The problem with your web designer: why hiring out your site could be your biggest biz mistake

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You’re in the shower, lathering up with your fave shampoo, when suddenly, it hits you like a lightning bolt. A brilliant idea. An idea for a business that’s sure to change the world as we know it (or at least your little corner of it), and that you know you must act on NOW, or it will never happen.

Lit up like a Christmas tree, you jump out of the shower with your hair full of suds so you can scrawl down your genius thought before it vanishes into the ether.

As you skid back into the bathroom, your mind goes into overdrive dreaming up your branding for the new pursuit. You can’t remember the last time you were so excited. Fame, fortune, and that splashy trip to Paris are surely just around the corner!

But then you have another thought: “Crap. I’m going to need a website.”

The smile fades from your lips as the water goes cold.

Yep – you’ve got a tall order on your hands. This ain’t your first rodeo, and you know from experience how hard it is to find a talented designer who a) “gets” your vision, b) actually returns your emails, and c) is available sometime before 2014. Oh yeah – and you also need to come up with $2,000 for the project. Stat.

And just like that, the bubble bursts. You can already see the finished site in your mind’s eye (it’s gorgeous! flawless! primed to reel in the clients!), but you’re painfully aware that getting there is going to be a real struggle.

I know you’re trying to outsource the stuff that’s outside your zone of genius. That’s a smart strategy. But if you’re a creative solopreneur (especially one who’s a bit of a design snob), hiring out your website can be a massive mistake.

Let’s get very real here: after months of back-and-forth by email, costs that balloon with every revision you ask for, and a low-level migraine you can’t seem to shake, you could STILL end up with a site you don’t adore.

Does outsourcing still seem like the way to go?

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do? Why, DIY, of course!

That’s right – I said it! For visually picky solopreneurs, learning to create your own website – coding and all – is the smartest choice you will make this year.

Here’s why:

  • Learning to code is easier than you think. There’s this perception that it’s scary and weird, but this is just what “web people” want you to believe. The end result? You end up paying them money to do something they get a real kick out of. Actually, learning HTML and CSS is no different from leaning any other new skill. I taught myself HTML when I was 13, and I’m not even a supernerd.
  • Building your own sites saves you serious cash. You know the old proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. If you have ten ideas for new businesses or online projects over the next few years, you could be forking out as much as $50,000 for web design and web development work. That’s $50,000 you could be using to start a bold new movement, a charity, or an impressive shoe collection.
  • Coding is what lets you create amazing, non-template-y  visual effects. Putting up a basic WordPress site has its place, but if you care deeply about your branding, you need to know how to code. Paired with graphics (which you can make yourself online, for free), HTML and CSS knowledge is a must-have for getting a gorgeous, customized look for your site. “Cookie-cutter” won’t know what hit it.
  • Knowing this stuff makes you super business-nimble. Came up with a great new opt-in offer? If you know HTML and CSS, you can throw it up on your site within minutes of envisioning it. No matter how you slice it, that’s pretty darn awesome.
  • If you’re taught the right way, code and web stuff can be fun. Like, not going out on Friday night because you want to stay in with your computer fun.
  • Total empowerment. Imagine the feeling of freedom you’d have if you finally knew how to get the ideas out of your head and onto a computer screen – so that your ideal clients and customers can bask in their beauty.

As an entrepreneur, I can’t tell you how valuable it is for me to be able to get a new site online, exactly the way I want it to look, within hours of it popping into my head. You can have that feeling too!


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amanda-aitkenAmanda Aitken is the incurable entrepreneur and longtime web designer behind The Girl’s Guide to Web Design:  the online course that teaches design-minded women to create gorgeous, totally unique WordPress blogs and sites – coding, graphics, and all – in a fun, whimsical video format. Find out which learning track would fit you best (First Class or Jetsetter) at, or  follow her on Twitter at @amandaaitken.


  1. Hi Amanda!

    Great article and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m actually a website developer and I focus on teaching people how to use WordPress once I’m building the site. Some things can be tricky to initially set up, but once you have a WordPress site up and running, the business owner has the ability to add those new ‘aha’ business ideas.

