Well, it really all depends.

Venn Diagram: Good, Fast, CheapThere’s a common rule among designers, not just of websites but design in general, that you can have any two of the following, but not all three:

  • Good
  • Fast
  • Cheap

At the intersection of any two, you can expect certain results, as pictured in Figure 1. (And at the intersection of all three is the mythical unicorn.)

Let’s take a closer look at each of these intersections.

Fast and Cheap

This option is the one I see a lot of startup nonprofits take. It’s when you need a website (because doesn’t everyone need a website these days?) and you’re in a hurry to get something up and running. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • A board member says, “Hey, let’s just get a summer intern to do it.”
  • Your Executive Director has the receptionist build it with WIX (or Weebly, or Yola — fill in your favorite drag and drop website builder) between answering phone calls.
  • Your Board Chairman’s nephew living in his parents’ basement is a “Web Developer” and will do it for $500.
  • You find a “Web Designer” or “WordPress Expert” on Craigslist or ODesk, who will do it for $15/hour.

While going with this option will get you “on the web” you’ll likely end up unhappy with your results.

  • It may look like crap (and therefore make you look like crap).
  • It may be next to impossible to update or change.
  • It may not do what you need it to do — like accept donations or sign-ups or gather your supporters’ emails.
  • In extremely bad cases, it may be insecure and put you and your visitors at risk.

In any case, this option leads to endless frustration. Many of my clients arrive on my doorstep having gone this route and are now wondering what they can do get out of their crappy website situation.

Good and Cheap

With good and cheap, you’ll end up with a good website, but it’ll take forever to get online, and you’ll encounter lots of frustration along the way. For example:

  • You negotiate a deal with an reputable agency to have your website done pro bono or at a significant discount. The trade-off is that your website gets done after all the paying clients ahead of you.
  • You hire that intern, who really can code, but she’s doing it between classes and is only really available when she’s home on school breaks.
  • You do it in-house, but the receptionist who is doing it between phone calls is learning as he goes.

In the long run (and it’s going to be a long run) your website takes forever to get online, forever to update, and, if you’re not careful, can end up being more expensive than what you bargained for. (Think about all those hours you’re paying your Outreach Director to learn to code when she could be building relationships with supporters.)

Good and Fast

If you can afford it, this is the obvious choice. You get a website that looks great, is solidly built, and does what you need it to do. The drawback, of course, is the “if you can afford it” bit.

Provided you’re dealing with a reputable website consultant or agency, you’ll get what you pay for. You still have to be careful, because there are plenty of “bespoke web designs” that will cost a lot and end up not being what you need. To get the best value for your money, here are a few tips:

  • Your best bet at the intersection of good and fast is to do your homework. Whether you go with an agency or a freelancer or a consultant, reputation and references from other clients are your best friends.
  • Then, once you’ve found who you’d like to work with, it’s absolutely critical before work begins on your site that you talk with your website services provider about what the site needs to do, your timeline and your budget.
  • Even if you can’t afford everything you want right away, a reputable web designer or developer can help you discern how to prioritize your goals within your budget. A good web developer will be able to build your site in such a way that you can add those out-of-reach items in the future when more funds become available.

A Pony May be Just What You Need

Like the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want.” I’m sorry that there’s no such things as unicorns. Really, I am. Unicorns would be totally cool.

But the good news is, if you go about it wisely, you can usually get what you need. There’s no such thing as unicorns, but ponies do exist. It’s just that they’re a little smaller. A good little pony is better than a wild horse with a plastic horn duck-taped to its head. One is a faithful trustworthy companion, the other isn’t good for anything.

My advice: avoid cheap. Work out your online priorities first. Then, yes, you can get that pony you wanted when you were a kid.

Photo Credit: Lisa Brewster