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Part Two: Web Design

Web site redesign: Go it alone or get help? Add to ...

Until recently, Jonathan Elias’s website wasn’t even a website at all.

Mr. Elias is one of the founders of Lost & Found, a Toronto clothing and coffee shop he runs with business partners Justin Veiga and Zai Rajkotwala.

The trio brings in small collections of hard-to-find clothing brands, and posts images and galleries of the new arrivals to their Tumblr site. But the blog has also served another purpose, doubling as their homepage for the past year.

When the store first launched, using Tumblr rather than a full-blown website made sense. “You don’t want to waste money,” Mr. Elias said. “You want to get the shop up and running, get things moving, and worry about the other things afterwards.”

However, one of those “other things” that didn’t make it into the original design was an online store, where visitors could peruse Lost & Found’s collection from within their browser.

While the shop’s Tumblr site was – and still is – a good way to interact with customers, Mr. Elias found the traditional blog format made it hard to drive sales. Lost & Found finally decided it was time for a change.

But would it make sense to develop another site in-house, or was it time to seek the services of a third-party individual or firm?

Going it alone

In a very basic sense, Lost & Found chose to handle the development of its initial website in-house, modifying a stock Tumblr theme to fit its business’s needs. That meant displaying important information, like operating hours, directions and brands the store carried.

Mike Moffatt, co-founder of Nexreg Compliance Inc a chemical regulatory compliance company that helps clients in the United States and Canada sell products outside of their own jurisdiction, took a similar approach. The current iteration of Nexreg was coded almost entirely by Mr. Moffatt and some of his employees, at very little cost to the company.

Price is obviously a big consideration for any business, and for Mr. Elias’ Tumblr blog, it was hard to argue with free, “especially when you’re on a shoestring budget and you’re trying to do things as cost effectively as possible,” he said. In such cases, a basic blog or content management system may be all a company needs to establish itself online.

But in-house development can have its limits, especially when you’re coding and designing everything yourself. When Mr. Moffatt started work on Nexreg’s next iteration – again, in-house – it wasn’t long before he realized “we were in completely over our heads.”

The sort of design and functionality the team wanted to build was beyond the scope and talent of his team, and considering his company’s size, it didn’t make sense to hire an employee solely dedicated to coding and design either.

“In the long run,” he said, “it would be cheaper and easier if we got somebody else to do it.”

Teaming up

Chris Eben, a partner at The Working Group Inc., a Toronto-based Web design and development firm, said one of the main reasons that clients seek his company’s services is because “they don’t have the skills in-house.”

As far as Web design and development is concerned, “it’s not necessarily something that’s core to their business,” Mr. Eben said.

At Lost & Found, Mr. Elias came to a similar conclusion. Though he is still doing some of the design work himself in-house, he’s working with a friend who will code the new site, which is set to launch within the next two to three months.

Mr. Moffatt, meanwhile, has been working with London, Ont.-based design firm Echidna Solutions Corp. Unlike his previous website, which was practically designed for free, he estimates the cost of this redesign to be “somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000.”

After speaking with three different firms, he found that was the average cost quoted, based on his company’s needs.

“You know, I could buy a car for that much money,” he joked, “but I think, in the long run, it’s definitely worth it.”

After all, Mr. Moffatt is paying for more than just design -- also product strategy and support. Nexreg isn’t just getting a fresh coat of paint, but a complete overhaul of the way it functions, for both its clients and for the employees that have to interact with the software behind the scenes.

“If you just think of Web design as basic Web design, you’re going to spend a lot of money and time and not get the results you want,” Mr. Eben said.

That’s not to say those results aren’t possible in-house. But at least, in Mr. Moffatt’s case, “that time would be better spent sticking with our core competencies, rather than trying to figure out all these things.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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