Money is tight when you are just starting your own travel business. Your phone is probably not ringing off the hook and you don’t quite have standing room only…at least not yet. And yet, your operating expenses seem to be outpacing your revenue.
Not only is it challenging to know when and what to start outsourcing but then on top of that…ugh, the fear of hiring the wrong person. The terror of wasting money can often paralyze most budding travelpreneurs.
When to know if it’s a good time to outsource
When to bring in outside help will often be determined by the speed at which you want to scale your business and the funds you have available. It is a very precarious tightrope.
The exercise I recommend is to have a brainstorming session. Write out all the things you need to run your business. Write down even the smallest thing. While it’s true, you may not know all the things you’ll need from the onset just write down as many things as you can.
Then take a good long look at that list and start dividing up the tasks that will directly impact your income from the things that will be “nice to have” but are not essential.
My rule of thumb is to invest in the items on your critical list that don’t come easy to you. Leave all the shiny, “nice to have” items off to the side until you are in the black. (making money). And typically, that doesn’t happen until your second year of business.
For many travel advisors I work with, tech and website development are the things they struggle with the most. And sure, you can Google how to do just about anything, but just because you can DIY your website, doesn’t mean you should.
I equate investing in a solid website like leasing a storefront travel agency. If you make a mistake and choose a spot in the wrong part of town, you could be missing valuable foot traffic. Who cares if you got a screaming deal on a rental if nobody comes in?
Having a solid website is like having a travel agency in a prime section of real estate. A website that can convert the leads you send to it is well worth the investment. And while I will always recommend that you understand the fundamentals of your website so you can go in and tweak things as you need, I think it’s the one area of your business that makes sense to invest in from the beginning.
So great…next up, how to find the right person to build your website.
Set a budget
Even though having a solid website is critical to the success of your business does not mean it has to be expensive. The main goal of your website is two-fold.
- It needs to attract visitors (using SEO tactics)
- It needs to convert visitors into either a consultation appointment or onto your email list
That’s it. Those are its two primary functions. All the rest is just fancy window dressing and potential distraction. If you want to include fancy animations, I’d add that to your “nice to have” list for year two.
You’ll want to set a budget that makes you comfortable. A brand new website will run anywhere between $4000 to 10,000 with the average landing around the $6000 mark.
Do some legwork
Before you even post a position for a web designer, I’d recommend doing a bit of homework to decide what you want. Start by doing a web search on your travel niche and see what competitors float to the top of the SERP.
There are a lot of factors that determine the position a business lands in the SERP, but at the very least, if it’s positioned well, there is a strong chance the website is built well to start with.
And don’t just stick within your travel niche or even stay within the travel space. I’d recommend expanding your search to other business types and look for sites that attract your attention. Jot them all down. You’ll want a good idea of the look and feel you are going for before you start searching for a web designer.
Get some recommendations
You probably already belong to several travel or small business Facebook communities. Ask inside those groups for recommendations. That’s a great place to start. There are so many website developers – now more than ever – you will be bombarded by choice.
Put together a project description
Asking someone what they will charge you to build a website is like asking you…how much to book a trip? A lot depends on how involved your website will be. How many pages do you want? That’s why it’s a good idea to get some sample sites that you like as a starting point. This will give a better idea of the look and feel you are going for.
Be sure to review my earlier article “Are You Making One of These 9 Critical Mistakes with your Travel Agent Website?” as a refresher and to ensure you have some basics covered.
Again, there is value in keeping things simple when you start out and build from there.
Expect to pay more for a customized site
There are pros and cons of using a fully customizable site compared to a templated website builder. The idea of going with a templated website builder like Squarespace or Wix or Weebly is that they are supposed to be so stinkin’ easy that you don’t need a website designer. But the truth is…and from my experience talking to many travel advisors…even templated websites have their share of headaches.
My personal recommendation would be to go with a fully customizable site using WordPress.org. (not .com) It will probably cost you more upfront to have a designer build one from scratch but once it’s built, you have far more options to scale your site to something fancier when you have more money.
And the benefit of a WordPress.org site is that you can add functionality via free plug-ins down the road. A templated site does not offer the same flexibility.
Get a few quotes
While it may be tempting to take the first quote that comes along, even if you love the person, get at least 5 quotes. Ask to see samples of their portfolios. And have them provide pricing for the sites listed in their portfolios.
Do they charge per hour or a flat rate for a finished site? Ask them to provide the costs per each job they have in their portfolio. Regardless if they offer a flat rate or a per hour rate, you’ll want a better understanding of what you can expect to receive for the rates quoted.
And will their rates include maintenance of your site and for how long? Websites do require constant upkeep, much of which you can do yourself but if you can get someone else to do it, that’s a bonus.
When it comes to reviewing the sites offered in a portfolio, don’t just review them in terms of how pleasing to the eye they are. Be sure to run them through a site speed tester like Uptime. Or Google’s own site tester. After all, the site may look pretty from the outside, but these tools will help you evaluate what’s under the hood. I go into this in much more detail in the following article: 10 Easy SEO Tips and Tricks for Your Travel Website.
Do a video interview
I think you can pick up a lot from body language in a video interview. You might find someone that comes highly recommended from your industry peers but if they just don’t jibe with your style…better to move along.
There are so many web designers to choose from, I’d much rather you find someone that matches your personality. You’ll be working closely together. They need to be able to take direction and to offer recommendations that you might not have thought of.
Get a timeline
How long do they estimate the website will take? Building a website, especially one that doesn’t include a lot of bells and whistles, shouldn’t take a long time. But if your designer is working on various projects at the same time, that could delay the launch of your site.
Check their references
Don’t skip this step. So many people do because it seems like such a schlepp, but it’s worthwhile. Things you’ll want to ask are:
- Did they maintain their enthusiasm throughout the project?
- Were they open to feedback and revision requests?
- Were they timely?
- Did they offer any additional suggestions beyond the scope of the project?
- In hindsight, was there anything you’d wished you had included but didn’t?
Be prepared to roll up your sleeves
And regardless if you hire a web designer, I still strongly recommend that you take an afternoon and learn the basics of web design either from watching a few YouTube videos or buying an inexpensive course from Udemy or similar.
There is power in knowing the broader strokes of building a website so that you have a better understanding of what your designer can and can’t do. You don’t need to know the finer details. However, if push comes to shove and you need to make a quick change or do a fast update, it’s good to have some basic knowledge that will allow you to do so.
Don’t stress about it
My final piece of advice when hiring a web designer is that, from my experience, most web designers are small business owners just like you. They want to do a good job. The happier you are the more chance you’ll send business their way. So with that said, assuming you’ve done the work that I’ve laid out in the previous steps, don’t stress over the decision.
Just like with love…there are many Mr. Rights out there for each of us – not just one. The same is true for web designers. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do your homework and then have faith that the web designer you’ve chosen is the one you are meant to have.
And if not..well, you can always divorce them and start again. A bit more painful but not the end of the world.
Just don’t be afraid to get help so that you can focus on your strengths.
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