Don't get sucked down into the very expensive website design whirlpool

It’s indisputable: Every business should have a website and a Facebook page. The question is how much to spend on it.

Some companies spend millions of dollars creating their website, others almost nothing. If the scale is 1 to 100, with 100 being how much a major international corporation might spend to create a website, working hand in hand with a large creative firm (AKA millions of dollars), and 1 being a completely static site where nothing ever changes, the right number for most SMBs is surprisingly around a 5 or a 10. Realistically there is no need to spend a fortune on a website unless you are really processing a lot of orders, or your marketing department feels strongly about certain features that they believe are unique. 

The reason beautiful websites can be done inexpensively is freeware. There is some tremendous web building software available for free. This Crow Hill site, with all the fancy features and effects, was done with freeware. Aside from my work putting the site together, it cost somewhere around $200. 

How can that be? The reason for this is similar to why there are free online encyclopedias, like Wikipedia. People donate their time to develop some very robust web development tools, available for free.

However, what really makes it possible is that around each of these major web building packages (Joomla!, Drupal, and WordPress), an entire ecosystem of developers and development houses has sprung up, and these groups supply just about anything you need at a very reasonable price.

But the real key to why freeware can make beautiful and unique websites is that Joomla is highly configurable. You can of course also modify the underlying code or the HTML, but there really is no need to do so. As just one example, here is how you control the color of text for particular area of a website:

The top arrow points to transparency controls, the second to main color and the third to specific color. It's all done by dragging the lines or circle, and you can make almost any text or background look however you want. Although not simple to figure out at first, once you do figure Joomla out, it's easy to configure almost anything.

I personally like Joomla! (yes it's properly spelled with an exclamation point), so here’s a quick tour of what’s available from the base system (free) and one inexpensive vendor (about $30).

For designs (called templates) I like RocketTheme.com These are just a few examples of templates. There are literally thousands out there, all inexpensive, which can be modified easily to do almost anything you want. Some are real works of art, and virtually all work on any device.

RocketTheme.com

What if you want to book rooms at your hotel or boarding house, or maybe do some Airbnb? You can modify the look many different ways, but it’ll process reservations and payments for you. The cost—all are less than $100.

A Hotel booking design, which is also fully functional

This is one I like, and used for this website. It's good for selling services and products too.

This one is clean, has a modern look, and can be used for many different purposes.

And just to show you how many other types of add-ons are available, go to the Joomla extension website. Many of these “extensions” are free, but if they cost anything, it’s cheap. 

You can apply any functionality to your site, and the costs are minimal

If you’re technically inclined, these programs are a lot of fun to work with, but be warned—it’s not particularly easy to set it up, unless you’ve worked with similar software before. However, it is easy to maintain yourself once it is set up.

The point here is that if you can do it yourself, it’s very inexpensive, but if you need someone to do it for you—work with you to determine what you need, do the writing, and put the site together, you will only be paying for the labor. We at Crow Hill Pub can typically get a beautiful site up and running, to a client’s satisfaction, for between $2,000 to $5,000, depending on complexity and ability to work with established templates (not too much customization).

That is actually quite a bargain—I recently worked as a CIO for a small publishing company on Wall Street, and they (it was a marketing project) spent $500,000 to get their site up and running, and it looks no better than if they’d done it with freeware. In fact, most of the expense was on the creative side—every time we spoke with the creative agency there were four people on the phone clocking in at $300 an hour each. It didn’t take long to rack up a big bill. With Joomla, the basic creative pieces are there for $100.