The Coronavirus lockdown made apparent something that has been developing for years: the future of most businesses is digital. Many will dispense with costly offices and high street shops entirely. Those that don’t will still depend heavily on digital operations to win and retain customers.
That means more small businesses are now looking to buy or extend their websites, but many know nothing about the technologies, the market, the workload or the costs. Inevitably, many will choose a product that seems to bundle everything they need – design, coding, hosting, the domain name and IT support. Convenient it may be, but is it wise?
Why most businesses need a developer
HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML) is the language on which the Web is built. It was prototyped in about 1980 and from the outset was intended to be easy to learn. It was designed for non-IT people by a non-IT scientist (a physicist) so that everyone could easily format digital documents before sharing them.
As collections of online documents got bigger, content management systems were developed. To extend its capabilities, scripting languages were added. Nevertheless, they were still designed to be simple for ordinary people. That was the whole point. Everyone could afford the negligible cost of a little server space and domain name. There were hackers, but they were enthusiasts, not criminals.
E-commerce changed everything. Now there are huge competitive pressures to design complicated sites and optimise their delivery over the network. The general public now thinks of the internet and web design in the same category as rocket science and brain surgery. As a result, they tend to leave it to “the experts” instead of asking a few relevant questions.
The map is not the territory
The main thing businesses must appreciate is the difference between a website and the network it runs on. Really it is obvious: you wouldn’t buy a car built by Balfour Beatty and drive it on roads built by Tesla. Road building and car making have few transferrable skills. Nor do networks and websites.
And that is an understatement. Successful digital enterprise depends upon a host of specialist skills that have little to do with one another. Ideally, they should begin with business analysis and market research, proceed through template creation and graphic design, HTML and back-end programming, followed by content creation, SEO and traffic analysis. In-operation performance also depends on server configuration and network maintenance.
If you ask a company if they can provide everything the majority say yes – why turn down business – but is that even possible? Even Fortune 500 companies rarely do everything under one roof.
Inevitably, one-stop-shops often resort to a simple solution – they outsource. Often this takes the form of supplying off-the-peg website designs, outsourcing the actual hosting, and setting everything up with factory defaults.
What isn’t included in an all-in-one contract?
Surprisingly quite a lot of things. Understanding what you are getting and not getting is always harder if all your services are bundled together.
Vital components are often charged extra or have to be renewed at escalating costs. These include elements such as the domain name, shopping cart, security certificate and backups. You can be charged for fonts, plugins, updates and hacking protection.
Expect to change your mind
Some customers discover that’s not easy either. Emergency repairs or vital changes to the website often incur a charge, as may exceeding your bandwidth, changing to a different tariff or moving to a different server.
As time goes by, your understanding of how your website works (and doesn’t work) is bound to improve. Markets are always changing and so must your business. Consequently, there will inevitably be things you need to change. Customers are often surprised to find their “developer” is reluctant to do re-development. Selling off-the-peg solutions doesn’t vouch for their coding expertise.
Unlucky customers who want to migrate to a cheaper host, faster server, or more helpful IT desk sometimes encounter another problem. Because your services are bundled together, you may not be able to change one thing because of your commitment to another. It’s akin to wanting a cheaper gas tariff when you are locked into a combined fuel contract, or cheaper calls when you are tied to a combined broadband-TV-phone deal.
If you let your developer buy your domain name for you there is also a fair chance it belongs to them, not you!
In conclusion, don’t keep all your apples in one barrel. Preserve your freedom to change your host and your developer independently and you will spare yourself a great deal of trouble and frustration later. As a bonus, each of them will be better skilled at what they do and all the more motivated to provide the best possible deal.