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Custom Design vs. "The Toolbox"
Competing against pre-built applications
Fortune Hunter

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 3:32 pm on Apr 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

I had an issue come up today I would like to run by the community. I had a mortgage broker call me and ask me to design a web site for him. I quoted him a price, he accepted and paid the deposit, I started working on it.

Later he emails and wants to stop the project because he found a mortgage "toolbox" where he can buy a pre-built web site for the low, low price of $599 per year forever. It comes pre-designed, with the all the content, and applications. Simply insert your name in the little box and voila you have an instant mortgage broker web site, no muss, no fuss.

Now I have run into these "toolbox" systems before, where you pay a subscription fee and you get all these wonderful tools that will make you a superstar in no time. They are essentially cookie cutter sites with cookie cutter content and applications, but the allure is that you don't have to pay this big upfront custom design fee, instead you may a monthly or yearly application. Never mind it doesn't work, the fee is low. UHG!

In my mind it is like going to Home Depot and buying it hammer and saw then paying Home Depot a fee every year forever to keep the hammer and saw. I might have the tools, but I don't have a clue how to build a house.

I made the usual arguments I make in situations like these, i.e. you pay this fee forever to keep the web site, you sound and look like everyone else, you have no control over content, etc. etc., but I am not sure I was getting through. The reason is that this is not simply a toolbox, but it is a "system" and it is promoted by a legend in the mortgage broker industry. It is her system, her own secrets, etc.

This of course is not the only industry this happens in. It seems almost any industry from real estate to insurance, to whatever have companies who have created these one time applications and content that you can simply rent from them for an annual fee and maybe you can even "customize" it by adding your name and logo in the corner. Most of us that do true custom work laugh at this.

My question, is what have others done to compete in these industry spaces when you are selling a custom developed solution but you are competing against the "toolbox" that is sold for a much lower annual or monthly fee?

 

Korrd

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 4:50 am on May 1, 2009 (gmt 0)

I don't think there is anything one can do beyond the usual arguments you made, to sway someone once they've decided to go with an DIY industry specific ready-made site. Just give them your best pitch and move on.

I don't even think it's about the money for most of them, although I'm sure "pay later" factors in. But I think the big factor is most of these people just don't respect the web as an entity. They know they need a website but they see the better value as being something marketed as created by experts in their industry, rather than something created by an expert in web design.

It's their mindset. In many of the sales oriented industries it seems to me originality takes a back seat to trying to duplicate the success of others. Sales seminars, sales scripts, ad campaigns, etc are all recycled and resold from one market to another. The only way many of these people would probably choose a custom website would be if a competitor was doing well with one, in which case they'd probably want a custom site "that looks just like my competitor's."

Too cynical?

midtempo

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 11:55 am on May 1, 2009 (gmt 0)

> what have others done to compete in these industry spaces when you are selling a custom developed solution but you are competing against the "toolbox" that is sold for a much lower annual or monthly fee?

changed my custom developed solution into a toolbox. made sure that it was better/more customizable/easier to use/seo friendlier than the other products on the market. gave it free for a year to a couple of industry leading clients, held their hands and smiled nicely whenever they rang. got great testimonials. did adwords campaigns, got reviews in industry journals, joined industry associations, made a professional support site, cold called, emailed, hassled, worked late, lived happily ever after.

mcjohnson

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 10:14 pm on May 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think one of your best arguements is SEO. It seems that they have little or no control over SEO in those DIY tools - from the way URLs are produced, to Title tags, content, Alt tags, etc. Maybe some are better than others, but who really knows how well one of those tools is indexed? That's one of my consistent arguements against ANYTHING non-pro. Using the "kid next door", a DIY system, or, god forbid, doing it themselves.

mcjohnson

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 10:14 pm on May 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think one of your best arguements is SEO. It seems that they have little or no control over SEO in those DIY tools - from the way URLs are produced, to Title tags, content, Alt tags, etc. Maybe some are better than others, but who really knows how well one of those tools is indexed? That's one of my consistent arguements against ANYTHING non-pro. Using the "kid next door", a DIY system, or, god forbid, doing it themselves.

sparxxdesign

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 2:28 am on May 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

I actually got into the web design business by way of one of those mortgage industry toolbox systems. I quickly became frustrated with the lack of the ability to customize ANYTHING my website. I couldn't implement any type of aggressive web marketing strategy through the system and so I realized that if I could learn to design my own site, I would have full control of what I wanted to do with it. And I could do it cheaper. Long story short, I dumped the mortgage industry and discovered web design was much more fun. But when I'm competing for business against a template based website system, I tell prospective clients my been-there-done-that story and I've had fairly good success with winning the business.

Fortune Hunter

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 9:51 pm on May 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

As it turns out my client has re-considered and started the project up again, but I don't think it is because he is fully convinced of my arguments. He is also someone I know fairly well and I do a lot of business with him outside of web design for my other business, which is rental properties. I think he felt a little guilty about shoving me aside when I have thrown so much business his way over the last year or two.

However the issue of toolbox or DIY solutions are always going to be an issue. Some people simply want "a web site" a good one is optional. Sad but true. I guess you make a good case for why you shouldn't do it and then let the chips fall where they may.

spadilla

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 11:49 pm on May 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

In these situations we try to keep ourselves positioned as the helpful professional and gain trust with potential clients. I can't tell you how many times these people have come back to us after using a cookie cutter template saying that the very things we warned them about in the beginning were too frustrating to deal with. As a result we are able to give them a site they love and are happy with as well as the professional and helpful face to go with it. It's not instant gratification, but you just never know when someone will come back and become a client because you respected their decision and tried to give them helpful advice to begin with - no strings attached.

tangor

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 12:13 am on May 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I always say "there's cheap and there's right". Pick your poison. You like what I do? Pay for it. You like that other price? Live with it.

Get a pro or go pro-bundle. Cookie cutter sites we do not do. Life is too short.

Fortune Hunter

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 5:52 pm on May 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

You like what I do? Pay for it. You like that other price? Live with it.

I like that quote, I will remember that the next time I get into one of these discussions.

However another thought which is invalidating my own argument on this is the "entry level web site" argument. It goes like this, pick an industry, law, financial planning, mortgage broker, etc. Pick out a series of templates from one of the template stores that fit this industry and offer them as an "entry level site" with the ability to upgrade to a custom site with all the added benefits.

This is like getting both ends of the market at the same time. On the cheap end you might charge $500 bucks for a template site, but for custom work it might start near $1,500 or more and go up depending on what they want. Some will only you pay you the $500 and never come back in which case you made a quick $500 for little work. If they do come back you can get more.

I have never personally done this, I always provide custom work, but I have toyed around with the idea of offering the template model for the cheap end of the market. I am just not sure if I will ruin my brand as a custom Internet marketing consultant by offering crappy templates. What do you think?

blynne

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3904100 posted 2:08 pm on Jun 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have always offered an entry level solution. Basically a site with little or nothing...they can customize the colour, and change their logo. That is it. I have designed the templates myself, so I know how to customize them rather fast, s yes it is a quick way to make a fee.

As a rule the clients see the new site, and while they are happy with the design and look...it is what they paid for after all...they want more...at that point I can up sell the site.

So how do I do this with out feeling bad...
1. Even though it is just a template, I know it is a good template, and I have included all the right stuff such as SEO control and CMS. It is well coded, and if not the most unique, it is still going to serve the client well.
2. Because it will actually work for the client, and I have been a good "partner" in creating it, when they see the results, they are going to come back to me to upgrade the site.

The key to this as I see it...if you have to give them something "cheap" make sure it is still good quality.

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