StartupWeb Design

The 6 Dangers of Building A Website from Scratch

By September 24, 2013 19 Comments

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 Reseller 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 Reseller 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 Reseller 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…

 Bianca Board

Don’t forget, my layout driven Web123 Reseller 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.


Author Bianca Board

After 20 years inspiring more than 10,000 designers and small business owners to take control of their business, Bianca is now spearheading Foxley, a brand spanking new SaaS platform for designers. She is deeply passionate about helping distil the complexities of running a web design business - to make it easier for all designers to make the leap from designer to design entrepreneur. She’s a translator of web jargon, a lead generation master, a champion for small businesses and you can Google her brain for endless strategies on how to transform your business.

More posts by Bianca Board
  • Paul

    After sitting in a class room for countless hours getting taught HTML , CSS styling, Dreamweaver and getting told refer to W3 Schools I wish someone there had of explained to me what you just did in this blog !! As you come out of UNI expecting to be able to design a great design then code it and that’s the best way and whats industry norm.

    After my real world learning’s there’s no way I would ever recommend and or do a complete raw coded site as its not only time consuming its not at all friendly or easy for the client to use. The term template has been used and thought of a box style design where you cannot actually be creative. Its somewhat true but not really haha, as it does all depends on the platform and company you choose to work with I find. Its best to research and trial options out there and see what their layouts and templates can do and how they support you also before you settle using them for your clients.

    As my clients are SMB’S I would no way be able to do what I do if I was working with and or doing websites from scratch.

    Great Article !

  • Sarah

    I tried building a website from scratch once, I would share it with everyone but it’s currently lying in a scrap heap at the bottom of the internet where no one will ever find it

  • Lliam

    When we were first shopping around for a website designer to get our new website done we had every man and his dog trying to convince us to spend thousands on a fully customised website. The price tag and time it would take to get it done from scratch was ridiculous! We just wanted something turned around quickly that looked amazing and would help us generate leads quickly. Web123 had our website up in 3 days from start to finish, no joke. Also it turned out we didn’t even need half the stuff that these custom jobs were offering! Bianca and her team explained why using a layout was right for us and she wasn’t wrong it’s simple and not rocket science to make changes on the fly. We’re even going to start looking into using Web123 sites for our clients.

  • Back in the old days I took pride in the fact I built websites from scratch while our competitors were flogging shoddy templates.

    I proudly showed off my web portfolio to my sister who has no web background at all, and compared it with a portfolio for a competitor.

    My eyes were opened when she claimed that two websites from our portfolio looked “the same” to her while two (poor quality dreamweaver) template websites (which were identical apart from a background colour, logo and a couple of images) looked “different”.

    The two websites that had been designed by a graphic designer completely from scratch and I’d spent DAYS coding from the ground up? Similar colour schemes.

    I still stand by the fact that those templates were a total waste of money – but it really made me question why we spend hours and days doing things over and over again when the vast majority of people coming to the website will neither notice or care – and worse, a similar shade of green will make them think the website is based on something completely different!!

    • Guest

      Back in the days?!??! I still build all mine from scratch! Always something new to learn or you take a different approach and optimize for speed and responsiveness (don’t forget mobile devices, they’re over running us in numbers and sizes!).

      Quality doesn’t seem to be that important any more, more about getting things in and out and having it done in budget and in time rather then spending time polishing bits and pieces up…

      • Mel

        But Brett, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach when it comes to quality. Yes you can get whatever you want from a talented coder… if you’re willing to pay for it (and wait for it).

        The reality is most small businesses don’t need anything whizzbangy. They just need to look professional and have their site easy to navigate with some strong calls to action that capture contact details.

        So that being the case, why pay for a coder to reinvent the wheel and build a website from scratch, when you could shortcut the process by using a cost-effective web builder program (of course you have to be careful WHICH one you choose, some are pretty but inflexible).

        For most small businesses they need online marketing and design FAR more than custom bespoke code. My advice to clients, save the cash and pay for better content, better branding and maybe even a little bit of online advertising to get audience awareness kicked off fast.

