By DEREK NEUTS, MS
There are many legitimate reasons for WordPress to be used for small business websites, but as a developmental substitute for a lack of professional competency should not one of them. While it’s true that WordPress is one of the most widely used content management systems for small business websites, it’s also equally as true that business owners are exploited by its use. This deliberate misuse comes in many forms, such as using visual builders to quickly build sites and bill for longer periods of “ground up” development work, or covering for the developer’s inability to select any other delivery mechanism for your site. Due to the nature of tools (e.g., visual builders) that were meant for you, the small business owner (or enthusiast), those posing as professional developers want to resell these frameworks to you for a profit. It’s their “easy button,” if you will. First, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons why it may be good to go the route of a visual builder, and then we’ll take a look at other reasons when it may not benefit your company goals.
Many framework tools, such as Divi, Elementor, Beaver Builder, WP-Multipurpose, and Genesis, just to name a few, were all tools initially used by small business owners (like myself, many years ago) and enthusiasts who didn’t have the budget for a professional website, but needed to get started with something, which is understandable. These tools have you in mind, because they are relatively easy to use, have a low learning curve, and can assist you in crafting something that’s suitable for your needs… quickly. So, imagine something similar to Wix or Squarespace, only for WordPress, but with a lot of options for customization. While this would get someone without a budget (or a low budget) started, it’s certainly not the ending point. For example, there’s bulk to the builders, and oftentimes the site’s performance can take a dip due to how many features are built-in. Also, there’s the issue of site and landing page design, user experience considerations, e-commerce options and payment gateways, as well as lead generation system approaches that most DIY users won’t want to touch. However, if had a lower budget, but enough to hire a developer, they could use a visual builder to get your proposed (and planned!) project done quickly for you. Then it would be easier (not going to say easy) for you to take over and manage your own content.
There are many benefits to having a developer work on your project using a visual builder, if WordPress is the solution you need. For example, a developer can turn on and off the features you need, versus having them all available all the time within your project, which can slow your site down. They can also build pages to best practices, so that your page will not only look good, but it will function equally as well. Developers also know which plugins are the right plugins for your project, saving additional load time and increasing functionality, while decreasing the chances of the site breaking due to an update of a shady plugin. There are also many other customizations that can be made in the project’s core and theme files, those that the DIY and enthusiast audience have the highest chance of breaking, rendering their site useless. Also, developers can work with you on a plan and technology pathway so that you’re ready for updates to supporting plugins, upgrades to the framework itself, and that your site is properly configured for backups, security certificates, and access permissions. Aside from the technical aspects that developers deal with, there’s also site planning and the ability to bring in other professionals to your project, such as marketers, SEO specialists, and web designers, who focus on usability, searchability, flow, and customer experience. Having a developer use a visual builder on your site increases the chances that you’ll be able to find supporting, professional services that can make the necessary changes to your framework directly. Well, using a staging environment, of course!
However, you can still get professional support even if you don’t use a visual builder, such as if the designer is allowed to build a theme for you from scratch, create a static landing page or a dynamic site, or maybe even using a more specialized framework, such as Symfony. Rest assured, no matter how big or small your project may be, there’s always those out there who are skilled in the technologies and frameworks in use by your business site. There are also some really good benefits, if you have the necessary budget in proportion to the size and scope of your project, to not doing the work yourself, but instead having a professional complete the job with the right framework for your business model. Websites aren’t always about what they look like as much as they are about relevancy and functionality if the project is to survive the long-term. Additionally, web projects must be carefully planned, budgeted, and executed, rather than the pop-culture hype of “build your own website” and just slapping something up, as you’re conditioned to believe. If you don’t believe that, then you may be one of those statistics with a project failure a year (or less!) from now if you don’t keep that in mind.
It’s a good possibility that the contractor you’re speaking to is only proficient with the one WordPress framework, and therefore it becomes critical to their sales strategy to close this issue.
Visual builders, plugins, and themes are big business because you’re being sold on what doesn’t matter (aesthetics) while being diverted away from what does matter (functionality). You’re also being kept in the marketing loop, being fed the industry’s hyperbole that they know works on small and medium-sized business owners and entrepreneurs who are proficient in their craft, but who are inexperienced in web technologies. They know you’ll stop, look, and listen, because they’re appealing to your desire to save money for your business, all the while employing the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action) sales model on you. It’s proven to work for these types of tools in an online environment, so why not? Instead of being sold solutions, you’re being sold snake oil and dreams, with a side of hope. This is what amateur developers prey upon with you, and you’re an easy target for it because you could use a little hope. With that in mind, let’s go over a few of the reasons and warning signs as to why WordPress may be aggressively pushed on you and your project as the only way or the best way right out of the gate.
