Building Your Content Website: Customized Development v Software v Managed Service

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author/source: Miles Galliford

Building Your Content Website: Customized Development v Software v Managed Service


Once you have an idea of how you want your website to look and what functionality you want it to have, it's time to get it built.


You have four options:

  • Website Build Option #1 - Hire development resource. Custom build website
  • Website Build Option #2 - Hire development resource. Use Open Source software
  • Website Build Option #3 - Buy a software package for building a content website
  • Website Build Option #4 - Use a managed website service

Up until five years ago hiring a developer was your only real option, fortunately today there are many more choices.


Website Build Option #1 - Hire a Developer or Development Company to Build a Customized Website


Customized development means the whole website is hand-coded to ensure that everything is exactly as you want it.

Getting a 100% customized site is rare these days and only tends to be done for sites with very specialist requirements.

Pros:
  • If you have a clear idea of what you want, you should get a website that does exactly what you need
  • A customized solution should mean all the features and functionality work well together
  • The web developer should be able to help and advise you about all aspects of getting your business online

Cons:
  • Customized design is very expensive, and
  • Very time consuming
  • Unless you are technical you will have no idea what the developers are doing under the hood. The code they are writing could be riddled with bugs, poorly noted and hard for anyone else to take over
  • All the costs are upfront when cash flow is often at it’s tightest
  • All add-ons will require more customized development and will be billed accordingly ensuring your costs don’t stop when you launch

Most customized builds overrun on time and costs. Do not be surprised if it takes twice as long as you planned and cost twice as much as you budgeted. Build this potential scenario into your business plan before you start.

If you go this route make sure you create a detailed specification brief and agree it with the developer before you start. Expect to pay extra for anything not in the brief and be aware that seemingly small additions to a finished platform can become big projects.

Most development companies will be happy to provide a fixed quote and timetable. Some will try to give you a per hour cost with an estimate of the number of hours the project will take.

ALWAYS go with a fixed quote.

Finding a Developer


If you choose to build your own site, you can find a developer using one of the many freelancer websites:


  • eLance (www.elance.com) 
  • oDesk (www.odesk.com). 
  • PeoplePerHour (www.peopleperhour.com)
  • RentaCoder (www.rentacoder.com)

All developers on these sites are rated by their previous customers. Choose a company or individual who has excellent feedback and then quiz them about their previous experience of building sites similar to what you are looking for. 

Most of the people you will find are based in Eastern Europe, India or Asia. They offer good value for money, but you must know exactly what you want them to do before getting started.

Also remember that a bespoke solution needs maintaining. Include maintenance, monitoring and upgrades costs in your business plan as monthly fees. Hosting is now very cheap, but upgrades will need to be done by your developer at their usual day rate.

Warning: Avoid using your development company to host your website and never get them to register your domain name. If you fall out with them …which happens a lot… they will have complete control of your website.


Website Build Option #1 - Hire a Developer or Development Company but Use Open Source Software and Components


Usually a better (and cheaper option) is to get your website built around free open source software.

There are thousands of open source projects going on around the world. The better ones are supported by hundreds of developers who provide their time and code for free. You can use the software they create without charge providing you abide by the restrictions of the open source license. The main restriction is you cannot resell the software.

For building a Funnel of Trust website there are open source components that do many of the things you want:

Content Management

  • Wordpress – www.wordpress.org
  • Joomla – www.joomla.com
  • Drupal – www.drupal.com

Database

  • MySQL – www.mysql.com – the most popular free database software

Ecommerce

  • OSCommerce – www.oscommerce.com – the Granddaddy of ecommerce software
  • Zen Cart – www.zen-cart.com – a refined version of OSCommerce
  • Magneto Commerce – www.magnetocommerce.com – a new solution based on OSCommerce

Website Build Option #3 - Buy a Dedicated Software Package


There are software packages that enable you to build a complete website with most the features you need for achieving your Funnel of Trust goals (content management, flexible design, basic store, payment processing, etc.).

You buy the software and license which usually gives you the right to build one site and run it for an unlimited time. The software is usually sold either on a disc or as a download over the web.

You will build your site on your computer and when it is ready you upload it to the server at your hosting company.

