The 6 Dangers of Building a Website from Scratch

View Comments by Bianca Board on 24 September 2013

As a web designer, I’ve heard all the pros and cons of using templates or layouts over building a website from scratch.

If you’re a creative genius, I don’t blame you for finding the idea of building a website from scratch appealing. It certainly appealed to me when I was a young designer who was still wet behind the ears!

Building a website from scratch every time sounds good on paper. BUT but in practise, building a unique website for every one of your clients can be time consuming, expensive and keyboard destroyingly frustrating.

To be honest, I avoid building websites from scratch, because there's just not enough profit in it!

Not to sound like a greedy entrepreneur, but eventually you realise you can strike a balance between being artistic, and making a serious profit in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I have created over 200 full custom build websites from scratch for many of my clients over the years, but 80% of my clients don’t need a website built from scratch.

Why? Because they're small businesses and they just don't need all the bells and whistles that a custom website offers.

If you think about it, most websites have a logo top left, phone number top right, banner area, newsletter opt-in and social media tools in the RHS sidebar, content below the banner, maybe some other feature areas and that's about it.

They are pretty much ALL the same! 

So therefore, they're pretty much ALL using a template in some form or another anyway!  In fact, if your client is a small business or private individual, then building a website from a template or layout can be more way beneficial for them. Not to mention save them a ton of cash that they're better of spending on marketing their site, not building it.

Benefits of building your websites from layouts include:

  • Being more affordable for the client.
  • Giving you a better profit margin.
  • Allowing you to focus on the design and how it's going to convert for the client, rather than the code.
  • Spending less time on the development work on the site.
  • Allowing you to complete the job quicker, therefore getting your client online quicker, and allowing you to move on to the next project much faster.

Truth be told, I’ve often passed on custom build websites because for every one of those, I can build 5 layout based websites and earn more in the process. It took me a while to realise it, but using templates and layouts gave me a LOT more creative freedom to build websites how I wanted to.

We analysed our custom projects over the space of a year and realised that on average, we need to spend 120+ hours on a custom website project when you take into account meetings, wireframes, design, development and project management. 

At a measly $70 per hour staff labour cost, that's $8,400 before we even break even, so we'd need to charge well over that to profit!

Do you actually keep track of exactly how much time you spend on your custom website projects, down to the minute? If not, I bet you'd be surprised at the number.

We found that to remain profitable, we can't do a custom website for less than $15,000.  And the majority of small businesses simply can't afford to spend that kind of money.

This is why I developed my ProPartner program, so that you can use the same layouts I use to help me develop gorgeous websites (quickly!) that client’s practically climb over each other for.

So before you decide to make all your websites from scratch, below are the key dangers of building all your websites from scratch.

The 6 dangers of building every website from scratch.

1. Building websites from scratch involves a HUGE amount of work.

If you want to build a website from scratch, then get ready for spending a massive amount of time of the website. 

After you've spent copious amounts of hours working on the strategy with your client, you'll have to start with an illustration of the website, otherwise known as a wireframe. Then once this is approved, go ahead and design several drafts of the home page and subsequent internal pages and get signoff on everything before even physically starting on the development.

You will typically go through way more stages of design before getting anywhere near signoff. Especially if you don’t have a template / layout to start from.

Then you've got to write a detailed brief for the developer on exactly how every aspect of the site is to work. Go back and forth with them for a few months to get everything working as it should. 

THEN, and only then, do you move onto the content upload stage which can take another month or so going back and forth with the client, back to the developer to tweak stuff that wasn't wired up right.... 

Blurggghhhhhh it’s exhausting just writing about it.

And after that there'll likely be more stages of tweaks and changes and 6 months later, you might be lucky enough to go live!

Meanwhile, if you start with a layout, you will have the basis to show your client a version of their new site straight away. All you have to do is add their logos and get some initial artwork together for them to approve it. If they're happy with the home page concept, build the site, add the content, setup all the auto-response pages and emails and you're done!

This means you get the initial draft design approved sooner, and you can start working towards the final design much earlier.... sometimes 3 months earlier! I shit you not!

