and laugh at us… we sure deserve it!
This is why I don’t want YOU to make the same mistakes as we did.
I’m not saying that website designers have no place in the world of website building – they certainly do and they can play a big part.
I’m saying that there is a right TIME to hire website designers – and it’s not when you are just starting out with your business.
What’s The Point of Good Design If Your Business Idea Suck?
A good looking website can help you promote your brand and increase the confidence of your website visitors in your business.
Not to mention a well-designed layout can improve your visitors’ experience.
A beautiful website makes your business look more legitimate.
If you visited a store in the mall that looked messy and painful to the eye, your first (and lasting) impression is that the store is probably no good.
Quick to judge? That’s just human nature and I’m just being honest about it (and so should you!)
So good design works… but ONLY if your BUSINESS works.
The Tail Wagging The Dog
Have you heard of these phrases?
“The tail wagging the dog.”
“Putting the cart before the horse.”
They sound a bit comedic and will make the worst movies EVER.
But there are refreshing truths in these funny sounding sayings.
They basically mean placing important things in the wrong order.
The dog should be wagging its tail, and the horse should be in front of the cart.
Why on earth would you consider spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a custom website design, BEFORE knowing for SURE that your business can make money?
Doesn’t that sound equally as silly as the tail wagging the dog?
Listen, there is a right time to splurge money and energy into design. But it must be AFTER you know people will pay you for your products or services – regardless of whether your website looks just okay, or if it’s award winning.
You can’t build a long-term, viable business purely relying on the sexiness of your website.
If that’s your only competitive edge, someone else will throw even more money at their website and “out-sexy” yours (terrible choice of words, I know).
If that’s your strategy, I’m sorry to say, your business will suffer a very tragic death.
This is such an important message we’ve suffered through ourselves, so I’m going to say it again….
Your business foundation is not built on its website design. So don’t deploy your savings on something that is not “mission-critical”.
Your website design only has to be good enough – for now. I’ll expand on this below.
Instead, focus your time, energy and money on mission-critical tasks, such as:
- Talking to your potential customers to understand what problems the really need solving – not what YOU think they need solving. Really listen to what they have to say and try not to be biased to your own views.
- Developing your products / services to solve their problems.
- Promoting your products / services.
- Learning how to communicate better to resonate with your target customers (if you can’t convince them you can solve their problems, you’ll have a hard time succeeding).
These tasks, in my view, are WAY more important than how your website looks.
Listen – I’m not giving you permission to have a nasty looking website. That’s not my point.
What I’m saying is that your website just has to look good enough, so you can allocate more resources to building your business (instead of your website).
There are actually ways to have a good (but not the best) looking website that works – WITHOUT spending more than $30 – $50….
How To Start With A Good Looking Website
Without Dipping into Your Retirement Funds
I want you to understand that a website is just a tool. That’s it.
Your website is NOT your business. Your business is what you can offer to your target customers to actually solve their problems.
Your website is just a communication tool – period.
If you can’t offer a good product / service that can actually solve problems, it doesn’t matter what your website looks like at the end of the day.
Now that I’ve beaten this horse to a miserable death, let’s talk about how to move forward.
So how do you build a website quickly, easily and cheaply, and have a design that’s good enough to get the job done?
Not too long ago, you’d have to hire a designer or a coder to help you build a website (unless you don’t mind spending the time to learn how to code and all the technical items that come with website building).
Nowadays, you actually don’t have to know how to code, nor worry about all the technical back-end headaches to have a good looking and functional website.
There are website builders out there that empower you to “drag and drop” your way to your first website, and give you a broad range of free design templates to help your website look presentable, or “good enough”.
These website builders are very affordable, and most of them are even free for you to use (with options to upgrade to access more features).
For their paid plans, they roughly range from $5 per month to $20 per month (for non-ecommerce plans), and from $25 up to $299 for ecommerce focused plans (though you should be starting at the $25 per month plan, and only migrate up if you get a lot of sales).
They provide you with 24/7 dedicated support, and they’re quite easy to use you can even publish the first version of your website in less than a day.
Doesn’t this sound much more appetizing than hiring a designer for hundreds or thousands of dollars, and wait at least a month before you have something published?
Not to mention the stressful hiring process, and wondering if you’ve made the right choice.