        • Guest

          All or nothing approach depends on what the client is bringing to you, in my case simply none would of worked using existent layout without wasting hours changing it to get it suitable which most likely wouldn’t look like final design anyway.. Sure templates have their place but they aren’t always the answer for getting things done.

          • Paul

            I think for SMB’S who have a budget yet want a professional looking well done site,templates are the way to go. Plus SMB clients don’t care to know what code you use and how whizz bang your coding skills are, they want a site that looks good and brings them business and works, it all about the bottom $ mate. It all depends on what Web design company you use and how good their layouts and sites are anyway.

          • I’ve actually used a combination of both Brett, so I’ve used a template layout to start with and I’ve added custom functionality to it so as to still keep the costs down for the client. I like to call it a ‘part-custom’. I agree with Mel, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. 😉

      • Honestly I’d rather my hard work went in to benefiting 20-50 (or more!) businesses rather than just one!!

        Sure if you have a client with specific requirements and money to burn then go for it: but working with small and micro-businesses I’d rather build one layout and spread the cost across multiple clients and have LOTS of people happy and making money right away rather than having to cut corners to deliver something to one person (and time and budget? super important!)

  • Eric

    Having experience in both custom designs and working from an existing template I know which one I prefer to do!

    While there is that satisfaction of creating something new, and unique, with the clients I have worked with (always having an idea of what they are after) it is too true what you say about the designs all ending up using the same basic layout. It is a rare treat that you get a client who will give you content and just let you run wild.

    From my experience, working with templates or layouts can be super flexible once you get your head around how. I have to say it was something that I did really struggle with to begin. As a designer I think you get pre-programmed to hate the idea of using someone else’s existing layout, and I think it comes down to feeling like you have not created something unique.

    It is something to overcome, but if you can, it is a huge step towards better profit for your business. And I will say, since I have used these layouts, I haven’t had a single customer complain that their site looked like another!

    Great post, if you are a small design company I couldn’t recommend more giving this a go!

    • Ben

      Hi Eric, you took the words right out of my mouth. I started off building websites all from the ground up, and it felt great, but it was timely and they all somewhat looked the same in features anyway.

      As you say “it is a rare treat that you get a client who will give you content and just let you run wild.” This is so true, ESPECIALLY when it comes to custom websites as they are often the ones telling you exactly what they want and how they want it. Getting an understanding of a layout system is the way to go, it gives you more time for the more important things, and of course making more profit 😉

  • I either build a website from scratch or use a layout / template depending on the client. If it’s a monster client who are giving me $20,000 to build a website for them (rare… but it happens) then I will consider the custom route.

    However if it’s a run of the mill (no site is truly run of the mill… but you know what I mean) website that’s worth $3,000 – $6,000 I’ll use a layout or template design.

    I mean why redesign the friggin’ wheel?!!? By using one of my layout, all the base work is already done. All I have to do is modify and update the graphic, move key areas around, and voila… I’ve the done the same (if not better job) than a competitor in about 4 week less.

    Now THAT’S working smart. Now I have time to go watch Game of Thrones every night instead of slaving over my overheating PC.

    • You hit the nail on the head! And what sort of traditional small business has the spare coin lying around to throw $20k+ at a website?? I’ve not seen any lately!

      These days, I always find out what my client’s goals are first and foremost before I dive into the functional aspects of the site because 9 times out of 10 they don’t need a heap of custom coding, they just want to make more money. They want more leads, or more sales, more exposure etc

      If I can deliver them results (ie. conversions, inbound leads, email list, sales) with a pre-developed layout I can customise that saves them $12k and 6 weeks dev time, then I will. And I’ll recommend they spend that money I just saved them instead on marketing the site once we go live to get some good quality traffic to it. Our clients love the fact that we’re upfront and lay it on the table explaining the pros and cons for each and 99.9% of the time, they choose a layout.

      I think if we just keep what’s best for our clients in mind at all times, whether it be custom or template, then we can’t go wrong. 🙂

      And if you get to watch more of the Game of Thrones then all the better!!

