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Every day, it seems a new DIY design website pops up. They offer major design services – websites, logos, business cards, etc. – that are affordable (or even free!). It isn’t surprising that small businesses and individuals flock to these sites in droves. But are they all they’re cracked up to be?


The idea of a “free” website or “free” business cards or “free” anything is tantalizing. I love a good freebie myself. And, not having a silver spoon trust fund, I, too, would balk at paying several thousands of dollars to have a professional designer create my website. (Of course, that wasn’t the greatest plan either, looking at my student loan debt.)

Except for the fact that I know what goes into the process. Half the reason I decided to learn HTML/CSS and web design in general is so that I wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it for me. And it is much more involved than any drag-and-drop site would have you believe. There are designers behind the scenes at these sites creating templates for websites, print materials, and more, but they aren’t doing it with your business in mind. The best analogy I can give is that these designers are creating virtual equivalents of the 4-piece puzzles toddlers play with. They’re pretty and they’re functional, but they are also very basic.


Vistaprint business card design

Possibly the most popular business card design on Vistaprint.com.

These sites are all about volume. They make their money by selling to the most people with as little work as possible. Even sites with hundreds upon hundreds of design options can still only make a finite number of design available,while an infinite number of people can choose from those designs. And, since most designs are targeted towards specific industries, it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” you and your competitors are making the same choices.

Take the business card on the left as an example. In addition to being a designer extraordinaire, I also participate in craft shows and sell my artwork online. At shows, before starting my vending duties, I’ll usually make my way through the other vendors and pick up business cards. Invariably, there will be at least one vendor with business cards baring this design. Usually it is somewhere between two and four, and they are typically selling jewelry or something similar.

As a customer, if I pick up two to four business cards that look exactly the same and the vendors sell similar products, I’m not really going to care which one I buy from. After all, one is much like the other, isn’t it? But, if I pick up these four cards plus one that has a unique, eye-catching design, that business card is going to hold my attention, and that vendor is more likely to get my business.

Small businesses already have a hard time separating themselves from the pack. Why not avoid blending in?

The Ad Monster

If you sign up for a free or cheap website, you have to anticipate that the company is going to make its money in more ways than just volume. That can mean only one thing: advertisements.

Pop ups. Pop unders. Pop overs. Sidebar. Banner. Video. They’re everywhere!

On the very best DIY sites, the ad layout is designed in such a way as to not detract from your content, and is relevant thereto. Of course, “relevant” could mean your website will be sporting an ad from a direct competitor. You don’t want to jump on your homepage to find that the company that has been stealing your customers is digitally emblazoned next to your logo. To the average customer, that screams ringing endorsement.

Maybe you don’t care if your website sports a few ads. But, if it’s your website, shouldn’t you be in charge of the advertising? And shouldn’t you benefit from it? It is relatively painless to add some advertisements to your website, and your business benefits directly from selling the advertising space.

It’s Your Business

That’s the most important thing to keep in mind: This is your business. Is that a fact made clear by your DIY designs, or do they say, “Hey, this was close enough”? While DIY sites certainly make it easy to create an overarching identity design package, they don’t make it easy to individualize your business. They don’t make it easy for customers to identity your business’s unique selling points. And they don’t make it easy to get noticed.

I’m not down on DIY sites completely. I use Vistaprint.com for their printing services, because they offer good quality at an affordable price. In fact, a lot of designers use DIY sites to build their own digital portfolios because if we didn’t, we would never get any other projects. We would spend all of our time tweaking our sites because they’re not perfect yet.

Need proof? This website is the fourth or fifth iteration of my digital portfolio in the last two years. I am my own worst client.