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5 hidden costs of a free website

Would you cash a check for 13 cents? Trump did.

In 1990, Trump was one of 58 ultra-wealthy Americans who were unwitting participants in an experiment run by Spy Magazine to find out, “Who is America’s Cheapest Zillionaire.” First, these high-net-worth individuals were sent checks for $1.11 and 26 of the 58 cashed those checks. The reporter sent progressively lower value checks. When the dust settled, Trump was 1 of only 2 participants willing to cash the smallest check sent (13 cents). The full experiment was surprisingly involved and the article is worth checking out.

Maybe you wouldn’t cash a 13-cent check. I know I wouldn’t. Then again, maybe that’s why we’re not part of this elite group of zillionaires.

Now, back to the 5 hidden costs of a free website…

1) The cost of upgrades

Upgrade costs are the least hidden of the hidden costs. Most free website builders are based on what’s called a freemium model. The word freemium is a mash-up of the words “free” and “premium.” It’s the strategy of giving away a free, limited, version with the expectation that people will upgrade to a premium version. Most or all of the profit comes from people upgrading, so the main focus in a freemium model is upselling you.

Often, there are premium features that fall into the must have category. As an example, the free version often has advertising. It may be something as small as “build your own free website with…” However, this will instantly hurt your credibility. “Removing branding” is an upgrade that you’ll always want to choose, as is using your own domain name.

The monthly costs of upgrading ranges from $5 – $30. If you do decide to build your own site with a builder, you should plan to spend some money on upgrades. You will want to do some research, so you understand what features they charge for, and how much, before investing a lot of time in building a free site on a platform.

2) The cost of your time

Considering the TV commercials, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you could build a website in 10 minutes and it’s “as easy as 1-2-3.” As a developer, these commercials crack me up. They always breeze over a step that actually represents hours and hours of work. Imagine a commercial about building a car, “Build a car in 3 easy steps: step 1, pick the color; step 2, customize the car; step 3, drive it off the assembly line.”

If you are committed to building an effective and professional website, a good chunk of your time will be devoted to learning. You are probably starting out at the don’t know what you don’t know level of understanding. It’s a long slog to build from that level to knowing enough to do a halfway decent job.

PRO TIP: If you get stuck or need instructions on how to do something specific, try searching on YouTube.

The worst part is when you get stuck. When you run into a problem that you can’t solve, it can eat up an unbelievable amount of time. It could even be something that literally can’t be done within the builder you’ve chosen. If you are a perfectionist, building your own website will take exponentially more time. Sometimes, building your own site is about accepting, good enough.

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.Jim Rohn

You are likely to spend 10, 20, 40 hours or more between educating yourself and actually designing the site. If you only spend 10 hours, you are likely to suffer additional costs because of mistakes and hits to your reputation.

3) The cost of mistakes

As previously eluded too, you are probably starting out without a clear concept of all the different factors that you need to understand in order to create an effective website. Did you know that you can build a website that looks great and has one or more fatal flaws? This isn’t an exaggeration. A site that looks great on your computer may be literally useless for some of your visitors.

Example Mistake 1: Poorly optimized images

A common mistake is to not properly optimize your images. This leads to very slow load time. In this high tech world, people stand in front of their microwave, muttering, “Come on… I don’t have all minute.” If your site takes too long to load, people will just back out without even seeing your site.

Example Mistake 2: No or bad meta tags

You may not even know what a meta tag is, right now. One thing that isn’t even obvious when you learn about them is how you can use them incorrectly and potentially get penalized by the search engines. Without getting too deep into the subject, you mainly need to understand that the text in the meta tags should match the exact words on the page. The keyword tag is the biggest culprit, and it is widely recommended not to use it at all.

The more time you devote to learning, the fewer costly mistakes you’ll make. Therefore, time spent on learning lowers the cost of mistakes.

4) The cost of lost reputation

As the saying goes, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” No matter how someone hears about you, the first thing they are likely to do is to look you up online. Your website represents your chance to make that first impression.

When considering the effect of your website on your reputation, there are a few levels. Having no website—or one that people can’t find—is the worst. The second most problematic is having a site that’s obviously built for free—thus, the advice about upgrading if you do use a builder. Even if you clear both those hurdles, you don’t want your site to look like one you built yourself. A professional website is a signal to your prospective customers regarding how seriously you take your business.

As with mistakes, the more time you devote to learning, the better chance you’ll have of creating a professional looking website. If your site doesn’t look professional, fewer people will convert from visitors to customers. In other words, you’ll lose sales.

5) The cost of lost sales

As you probably expect, you’ll make fewer sales from a DIY website, versus one that is professionally designed by a developer. Both the amount of people who find your site, as well as the number of those people who convert into customers, are likely to be better with a professionally built website.

The value of lost sales can be considered an opportunity cost and should be part of your calculations. While it’s virtually impossible to calculate an exact cost, it is useful to consider the value of one lost customer. From there, you can make an educated guess as to how many sales you may lose each month based on how confident you are about building your own website.

PRO TIP: When calculating the costs of losing a sale/customer, you want to use the lifetime value of the customer. This is calculated by multiplying the average number of times a customer will buy from you, by the average profit you make from each purchase. Example: A hair stylist has customers who come back an average of 6 times per year, and remain a customer for an average of 2 years. The average ticket is $35, and of that, $25 is profit. The lifetime value would be 12 (total number of haircuts) X 25 (profit per haircut) = 300. This is important to keep in mind for all of your marketing expenditures.

You get what you pay for

Now, you have a better understanding of all the costs related to building a free website. It might surprise you to learn that this article wasn’t created with the intention of talking you out of building your own site. Yes, I am a professional website developer and I strongly believe that the sites I build offer an exceptional return on your investment. However, my main goal is just to help you understand the actual costs so you can make an informed decision.

