There are so many ways of building and designing a website. And there are so many tools you can use to build a great website, too. For many small business owners and solo entrepreneurs, the cost of hiring a professional designer or an agency is no small decision. Many people I meet ask what I think of free and low-cost builders like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace.
I wish I had a simple answer. I’ll try to keep it simple. So here goes.
Most people choose a solution based on their skill, time, and goals. And I honestly don’t think there’s a right or wrong choice. It really has everything to do with your business, your experience and your goals.
Hire a designer if you have no experience in designing websites, don’t have a clear idea of how you want your website to help support your business, and have little time to devote to it. Trust me, hiring a designer will save you plenty of headaches, time and money in the long run. And many designers (including myself!) will teach you how to edit, update and maintain your site after launch, if necessary.
Try it yourself if you’re comfortable with designing a few pages. Maybe you’ve tried a builder already and you feel like, “I can do this!” Also, if you have the time and you have a pretty clear idea of how you need your site to work for your ideal customers – i.e. you know where to put key calls to action, write benefits-oriented descriptions, and maintain your site – then the DIY route might be a good option for you.
Either way, website creation can be a complex job. Watch my video about whether you should do it yourself or hire a pro. Or, read below the video for more.
Before you choose a builder, have a strategy and content ready to go
Before choosing between Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Dreamweaver, Rapidweaver…it’s most important to have your business plan in place, and also to have a clear idea of how your site is going to play a vital role in helping you achieve your goals.
Here’s a quick checklist of what you need before you start building your site:
- All of your content – logo, colors, copy, images, graphics…
- A site map – the list of pages, sub-pages, blog, and any hidden or password-protected pages or other pages like membership, etc.
- Sketches or mockups of what you want your site to look like that include notes of where things should go
- Notes on how visitors will use your site. If they click on a link, where will it take them? and then where? Imagine yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer on your site.
Once you have all of that in place, it’s time to look at your website building options.
The Case for using a free or low-cost website builder
There a so many options, and it would be impossible to mention them all. But below are the ones I’m most familiar with, and which I recommend. Only two are free, but all offer free trials. So go for it!
And by the way, if you try one and don’t like it, you can try another one and see if that’s a better fit. Since you’ll probably be editing, updating and maintaining your site as well, it’s important to find the builder that best suits your business needs and is also most suited to your technical abilities.
Weebly – is one of the most popular free website builders out there, and I think it’s great for people who are new to the online world. Whether you’re a startup or an educator or a consultant just getting your feet wet for the first time, I see no reason not to try them.
I’m pretty familiar with Weebly and found it very easy and even intuitive to use. I just signed up for a free account, and within a few minutes, I was able to create a really simple page because Weebly uses a visual builder. In other words, you work directly on front page of what you’re creating, instead of toggling between a backend edit mode and previewing your work. Weebly has a paid version which has more features and customization options, so if you like using it and feel ready for a bigger site, then by all means, upgrade. Go to Weebly for more details.
Divi – this is a theme for WordPress. WordPress is free, so just install it on your server, then use Divi from Elegant Themes as your theme. I think of Divi more as a framework, because it’s a blank theme. The Divi builder creates a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to create your own layouts without knowing code. Go to Elegant Themes for more details.
Squarespace – this is another terrific online website designing solution. Sign up, pick a theme and fill it with your content. Squarespace’s slogan, “Look like an expert right from the start” pretty much says it all. They have loads of gorgeous themes to choose from but a warning: I found Squarespace a bit hard to figure out. Once you get the hang of how to use Squarespace, then it’s a lot of fun to modify a theme and publish your site. So, if you want to go the Squarespace route, make sure you budget a lot of time to try it out during the 14-day trial. Since Squarespace hosts your site, they take care of the software backing up and other admin things that you might hate to do. Go Squarespace’s website.
The Cons of using a free website builder
No matter which builder you use, it takes time to learn how to use them. And some are easier to use than others. I can’t say which is easiest; it really depends on you and your comfort level.
Limited design customization and functionality. I think with most builders you have to use a theme, which isn’t bad, but as your business grows and you want to push the envelope, a pre-built theme may be limiting. So, when it comes to free and easy, you get what you signed up for. Think simple.
The builder’s branding as well as ads may appear on your website, which may make you look unprofessional and cheap.
Not all free builders will allow you to use your own domain. Wix, for example, requires you to use a subdomain with your name so it looks something like this: yourwebsite.wix.com or yourwebsite.weebly.com and so on.
Finally, because you’re not a professional designer, you may not know what’s missing or how to improve your site so that it really works for your business. Templates are great in that you can pretty much take your content and put them in designated areas, but often, the problem is that you’re always trying to fit your content into a pre-built design. It’s kind of like putting someone in a manual speed car who doesn’t know the first thing about how to drive a stick shift. So, just beware of that.
Sure, you can use a free website builder if you can’t afford a pro, you’re starting out, you have the time to do it and you’re willing to see it through. There are tons of great builders out there that are budget-friendly. But in the world of website creation, budget-friendly also means you’re on your own, it can be complicated, and help can be hard to either come by or understand.
That said, there are really beautiful and easy-to-use builders out there. So if you really are determined to use one of them, just make sure you’re ready and have a plan in place.
If you’re still unsure of where and how to start, contact me for a free consultation. Just fill out a simple questionnaire, talk with me for 15 minutes about your situation and get suggestions on what is best for you. And no strings attached. Seriously!
About the author
I'm a writer and a web designer. I create one-of-a-kind websites for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. I help my clients expand their audiences, get more customers and make mo' money. Get my FREE PDF checklist, "Build a Website that Attracts & Converts: The 10 Elements Your Website Needs to be Highly Effective" when you subscribe to my monthly newsletter for industry news, writing and design tips and special offers.