Okay, I know I’m making these drag & drop website builders sound like they have halos on top of their heads and they can do no wrong.
To be fair, they do have limitations and they can’t do everything.
The point here is, while there is a chance you may eventually grow out of these drag & drop website builders, they are good enough to build most if not all startup websites.
Some drag & drop builders even have the capability to handle growing websites, and it is absolutely possible to run a successful and mature business with them.
With these drag & drop website builders, if you change your mind, you can easily “cut your losses” so to speak, be “out” maybe $50 (and a bit of your time of course).
It’s all about risk management – especially when you are first starting out with a limited budget.
Drag & Drop Website Builders – Helping You Build A Website Without Breaking The Bank
Let’s quickly summarize why using a drag & drop website builder makes sense for you if you are in the beginning phase of your business.
- You can launch a “good enough” website in less than a day – so you won’t get bogged down by technology and wait weeks of months to have something up and running.
- You can allocate more of your budget, time and energy to other more “mission-critical” tasks such as product development, researching your target market, marketing your products / services, etc.
- You can make changes to your website on the fly, instead of waiting for or relying on someone else to make those changes.
- You can manage your financial risks as these website builders are not expensive at all.
My own general rule of thumb is that if you are not yet generating positive NET cash flows of around $1,000 and higher per month, you fall within this beginning phase.
If you are making some level of cash flow below $1,000 per month, my own view is that you should reinvest the cash into your business that’s NOT design related.
For instance, consider hiring a part-time helper to take some mundane, non-productive tasks away from your hands.
Even something as simple as a helper to clean your house can save you hours per week. It’s not just time that you are saving, it’s mental and physical energy that you can re-channel towards your business.
That’s just a random example and I’m sure you can think of many other less productive tasks you’d prefer to outsource.
Back to website builders.
Without further ado, here are the top website builders in the market today.
#1 Shopify – Best eCommerce Website Builder
Shopify makes setting an online store super simple.
Typically, most ecommerce websites have to be self-hosted, meaning you will have to manage all of the technical tasks of building a storefront. You’d have to know how to code and play the role of your own “IT manager” just to piece together different selling functions.
Not with Shopify – they’ve simplified the entire process for you.
Here’s what I like about Shopify:
- They are a “hosted solution” – all you need to do is sign in with your email address and they take care of the rest for you (such as keeping your site secure, configuring and optimizing your servers, integrating all the selling tools and shopping cart for you so you don’t have to piece them together).
- They offer you attractive storefront designs – so you don’t need to hire anyone to customize anything for you.
- 24/7 phone, email and live chat support! That’s like having a full-time technical team working for you!
It’s no surprise that Shopify is the best ecommerce builder in the market today.
More than 377,500 merchants are paying Shopify to power their storefronts (here are some examples), and Shopify has helped process over $29 billion dollars worth of sales – that’s about $76,821 per merchant.
I really like Shopify as you can launch a basic version of your store in less than a day.
Now, it won’t be the best version of your store, but it will be functional.
You can continue to improve it – but the key point is that you don’t have to wait weeks or months, and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for someone to put it together for you!
You are in control, and Shopify’s support team is there to back you up.
As it is a dedicated, pure ecommerce builder, the monthly cost for building an online store starts at $29 per month. As your business grows larger (generates more cash), you can upgrade to higher plans.
If your business doesn’t work out, or if you change your mind for whatever reason, you can always stop using Shopify. It’s a lot less costly than hiring a web designer right off the bat.
Don’t you think this is a much safer way to build your business?
Shopify Review – click here to see our detailed pros & cons of using Shopify
Hosted vs Self-Hosted eCommerce Builders – find out more about the differences between them
#2 Wix – Best Overall Website Builder
In my view, Wix is the best overall drag & drop website builder that enables you to build a fully functional website without you having to write a line of code.
More than 100 million websites have been built with Wix thus far, and they have over 2.47 million paid users to date.
Having a lot of paying customers is the ultimate testimonial to how good a product is – and Wix is definitely the industry leader here.
Wix offers you more than 500 beautifully designed templates that cater to a wide range of industries such as business, ecommerce, photography, music, design, hospitality, restaurants, etc. So they have designs for almost everyone.
Here are some examples of websites built with Wix.
