AnaSantos UX and LXD

The Real Cost of your ‘Free’ Website – The DIY Dilemmas

Ana Santos

Ana Santos

👩🏻‍🏫   As a UX Educator and Learning Experience Designer, I help you create impact-driven courses and training programs that help your learners achieve their goals

🎓  I have a BA in Design, Post-Graduate in Neuropsychology (Adult Education), and currently pursuing MSc in Education

👩🏻‍💻   Currently working full time as a senior design program manager. Formerly mUX lead at Google. Writer at Entrepreneur & Adobe XD Ideas blog

If we think about it, there are tons of things we can DIY. But we often choose not to.

My car broke down. Do I attempt to fix it, or do I call the mechanic? I need a wedding cake. Do I try to bake it or leave the task to a professional? In this case, it’s a dilemma:

Do I take the time to thoroughly learn a new skill I might not use as much?


Do I make smart use of my time and delegate these tasks to someone else who’s more experienced and will be able to deliver a faster and better result?

Somehow, when it comes to online tasks, DIY is often the most popular option. You might hear it often: “My website? I haven’t spent a dime. I have done it all myself”. There are obvious reasons that will make someone choose the DIY route when it comes to creating their website, but one thing you can be sure of is that none of them is entirely free.

Dilemma #1 – Budget

Reason #1 for choosing DIY over hiring a professional web designer is — guess what, the budget. It’s the common understanding that doing something yourself is cheaper than hiring a professional. The number of options that promise to make this process as less painful as possible makes everything sound easy. Yes, Weebly, Wix and Squarespace, we are looking at you. Even WordPress nowadays is not too difficult to set up.

…Only to find out that doing it yourself doesn’t mean doing it for free. Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace have paid plans that tie you to their platform. You can grow, but so can your plan (and price). WordPress is an excellent solution if you are self-hosting, and it does give you freedom in terms of growth. It might be cheaper in the long run, but it certainly doesn’t come for free either.

Cost: Weebly, Wix and Squarespace’s cheapest plans can start at around $12 per month but have their limitations. If your business grows, so does the price. WordPress allows you more freedom and flexibility, but you do need to find a hosting provider. For shared or optimized WordPress hosting (the cheapest you can get) you can expect around $10 per month depending on the provider you chose (Siteground* offers a discount valid for the first month and Flywheel* is a fantastic WP managed hosting provider which can handle the complicated stuff for you). Needless to say, you also need to buy and set up your own domain. None of these numbers are taking into account the price for paid themes, plugins and fancy features, which you’ll definitely need.

Dilemma #2 – Are the tools enough?

What don’t they tell about these tools? It’s that even though they’re reasonably easy to set up, they still require skills. I’m not just talking about technical skills for implementation that vary depending on the tool you use. You need to know what you’re doing to serve the needs of your business. You should be complying with usability best practices and have an overall design that leaves a good first impression while respecting basic principles of design theory, color harmony, white space and balance.

This issue, in particular, is not the tool’s fault. It’s simply how the world works. Everyone knows how to use a pen, but is everyone a writer? Everyone is capable of using a pencil, but can everyone draw? Sure we all could, with practice, love and dedication. But why would you want to spend time mastering a skill that you’re not passionate about and that is not relevant to the core of your business?

Of course, it’s important to have a website. But just having a website is not enough.

Cost: Number of hours spent setting up tools (this includes the time you spend staring at the screen and posting on Facebook groups asking for help) x Your Hourly Rate (or as much as you think your time is worth)


The potential cost of losing business due to a badly optimized or badly designed website


Cost of hiring a professional to style or edit your current Weebly, Wix or Squarespace website which you were led to believe were DIY solutions (ranging from $1k-4k)

Dilemma #3 – How much is your time worth?

Designing your website shouldn’t be your priority as a business owner. Besides the time and money you’re wasting to set up the tools, how much more time are you willing to spend in order to optimize your website to make sure it looks professional, engaging, and converts? Setting up a website is just the first step. Directing traffic to a website that isn’t optimized is a waste of time and money.