Pros:
  • Many software products have been around for a long time so you know that they will work and what you will get at then end
  • You will own and be in control of your website. If the software company goes bust you will still have your site running, even if you won’t get any further support or upgrades
  • Software can be a cost effective route over the long term

Cons:
  • You will need to sort out the infrastructure yourself; that’s the hosting, security, bandwidth, server monitoring, upgrades, etc. Remember to add these costs to your business plan ($25 - $250/month)
  • Requires some technical know-how. Tough for complete beginners
  • Software upgrades and support is usually an extra cost
  • You are completely dependent on the software company for upgrades
  • Inflexible


I would only recommend the software route to people who have basic developer and HTML skills, and who have some previous experience of running a websites.

You need to know what features are critical for your success before buying software. For example, adding paid membership management to a third party software solution is very difficult…maybe impossible. If you plan on having paid membership you need to get a software package which already has it integrated.



Website Build Option #3 - Use a Managed Service or Web Service


Over the last five years there has been a quiet revolution going on. Many services you could previously only buy as software are being offered as ready-to-go internet services.

These services have lots of names including:

  • Managed service
  • Web services
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Hosted services
  • Web applications
  • Web 2.0 services

Essentially they are all the same thing; complete services which you access via your browser over the internet. If you use a webmail service such as Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo Mail you are already a web services user (maybe without even realising it!)

Many big software companies, particularly Microsoft have tried to slow down progress, because it puts there core software business at risk.

Today the trickle has turned into a raging river. There are cost effective (or even free) web services for every possible business requirement; word processing, invoicing, website building, payment processing, email, contact management, etc.

Microsoft et al are desperately trying to catch up.

There are several specialist managed services for creating and running different types of website, for example

  • For non commercial blogs there is WordPress (www.wordpress.com)
  • For commercial blogs, online magazines and other money making content sites there is SubHub (www.subhub.com)
  • For pure ecommerce there is Volusion (www.volusion.com)

I run my life using web services! My calendar, photos, communication with colleagues, document storage, websites and much more are all done on the web. I can logon to any of these services from any internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world. I could be working in New Zealand, Iceland or the Bahamas and no-one would know!


Pros
  • A managed service is the easiest solution for non-technical people. The better solutions require no previous technical knowledge
  • The service provider manages the whole infrastructure including hosting, security, backup, monitoring and maintenance. This gives you more time to focus on your business
  • Paying monthly improves cash flow for a new business
  • Upgrades are usually included in the price and a good service is continually being improved
  • You can edit and manage your website from any internet connected computer in the world

Cons
  • Your business is 100% dependant on the company running the managed service. If they go out of business, guess what, you go out of business. Make sure you choose a reliable company
  • You are dependant on the managed service provider for upgrades and new functionality (although many now allow you to ‘plug-in’ third party services)
  • Less flexible than customised build

How to Choose a Managed Service


Here are the things you should do when making the important decision about which managed service you should use to run your website:

  • Read Their Website – The first and most obvious step is to thoroughly read their website. Understand the features, pricing plan, costs of extras, etc. Do they have all the features you need at a reasonable cost? Make a list of questions

  • Look at The Sites of Their Existing Clients – Good companies will provide a list of existing clients. Take a look at these sites. Are they what you are looking for in terms of design, layout and functionality?

  • Contact the Company – Ideally you should give the company a call and ask them the questions. However many web services company only interact with customers via email. This is understandable as they are trying to keep their costs low. If this is the case send your questions by email. If they don’t respond, or come provide superficial answers be suspicious

  • Do An Internet Search – search on the internet for the service to see what other people are saying about it. Are the comments positive? Do you get the sense they are an established and credible company? Are the founders credible and trustworthy?

  • Sign-Up For a Trial – Most web service have a trial version you can test drive. If they don’t you should be a little worried as the whole point of this type of product that they are simple to start, run and replicate. Spend as much time as you can giving the software a really good test

Free or Paid Web Service


If you find both free and paid web services that meet your needs, don’t automatically go for the free service.

No business will survive unless it is making money. If a service is free you need to satisfy yourself that the company behind it will still be around in a year’s time. If it’s run by Microsoft or Google, you should be OK. If it’s a small company with no obvious source of income or investment, be careful.

Your website is your business so you need to be sure it has a safe and stable home.

Summary Of Website Build Choices


Choosing how you build your website is an important decision.

The easiest route by some way is using a managed service, but you have to be sure that it does everything you need it to and is run by a solid company.

Getting a bespoke design is the most flexible option, but also the most costly and time consuming. If you choose to go down this path I strongly suggest you use open source software as your building blocks.

Finally buying a software package is a bit of a compromise with a foot in both camps. If you find a solution that has everything you need, then it’s a perfectly reasonable choice.


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