    Anyone that’s looking for more WordPress tips on a DIY’ers budget, check out where I’ve hundreds of hours creating great free WordPress audio content.

  2. Hmmm, well, this is a tad bit of an affront to web designers. I, personally, do not charge through the nose for revisions to sites. And I would really love to see a logo designed with free software online that isn’t, um, crap.

    I do agree that learning code is not hard; in fact, I taught myself after graduating with a degree in visual communications (print design.) But if you make your money through your business, and not by dinking around with margins and paddings until the cows come home, then it is wise to find an experienced designer…notice I use the word DESIGNER, not programmer…to build a truly engaging site that reflects your brand as something of high-quality.

    But if you just want a site today, then go ahead and change the header image of the 2011 wordpress theme.. you’ll be up and blogging in no time. But as things grow, you’ll want to hire someone who really understands the process of design.

    • Hi Lillian,

      You’re totally right – not everyone can DIY and get a beautiful result!

      But in my design business, (in addition to running The Girl’s Guide to Web Design, my other biz is Better Than Chocolate Web Design –, I’m constantly meeting people who are very talented design-wise, but who just don’t know how to translate that “eye” to the computer monitor. I take my students through my personal design process (from conception to execution) to empower them to learn those skills that feel “out of reach” to most.

      It’s not for everyone, but you should see the beautiful results some of our students are getting! They’re really knocking it out of the park. :)

  3. Okay, ‘m right with you. I’ve always been a big DIYer, and I already know basic html from an old college course, but I feel totally stuck. I don’t know where to start, and my wordpress site is still going to be way better than what I imagine I could design after a month of pouring over “coding for Dummies”

    You wrote: “If you’re taught the right way, code and web stuff can be fun” That’s the hard part. Where do I find a concise, yet fun book/course on web design? Most code books are incredibly dry and offer extraneous info that isn’t applicable to what I want to do with my site. Please help!

  4. As a designer, I have to say I agree that clients should be empowered to be able to control their sites. It’s not about charging out the nose – it’s about building something WELL DESIGNED that they can then manage. I totally agree that if clients can DIY they should – as long as they’re taught or know proper design technique. When they don’t – well, stuff just comes out ugly. LOL

  5. As a solo entrepreneur, I taught myself and have been designing my own website for about 5 years. It started out as a way to save money, but now I do it because I enjoy it. That being said, I look forward to the day to hire a great designer to design my website. It’s nice to get an objective design perspective. In the meantime, I just re-designed mine last week. Here’s the results:

  6. It shocks me how many small biz owners commission someone to make a website, and the web developer creates a flash, html or some sort of site that doesn’t include an easy content management tool – like WordPress. I wholeheartedly agree that solopreneurs should make sure they can control their website and make updates – coding and all. However, I do also believe that reaching out to a designer/web developer to create your site for you is a good idea. We can’t all be experts at SEO, customer conversion tactics, and all the nitty gritty code. (Some – like Amanda are!!) The key is to finding someone who will empower you to be able to make updates to your site, from blog posts, to specials, new images and even changing your hours of operation.

    Amanda has empowered me to be able to empower my clients! The GG2WD course has been immensely valuable. I have loved every minute!

  7. I totally agree. Building your own website and developing content on it that is relevant to you and your clients is an easy way to save money and develop solid marketing strategies. WordPress is a great easy way to setup a unique website without having to know a lot of code.

  8. Oh yes, as an addendum to my previous statement there.. I totally believe in empowering the client to make their own updates, blog effortlessly, add new pages and so on. Especially because I’d rather not be called every other week for tiny little chores! WordPress is totally the way to go…I always suggest it to my clients for those reasons. But I still stand by my statement that the design should SING! and be a site that people just enjoy visiting from a usability and aesthetic standpoint.

  9. Great post Amanda. I have to admit, learning to build and maintain my own site was one of the best things I did.

  10. I agree and disagree.

    The understanding of design is not the same as that of coding a site. With the tools available, there are plenty of ways to empower a user with the ability to add/edit/manage content, create pages, create images and more.