2. You can do multiple template based websites, in the time it takes to do one custom site from scratch.

As you become busier and busier, you'll need to find ways to streamline your web building process but without sacrificing the quality of your work.

This was the main reason why I developed a layout process for my web business (which you can check out here). Although I could charge more for a website built from scratch, the reality is that for every custom built website from scratch, I could instead build anywhere between 5 to 10 websites a month using a layout / template approach.

This means I have:

  1. A higher turnover of websites.
  2. My portfolio grows even quicker.
  3. I get more happy clients raving about my faster design turnarounds.
  4. More income with a higher profit percentage.
  5. More ongoing revenue as I have more clients paying me monthly fees.
  6. More happy clients = more referrals, and sooner!

Meanwhile, if I only make one custom website, the chances are I will spend the entire month on that one project, and not earn anywhere near as much for all my hard work. I'd be lucky to manage 2-3 custom website projects at any one time, compared to 5-10 per month using a layout website system.

3. You'll do the same initial work over and over (and over) again.

When you use a layout or template to start with, a lot of the time-consuming development work is done. This means you only have to focus on designing the best website possible working within the confines of a framework, which these days, is not as constrictive as you may think.

However, when you build a website from scratch, often you'll end up building the same foundations for your sites over and over again:

  • Setting up the site map.
  • Setting up internal pages / views / galleries / maps etc
  • Building the same page structure.
  • Developing the CSS.
  • Designing and implementing backgrounds.
  • Designing opt-ins.
  • Developing the same pages over and over again.
  • Often creating the same buttons.
  • Setting up the hosting.
  • Etc.

The first few times, it won’t seem so bad. But when you start building you 10th, 50th or 100th site, it gets boring quickly!

By using a layout / template system, you can often skip many of the above steps.

You can waste HOURS going over the same old steps over and over again, and frankly you don’t have to!

When using a layout or template, you can often skip many of these stages and get straight into the fun part of the work... the design!

You'll deliver the project sooner, whilst keeping a high standard for your folio, and be able to plough through delivering a load more websites to delight the pants off your clients.

4. There's more margin for error.

If you start a website from scratch, the reality is that as you build the site and spend more hours on it, you are more likely going to make mistakes.

Imagine spending all day, every day on one client’s project for 3 months. You’re tired and really really want to get the job done so you rush some things and forget others.

The only problem is that 2 months in (at 2am) you realise you haven’t allowed for that functionality they wanted to add 6 months down the track, and your developer's already delivered the project. To get it done now is gonna cost big time and you can't ask your client to fork out.  

This can happen and it’s incredibly frustrating when it does.

Meanwhile if you use a layout or template to start with, then you can make sure that the base layout / template works for what you need it to do. And if it does, all you then have to do is work with the layout to get the result you want.

Ultimately a layout is quicker, and you won’t make the same mistakes because the base of the site has already been built. And with our layout system, we actually include all the features 99% of small businesses might ever need so you don't have to keep going back to a developer paying for simple things to be added, like you do with a custom website. I'm not just a pretty face you know. ;)

In fact using my ProPartner layout system, I was able to design AND develop a website in around 4 hours. What’s your quickest web development time?

5. You’re going to price yourself out of the running.

When a client comes to you and asks for a web design quote, despite what they might say, a client ALWAYS has a figure in their head. They have already created a limit as to how much they're willing and expecting to spend a website.

And if by some slim chance they don’t have a figure in their head, your competitors are giving them quotes, and the client will likely go with someone who is affordable or at the very least, offers incredible value-for-money.

When building a website from scratch, you’ve either got to:

  • Drop your costs to be competitive, and in turn lose out on your profit margin or...
  • Put in a price that's a fair reflection of your hard work, and in doing so, risk losing the job.

However, by using a template or layout, you can get the best of both worlds!