Here’s what we like about them:
- By far the most innovative website builder amongst its competitors – always adding new tools and features (click here to see their latest additions).
- Their designs are also very up-to-date with the latest design trends – you can build 1-pager parallax designs, insert background videos, create different background sections, all without knowing how to code. Click here to see them in action.
- Wix’s pro-activeness to innovate is a huge plus if you want a website builder that has a proven history of investing in continuous improvements.
You can use Wix for free for an unlimited time. However, to unlock more features and tools, their pricing starts from $4.50 per month up to $24.50 per month.
The financial investment is very manageable and reasonable.
#3 Squarespace – Best Designs
Squarespace is a very design-oriented website builder and can make your website look as if you spent thousands of dollars in customizing it (but only costs you a fraction of that).
If your business require a website that is more imagery-oriented, and you want something minimalistic, clean and chic, definitely consider Squarespace.
They work particularly well for industries such as design / portfolio, photography, boutique businesses, restaurants and weddings / occasions.
Here are some examples of websites built with Squarespace.
Here’s what I like about Squarespace:
- Very design oriented – their design templates gives people the impression that you hired a professional website designer, but you actually didn’t have to!
- Gives you an active role in crafting the look & feel of your website – Squarespace gives you the ability to make a lot of design modifications without touching codes.
Although you can’t use Squarespace indefinitely for free (like Wix above), you get a 14-day free trial period before you need to make a decision to subscribe to their services.
Generally speaking, you only need a few hours to get a good feel of whether you like them or not. The rest of the time is for you to explore their tools in detail.
So if you don’t get a good vibe from them right off the bat, you can easily move on to trying another website builder without making any further commitments.
Squarespace’s monthly plans range from $5 to $18. If you want ecommerce tools, their plans range from $26 to $40 per month.
So again, they’re not asking you for a massive financial commitment at all.
This gives you more budget (and time and energy) to work on other parts of your business.
#4 Weebly – Easiest to Use
Weebly is the most user-friendly drag & drop website builder in the market today.
They’re what I would call “stupid simple to use.” The user interface so intuitive, you can literally learn almost everything about how to use Weebly in less than an hour.
However, this also means they don’t have as many advanced features and tools (like Wix above).
For some people (especially those who are deathly afraid of technology), it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
Weebly also offers you some decent looking templates to get you started. They don’t look as good as those from Wix and Squarespace, they’ve come a long way in terms of improvement and we expect them to get even better in the near future.
Remember, you can always improve on your web design later – after you’ve established that people are more than happy to pay for your products or services.
Here are a few things we like about Weebly:
- Drop dead easy to use – I’ve seen older folks build decent websites with Weebly. It’s almost like learning how to use iPhones – it almost feels natural and effortless.
- Access to design codes – If you know a bit of code, you can actually access your design to make customizations. Of course, this is not necessary, but it’s an added flexibility down the road when you want to take your design to the next level.
Just like Wix, you can use Weebly for free without any time limitations. If you want to access more tools, you can upgrade to one of their premium plans.
Their monthly plans start at $8 and goes up to $49 per month (for more ecommerce & marketing focused tools).
Again, Weebly is very affordable when compared to committing to hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire a website designer.
Similar to Wix or Squarespace, Weebly enables you to build a good looking website all by yourself, quickly and easily. There really isn’t any downside in giving these drag and drop website builders a try.
Here are some helpful resources to help you pick the right web builder and design template:
When is the Right Time to Hire A Website Designer or Developer?
As I mentioned above, I’m not against hiring a professional designer or developer to help you build an awesome website.
Not at all.
The key message I hope you understand, is that there is a right time for this, and a wrong time for this.
What’s the wrong time?
- That’s when you are still trying to get the business off the ground. When you are still trying to validate / prove to yourself that a lot of people are happy to pay you for your products / services.
- If you can’t even establish that there is a healthy market for your product or services, then you don’t have a business yet.
Sounds sensible and simple, right?
You have no idea how many people get it all backward and put the “cart in front of the horse.”
I don’t blame them one bit, though, as we’ve committed the same mistake before, so I don’t want to be a hypocrite here.
In retrospect, when we first started, we were so unsure of whether our business will succeed or not, that we actively looked for things that can give us an easier win – something that we can fully control.
