Thinking of hiring a cheap freelancer to design your website? What’s the real cost to your brand?

Last week we lost a project to build a corporate website to a freelancer who quoted 5% of our figure. How can we compete with that?

On the face of it we can’t. Freelancers are popular because they are cheap. But as I was reminded while discussing this loss, last year we bailed out three companies who had chosen a freelancer and then had to spend a lot more money after he went missing in action.

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If you find a good freelancer, he’s worth his or her weight in gold. But they are increasingly hard to find. And if you find a bad one, you could be in a lot of trouble. And not just with your boss.

Freelance web designers tend to create websites. But the goal is not to create a website. The goal is to create a website that compels as many visitors as possible to take action. That may be to fill out a contact form, sign up for a newsletter, buy a subscription and so on.

Because a lot of freelancers have a background in design, the design tends to lead the process and a lot of business owners are seduced by great design even though website design should follow content structure. The design is there to aid the engagement of the content.

The content and referring channels, are what influence search engines and not the design. Have an amazing looking site and lousy content and you might as well not bother.

And of course a good website is linked to tools that allow you to collect data you can use to improve content and engagement. Finally, a good website provides a little more control around the next step in the visitors journey which will be social media.

The 3 projects we salvaged last year eventually cost about the same as we had quoted originally. But after taking into account the business lost during 6 months without a website, cheap becomes expensive.

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2 weeks ago we were contacted by a start up who hired a cheap freelancer last November. The site still hasn’t gone live. 5 months is a lifetime for a startup and it’s not just the money wasted on the freelancer. Reputation, credibility and sales have been compromised.

Another entrepreneur we’re helping has lost first mover advantage after hiring a cheap freelancer. In the four months it took him to create a terrible home page with dreadful content and questionable hosting, a competitor has launched a rival business. What has hiring a cheap freelancer cost him? What extra money will he have to invest to recover lost ground?

Many freelancers sell themselves cheap to get the business then try to figure out how to do it. They may be great designers but have lousy project and time management skills. This will negatively impact your business.

Many won’t refuse work, from anyone, ever. And while they may be a web designer, many of them will be asked to develop wedding invitations or websites for friends and friends of friends.

Nothing wrong with that of course except that when they get overloaded they tend to look after their friends and their friends of friends before their top paying customers. That’s illogical but perhaps it’s better to lose face with a stranger than family or friends, even if the stranger is paying 10 times more than the friend and, equally important but often overlooked maybe an influencer.

Freelancer quotes tend to be based on free templates built on WordPress or Wix. WordPress is a great platform with an intuitive CMS but the danger is you’ll have a ‘me too’ website that can look dated very quickly.

A freelancer may design what is easiest for him, not what you the client wants. There’s a good chance they’ll use free stock images and often use the same images for every project.

If a freelancer considers you to be ‘difficult’, they may go MIA mid way through the project. This can be hugely frustrating, especially if the site isn’t live. Talking of the website being live, once it is, what happens when there are updates to plugins?

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One corporate site that we built wanted to maintain the site on their own. Then it came time to update a plugin. They made a mistake and the whole site went down. Not good. Luckily we had stressed the importance of daily backups so the damage was limited.

Who and where your website is hosted is very important. While your freelancer may be a great designer, does he understand the hosting process? Does he know the difference between a ‘bad neighbourhood’ and a good one?

Smartphone penetration in Malaysia is above 80% so it may make sense for you to design for mobile first, rather than desktop first. Make sure your freelancer has the necessary skills.

But most important of all is populating the website. Who is developing the content? Often the freelancer will tell you he’ll do it. Don’t let him. Plus you’ll need regular new content to keep the site relevant. Who will create that content and how will it be uploaded?

A lot of planning should go into the development of a corporate website. Whether you are a start up or established business, cheap can often have a high price so think carefully before you hire a ‘cheap’ freelancer.

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