Why Light Switches have Nothing to do with Website Development

I really don’t know that much about drywall. I like to think I do, considering that I have done drywall, but I’m mostly fooling myself. A few years ago, when we were actually living in the house we own, the basement was old, dingy and disgusting. One Saturday morning, my wife and I had enough of it and determined we wanted to make it useful, so we put on work clothes and ripped the entire basement down to the cement blocks. From there I re-framed it, put in recessed lighting, rewired some electrical outlets and put up drywall (on the walls and ceiling). In total, we are talking about 750 square feet of renovation, including a large room, staircase/garage entryway and a half bath. That Saturday turned into 5 full months of back-breaking pain, but we did it; we had a family room, fully carpeted and ready for guests.

The only piece of work we paid to have someone do was install the carpet. With the help of some friends working for a few beers and many late nights in the basement on my own, we turned a useless bunch of moldy space into an awesome family room/man cave.

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While there are parts that were particularly nasty (such as finding termites and bleaching mold spots), the worst part of the project was sealing and sanding the drywall. It was absolutely horrible and, for a non-detail oriented person, the exact-ness required to make perfectly smooth walls was excruciating. While, for the most part, few people will notice my mistakes, to my eyes I can still see bubbles and uneven sanding. I don’t want to even mention the weeks it took to get all the drywall dust out of my lungs.

The Connection Between Drywall and Website Development

I may hate drywall, but I worked with it and gained a brief understanding of it. As Homer Simpson taught everyone, I learned was the value of having someone else do it. Another thing I learned was that even in a task that seems fairly straightforward and simple, there is a nuance and art to it that takes years to develop and perfect. I did not, nor do I ever plan to become such a professional in the field of drywall. My hope in this post is that websites can be treated in the same vein as dry walling.

Since the early-2000s, social media and blogging sites have exploded on the scene, giving every user, no matter how novice, the ability to post things online. I am, without hesitation, a fan of that. What I am not a fan of is the mindset that says since a person can post a status update on Facebook that must mean they can build a website or create a social media strategy. The website in a box business don’t help this notion either. They put the basic materials in a box, severely limit the capabilities and freedoms, slap a fresh color on it and call it your own creation. While I may be able to build an airplane from a balsa wood kit, that does not mean 1) it will fly, and 2) it will look unique and like what my imagination wants it to look like. What will that balsa plane look like? It will look and work like every other boxed balsa plane.

No Two Web Development Projects are Alike

There are details and a nuance to website development. In a previous post about Web Design, our CEO discusses the different aspects of building a website. That’s not my goal in this post. My goal is to help everyone understand there is a reason to pay a professional to build one, and to then trust their knowledge. And while yes, there are many charlatans out there ready to take your money and run, there are thousands more reputable, decent development companies that have some amount of experience and expertise. I recently dealt with a customer complaint that they didn’t want to pay for us to learn technology; they felt, as professionals we should know how to do it and that it shouldn’t more difficult than adding another image to a page. What he did not understand was that he was asking us to customize a third party piece of software that he requested we install onto his site. At that point, we were basically jail breaking and recoding someone else’s software to make it fit his particular need. The detailed specifics of what he wanted to work for his situation was something that I had not ever seen done before in my ten years of web development experience. While it was certainly doable, what he requested was unique and specific to him. We will not be reusing that technology on someone else, not even in his industry. His needs required people who understood the technology enough to break it and create something new from the pieces.

I recently had another client complain because I informed her at the tail end of the project we would have to charge an extra fee to comply with her request of additional pages. We had already created a bunch of pages for her, why not these extra? While no, it is not difficult to add a new page to a website, there was some pieces that she was missing: we had to write the copy, find/buy stock images for the pages, fit them into the top header navigation which resulted in a complete redesign of the header, then actual implementation into the website. Not only would that take a few extra hours to accomplish, but it would also render meaningless the original design plan from the beginning of the project (which had been approved in writing by the client).

Trying Different Development Ideas

Don’t get me wrong – we are happy to make any changes and updates to a site or a project, and while we do invest in our projects heavily from a design perspective and will make recommendations of what we think is best, we also believe fully in giving the client the final say in whatever happens to their site. We just have to make sure we can afford to continue serving our clients.

My life as a website professional would be so much easier if I could offer our clients a grocery shopping type of experience. I could see something like this (the prices in my example are NOT accurate):

  • 5 pages at $199 each | $995
  • Homepage Slider Bar | $300
  • Blog | $500
  • Newsletter signup form | $150
  • And so on…

This idea works great (and I did try to use this model at a company I used to work for many years ago) until someone needs something unique. What if you want one of those internal pages to have a photo slideshow? Or a blog feed from a particular category? Who provides the content? Who supplies the imagery? Can the layout of the content fit into a standard style across your website, or does it need to totally individual from page to page?

Web Development is Time and Materials

The more uniform we build a site, the less customization is needed and the faster (thus, cheaper) it can be built. The more we can get all the needed materials upfront, the less we need to run back and forth to the client, the quicker it goes. But there will always be forgotten items; there will always be new ideas that present themselves during mid-construction. On top of that, every client is unique and each site is its own creation. We do not build from balsa wood kits. We create a living object that acts and obeys upon command. Each piece of detail is vital to the outcome and success. Therefore, your website must be handled with respect, care and expert-ness. Remember, this is your business’ main mouthpiece to the world. Should it come from a simple effort?

Ultimately, the cost of building a website comes down to time and materials. This is where my job becomes downright difficult. While I am responsible to the client to provide each one with great service and top quality, I am also accountable to my team to make sure that each project stays profitable. Time is the most important commodity in our business; I have to protect our hours while providing the client with an excellent product. With trust and an opportunity to utilize our knowledge of the web world, I can provide that, even if we have to have a new chat about money later on during the process. It’s ok and you will always have the power of choice, but if you’ve ever tried to put in an extra light switch after the drywall is put up, you understand that additional ideas always come with a cost.

I was once told that adding a page should be as easy as flipping on a light switch. It’s not. Once I tried to drywall on my own. It’s not either. I learned how complicated most anything can be. Unless, of course, your job is building balsa wood airplanes.

Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin
Zach Katkin is the co-founder & CEO of Atilus. He is a Certified Google Professional, author, and lover of technology. He helps Atilus stay out ahead of online marketing trends and loves driving results for Atilus' clients.

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