Need a Website? Here's Where to Start

If you're looking to start an e-commerce and aren't sure where to start, here's the quick basics to things you'll need to start a website.

There are a few factors to consider

  1. What is the purpose of your website? Is it a simple informational website? Will you be selling things on your platform?
  2. What are some of the features you will be wanting to incorporate on your website?
  3. What is your budget that you're looking to invest into your website?
  4. How frequently do you think you will be making updates to your website? What sort of updates do you think you'll be making?
  5. Will you be hiring a developer and/or a graphic designer later on to help you maintain the website?

UX/UI/web designer? Front-end developer? Back-end developer? Full-stack developer?

Building a website is a bit like building a building. You could be building a shed in your backyard, which in that case, you can probably do it yourself with some YouTube help. A bit more complex would be building your dream 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom home. And then you have the more complex buildings - commercial buildings where there's a lot of logistics that you'll need to consider.

In a way, the UX/UI/web designer is a bit like the Architect/Interior designer. They'll generally lay out the blueprints for how your site will flow, and also help visualize how the final product will look like. Once that's all set up, they pass those blueprints on to the developers to execute.

If we're going with the house analogy, back-end developers are the people who build the foundation and framework of your building. That being said, depending on your needs, there are a lot of platforms that exist already that help take care of the back-end building so you don't need to worry about hiring a back-end developer. However, if you need a completely custom solution, as you can imagine with a building, you definitely want to make sure you invest in a solid back-end developer because the last thing you want is to have a building that falls down on you. Modern day back-end developers usually specialize in languages like PHP, Ruby and/or JavaScript.

If back-end developers are the people who lay down the framework to your building and lay in the plumbing and electricity, front-end developers help you lay in your flooring, your shelves, paint your walls and hang your paintings. They help you install your fridge and your cabinets so you can decide by yourself what to put into them (content!). Front-end developers usually work more with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

As for full-stack developers, those are developers who are familiar with both front-end and back-end development. That being said, even full-stack developers have will generally have a preference or strength in one area or the other. Generally, you'll be able to find a full-stack developer easily (finding a good one is a different story!)

Once in a while, you might find that rare unicorn who can handle both design+front-end or design+full-stack. Those are a startup's dream and if you find a good one, they are worth their weight in gold.

So who and what should you look for to build your website?

It depends on what you plan on doing with your website, your budget, what you're willing to compromise, your long-term goals, and a bit of luck, but the following is a rough ballpark of what I recommend. Please note, that options may change based on certain variables.

If your budget is under $10k and you're not selling anything online

If you have a budget that's under $10k to devote to your website and you're not looking to sell anything online, I recommend going with a service like Squarespace. Squarespace makes it easy to create beautiful-looking websites right out the box without coding knowledge with their drag-and-drop interface and pre-made templates you can customize. If you want something a bit more custom-looking, you can easily hire a graphic designer or a web designer to make your site look visually different.

If your budget is under $10k and you plan on selling items

While Squarespace does offer the ability to sell items on their platforms, in terms of longevity, growth and marketing, they aren't the best options out there. If you have a low budget and would like to get started without being able to afford the cost of a web developer, then I would recommend going with Webflow, which offers better drag-and-drop options and great modern templates to get started with. It does come with a bit more of a learning curve than Squarespace does, but it offers more flexibility and options for you to grow into.

If you're planning to start a small e-commerce and your budget is between $10k-$20k

If you are just starting an e-commerce and have between $10k-$20k to invest in your website and you won't be able to afford hiring a web developer to maintain your website afterwards, I recommend starting with a pre-made template on Shopify or BigCommerce which generally runs about $0-200/template. These two platforms are subscription services that take care of the back-end so you'll only need to worry about the front-end, which a pre-made template can take care of to a certain extent. I would recommend also allocating some of that budget to hire a designer to help you with your branding, because in today's digital market, you'll need great branding to stand out.

With Shopify handling the backend, and a pre-made template handling front-end, this leaves you time and resources to focus on developing your business and dealing with product. While there are plenty of e-commerce platforms like WooCommerce for Wordpress or Magento that offer a lower cost up-front (they're free to download and set up on your own servers), the hidden costs associated with running a WooCommerce or Magento website ends up being significantly higher than if you'd gone with Shopify or BigCommerce in the first place.

If you have more than $30k to invest on your e-commerce, but you don't have a developer resources in-house

Unless you have very customized customer experience with your product (think very customer-tailored products, complex subscriptions), stick with Shopify or (Big Commerce), but invest in hiring a web designer and developer to build you a fully-branded, custom theme for your store. An experienced team will be able to build a website that requires little maintenance from a developer, meaning that you should be able to make most content updates by yourself, in the first few months after launch. That being said, as you start paid media advertisement, you'll still need to find a designer and developer to help you make changes to your website every few months.

If you have a complicated e-commerce model or have the budget to invest in something entirely custom

If you have a complicated e-commerce model which requires a lot of customization in terms of what customers need to do before they can purchase a product, or if there are touchpoints that come after their initial product that ties into their experiences, then you may require a custom build site, or a platform that will allow for more flexibile customization that Shopify allows for. Whatever you do, stay away from Magento or Wordpress/WooCommerce. Even though they give you access to the stores base code for adaptibility, these platforms are the equivalent age of your 90-year-old grandfather—they lean heavily on PHP. This means, you'll need more developer maintenance because there are more bugs. They're also structured to account for e-commerce behaviors in the early 2000s—there are better options out there! Though I haven't tried it personally, Solidus is one of the newer and popular ones out there now.

In terms of who you want to hire - I would either hire your own team, or go with an agency. You'll definitely want an experienced team when it comes to custom builds. Look for teams made of UX and UI designers, front-end and back-end developers. Make sure to check out their work to see if they are a good fit first. For custom builds, you'll want to make sure you find a team that can set up a good foundation for the future in terms of your site architecture even if it's more costly upfront, otherwise it'll cost you a lot down the line. (I've seen clients spent more than $100k to fix mistakes their previous agency made because they were inexperienced.)

If you're planning on building a web-based software as a service (mobile apps are a different story)

You probably already know who to hire! But in the case you don't, at the very least, you'll need to hire a web designer who can handle UX/UI design, a front-end developer and a back-end developer. If you're bootstrapped or if you get lucky, you'll be able to find a web designer and developer who can handle both design and front-end development and then only need to hire a back-end developer. Or you might hire a designer and a full-stack developer.

Qualities to look for when hiring someone

How do you find someone is a good fit in today's world? Here are some of my tips:

1. Find someone who isn't afraid of saying no

Building a website involves a lot of moving pieces as there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Stakeholders have to agree on the design, feature requests are added in last minute, and before you know it, a three month project will end up being a six month project.

Often times, I've heard clients who I've worked with mention that in the past their old developers always promised something within a timeframe and wasn't able to deliver. While it's hard to predict curveballs all the time, a good team will be able to tell you upfront when the timelines are not reasonable and turning down a job when it's not within their capabilities to complete it on a desired date.

2. Find someone who puts in the effort to explain the process

A website can be a little tricky for people to understand what's going on underneath the hood. Find someone who avoids jargon and does their best to help you understand what to expect throughout the process. If your point-of-contact seems to be vague, and isn't putting in the effort to give you the information you need, I would steer clear of them.

3. Make sure they have examples of work

If you're hiring an agency, make sure they have examples or references of relevant work to base off of. If they don't, based on your budget and risk-tolerance, I would proceed with caution. If you're hiring in-house, make sure they have examples of work and give them a case study to complete.

Still unsure where to start?

If you're still unsure where to start, send me an email and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction!

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