October 27, 2017
Templates are designed to be universal, so they fit everyone somewhat well - and nobody really well. That means that no matter how customized a template is, it will always fight that underlying generic feel at its core.
Web visitors have become adept at evaluating websites at a glance. Sometimes it's an obvious thing - a logo that is clearly way too big for the cramped space provided. Other times it's more subtle - a border color that doesn't match the image, or fonts that don't fit the feel of the messaging. It's like trying to cover a bad tattoo - you can try, but you'll always see some of that first design underneath.
In the financial advisor world, differentiation is a huge challenge. Everyone looks and 'talks' roughly the same, with images of a senior couple in all-white walking the beach, and phrases like "comprehensive wealth management". Yawn. So starting out with a template design and trying to build uniqueness on top of it just makes it that much more challenging.
Most importantly, it's unlikely to fool your audience, and certainly won't instill them with trust.
There are some fine looking templates out there, no question. The problem arises in the customization. As soon as things start to get 'customized' with a template, a website can quickly look mismatched to your firm's size or style.
Think of it as an off-the-rack suit versus a custom-tailored suit. The custom-tailored suit is a perfect fit because it was specifically fashioned for you. It looks sharp, and can really enhance your appearance. An ill-fitting suit can still be a good quality suit, but can look really awful when it doesn't fit your unique shape or style. It's especially obvious when the suit is too large for your size - you can end up looking like a little boy wearing a man's suit.
A mismatch like this screams "nice try, but not very well put together". This can be devastating for your web presence, because first impressions are often all you get online.
Many of the website template platforms out there offer a variety of add-ons and features, including compliance reviews, appointment scheduling calendars, job boards, and even plug in 'instant content' for your site. Wonderful. The problem is you don't need those features.
Using template content or adding plug-in widgets on a template website can make it look even more fabricated. The most important role of any business website is about being a simple, effective online brochure. Period. For most small financial advisors, trying to create weekly content, manage complex web features, and learn how to use widgets (not to mention explain to clients or train employees how to use them) is very difficult to do well, and not what financial advisors - or any small business - needs to be spending their time on.
Most small businesses struggle with just getting the basic brochure website done well, with simple content and a contact form. We suggest you avoid platforms with widgets and add-ons, and focus on doing the basics well - communicating with clients and connecting with prospects - with a custom website that fits your firm's personality.
Most CMS systems are overhyped in terms of simplicity. Here's a secret: they are never that easy to learn or to use.
With many template websites, you'll be using WordPress to edit your website, and WordPress is not easy to use for many people. It is complex even for web designers. It's based on a massive backend platform, with a huge range of capabilities, and is notoriously buggy. It requires constant security updating, and even seemingly simple glitches can quickly become something support needs days to resolve.
We don't use or recommend WordPress because of this complexity, and we would never ask our clients to learn how to use it to edit their website. We use a simple real-time editor that has a truly zero learning curve. It's as easy as using Word.
We all know that support and customer service are the biggest downfall for most companies, including web design companies.
While there are lots of reasons for poor service, often it comes down to the company's philosophy. Are they a service provider or a product company? We contend that companies that sell template websites with all the bells-n-whistles are selling products - as many as they can churn out, priced to sell. That's wonderful, but it means they are a product company at heart.
Service-minded companies are different. Web design firms like ours were born out of early days of helping friends and family members create personal websites, not developing and selling a web product or platform. Our services - professional web design and support services - have always been at the heart of our business. Service is all we offer.
As you well know, the same is true with financial advisors - the best ones build their practice around client service rather than selling products.
Template websites are often priced with an 'onboarding' or setup charge, and then an ongoing monthly fee - apparently website rent. Websites generally have a 'shelf life' (before they start to look outdated) of roughly five years. With an onboarding fee of $1k, and a monthly charge of $100, you will spend $7,000 over the effective life of your website.
Go a bit higher - say $1,500 onboarding and $150/month, and you're looking at over $10,000 for that website. That may include a variety of widgets and features, but as you know now, you probably don't need them.
A fully custom web design on the other hand (ours, at least) would have a hard time getting to $10k. Most of our financial advisor clients are looking for websites in the 5-10 page range, which means $5k-10k in cost. That's a one-time fee for a fully custom, responsive, SEO-optimized website. You own it from day one. Any recurring cost for hosting or support is completely optional.
So, despite the seemingly low monthly fee advertised for template websites, the math shows that custom financial advisor web design is available for the same budget. For the same price, which would you prefer...off-the-rack, or custom-tailored?