    But having someone get under the hood, working with CSS, JQuery, HTML5 (or simple HTML) doesn’t make sense to me. It is hard work keeping up with those things, and I do it for a living.

    Understanding type, white space, color and spatial relationships are not something that most clients understand, nor should they. They should understand that they want this cool idea online, easy to find, SEO’able, easily managed and with conversions. Not sure they want to figure out how to float a DIV with an embedded JQuery Slider in it…

    I think it is far more important to find a designer that WONT put it in a flash site, with no CMS, no SEO ability, no management and no way for the site to change without a terrible time and dollar commitment.

    It becomes necessary for the person with the idea to UNDERSTAND what can and should be done to make a site work. That ‘education’ of clients for my work is what takes the longest, and is the most frustrating. I don’t think it is necessary to spend a fortune on a website, but having some commitment, with a good designer, can make it less susceptible to failure from spending a ton of time on stuff that can be done faster by someone who knows what they are doing.

    Just my buck3eighty…

  11. I’m going to agree with some of the designers here… I can code a basic website (I used to build frames-based websites in notepad when I was a teenager) but unfortunately, no matter how hard I try today, everything still pretty much comes out looking like it was designed by my teenage self. Happily, I have made some really great web-designer friends who give me really reasonable rates, and I do things for them in return… (including getting one a $25,000 website deal). I always want to be able to do it myself, but I’m convinced I just don’t have that “design eye” and find I’m happier when I let the experts do the creative stuff.

  12. My first comment I think is not posted correctly so I’m posting here twice


    Great article. Four things to be remembered when entrepreneur design a website.
    1. You should have time of 2hours daily upto a month to get a better look of the site.

    2. Should focus your time in actual business stuff and get 2hours daily for doing it. But sometimes you seem to be flown in designing the site more and their business suffer. Some of our clients had the problem.

    3. You should be able to draw the design in paper. A stuff in mind is very difficult to get on actual website. You should be able to express it.

    4. Know your customer inside out. Actually it’s not the design that get you customer. It’s the information they collect from your site. If they do not find the answer to their question on your site, then they will not convert. Please check here my article on website strategy. Also you can follow the 3 question strategy.

    And @amanda I think website design is now a bit cheaper may be around $350 for a good site with multiple revisions. At least what we provide here. If somebody interested may check it on our website

    But above all if you are choosing a designer to do it, then he/she should understand your business inside out. So elaborate your business before him/her is a better idea. I don’t know what what other designers do. But whenever we do not understand a customer of a client, we couldn’t deliver a good website (even though client is happy, ha ha you know beautiful website is often enough for them). But it doesn’t make us happy as it often don’t give them expected business. So we often avoid clients who we feel don’t know about their business or customer mindset or at-least could not express it well. It often takes 20% of our time to understand the visitor mindset, then we design the site according to 3 question strategy I mentioned above.

    Thanks and wish all a happy designing. And best of luck all in their venture :)

    This is great advice. The description about the lightning bolt in the shower (or 3am) is me, spot-on. I’m a veteran in college though, and a single Dad, so hiring a developer was always out’ve the question, so I took it on myself to learn.

    While I’m no coding wizard, WordPress has allowed me to do EVERYTHING I ever wanted, regardless of the theme and brand or direction I’m going, with a professional appearance. (

    I’m doing my first two arcade sites, my 4yo daughter insisted LOL, and MiniGamesForGirls – maybe I could get a little girl/woman advice on the Girl Games one! ;-)

    Great post!

  14. I agree and disagree, the end user needs to be able to add content, but they simply will not jump on board with anything having to do with with and so on.

    All the end user see’s is one more thing to do, or distraction from actually building a business.

    While I believe in enabling someone with a website to add content, make changes, and contribute to design elements, it has to be in a zero friction way. The least you need to know, and where to go when you don’t.

    Take on learning the ins and outs but don’t dismiss that designer/support person.

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