I’m thinking of creating an article about the top mistakes people make when building their own website. If you think that’s a good idea, shoot me an email and let me know.

Should I get an app for my small business?

phone-1601Every once and a while, someone will ask me if I can build them an app. Depending on how complicated the app is, this is something I can do; however, it’s not always a good idea.

In order to decide if it makes sense for you to get an app for your small business, it’s a good idea to consider the following questions.

What extra value will this app provide to the end user?

As a business owner, it’s appealing to have your app installed on your customer’s phone. The real question, however, is “Why would someone install the app?” Many of the most basic and affordable apps, to create, provide little or no more value than a mobile website.

Do you have the kind of business that is a natural fit for an app?

If you are running a restaurant, you could use an app for things like notifications of specials and a virtual punch card. If you are a plumber, it’s much more difficult to find those things that make your app useful. (See the previous question).

Is this a good use of your money?

It’s uncommon to spend less than $1200 on an app; even the inexpensive ones are regularly more than $2500. If you have a brilliant idea for a custom app, it might even cost 10’s of thousands of dollars or more. Considering the other, more cost effective, ways of accomplishing the same things, an app is mostly a poor investment for a small business.

This is just a quick post because the questions came up again recently. What are your thoughts on it? Do you still have questions or are unsure? Please let me know. I’m happy to update this with further information.

Are You Paying Retail for Credit Card Processing?

Before I explain how to buy your merchant services at wholesale prices, let me take a minute to explain why it’s important to review these kinds of bills. Credit card processing is generally billed monthly. Anything billed monthly can sneak up on you. This is why I feel it’s important to review your insurance, credit card processing, telephone, internet, and any other monthly bills on a regular basis. If you shave $100/mo off your monthly bills, that’s $1200/year. It’s not at all unrealistic to save that amount when you really start reviewing your bills.

A few years ago I had the good fortune of meeting Scott. Scott works for a local software company (Sage Payment Solutions) that offers credit card processing / merchant services. I can hear you now, “So what? Those people call me all the time.” Well I have a few reasons to feel lucky to know Scott. Here are the reasons I think you should use Scott at Sage Payment Solutions.

Wholesale Pricing
He sells his services to the banks, they turn around and resell them to you. In other words, he’s the wholesale source.

Low Pressure
You are probably sick of hearing from merchant service people. Maybe you’ve been burned by one. Maybe you have just started hanging up on them when the call. Scott is different. He’s been in business for a several years (significant in that industry), and he has strong values.

Online Integration Tools
Sage also has great tools for integrating payment within your website. I haven’t found an easier or more cost effective way to accept credit cards using your own merchant account. It makes a great alternative to PayPal.

Expert in Your Corner
Merchant services have some of the most complicated billing practices. It’s so easy to get fooled by someone who is showing you one number and not all of the hidden extra costs. This is why having Scott in your corner is such a great way to make sure you aren’t ripped off. It’s like having a mechanic you trust.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must let you know that I have incentive to recommend Scott & his service. He sends business to me, and I get paid a nominal fee per account I send him. It’s even more important to note that even without these incentives, I would still recommend Scott, all day long. I was sending him referrals for a long time and that is why he put me on as an affiliate to get paid, so you understand the order of things. I would suggest that you call Scott and have him review your credit card statements. He will be honest with you and let you know if he can save you money or not. You can contact Scott at 503-307-1331, or for more information look at his website http://ScottLongacre.com (Note: I didn’t design the site, it’s provided by his company)

Free Fax / Voicemail Service – K7.net

*** 2017 Update ***

It doesn’t appear that K7 is still doing free fax numbers. I switched to FaxAway.com which is $1/mo prepaid. I actually prefer this to K7, as with K7 I lost my number a few times. If you are concerned with having your CC# out online, you could probably use a prepaid CC. I’ve even found those at the Dollar store, so you could put $20 on a card from there and fund the account, and be all set for 20 months.

For outgoing faxing, I always use GotFreeFax.com. I’ve used both the paid and free version of this service and both work well.

For free phone/voicemail, I use Google Voice. It’s a great way to get a second phone number that you can use for business or just for privacy. You do need to connect it with an existing number, I don’t recall if the number must be a cell phone.

For about a year I’ve been using a free fax service (http://voicemail.k7.net/signup/). People can also call my fax number and leave a voicemail, so you could use it as a voicemail number. When you sign up for the free service, you get an assigned phone number. Mine is a Seattle number. I believe you can pay extra for a local number.

The faxes come in as TIFF files that open fine in Microsoft Image Viewer. I didn’t need to set that up. When I clicked on the attachments they just opened. Some free services require you to use their software.

Note: I used to have another number, and I lost it. The reason is I don’t get very many faxes. If you let your account stay inactive for too long, you’ll get your number taken away. To make sure this didn’t happen I signed up for a weekly fax advertisement to come to my free fax number. This means I know I get a fax once a week, and that my fax number is staying active. I’ve included the link below to the one I use, but you can also just google “Weekly Fax Advertisement.”

http://www.busbook.com/busweekly.freesubscription.html

Coupons For Printing

I’ve created a partnership with OvernightPrints.com. Right now you can get the following special deals.

Cheap Reliable Phone Service – Vonage

I’ve used Vonage for years. Every once and a while I’d have a connection related issue, until about 2 years ago. I can say for sure I’ve had flawless service for at least one year, and probably more like two.

If you are interested in trying vonage you can sign up through this link and get up to two months free (and I get two months free as well) http://www.vonage.com/friend/ Just put in my vonage phone number of 503-914-5990.