Building our own website was a bad idea

BY Garrett Curry

It took nearly a year to build our new website. Yeah, you read that right — a year!

And although we’re really happy with the results, it was a massive miscalculation.

We started with a custom-designed template of modules and features on a solid CMS. Our total out-of-pocket cost was about $10k. Armed with everything we needed, it was now up to us to actually piece the site together.

Building our new site was something we worked on whenever we could get around to it. This made the process pretty spotty. It also meant that every hour we spent on it was a loss, not a profit. The runway was short and the stakes were high!

The irony of all of this? Our studio oversees the design and development of websites. This was a different animal altogether. 

Here are painful lessons we learned from the experience, so you don't have to.

1 // It Distracted us From Doing Business

Although it was a team effort, I personally absorbed most of the hours it took to properly learn the CMS, make design decisions, develop web copy, compose case studies and integrate marketing tools. 

Additionally, being a tormented designer, I became overly-obsessive with its appearance and impression. This relegated the site into the bottomless pit of design purgatory — costing additional hours (red alert! red alert!).

As the Principal of this agency my primary role is to drive its growth. Every hour I spent on the site was an hour of not getting new work. The most precious commodity of any business is time, and I was flushing it down the toilet. If you're the owner of a company, how much is each hour of your time to the business?

Essentially, I was no longer a studio Principal running his business; I had become an amateur web developer. This approach was failing my business.

2 // We remained tied to our outdated site

Our former website was embarrassingly outdated and ineffective. It was no longer representative of our company, its portfolio or its market positioning. More importantly, it wasn’t driving leads. 

Realistically, our former site should have been burned down years ago. And, starting a new website that would unknowingly take a year to create meant being tied to our former site for twelve more months.

A solid, functional website is indispensable for any business. If not the primary lead-generating tool, it's at least the gut-check leads need to see before they work with you. Every night as I slept our site was being visited by potential clients who were far from impressed, much less interested in working with us.

3 // It became a sunk cost

Let’s do some quick math. Again, our initial out-of-pocket cost for the custom-designed CMS template was $10k. Now, let’s add to that the sheer number of internal hours spent on building the site. Add to that the loss in revenue due to an outdated website we were imprisoned by. And finally, add to that a deficiency in aggressive business development. 

All things considered, I would estimate that our new shiny website cost us $150k. Unless my name is Pablo Picasso and I'm already dead, the website is not worth that amount of money.

4 // The sobering conclusion

In trying to save on cost, we didn't count the cost. In hindsight, I would have preferred to simply pay one of our partner agencies to completely design and develop the entire site. That would have freed up our own agency enough to save $100k in revenue and we would have gone to market quicker with a superior website. 

Honestly, I relate with clients who faint when they first hear the cost of a website. It's likely one of the biggest single investments of any business. It's tempting for any business cut corners to save a dollar on a website.

  • The owner may hire their millennial niece to do it, because she's under the age of 30 and has Photoshop.
  • They may try to salvage their former site that runs on Flash (yes, we've seen this) by simply updating its content with additional columns of text that are bottomless.
  • They may pluck their team members out of their revenue-generating roles to accomplish what seems to be a simple task (it never is). 

The lesson here is COUNT THE COST. Trying to save a dollar building a new website will almost always cost you exponentially more than what you could ever hope to save.


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