Do You Need To Build A Custom Website?
A bespoke website is a custom built website or web application tailor-made to the specific demands of your business. They are custom designed & built by experienced professionals such as GUI/UX designers and programmers. These professionals will spend time analyzing requirements, developing concepts, architecting data, designing interfaces, coding functionality and testing. It can be time consuming and costly.
Until a few years ago, there was no need to differentiate between bespoke and non-bespoke websites. Nearly all websites were built bespoke. However with the explosive growth of website systems like WordPress or online DIY tools, the percentage of custom built websites has been steadily declining. The average small business no longer needs to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a bespoke site from an agency. If all that is needed is a small marketing website, many hire a local graphic designer to build something on the cheap. We strongly counsel against this. Even if you want a WordPress site you should hire an experienced web developer who knows the web inside & out.
So when do you need a bespoke website? How much should you expect to spend on a bespoke website? What are the pros & cons?
Times have changed.
For as much as I am loathe to admit this, after spending 18 years in the web business, most small businesses just don’t need bespoke websites anymore. Systems like WordPress provide for a relatively bug free experience from day one and are 1/3 the cost in most cases. Systems that would have taken 6+ months to build and $50k or more can now be built in weeks for under $10k.
I started building websites in the late 90s. Back then, the general rule of thumb was a website containing functionality started at $10k+. Now you can get a custom designed WordPress website with a full content manager, sliders, galleries and more for as low as $1500. If you don’t custom design the GUI and utilize a template, it can be as low as a few hundred dollars (especially if using a freelancer). So it is hard to make a cogent argument that a small business must spend more and wait longer. Just to enjoy the wonders of my clean custom code (that they don’t really care about anyway)? That is a tough sell.
When You need a Bespoke Website.
So is Bespoke even needed? Absolutely. WordPress is not a good fit for everything. I stand by my long-time critique: systems like WordPress and Drupal are overly bloated lowest-common-denominator-one-size-fits-all systems. They are prone to hackers, constant updates, reliance on 3rd party plugin and a steeper learning curve. They require businesses to give up total control of how their software should operate. Instead you rely on how the provider chose to build their tool. If you build a custom plugin, this can be more costly than if you just built a bespoke website in the first place (been there). Businesses that have unique needs, require flexibility and high security requirements should definitely go the bespoke route.
A Bespoke Website requires planning.
If your business needs a custom solution, be prepared to plan everything out ahead of time. Any web developer that doesn’t map things out with Sitemaps, Flow Charts, Specs and a detailed Wireframe is headed for disaster. For builds that take thousands of hours (I have built many), an organized project workflow utilizing SCRUM or KANBAN project management techniques and tools is a must. Tracking tasks, reviewing budgets frequently, and allowing clients to see progress all contribute to a successful outcome. For our team, a coder never touches a keyboard unless everything has been mapped out, broken down into a specific task and entered into a project tracking system such as Jira.
A Healthy Budget is Required for a Bespoke Website.
I would love to tell you this can be done for $1500. But it’s not. Planning, project management, designing, coding and testing all require considerable time. Even if you were to outsource to save money, a decent sized bespoke website will require tens of thousands of dollars to build. In many cases hundreds of thousands or more. The cost range will depend not only on the requirements, but on the composition of the team (local developers versus foreign; experience; agency size; agency reputation). Our team focuses mostly on small to mid-sized companies. So we tend to be a bit cheaper than the larger firms aiming for Fortune 500 companies. But even so, Bespoke is not cheap.
Bespoke web development requires patience, flexibility & expectations management.
One of the toughest parts about Bespoke Web Development is meeting requirements, expectations, timelines and budgets. Nearly every web developer I know has had to grapple with this at one time or another. Clients want to spend as little as possible, for maximum functionality, that is 100% bug free and on time. But during most bespoke projects, client scope creep, unexpected issues, unforeseen hurdles & scheduling issues may impact the flow of the job.
We as developers need to manage expectations and clearly communicate with clients when problems arise. As a client, you need to be informed up-front that no software is bug free. You need to know that a “quick add-on” will really add 20 hours of work. If a project turns out to be more difficult than anticipated, you need to know as soon as your developer knows so you can get back on track. Bespoke development is a partnership between the developer and the client. It requires communication, flexibility, fairness and patience on both sides.
The Best sites are Bespoke sites.
For those that have the need, timeframe and budget, building custom should always be the first consideration. Just go into your project with a clear set of goals and realistic expectations. If you do, you should be well on the path toward a successful outcome.