Cost: Number of hours spent trying to master a skill you don’t need  x Your Hourly Rate (or as much as you think your time is worth)


Number of hours spent working in driving traffic to an ineffective website


Any amount of money spent on marketing


Cost of hiring a professional to move or redesign and rebuild your website completely (ranging from $1k-20k)

Dilemma #4 – Control

Having a low budget is not always why some business owners might want to try the DIY route. The truth is, we often want things our own way.
So how can you better control all the aspects of your website than building it yourself? Well, there are many things wrong with this type of thinking. Doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it exactly the way you want might represent the same risk. Your website needs to consider your business values, of course, but most of all, it needs to cater to your users. Your target audience plays a significant role, and it’s the job of a professional web designer to assist you and guide you towards the best outcome to serve your user needs.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. – Steve Jobs

Cost: Associated costs and risks of an ineffective website (including low converting website, wasted marketing efforts, etc).

Dilemma #5 – Maintenance

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is not investing in monthly maintenance. I’m not talking about content editing – you should be able to edit your content. I’m referring to technical maintenance. If you have hired a professional web designer to create your website but decided to part ways afterwards, this applies to you too. If you have chosen the DIY route and have invested in a ton of plugins and themes, you might be surprised to find out that you need to renew your licenses to keep them updated.

It’s essential that your plugins and themes are updated, and it’s essential that you do regular backups. Again you could do this yourself – and again, is it worth it?

Cost:  Number of hours spent in backups and updates x Your Hourly Rate (or as much as you think your time is worth)


Cost of your themes and plugins’ yearly license 

and potentially

Losing all your hard work because you didn’t keep regular back-ups or updated your website properly

Dilemma #6 – Temporary solution

Many businesses that are just starting, thinking that the DIY route could mean spending less money while they don’t have a budget, see this process as a temporary solution. But besides the costs you have already been aware of, there’s also another risk associated with this. Months or years down the line, you’ll realize that you’ll need to change your website, and your fancy theme doesn’t do the job anymore. What now?

Cost: All the costs mentioned before


Cost of hiring  a professional to fix something that they’d probably charge less to redo from scratch


Cost of potentially starting from scratch


The time and cost of buying new themes, rinse and repeat


There is a time and a place to DIY, but as you can see, starting a business website from scratch by yourself might not be the best idea. It’s essential to make intelligent decisions (even if your business is just a baby!). More often than not, investing in professional web design is one. Sometimes allowing a low budget to dictate major decisions will only be a matter of investing now VS doubling the cost later.


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6 Responses

  1. I always have that same pro-con conversation with myself whenever I want to DIY. I know when I want to make a business out of my blog, that I will have to consult with a professional – because even just my ‘fun’ little creative outlet has been a HUGE pain in the butt haha. This article gives great advice. I’ll be sure to pin it for later!

  2. Oh, I wish I had read this before I made the leap to starting my blog. I knew NOTHING and spent so much time, effort, money (more than I thought I would going diy) and tears trying to figure everything out on my own. There is huge amount of resources pointing to how easy it is to set up your own site, but even after countless hours of reading, watching videos, taking courses…and staring at the screen, I still feel like every day is a learning curve. My budget was definitely show string, but hiring someone is definitely something I would think about if I were to do it all over again. Thanks for the practical info 🙂

  3. I definitely agree, there’s a time for DIY and when you sometimes need to hand the reins over. Overall, in the beginning it’s understandable to keep it small not knowing but as soon as you make the decision to sell or start passing money around, it’s time to invest. Good post!

  4. Balance is definitely key. I try to educate myself as best as possible…but paying for expertise is something I’m willing to go for. This is really informative and many can learn from this…I’d love to share this with some people I know trying to figure the entire DIY world out.

  5. I think there are pros and cons as you highlight here. But the question you have to ask is really about what you want to achieve vs how much you want to invest. I also advise testing out free options first as this may have be preferred outcome without the need for any investment.

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