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Should you hire a web designer or use a website builder?

Should you hire a web designer or use a website builder?

I have a hunch many readers are trying to decide between hiring a web designer or using a website builder. And although I run Site Builder Report (which reviews website builders), you might be surprised to hear that I think sometimes hiring a website designer is the right choice.

But the trick is to know when that is.

Here are some considerations to help you figure that out:

Do you have a small budget? Use. A. Website builder.

If you don’t have at least a mid-size budget it’s not worth it to try and hire a web designer.

What’s a mid-size budget? For the sake of this article, let’s say it’s north of $5,000 (which is generous … a mid-size budget is usually much higher).

So if your budget is less than $5,000, use a website builder.

But my cousin Vinnie says he’ll design my site for $400!?

I don’t know your cousin Vinnie, and he does sounds like a cool guy, but I’m worried he may not be a competent website designer. Why? Because his $400 quote seems to indicate that Vinnie does not do web design for a living.

And that’s a red flag.

Your cousin Vinnie might be a cool guy, but that doesn't mean he's a competent website designer!

Your cousin Vinnie might be a cool guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s a competent website designer!

Don’t hire an amateur website designer. Seriously, you’re better off postponing building the site. There’s a long list of reasons why an amateur website designer will give you headaches. I won’t go into the list here, but it’s probably no surprise that designing websites is a very complicated and involved thing. You need someone you can depend on.

I’m drawing the line in the sand at $5,000. Anything less than that is going to make your life more frustrating- not easier.

But not everyone has that kind of budget, which is why website builders are helpful …

Why website builders work for small budgets

Website builders are designed to build conventional websites. But don’t think of convention as a bad thing.

Consider a restaurant. Every restaurant website needs at least three things on their website: an online menu, location & contact info. Do these three things need to be reinvented every time a restaurant needs a website? No! These are conventional features- a website builder can do a great job of conventional things. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!

Note: Don’t worry: great website builders such as Squarespace include enough stylistic flexibility to ensure you can create a menu look and feel that is suitable for your restaurant.

Squarespace has a great menu builder for restaurants

Squarespace has a great menu builder for restaurants

As you can imagine, about 90% of websites are completely conventional. They need to allow people to edit content easily. They need to have simple forms. They need to be able to embed Google Maps. They need photo galleries.

By staying conventional these 90% of websites are doing nothing out of the ordinary- and that is great, it means that they can reap the benefits of using a website builder.

… which leads me to my next point:

Think convention for website builder. Think customization for website designer.

You will get the most out of a website builder if you don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Stay conventional. Use things like photo galleries, forms, paragraphs, basic ecommerce and text.

A website builder will buy you 90% of the customization at 10% of the cost.

If you need to get to 100% customization because you want to build something unconventional, then you’ll absolutely need a website designer.

But heres the thing: you probably don’t need 100% customization …

You don’t need the sophisticated features you’ve been daydreaming about

I get emails all the time from people who have ambitious, pie-in-the-sky ideas for features on their website. I call these features, unicorn features.

These people search day and night but are unable to find a website builder that supports their unicorn features.

So, as I see it, they have two options: (1) they can hire a website designer to build it or (2) they can do some soul searching and ask themselves if they really need this unicorn feature.

More people need to consider option 2.

The fact is, these unicorn features are often solutions for problems that are trivial or don’t exist. Make sure you really need your unicorn feature.

Closing Thought #1: Try Yourself Before Hiring Someone Else to Do It

I’m a big believer that you should try designing your website before you hire someone else to do it.

Trying to do it yourself will open you up to some of the realities of web design and will give you a sense of the constraints and challenges of web design. This will make you so much better when you try to actually hire a web designer.

Plus, you may surprise yourself and realize you can do it yourself.

Closing Thought #2: Don’t Hire a Web Designer Based on Price

It can be tempting to try to hire a web designer purely based on price: lowest bid gets the job.

But if this is how you are hiring a web designer, it shows me that you lack any real criteria for deciding which web designers and good or bad.

I used to be a website designer, and the reality is, the field is not like plumbers or electricians where there is a (very general) parity among expertise in the field. A plumber is generally a competent plumber. A web designer is not always a competent web designer.

Finding a good web designer is challenging. Do some research. Try building a website yourself using a website builder (even if it doesn’t work out, it will make you a better at hiring a web designer).

Just don’t rely on price alone to find a web designer. That can only end in heartache.


This is a big question. I’ve done my best to my summarize my thoughts on it, but I want to hear from you: Do you have experience designing your own site versus hiring a designer? What did you learn?


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