I recently had occasion to take part in an exchange on a web design forum where I am a moderator.

The person asking for advice on the design of their site had been told that it was not very professional, and that they should not be using an online site builder for their own site if they were going to put themselves forward as a web designer.

They replied, in part :” .. my target customer is the average VERY small business that doesn’t understand the difference between the two (web design and graphic design). They don’t know how to even copy and paste code, much less write it from scratch. I realize that I can’t compete with large design firms that have professionals with tons of server side coding experience. I am simply looking to help the little “mom & pop” businesses in my local area be able to get a decent website up and running at a minimal cost to them…”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Lots. And here’s why.

my target customer is the average VERY small business “ – That’s my target market as well – just because they are small doesn’t mean they deserve less than a professional job.

I realize that I can’t compete with large design firms that have professionals with tons of server side coding experience “ – Well, I am not a large design firm – I am a one person shop – but I do have years of training and experience to offer my clients.

People nowadays are increasingly web-savvy – and increasingly use the web to search for info before purchasing. They tend to look skeptically at any business that does not have a professional-looking website.

I am often told by prospective clients that they “already paid someone to do it, and they were cheaper than you.” So I ask them why they are even coming to me and they tell me that their site is not bringing them the business they wanted/needed/expected from it. Invariably when I go to look at the site I see something very much like the one in question – a site that looks outdated, “homemade”, and has very little, if any, interactivity. Or something they made themselves with an online web builder like wix or weebly or something.

As for the person on the forum who asked for the evaluation? People like that, (however well-meaning), who put themselves forward as designers and then charge money (however little) for substandard work, have a definite impact on the profession. Underpricing, or even charging at all for amateur work, devalues the work of those in the industry who have invested time, effort and money to become trained and experienced, and it also furthers the belief that this line of work is easy, and that anyone can do it.

Good design does not just happen – most of the designers I know have years of training and experience. And the same for developers – it takes time to master any code language well, and to be a decent developer you need at least the four basics – HTML, CSS, javascript, and some sort of server-side language (PHP is good, and it’s free). And it is also necessary to stay abreast of developing technologies and design trends.

You would not offer to build someone’s house just because they can’t (or don’t) want to afford an actual contractor – why then would you offer to create a website for them if you are not a professional designer?

I am not saying people should not go into this business. I am just saying they should not go into it until they know how to do it right.