I love to get things free!  Getting things free is a great feeling.  And when it’s something of real value to me, the good feeling just increases.  My dad sometimes still fixes my car for me.  That’s such a great gift, because getting the car repaired is not only expensive, but it’s also complicated.  I love when someone knowledgeable jumps in and uncomplicates my life…for free.

So when companies promise me a website…for free, I should jump at the chance, right?  After all, websites are complicated!  And I have some ideas, but they clearly know a lot more than I do, and they’re so knowledgeable, with all kinds of options and showing me how it’ll be so easy!

So, the first news is, it’s almost free.  I mean, ten dollars a month, that’s practically free!  That’s what, two lattes per month to have this great website with great graphics and interesting layouts that will drive hundreds and thousands of people to my site in no time!  Ten bucks?!?  Are you kidding?  Practically free!!

So I go there.  There’s lots of practically free website builders out there.  I won’t name them, you can find them with a quick Google, and I don’t want a cease-and-desist.  But we all know who they are.  They have splashy sites with bright colors and eye-catching graphics.  They promise not only site-building tools, but also support!  A community!  If my site is great enough, they’ll highlight my site to other users in the community and drive traffic to the site for me!  Sign me up, right?

Okay, so now I’m confronted with tools.  Lots of them.  Themes!  Loads of themes, so many choices.  Widgets–that’s a real thing, not just some geeky word from math problems in school!  Drag and drop layout!  So easy!

Until.  Themes are pretty out of date.  And if you want one that’s newer, cooler, more modern?  Hmmm.  That’s going to cost.  And those widgets.  I have access to loads of them, but if I really want them to work, I’ve got to buy an app.  I had to pay to get a shopping cart, and pay more to get a form so people could sign up for my mailing list!  This is starting to look less, y’know, free.

And that easy drag and drop layout only works if I drop the pieces where they want them dropped.  So I can’t customize my site quite as much as they make it look like I can.  And those splashy graphics, y’know, the ones that drew me in in the first place?  I can’t find them anywhere.  They’re literally not available.

Meanwhile, the “free” website developer is advertising on my site.  And, come to find out, only the top tippy top 1% of websites ever get featured in their advertising.  So only if I can already draw lots and lots of traffic will they feature me and help me out–after I’ve shown I don’t really need any help!  And all the while, they’re using my website hits to build their own brand.  And!  Because they use their own, non-standard coding, Google doesn’t really read my site, so it doesn’t show up in searches!

And!  The worst thing!  If I ever decide I want to move my site, I can just forget the idea now.  It cannot be moved off of their platform!!!  The analogy I read was that it was like if all my furniture were bolted to my house.  I can leave, but my stuff…it all stays.

Still looking like free is so great?

Not to mention, all the time!  Remember when I just wanted someone to handle it?  I’ve spent thousands of hours researching, learning, goofing with my site, money upgrading, all to find out it is practically owned by someone else?!?  How could I have spent all that time?  I could have spent it so much more productively, creating, building my dream, instead of building a site that, seemingly by design, is not going to work for my long-term plans.  It will help the free-not-free company out, though, so all my effort is not completely wasted.

This has gotten extremely complicated, time-consuming, and much more expensive than I expected.  I wanted uncomplicated, remember?  I also wanted free, and free doesn’t really mean free.  I paid, and paid dearly, sometimes with my credit card, sometimes with my time and frustration and annoyance.

Ever felt like this?

Professional web designers know this story like the back of their hands.  We hear it all the time.  But it’s like doing your own surgery, or making your own shoes.  You might be able to make a pair of shoes, with enough time and effort, but they would never function like professionally designed Nikes.  They would never look like designer Jimmy Choo heels.  You could walk around in them maybe, but that’s about it.

Professional web design gives you a website that is both functional…like those Nikes, and beautiful, like those Jimmy Choos.  They include all the functions that you need, like shopping carts, appointment schedulers, fundraising or crowd-funding capabilities, mailing list management tools, blogs.  A good designer will sit with you, in person or online, and listen.  You can specify all the things that you want in a site, how you want to use it, what you want your site to do.  A designer will help you with layouts, graphics, maybe logo design.  They will refine your ideas, and then bring you back options to choose from.  They will customize your site to fit you, and not the other way around.

Because they are so knowledgeable, this takes them far less time than it would for you to learn it all from scratch.  They have experience and skill that they’ve honed over many years.  They know what works.  They can advise you on SEO, on creating email lists, on social media marketing, to get website traffic.  They’re also there if things break–they can help you fix it again.  They monitor the site continuously to make sure that it’s up and running all the time.

You won’t get all this for free.  What you will get is worth a lot more.  Confidence.  Peace of mind.  An advocate for you and your dream.  An architect that can create your vision.  A good designer will listen to you and amplify your voice.

Don’t try to make your own shoes.  Knowledge and experience makes a huge difference, and the end product will offer support and style that you didn’t even know you needed.

Free is not free.  Not when it costs you in time and frustrations, and nickel-and-dimes you to death in the bargain.  Talk to a professional web designer.