Today there are thousands of ways to build a website. If you're looking to replace an outdated site and need a rough idea of options and costs, it probably feels like pulling teeth: nobody will talk price unless you dive into the proposal process.
You figure there has to be an easier way, and there is: all of the thousands of website options out there today fall into one of the three 'ballpark cost buckets' that I'm going to lay out below–figure out which is the best for you and you'll have a good enough idea of cost to at least start making some plans.
You wouldn't believe how far DIY website options have come in the last few years. The DIY website is no longer just for beginners or people without a budget, there are million-dollar businesses that use Squarespace for their websites.
Your site can absolutely look professional for about $30/month, so don't overlook the DIY option. These services offer easy to use interfaces where you can drop in photos, write a bit about your business, and customize the site yourself, even if you don't know a lick of code.
These sites can be a great way to establish a web presence and experiment with what kinds of content works for you. These affordable sites often end up being the only site many small businesses ever need. Even if you eventually outgrow it, the low cost makes it a great place to start, as you can easily replace it in the future.
This may sound crazy, but hear me out: take an hour and sketch out what you want for your site, grab some photos and a copy of your logo. Then set aside a maximum of four hours some afternoon and go to Squarespace, get a free trial, and just see how far you can get making your own website.
What do you have to lose? Four hours to find out if you can save potentially thousands of dollars for years to come?
Even if you end up pulling your hair out after an hour, you won't have wasted your time. What you'll have is a better idea of what you want, you'll have learned about current website technology, and you'll even have your site content organized all in one place. (That's more than I can say for 90% of the people who call me up!)
Now, if you KNOW you aren't going to try that, go ahead and skip ahead to the next option. But if you're thinking about taking a stab at it, a DIY site might cost you somewhere between $15-50/month. Some of the options might run you a little more, costing up to a few hundred dollars a month, though.
Now, some downsides. Most of the time these sites all end up looking pretty similar (but most business owners I talk to are more concerned about the bottom line than winning any web design awards). Another thing to look out for is that while you start out with a reasonable monthly cost, you can end up needing a $12/month widget here and a $35/month e-commerce plugin there, and these costs can add up! If you find yourself with hundreds a month in 'plugin' costs, you may want to jump to a more robust platform, like a WordPress site.
This is THE major platform used by a huge number of organizations, including some pretty big names. (So many people use WordPress that it's easy to miss that there are other ways to get a functional website!)
WordPress can be an affordable way to build a site, and their platform has a lot of flexibility. It's like the duct tape of websites. It lets you stick something up on the web quickly and cheaply but then also rip it down and replace it just as easily. For many businesses, this ability to rapidly build, tear down, and re-build is not just useful, but vitally necessary. If your digital marketing plans already require a permanent staff position for modifying the site on a weekly or even daily basis, then it's probably 'case closed' for you – you're likely in the WordPress 'bucket'.
But one big thing to keep in mind before pulling the trigger on WordPress is that YOUR site will always be tied to THEIR platform. So, when WordPress makes changes to the way their platform works, which happens often, your site will need some kind of fix. This explains the ongoing monthly cost of WordPress, as there are going to be frequent changes that need to be made to keep the site functional.
While your monthly fees cover the technical work, you or someone on your team will need to be available to react and respond to these changes. Your web developers are going to be emailing you, asking "a plugin broke in the latest update, here are a few ways we can handle this, whaddyathink?" A WordPress site will require the attention of a decision-maker on a regular basis. Someone at your business will become intimately acquainted with WordPress, whether they want to or not. (Hopefully you like this person, because it's hard to fire the only person who knows what's up with your website!)
Note that this isn't "just how it is" with websites, it's just the nature of platforms like WordPress. You can't trust a WordPress site to do its job without occasionally falling apart, and this can be a deal breaker for some businesses, as there's nothing worse than hearing from a customer that your product images aren't showing up or your checkout page isn't working. You'll be wondering, "How long has this been happening? How many sales did I miss?"
A 'custom' site is any site where there's no "platform" (like WordPress) acting as a middleman, dictating what you can and can't do. You're not 'farming on rented land' like you are with WordPress or Squarespace. You're in complete control. Every part of the site is built to your specifications, so you don't have to worry about shoehorning your needs into some pre-made template. And with today's technology, the limits to what you can do with a custom site are determined by your imagination and budget, not a third party. I tell folks all the time that with a custom site "anything is possible, it just takes time and money."
If WordPress is the duct tape of platforms, then custom is poured concrete. This presents advantages AND disadvantages. A custom platform is built to last, it won't fall apart on you. Once we hand you the keys, you can drive away and never talk to us again and, so long as you pay for your domain and hosting, your custom site will likely run for many years with little to no attention or additional costs. You don't even have to think about the site if you have more important business to take care of.
Cost is going to be a major factor to consider when looking at a custom site. Building in concrete and steel means that more functionality = more time and more cost. You will need to measure twice and then cut once, so to speak. If you need to experiment, a custom site could eat you alive. The same holds if you aren't sure about what direction your business (or industry) is headed in – if you guess wrong and end up needing a major overhaul of a custom site in a couple years, it's going to do some damage to your wallet.
But if your business is stable and you're confident about where your industry is headed in the next 3-5 years, then you might want to pour some concrete and build something that allows you to 'set it and forget it' so you can get back to business.
Picking the wrong bucket is going to cost you more than any other wrong decision about a website. If you're still not sure which bucket you're in, reach out and I can walk you through ALL of the pros and cons of each option, including which options are best for security, SEO, Point of Sale integration, inventory management, etc. Happy to help you pick the right path forward, or at least avoid the wrong one!