Template or No Template? What You Need to Know About Web Design

Your site is your handshake. It’s the first impression many of your clients will have of your company. If your site looks sloppy, amateurish, or unprofessional, people assume your business is sloppy, amateurish, and unprofessional. For most entrepreneurs, this is not big news. We know the importance of our web presence. What many may not know is how to have a great site without spending a fortune with designers and developers. If your website’s functionality is your business – like with membership or gaming sites – you might not have much choice. On the other hand, if you use your website as a way to present your business, products, and services to the world and don’t require advanced development, you might want to consider web templates.

It used to be that a template site could be spotted a mile away. These days, templates are more sophisticated, and the sheer number of template designs available makes it possible for you to create a site that’s unique, individual, and far from cookie-cutter. In fact, for as little as $50.00, you can even get a full flash site, at template sites like FlashMint.com. Another template provider, Allwebco Design, has some of the coolest non-flash site designs out there for around $120, as well as some good information for the newbie website creator.



Words of Wisdom

The design of your website is not something to be taken lightly, and there are some things to look out for when choosing a template provider. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Free is a relative term. If you’re really bootstrapping it and looking for a free template design, there are plenty of sites where you can find good looking templates at no cost. Just be sure the site you choose isn’t more trouble than it’s worth. Open Source Web Design (OSWD.org) boasts 2,080 free template designs. Take some time in choosing one though. OSWD has three important features to look at. First, users give designs star ratings; secondly, people are able to comment on the designs; and last, they show the number of times a template has been downloaded. Look through the comments. You’ll find that many are just commenting on the look of the design, which is less helpful than those commenting on its functionality. The comments you want to look for are those, for example, telling you that the design looks great in IE7 but not so good in Firefox, or that the tables only line up at certain screen resolutions. You’ll want to be sure your chosen design hasn’t been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times too. You might still be unique within your industry, but the fewer downloads, the less chance you have of looking just like someone else.


  • Expect to support yourself. Don’t expect any technical support when choosing a free template. For the most part, they aren’t difficult to implement, but you’ll want to have at least a basic understanding of HTML, or know someone who does and can help you if you get stuck. Even sites where you pay for a template are notorious for a lack of customer support, so do your homework. Most sites, like Template Kingdom, will tell you the format of the source files being provided with your download. If the source files are in Dreamweaver or Photoshop, you’ll of course want to have those programs and know how to use them before choosing that template. Or you can use the template, knowing you’ll be limited in the amount of customization you can implement. One bit of advice, regardless of your level of expertise: Always keep your originally downloaded files in a safe place, and create a separate copy you can work to perfect. That way, no matter how badly you mess something up, you can always start from square one if you have to!


  • Memberships, buyouts, and template tweakers. Some template sites offer a membership price for unlimited downloads. Unless you are designing sites for a living, it is unnecessary to join them. Many of the customer complaints out there have to do with memberships not being cancelled upon request and other issues surrounding recurring billing, so again, do your homework. You will also find several sites, like Template Monster, offering quality designs for download, but also offering templates with a “buyout” option. This option will cost you as little as $800, up to over $5,000, and it only ensures they will remove the template from their site going forward. It does not guarantee the design hasn’t been used before or even downloaded thousands of times. For that kind of investment, you can find a designer to build a comparable site and provide one-on-one support. The same goes for sites offering to customize or “tune-up” an existing template. With the number of designers hungry for work right now, browsing Craigslist, Guru, or Elance might just render you a better deal.


So the bottom line is that you don’t have to spend all your startup capital to have a cool site. Templates are a great alternative to costly custom sites, as long as you take the time to make sure you’re getting what you need. If you’ve used a template site, join the conversation, and let others know about your experience – good, bad, or ugly!

Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs.org, BizWarriors.com and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley).

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