I grew up in a house of homemade clothes (my mom) and furniture (my dad) and late summer meals made with vegetables from the backyard garden. The DIY spirit stuck, and in university I started designing and sewing my own clothes. This spring I learned how to embroider, and I have also made linocut prints, stamped fabric, painted with watercolours, and tried my hand at calligraphy. A good day is one spent making.

You are a DIYer too, and you have turned this passion for making things into a business. It is so intimately connected with you that it is hard to admit when you can’t do something yourself – at least not without spending a lot of time figuring it out. For lots of people this moment arrives with their website.

Between worries about budget and “will they even understand my business???” outsourcing your website can be pretty intimidating. In fact, my client Katie Lee, had exactly those worries:

Before hiring Elise I was concerned that I would invest a lot of money and not like the result. Her process of understanding what I wanted was so thorough that I was confident I would like the website – and I love it!

You want your website to look professional and make customers and press take you seriously. This is your frickin’ livelihood not a side business, so “just fine” isn’t good enough. Well I have good news for you: you don’t have to spend $5-10,000 to get a professional-looking website! You can have a beautiful, functional ecommerce site that wows your customers with a much smaller investment.

Why You Don't Need a Fancy Custom Website / Elise Epp Design

Why You Don’t Need a Custom Website

If your ecommerce business has fairly standard needs, a pre-existing theme is a great option for you. By using a pre-made theme you can:

  • Start selling fast. My Shopify theme styling package takes 2-4 weeks, whereas my custom theme package takes about 3-4 months – or longer.
  • Figure out exactly what you need. If you haven’t had an ecommerce site before, you probably don’t have a very specific list of what functionality you need. Starting out with a pre-made theme can give you real-world stats and experience to apply to a custom website when you’re ready.
  • Make lots of customizations with your own branding. Each theme allows for customizations to be made to colour palette, fonts, and of course, content. You can make additional small customizations with the help of a pro who can tweak the code on your site at their hourly rate.

Each ecommerce platform has dozens of themes to choose from, and design-wise everyone has been upping their game lately. And don’t worry about other brands using the same theme as you – even websites that use the same theme can look distinctive! Take these three sites that were all made with the same Shopify theme: Polka Pants, Ambrosia, and Commonplace (shown below). There are certainly similarities, but each company’s visual branding gives the theme a distinct feel.

Shopify websites made with the same theme

Using an ecommerce-first platform like Shopify or BigCommerce means that your website comes equipped with loads of functionality built in and even more available via apps to help streamline shipping, add wholesale pricing just for select clients, or add Pinterest buy buttons. Shopify even has a POS app for brick and mortar stores!

Maybe you aren’t working with a huge budget and you aren’t planning for the kind of growth that makes a big investment make sense right now. If that sounds like you, a pre-made Shopify theme could fit just right. You’ll get a good-looking site with a powerful ecommerce engine at an affordable price.

Why You Do Need to Own Your Content

While you don’t need to have a custom website, it is important that you own your content. My main qualm with selling on marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon Handmade is that you don’t own your customer list.

Etsy’s goal is to build its own brand. So the people who buy your products are actually Etsy’s customers, not yours, and Etsy will even recommend other shops’ products from your page! It’s great if you have a hobby shop (I do!), but not if you are trying to grow your own brand. Of course there are exceptions to this, but as we learned from the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, “we’re not the exception, we’re the rule.”

When You Do Need a Custom Website

Fully customized websites are great for businesses that need really specific functionality. For instance, IndieSew is a online retailer for garment fabrics and sewing patterns, but is also a community for sewists to share their makes with each other. This is essentially a social network and it would be impossible to cobble together that functionality in a pre-built theme.

Companies like Everlane also use custom websites because it gives them complete control over the look of their site. They can extend their visual branding into every tiny detail and make a big impact with design features, like this Tegan & Sara interview and feature on Frank and Oak.

Having a custom website doesn’t have to mean going it completely alone. By creating a custom theme on the Shopify platform, you get all the benefits of the e-commerce engine with fully customized visual branding and functionality. You can push the boundaries with bold design, but still have access to existing apps that analyze your customers’ purchasing behaviour, simplify shipping, and boost sales through additional sales channels.

Should You Get a Custom Website Or Use a Theme?

A completely custom website built just for you is the dream. Every detail can be made to your specifications and you won’t run into seemingly simple changes that sometimes just can’t be made when customizing an existing theme.

But for a new ecommerce business, spending $5,000+ on a custom website isn’t necessarily the best use of your funds – especially if you aren’t completely sure of what you will need. You can still get a website that expresses the heart of your brand with a high-quality theme. And with the help of a designer, you can make sure your website is making the most of that theme at a fraction of the cost of getting a custom website.

Stay tuned for next week when we will talk about how to use your website to build long-lasting customer relationships!

P.S. The Best E-Commerce Platforms for Fashion StartupsWhen Is The Right Time To Invest In Visual Branding?

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