Buying a website from a web design firm that caters to your specific industry seems like a no-brainer. After all, they’ve served so many others with similar interests, and their products and services are reasonably priced… at least on the surface. Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential pitfalls.
All Or Nothing At All
Some of these web shops, particularly the larger ones, require you to use their proprietary content management system (CMS)— i.e., the web-based software that you use to edit your web pages. What begins as a convenience, turns into a nightmare if you become dissatisfied with any of their products and services.
Unlike a website that uses a popular, well-supported, open-source CMS like WordPress, moving your website to another hosting provider may not be feasible, making it practically impossible for you to work with another vendor if the relationship sours.
So, ask if you may use your own hosting company before you commit.
Pick Any Template, as Long as It’s One of Ours
The best way to become a commodity is to act and look like your competitors— especially when competition is fierce. Therefore, it’s wise to consider if your business will be forced into one of a small group of pre-designed, minimally-modified templates like all of their other clients.
We Heart Our Customers, for Life
You also need to consider what it will take to customize your website, now and in the future. How flexible is their template system? Is there a large community of third-party developers who are familiar with it (and if so, talk to them first), or, will you have to work with their in-house team (who may, or may not be, competent)?
You may discover that other vendors you’d like to work with will be shut out from their system as well. For example, your SEO firm; copywriters; web designers; and so on. And I can tell you from experience, when such a prospective client comes to me for help, there is little I can do— other than recommend they start with a new website.
So, Who Should You Work With?
There is nothing wrong with a web design firm or any business focusing on specific industries and streamlining their process to gain greater efficiencies. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, choose a firm that does not put their process, marketing prowess, and profits ahead of your best interests.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to rely on a scalable, open-source CMS with a large community of third-party vendors who support it. WordPress for example, has a very large library of third-party plugins that help your designer/developer customize the site to fit your needs, without having to custom-code everything (as far as functionality is concerned).
Also, choose a firm that does not rely exclusively on barely-modified, pre-designed templates (aka “Themes”). Just ask about their process. Will they take the time to clarify and understand your strategic objectives? Will they have the creative and technical skills to meet your short- and long-term needs?
Disclaimer: As a web designer/developer, I’ve always preferred to work with clients in a variety of industries. For me personally, this approach is partially responsible for my longevity, and it enables me to bring a fresh perspective to every problem I’m asked to solve.