Let’s say that you need a website for your law firm and you’re on a tight budget. So what are the options?
You can’t afford some of the high-end, reputable vendors that serve law firms exclusively — and you’re not interested in a usurious three-year installment contract where you pay a small fee up front but lock into monthly “maintenance” payments of several hundred dollars for three years or more. On the other hand, you haven’t been all that impressed with some of the more moderately-priced mass produced options cloaked in drab browns and grays, gussied up with cheesy stock photos. And while you’re tempted by the seemingly user-friendly and appealing free and freemium options for BIY (build your own) website development (such as Wix or Weebly or you’ve heard that WordPress is “real easy” to use, you’re not sure that you have the skill or the patience to figure out how to use the tools to produce a professional-looking site.
Still, just as is true for legal service, when it comes to web development, there are many options between DIY and premium design. One approach you might consider is what I call guided design – where you employ a web developer but keep costs down by specifying the format, design, color and font choices that you want in advance. And one way to figure out exactly what you want is to have a look at other websites and take a peek under their codes.
Thanks to browsers like Google Chrome, you can figure out a lot about a website’s structure without ever speaking with the developer. Once you’re in Chrome, click on “View” from the menu bar, then choose “Developer,” then “View Source.”
If you search through the code, you can see if the designer used WordPress (indicated by WP) or a WordPress Framework (like Genesis or Thesis) or a particular theme (like the Organic Theme Bold Blue ) shown below on the code snippet from the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition website.
In fact, you can even figure out the code that a web design company might be using. For example, looks like Kevin O’Keefe is using WordPress as the platform for Lexblog.
But that’s not all you can figure out. Let’s say you want to know more about a site’s distinctive font. You can either upload an image of it to What the Font or simply install WTF’s widget on the google chrome bar. Voila, you can instantly view the font size and type.
Or, if you come across color combinations that you like while browsing online, you can pop the URL into ImageColorPicker.com. As you click on each color in the site, ImageColorPicker will generate the corresponding color code. Way, way cool!
As for the last design pieces – logo and photos – I’ve already made some suggestions here and here. In addition, if you need social media icons or other avatars or buttons, googling terms like “free icons” will bring up a bunch of options like these (95 FREE icon sets!). Found a design you like but the color doesn’t match or it’s not a suitable format (perhaps it’s a .jpg file and you need .eps) Try LunaPic, a free online photo editor – or
Swift.ly, an offshoot of 99Designs where users pay $15 a pop for minor design modifications – such as altering a logo, editing a business card or changing the color or size of a graphic image – with a turnaround time of 20 minutes (this is according to a Tech Crunch story; I haven’t yet tested the service).
If you take the time to pull all of this together (and no question, it will take time), you can drastically cut down the cost of website development and increase the odds of getting exactly the product that you want. That’s because you’ll have the ability to work with low-cost developers who have the programming chops but no design skills and/or because you’ll be able to avoid multiple rounds of back and forth which can drive project costs.
Once a site is developed, you’ll still need to consider where you’ll host it and who will maintain it. Some of the higher cost providers take care of that, offering bundled web maintenance, copywriting and SEO all in one $1000-$2000/month package. Not worth it starting out, if ever. At the same time and particularly if you’re working in WordPress and have developed a ton of content, ongoing support for back up and security are critical to protect your site from hackers and to preserve content. Recently, I’ve been evaluating Synthesis.com, a secure web hosting site designed with both enhanced security measures that compensate for WordPress’ inherent vulnerabilities and built-in tools to boost a site’s SEO. As I said, I haven’t yet tried Synthesis though I’ve heard favorable reviews from one colleague who uses it.
As your firm grows, you may be able to invest money in a website down the road. Still as important as your firm’s web presence may be, a premium site is still a luxury item in my view. Malpractice insurance and substantive programs and tools to enhance service to clients (whether that’s computerized legal research, CLE or a particular set of treatises or practice guides) rank higher on the start-up spending totem pole. But you needn’t – and in fact shouldn’t — wait until you can afford a top-dollar site to come online. Because the tools that you need for the site that you want may be right under your nose (or more accurately, right under the codes) so long as you know where to look.