Dear Business, I’m scared for you.

Dear Business,

I’m scared for you.

It’s scary to see a much too large majority of businesses still viewing websites as a feature to their business. Yes, what was once a feature like ten years ago is now the price of entry to survive and thrive.

Last night I received an email from a prospective client that went something like this: “Can you give me an idea as for cost of a website only? We have a very limited budget. We just need someone to make it look the way we want.”

First off, asking a professional of any industry to design / build / make something the way you want is like asking a roofer to perform surgery. Ok, that’s not the point, but needed to throw that in there. Anyways, this had me thinking beyond the previous statement. People still view having a website as a small feature to their companies future. “Well I just need a website because my competitors do.” Yikes! Really? Ok, sit down, we need to have “the talk”.

As any respectable design business should, when we receive these types of emails, we try our best to understand the client and educate them as much as possible before sending them on their way. While I understand having limited budgets, digging deeper I’ve found many companies have “limited budgets” simply for the fact that they still don’t see the value in a website. Limited budgets often mean, “we don’t want to spend the money”, Not, “we don’t have the money.” Chances are you have the money, you’re just spending it in areas that you shouldn’t be and not saving more in other areas. The web and its technologies allow us to save money.

I’ll use my business as an example. If I were to put a price on my upcoming redesign of my company site [], I’d pay up to $100k for it. Seriously? Yep, dead serious. My website simplifies tasks which would normally need to be performed by a real person sitting behind a desk. This results in the hiring of more people – also takes time and time is money – paying them salaries, getting a larger office space. My website and blog does my marketing, so there’s one less person I’d need to hire. My website acts as a secretary and online forms help weed out and distribute new work. There’s another employee I don’t need. I’m getting more profitable as I type this, since this article will likely attract reactions. Pretty neat, right? Still have a limited budget?

I’ll jump around here a bit. I can talk about this forever. I’m tired of hearing about the slide of the economy and how those campaigning are going to fix it. Business is changing people. We buy and make decisions differently. “Oh, it’s sad too see Foot Locker file bankruptcy and close over 200 stores! The economy is so bad that people aren’t buying shoes like they did” Then why the hell is Zappos operating like a beast? If we’re doing so poorly as an economy, how are we making Apple the most powerful company in the world? Why not ask Blockbuster why people aren’t watching movies anymore? Oh wait, that’s right. Netflix.

Still thinking your website or online presence is feature? We’re no longer in the era of an ‘elevator pitch’. We run to the web to learn more about a company / product / service / idea. We turn to Collaborative Consumption before making trusted decisions. We don’t want to hear your marketing BS. We want real responses and reviews from real people that used your service or bought your product. We want to read your process through your blog. We’ve been in the making of a new Industrial Revolution and I’m scared to see so many still standing still and blaming depreciating profits solely on Washington. I know. I know that you know that “business is changing.” But do you even know what that means? Or are you just jumping on the Twitter and Pinterest bandwagon because your competition is on there? Do you truly understand the real value?

Your website is not a feature that you can half-ass. Spend some money. Protect your future. A good website works hard for your business. Much harder than many employees can offer.

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Loved the Foot Locker and Zappos comparison. Couldn’t have said it better, and quite frankly, no need to look for a better explanation. Well written.

  2. Bravo! I am saving this to Pocket as a reminder and mini-manifesto!

  3. Kyle says:

    Beautiful. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. Seth Alling says:

    Thank you! I’ve wanted to say this so many times before, but I’ve never been able to find a good way to say it. Your examples and analogies fit perfectly.

  5. Kurt says:

    When determining a client’s budget, we frame the budget in terms of “What is the potential cost to your business of not completing this project?” and “What is the potential gain to your business of completing this project?” It’s a quick way to determine if a potential truly understands the value of the work they’re asking for.

  6. Tyler Herman says:

    Have you ever run a business other than in the design field?

    Small and even medium sized businesses can’t just piss money away, they need to weight their options and find out where their audience is. If your demo is older people forget a website you don’t need i. Advertise in the newspaper, and the phonebooks.

    Designers, forget that we are in the marketing business. If you only have $5000 to spend, you spend it on what brings in the best return, period. For many industries a cheap, half-assed website is all they need because they get a better return from other forms of advertising.