Because you'll save a huge amount of time designing and developing the site, you'll be able to offer an affordable quote whilst maintaining a high profit margin worthy of a talented designer like yourself. :)

The moral of the story? You don’t have to undersell yourself! But you do need to make the quote reasonable in the mind of your client and convince them that by investing in you, they'll get a return.

6. You will (probably) have to work with developers!

If you’re a web designer, chances are that you have to work with a developer to help turn your beautiful designs into a working website for your client.

Now, not all developers are bad (some are great), but when you have to include and rely on another person into the web building process, thinks can quickly run out of control.

If a developer delivers your website late, you have to take responsibility for it and explain that to your client. In addition, a developer means another person you have to share the ‘profit pie’ with.

Meanwhile, if you use a template or layout, you can do a large amount of the development work yourself. This means you retain full control of your client’s project and can retain more of the profit for yourself.


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Layouts aren’t as limiting as you think.

Before I continue, you’ve probably noticed I refer to both layouts and templates and I wanted to quickly explain the key difference.

  • Templates are very rigid set designs with very limited opportunity to modify it. Many Wordpress themes are like this.
  • Layouts are very flexible designs which can be modified in a number of ways. And it's what we use in the Web123 ProPartner program.

As you can probably tell from the above, I lean much more towards the use of ‘layouts’, as they can supply me with the flexibility I need to design and deliver a website to my clients quickly but without sacrificing the quality of my work.

Many designers will design websites from scratch, because they believe that layouts don’t give them the ability to put in the designs and features that they want to implement.

But the fact is that this simply isn’t true. Website layouts can allow you to:

  1. Effortlessly upload designs onto the site layout.
  2. You can modify the majority of graphical elements including banners, buttons, opt-ins, fonts and other graphical features.
  3. Change entire colour schemes on the website.
  4. Setup an easy to use CMS system for your client.
  5. Implement a blogging platform.
  6. Setup event calendars with a booking system.
  7. Include a photo gallery.
  8. Setup a working online shopping cart system.
  9. Include a banner gallery slideshow.
  10. Create email capture forms.
  11. Create contact pages with enquiry forms.
  12. Easily integrate YouTube, Social Media features and Google Maps.
  13. In fact layouts can pretty much do almost anything a custom site can do at a fraction of the price.

As you can see from the above, just because you’re using a layout as a basis does not mean you have to be limited to what you can offer your client.

In fact, if anything, layouts can give you the freedom to offer your client a wide range of website features, but without having to know any complex coding or HTML to make them work.

So to summarise, what are the benefits of using layouts?

  • Build websites quicker.
  • Build more than one site at any one time.
  • Skip a lot of the time consuming dev work that slows a project down.
  • Layouts are built to work straight away, so you don’t spend time fixing little problems.
  • Offer your client a more affordable quote...
  • ...whilst making more profit for yourself.
  • You don’t have to rely on a developer.
  • Layouts are flexible enough to include most features your client requires.
  • Get a site designed, developed and live in as little as 4 hours... if you encounter a website emergency!

Why not try out layouts for yourself right now, and see just how good they are?

If you predominently deal with small businesses, I hope that after reading this blog post, you consider using layouts instead of just presuming that building a website from scratch every time is ‘the’ way to go.

Don’t get me wrong... there is always an appropriate time to build a website from scratch. Personally I judge it on a case by case scenario.

If the client is a big time player with a budget of at least $15,000, I will go down the custom website from scratch route IF they need it and IF I have the time to do it (which to be honest, doesn’t happen very often anymore since I’m too busy).

However, if the client is a small company, or is looking to build the site on a budget (say $2,000 to $10,000) I will go down the layout route....

  • They get the website they want, and a price they can work with.
  • And you get to keep complete control of the project...
  • ... whilst maximising your profit margin.

Frankly... that’s a win-win for both the designer and the client.

So dare I ask... have I converted you yet? Tell me, are you all for layouts or are you sticking to full custom sites? I'd love to hear your thoughts...


Don’t forget, my layout driven Web123 ProPartner program comes with a 14 day FREE trial, so you can see if it’s right for you. Simply CLICK HERE to get started.

What do you think? Share your comments below.


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