The true cost of a “free” website

How many times have you heard the phrase “I’ll sort out a website for you, for free”?

Ok, you may not have heard it spoken to you, but most of us know someone who knows someone who is a web guru. This person knocks out websites like Willy Wonky knocked out chocolate bars, and best of all he does it for free!

It all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Where in life can you get something for free, really? If you wanted your haircut and someone said “little Jimmy down the road can do that for you” would you take them up on it? The fact of the matter is you generally get what you pay for in life, and if something seems too good to be true, it generally is.

Why am I blogging the obvious, you may ask?

Well, I have had discussions with a few people this past few weeks and it is clear there is an aspect to this “free” website business that can turn round and bite you in the behind.

The story goes as follows…

Someone starting up a business gets offered a free website.  They see this as a great offer and so take them up on it, and low and behold in a few weeks they have a website. The website is ok (i.e. better than nothing) in their opinion, and don’t forget, it’s free! The problem comes in a few weeks or months, when the business owner realises that they need a proper website, something that reflects their business and maybe something they have control over (let’s face it, little Jimmy is busy, and you don’t want to bother him too much, as you are not paying him!).

It is clear to see what has happened here, the business owner has now lost control of their site. They don’t want to go elsewhere, as little Jimmy was kind enough to put in some hard work in the first place, it would be rude to ask someone to re-design it now, wouldn’t it?

Basically, through no fault of their own they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want a proper site, but they don’t want to upset the person who put themselves out to design the first version of their site.

It’s all very well telling the story and pointing out the obvious (it IS obvious, right?), but what should you do if you find yourself in that situation?

There is no hard and fast rule here. I always try to advise against getting something done for free, as it ultimately (unless you are very hard faced about it) relinquishes control of your website. I mean, how angry can you get at little Jimmy when the website that you are not paying for goes offline for half a day?

I know of several individuals/organisations who are (or have been) in this situation. While it is not their fault as such, it is ultimately harming their business, as every other aspect of their business is growing, their website is lagging behind.

I guess the moral of this story is to take control of every aspect of your business, including your website. In this day and age your website is becoming more and more your shop window. People on average spend very little time on a site before making a decision whether to do business with you. Use this opportunity to make an impression and don’t worry too much about little Jimmy’s feelings, he’ll get over it!

6 replies
  1. Lyndi
    Lyndi says:

    I have been wanting to say this for a very long time but you have managed it in a far more eloquent way than what I ever could.

    The reverse of your point is also true. Web developers should also not work for free. Trust me, I have been caught in this situation before. These freebies (especially for friends) just never end. The client knows he is getting things for free and he will keep coming back for more and more and…

  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Lyndi: You are right about that, I too have been caught in that situation… just as bad (if not worse) is the “design something and I’ll pay you if I like it” customer, but that’s for another post 😉

  3. Rarst
    Rarst says:

    Trick with free (design or anything) is learning to let it go. Intentional or not (and wanted or not) – hooking person with small offer so he feels obliged is very basic and powerful.

    I have experience of receiving free service, saying ok-thanks, stuffing it in archive and never touching again. Is it bad for person who made it? Somewhat. Would it been better to force bad decision on myself? Well, no! 🙂


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