It’s a good possibility that the contractor you’re speaking to is only proficient with the one WordPress framework, and therefore it becomes critical to their sales strategy to close this issue. In fact, many of you who are owners may not even be aware of frameworks, much less the differences between them, and they know it. What will more than likely occur is they will discuss a site build with you, give you just about everything you’re asking for in the preliminary plan (whether it makes sense or not), and then pitch WordPress as the platform, but will avoid the conversation about which framework is being used. When it comes time for construction, or even at project completion, that may be the only time you’ll know that they used the same framework for you that they use for everyone else, and your project may run the risk of looking the same due to the lack of customizations that should be made. I’ve seen this time and time again, and after a while, you get good at spotting which framework a site may be using based on the button sizes, default padding and margin spacing, how the navigation bar looks, where the logo is, and how the footer is laid out. Those can be delicate areas to control, and oftentimes amateur developers won’t mess with them, but will instead keep them in their default state. I mean, you won’t notice, right?
In situations like this, while interviewing potential contractors, look at their portfolio (even a few websites will be enough, it’s quality over quantity), and try to see similarities between the sites. Are they uniform in nature? Do they have the same button styles? Is the content laid out with the same margins and padding? Are images and videos displayed the same? If so, then you should ask what other options are available, such as non-WordPress options (dynamic or static sites), or ask about the use of different frameworks for your project. You can also engage in a conversation about development methods, such as asking them about their PHP experience and what they’ve done with it. Honestly, you just need to be interested, you don’t even need to really understand all of it, but conduct the conversation like an interview, because it essentially is. You’ll be met with either initial silence, excuses, objections, diversionary tactics away from that decision-making process to lead you back to their original intent, or a combination of the above. You may never hear from them again once you’re off the phone or you’re done with your meeting. This happens all the time and you need to be ready for it, and many business owners simply won’t dare to engage a contractor like this.
It’s not about you, it’s about them and their limitations. Period. Whether that’s bad business practices and overbooking clients to make ends meet on the cheap for the month, or hiding the fact they can’t work on anything but a visual builder, it has nothing to do with your needs, but they’ll try their best to make you feel like you’re important. I saw a great discussion online recently where someone asked about which visual builder would be best to make “professional” websites (and they used that term in quotes), and someone else responded, “Being called professional equates to being paid for your work, but it doesn’t automatically imply expertise or quality.” That was a powerful statement, and I agree, just with any other contractor across a wide variety of fields, do some due diligence. If they are serious about your business, that relationship shouldn’t start off like a bad divorce waiting to happen, where they move in within the first week of knowing you, blame you for shortcomings, and then leave before you even know what really happened. This occurs a lot more than you realize. I recently spoke to a business owner that was taken for tens of thousands of dollars (you read that correctly) and still doesn’t have a completed project, but they were made to believe by the developers (there were two of them, back-to-back) that they were competent professionals. Well, the jury is clearly out on that one, but the work was not completed, and what was completed doesn’t function properly. What’s worse is that a visual builder was used both times, and the work was still not completed to satisfaction. Here’s the bottom line: do your homework, take your time, and look to build an invested relationship while keeping both eyes open.
So, your website may need WordPress in one of its many flavors, or it may need a whole different solution. That’s going to be determined by your project needs and your comfort with either doing the content updates yourself later or allowing someone else to do them for you. Don’t let the developer dictate the site framework solely based on their own needs or inadequacies, because the framework and methods used should fit the needs of the project. That’s a mutual discussion, not a one-way demand. For example, I have an ongoing project at the time of this writing where I’ve had to actually flip from using a visual builder at early onset to now constructing a custom WordPress theme with a back-end interface that will also allow my client to change out their own content whenever they need to without coding anything. Why? Because they’ll get more benefit from a custom WordPress build with this particular project in terms of features and functionality that they wouldn’t get with a stock visual builder. It was a decision that was discussed and weighed, something that was mutually decided, and I provided them with all options on the table and discussed the pros and cons of each. That’s how it should be done, by educating the client and getting them involved in the decision-making if that’s the right level of participation for them.
In closing, I want you to get out there and feel more confident about needing professionals for your web development work (even if it’s not me) because I want to see small businesses succeed. It’s personally important to me as an entrepreneur, and it’s important to our respective local economies. Moreover, it upsets me to watch the egregiousness by which dabblers posing as professionals try to earn your trust and confidence through deceptive practices (i.e., false profiles, inflated credentials, even bogus projects) to get you to spend several thousand dollars on them when more than likely you’ll end up hiring someone else to rework the project. It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories, and even worse when you end up talking to another owner who was taken to the cleaners, only finding out they can’t hire you because they’ve already expended their budget. It doesn’t have to end that way, which is why I’m writing these articles for your benefit so that you’ll be stronger, wiser, and more prepared (and confident!) the next time you sit down with a developer, because you’ll know more about the industry.
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