Net Profits: Should You Spring for a Custom Website?

By Cathleen McCarthy

Yes, you need a website. If you don’t have one already, you probably know this. You might also know a custom-designed ecommerce site can easily set you back $5,000. But even a professional web designer will tell you, you don’t have to start with the fully loaded version – just a solid foundation you can build on.

Shop-building platforms like Etsy and Shopify have lots of cool options but they typically come with monthly costs that run more than self-hosting. You can usually customize in Xcart and BigCommerce to achieve some visual branding, but you’re limited in design.

“And then you have people like me,” says Sarah Benoit, a web designer based in Asheville, NC. “We only want to build ecommerce sites on custom platforms like WordPress or Joomla because we have total freedom.” But, that option can be expensive.

“The custom website with a shopping cart might be the ultimate goal if you’re selling your own jewelry,” she says. “As a business owner, it gives you complete control. You are now in charge of everything, including profits. You can make that website evolve into the ethos.”

So, if you know you want a custom site eventually, should you go for broke? Not necessarily, Benoit says. You should do what makes sense for your business, as it is. “Like a lot of the decisions you make in the business world, you have to consider what you can afford to invest right now,” she says. “Everyone’s on a different level of that spectrum. Then you can begin to graduate up to different levels. If you have only limited money, you have to start somewhere and that’s okay.”

Parking a shop on Etsy or customizing through Shopify might make more sense for now. Michigan jewelry artist Beth Millner set up her ecommerce site on Shopify and integrates it, and her Etsy shop, with Ship Station.

You can also build your own site on WordPress, using shopping cart apps such as Woo Commerce. Having set up a site myself there, I can tell you there’s a learning curve even without ecommerce, but it can be done if you have graphic design skills and patience for technical puzzles. “I know several artists who have done that,” Benoit says. “They’ve been on WordPress before so were comfortable adding plugins.”

If you don’t have those technical skills, you’re going to have to rely on shopping portals (Ebay, Amazon, Rakuten) or store builders (Shopfy, Big Cartel, Etsy). “They don’t require all that much technical knowledge,” Benoit says. “And you don’t necessarily need to hire a web designer to build them.”

Whichever route you choose, you shouldn’t have to hire a web designer to update your site once it’s designed. You should be able to blog, update photos, and handle your own social media. “All these platforms have content management systems,” Benoit says. “If you have a website without a CMS, you’re 25 years behind.”

CATHLEEN MCCARTHY is a freelance writer whose stories about jewelry, art and business appear in dozens of publications and on her own site, The Jewelry Loupe. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

NET PROFITS is a regular feature about using the Internet for jewelry selling of special interest to those with a home-based jewelry business that appears in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Learn more in “Getting Ecommerce Right.”

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