Building what we thought was the best-looking website was a much easier win and something fully within our control, than asking people to pay us for our products.
We had egos, and we didn’t want people to say “no” to us and feel rejected.
Rejection is a scary thing to face. Wouldn’t you agree?
I used to hate doing squats at the gym. I know I should do it, but I found myself loitering around the gym, working on exercises that I know I’m already good at.
It’s a way to convince myself that I’ve done something so I feel marginally good about it.
Same thing with designing a website. The likelihood of feeling rejected really isn’t there.
You also feel fully in control as you’re paying a designer to create things for you.
If you had a great looking website design, people won’t criticize you for that.
But if you had a poor product offering, people won’t pay for it and that feels like a major rejection.
So I understand why people are more enthusiastic about building a nice looking website, BEFORE focusing on building a real business.
The right time to focus on your website design is after you achieve net positive cash flow above and beyond $1,000 per month. Of course, you can set your goal a bit higher at $2,000 or more, but I’m just suggesting $1,000 as a starting point.
By hitting the $1,000 net positive cash flow per month mark, it will give you more confidence (and momentum) that you have a real business at hand.
Making $1,000 (after paying for expenses) is no easy task. It requires you to be laser focused on understanding what your target customers want, and delivering a solid product / service to meet their needs.
Getting to that level is what you ought to be focused on – not how your website looks.
Once you become net cash flow positive, this opens up more options and flexibility for you and your business. You can then consider what can grow your business even more.
Hire help? Spend more on marketing? Invest in courses / knowledge? Improve your website design?
With positive cash flows – you have options.
If you blow all your savings on a website design without making a dime in return, you’ll be left with no options.
Once you’re cash flow positive, and you decide to hire a professional designer or developer to improve your website, here is our comprehensive guide on how to hire a designer or developer – the right way.
Helpful Resources / Guides So You Can Do Some Design Work Yourself
I know. After all this discussion, sometimes it’s still really hard to resist hiring designers as there are a lot more to constructing a website than using website builders.
What about things like designing logos, editing images, finding the right images, how to pick fonts, etc?
Fear not, we’ve put together some guides on how you can do all this – even if you don’t have a head for design.
These guides will break things down into actionable steps (with recommended, easy-to-use tools), so anyone can get decent results:
- Road Map To Building Your First Website (Infographic): An overview of what you need to build a successful website & keeps you on the right track.
- High Quality Images (Free / Paid) – If you don’t have any of your own images to start with, here are some great ones for you to get started with.
- How to Edit Your Images Like A Pro (Without Being a Pro) – Here are a few easy-to-use image editors that can help you make amazing edits to your pictures.
- Creating Your Own Professional Logo – Check out a few tools (free / paid) to help you create your own logo – without hiring a designer.
- How to Pick the Best Font Design for Your Website – Most people don’t think about picking the right font. Here’s a hint – top designers do. See why.
- Choose the Right Color Scheme Like a Designer – Not good with picking colors? Or not sure which color combinations will work? See this guide.
- How to Create an Awesome, Professional Looking Home Page – You don’t have to be a gifted designer. Follow our formula to create your home page.
Building a good looking website doesn’t have to be so daunting. You now have most of the tools / guides to building something amazing yourself!
Conclusion & Take Away
To build a viable business, you need to focus on the right things.
There are many temptations to focus on things that you can control, such as how your website looks.
It’s far easier to throw money at a website designer to build an awesome looking website.
But does that actually help prove out or validate your business concept? Does it demonstrate to you that you can earn profits by selling products or services to complete random strangers?
To build a successful business, you will HAVE to ask people to open their wallets and buy your product / service offerings. There is absolutely no way around this.
Whether they will pay for your products / services, is not directly determined by how your website looks. It’s determined by whether what you offer can solve a real problem.
If what you offer does not solve a real, painful problem, then it will be extremely challenging for you to build a vibrant business – regardless if you have an award winning website design or not.
If anything, I want you to take away this key message:
Your website is just a tool for your business. Your website is NOT your business.
Focus on building your business (understanding your target customers’ problems, developing your product to solve those problems), start earning net profits, then focus on improving your web design later.
Once you start earning profits, a whole new world of possibilities and flexibility open up to you.
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