  • lukealford

    To be honest this post makes me sick, You rather to use a template…. In your previous post you were talking about not cutting corners now you are in this… stop contradicting yourself.

    Why settle for a diamond when you can get gold? Sand vs raw metal …. Same here why use a crappy template that has been coded very poorly that 90% of the time you will end up rewriting most of it…

    Generally most of my clients come to me with a terrible template website either on WordPress,Drupal or Joomla…

    Now they are selling stuff on them too, just because there a small business doesn’t mean you have to treat them like one, they have the potential to be as big as any large corporate company if they are marketed correctly and there website does exactly the user expects and company requires.

    Also saying all websites look the the same?!?!? are you crazy? I dunno I guess you have been using templates all your life, think outside the box and get creative and don’t cut corners on development, it’s just as important as design! if not more important… If a user can’t interact with the website what is the point of having a website!

    • Hi Luke,

      I’m not sure where I’ve ever said that all websites look the same. But let me say I totally agree we shouldn’t treat small businesses like some kind of second class citizen. Growing up in small-town Wagga Wagga you see why small businesses are the lifeblood of this country… and they need as much help as they can get!

      Back when I was running BRB Creative so many of my clients asked for websites, but once I added in the cost of a web developer plus my time I simply couldn’t do it for less than $10k. It was crazy, my clients couldn’t afford that!

      That’s why I started my crusade against the ‘typical’ development process.

      I soon realised for most small businesses, code doesn’t matter. Results do. They just need a website that works; that’s easy to use. They need a website that improves sales and/or leads generation and they need it to be cost-effective. So I found a way to deliver all that… without the big price tag. I mean seriously, if you can get the results cheaper and faster without having to resort to custom code… why wouldn’t you??

      I know it’s controversial, but I passionately believe custom coded websites are unnecessary for 90% of the small businesses out there. And for the other 10%? That’s when you call a talented developer you can trust.

      P.S. I’ll never advocate some shoddily created WordPress template that offers zero usability, but I know, and 1,500 of my clients know, that a flexible layout, like what is produced by Web123 works a treat. There’s zero headaches involved… for me OR for my client! J

    • Paul

      Well said B !
      Luke seems a little troll like.

      People don’t care if their sites are raw coded or template driven in my opinion, what they care about is a site that is results driven and they can access, edit and update and is also effective. Why would they spend $1000’s on a raw coded site that they cant even access it or they are at the mercy of a developer to make edits. After done 100’s of websites myself I think I know what people want 🙂 In saying that, they also don’t want some terrible looking template effect either, but that all depends on who they choose for their Web needs, as not all templates are crappy or terrible (lukes words).

  • Dylan

    Building a website should be fun, affordable and an easy process. Having a layout system and knowing how to use it and what you want from it can make a world of difference. This allows for the business owner to have more time to run their business, keep web design cost down and start making profit! I’m all for it!

    • Spot on Dylan, I think the web industry as a whole though as done a great job of making clients think it’s scary, difficult and impossible to do unless you have a degree in web, and that’s just simply not true… A lot of web nerds sell on fear, uncertainty and doubt (and just because they also love acronyms, I’ll call that one FUD just for them!)

      Clients don’t want to know about CSS/HTML5/Javascript/PHP/.NET/SQL and the list goes on — that’d make anyone’s head spin… it even hurts mine! They just want to know what’s going to get them more inbound leads and how to add more content when they want to, or how to send an email campaign when they’re ready. The biggest thing we’ve noticed and that’s why we’ve based our entire business on it, is that they just want the support. They want to know they can call someone, that someone’s gonna hold their hand if/when they do get stuck. Our free Tech Support is a major contributing factor to our explosive growth.

      Hats off to a new revolution of designers though who can forget the tech-talk and jargon and communicate with clients in the same language on how to get results.

      Sorry, I’m getting off my soapbox now Dylan, I just got a bit excited to hear someone else agree with my thoughts on web, thanks for stopping by mate! 🙂

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