    We spend all our time online so we see the value of a solid website, but we aren’t everyones audience. There are still millions of people without smartphones, not on Facebook, and who don’t even own a computer or have a reliable internet connection.

    It all comes down to making $$$$$$$$ and we still have to give clients “the talk” sometimes to justify our paychecks.

  7. Shanna says:

    Wow. This is the first blog post I’ve read in its entirety in months. Very nice. Love the anger. :)

    @Kurt Yes. Exactly. I’m adding that to my questionnaire now.

  8. That’s why I visit your site daily!

    Although you write articles like this rarely, it’s a real gem to read them because you can explain certain problem to the last point, doing it simple and effective.

  9. Hear! Hear! (or is it Here! Here!). As a fellow purveyor of small business websites, I couldn’t agree with you more. The value of a solid web presence that provides the content clients are searching for, answers their questions, and showcases your product/services is a fundamental investment in today’s economy. It’s your main marketing driver. As you put it so well, “Your website is not a feature that you can half-ass.” Do it right, hire a professional.

  10. Jim says:

    Thanks for saying what all of us in the industry are thinking and feeling.

  11. Jim Sweas says:

    Good for you, Brian! I’m about 40 yrs. ahead of you in the writing & design business. Got sidetracked with 22 yrs. of world-changing Macintosh convenience. Gagged about 15 yrs. ago at the first sight of HTML language hurdles. Spent all my time instead on building my profitable print disciplines. But it’s time to move on. Still have the same fanaticism and energy I had in the 70s. So there’s no stopping my own twin passions for typography and layout. Just another mountain to climb. This time for a whole new batch of online merchants who still don’t quite get the entire impact of the web. You can be sure I’ll be among those eventually clicking on your “Hire Me” button. This time as a subcontractor for my future clients. Even 3K miles away from Brooklyn, here in sunny Santa Barbara. Thanks for your insights and enthusiasm, Brian!

  12. well done! nicely written! how annoying are those emails, they show a complete lack o pride in your companies website. and the “we need it designed how we want” you just know there a horrible design and client expereince coming from this work!

  13. Quote:

    “Limited budgets often mean, “we don’t want to spend the money”, Not, “we don’t have the money.” Chances are you have the money, you’re just spending it in areas that you shouldn’t be and not saving more in other areas. The web and its technologies allow us to save money.”

    Dude, this is the same thing we deal with in our profession. People perceive ‘doing your taxes’ as the end goal. Wrong! That is just a necessary evil we all must struggle through. The planning and abilities and education and investment in our team is what you pay for.

    Often, our customers are paying for what they do NOT have to do – not what we do. Good stuff, dude!

  14. Mike DeLeon says:

    Story of my freelance adventure! I constantly get email’s exactly like that. It’ll be a few years, but I think people will start to realize having a well designed website is the best marketing tool you can buy.

  15. Fantastic. Hell, this blog post will make ME more money…

  16. Seth Hall says:

    Great post Brian and insightful comments all around.

    Still so many questions on how to present the value of our work and the value of a well designed, well developed website to a client who does not want to spend the money.

    As designers and developers we know that the money spent by the client will be well worth it and the initial investment will pay off over long term. The challenge is convincing our potential clients of this, not just to educate them and change an underlying train of thought, but to get the gig and get paid.

    Any thought on this?

  17. Dalibor Milakovic says:

    Well, it’s the problem with the “simple” logo and/or biz-card design as well. Eg. they want a brochure for $20 but they have to be “wow!”-ed when I deliver. They’d pay a few hours of work and expect miracles.

  18. Varun Dhital says:

    Great post mate.

    What you said, plus the fact that there are a thousand “so called designers” who offer to build you full websites for $99. I think that is the cause of this whole “Budget? Uhmm…how about next to no budget?”.

    All that just cannibalizes business. It makes no sense to un-aware number crunchers to pay someone 5k for something they can get done for $500.

    I should show this post next time someone wants to pay be $50 for a logo and then back-seat design. LOL

  19. ed rosenthal says:

    Thanks for articulating what i have been thinking. It has become sometimes hard to ask for their budget, because normally they shy away from answering, not perhaps because they don’t have one or don’t know, but for them its either a game they play or they haven’t strategized about it, and they need to. Showing real value in a culture that is blitzed by commercialism is actually a war, or seems like it.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: