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Owning vs Renting A Website: Podcast Episode & Script

Dec. 05, 2023 | Gary Jones

Person working on online project

SASS vs. Custom Website Development: What Are The Pros And Cons?

Owning vs renting a website is a major decision all businesses, whether small or large, have to make. The choice needs to be made early as it will shape your web marketing strategy and, ultimately, impact your balance sheet for years to come. Both come with viable options, including the chance to keep your investment to a minimum with the technical aspects covered by those handling the monthly maintenance. But this approach also leaves you with strict limits on what you own and what is in your control.

In this week’s episode, Dwight and Sales Manager Danielle Wisneski discuss the impact of SASS vs. Custom Website Development and how they stack up when deciding whether Owning vs Renting a website will be the best path for your business.

Read the full transcript from Episode 45: SASS vs. Custom Website Development below.

Dwight:
301, The Redirect. That’s the key. I almost hate it, but it’s got such a bubbly feeling like it’s Oprah or something. And we’re back.

Danielle:
It’s got that upbeat kind of ’80s sound, but at the same time, modern enough.

Dwight:
Yeah. Yeah. I do see some type of wood floor stage set kind of a thing going on with false walls, a lot of lights, a lot of clapping, middle-aged women on cue with direction.

Danielle:
Single spotlight.

Dwight:
Yeah, exactly. Speaking of single spotlights, let’s talk about renting a website versus buying one.

Danielle:
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about using software as a service versus building a website purely from scratch and kind of what the pros and cons are with going with a Shopify or a Wix versus a website platform that’s actually going to let you build the website.

Dwight:
Yeah. So why don’t we first talk, let’s dissect a little bit. What is a rented website? What is that exactly going to be? For somebody that’s out there right now, they’re like, well, I just had someone in the office just put us together a website. What specifically are they getting?

Danielle:
When we’re talking about renting a website, it usually is going to involve using those platforms that are software as a service. So Shopify, Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy, Squarespace, all of those guys have different plans, monthly plans to have a website that’s simple. You can have updated themes, et cetera. But there are limitations that go along with those websites, which is why it’s considered to be renting. And for example, if Shopify gets bought out in the near future, then that site that you are renting can change price, it can change the limitations, the whole platform can change versus the sites that you actually own the code, you have a lot more control.

Dwight:
Yes, and you know what, I’m glad you brought up the fact of that company being bought out or changing hands or something like that happening. We’re in a time where this is a very real thing. We actually have a customer right now that was utilizing a connector between their website, software and QuickBooks. And QuickBooks actually bought the connector that allowed the data to be exchanged from their products and easily be shared between QuickBooks, and now it doesn’t work as well anymore.

And they’re basically, they’ll acquire companies like that because they want the customer base and they want to, vice versa, try to introduce them to QuickBooks, to that monthly fee to expose themself to a new customer while not really wanting to uphold the integrity of that connector or that transaction that’s happening. And then you come into a point of what do you do?

So you have to spend money on customizing or look for another potential solution. We ran into that with another customer with a plugin for sharing social media posts on their site, which is having issues in regards to that. And there’s other competitor parts out there, plugins that allow them to do the same functionality. But when you’re utilizing, let’s talk about Shopify, Wix, GoDaddy has their own platform. Squarespace, there’s going to be some others.

Danielle:
Weebly. I mean, the list goes on.

Dwight:
Weebly, Wix, I think I said. But essentially you’re buying that closed ecosystem. So yes, it allows you to log on and upload images and drag them around the screen and place them in different places. And you can choose a nice template to look at, excuse me, and produce and publish your website, but as soon as your credit card doesn’t renew that month, or for whatever reason it was updated or you had fraud charges or something happened, your website’s not going to be up and running anymore.

Or you utilize it, which we frequently get a lot of people asking about as they’re investing in Shopify, which is an awesome ecosystem that is made for anybody wanting to start and get into commerce. And they have a lot of functionality and features across the board that is made for businesses to do well with e-commerce. Connections, merchant processing, reminders, couponing, all type of marketing aspects. And each of those cost a fee.

So a lot of times I see on average it ends up being between four and $700 a month customers end up paying to have their website running. And then they’re like, well, I’ve gone so far. And well, the other aspect is rankings. I’ve gone so far and now I want to move my website. You can’t because it’s not yours. You’re renting it. So it’s like leasing a car. Why would you put a bunch of modifications onto your car and then you have to turn it back in. Or well, you want a car, you can buy it out at the end, but it’s going to be an escalated price, so that’s not even a good deal.

But with Shopify, you can’t. You can export out customers, you can export out orders, you can export out products, attributes, aspects like that. But everything else that you have, you’re not getting. It’s done and over with. So I guess there’s some pros to that as well. You’re working in an ecosystem that has a lot of integrity. There’s continuous development that’s going on it to be very secure, to integrate back and forth with others, other apps inside of that platform for other functionalities.

So seamlessly, a lot of those things just work because they have developers that are working on and continuously maintaining and enhancing those features. But all of those are going to come with a price. So you have to look at it how that’s going to work for your business. Now Shopify has opened up in the past year plus where they’re a lot more customized to an extent development to happen. Or you can get into one of their larger programs where you get your own project manager. I forget what the actual program name is, like Shopify Pro I think it is.

Danielle:
Yeah, Shopify Advanced.

Dwight:
Advanced. But you get $2,000 a month minimum, you’re going to get a contact person over there that’s going to help you to maintain and move forward with a lot of customizations and things you need with your website, which you’re essentially buying someone like one of us here.

Danielle:
I wouldn’t even go that far. You’re really just going to be a support ticket number and there’s going to be an account manager who’s assigned hundreds of you and then taking those in as they come. Not necessarily 100% priority or relationship based. Like if you were to work with an agency.

Dwight:
So you’ve all heard the stories of someone that starts a website and it gets popular and they might have a product. I am going to use, I’m going to try to anonymize a customer of ours that sells a particular type of covers for an outdoor piece of equipment. And they make them, and a lot of places, a lot of consumers need them, but also a lot of commercial places need them and especially with a lot of rentals. And so they sell these covers and they put together a site that allowed a lot of those things to transact, but it was on the free model, in a sense. They put together a WordPress template and they attached on the standardized WooCommerce and it was up and running and it was going.

But as that ecosystem starts to grow and evolve and the needs, well, I need to integrate shipping and I need to integrate orders to printing to connect with another plugin that allows you to immediately print out a shipping label and then take it out of your account and pay for it and add it and update the customer and all those automations that are happening. But I still need to be able to send email from the site, which that’s going to be a send mail plugin.

And so you start to having all these functions and features on more of a customized platform. Those all take maintenance and therein lies some of the challenges. If you don’t have the people aligned with you or you’re not set up with those individuals in your business or through an agency, chances of things going haywire or one of the periods or a semicolon space in a line of code is going to throw things off and it’s not going to allow commerce to happen. And I’m kind of jumping around there, I suppose.

Danielle:
I mean, I would say the same is true for any software as a service site, though. You have those limitations of what changes you can make or when those changes are going to be available to you, versus with your example of using something like WordPress where you have the ability to have more customizations, the sky’s kind of the limit in that way where you’re not pigeonholed into one specific plan with these specific limitations. Shopify even goes so far as to limit the number of staff accounts that you can have.

So people that are managing your website, managing your store. So as your team is continuing to expand, then once you meet that staff limit or seat limit, you have to either increase your plan, which is going to cost more money, or you have to find a platform that’s going to better support your new business or your now grown business and to help support to continue that growth.

So starting with the site that’s a Shopify or a Wix or Weebly, knowing that you are going to have those more larger customizations like connecting into QuickBooks or connecting into your custom ERP system, those things that are not really possible, or if they are possible within the software as a service, it’s going to be a heck of an endeavor trying to get their support to work with you, to give you the information, trying to understand what you are able to do and then finding someone to be able to actually do that for you.

Dwight:
Yeah, that’s true because you have to look at, for a company standpoint of view for their staff or their software, they have to limit liability. And so what do we uphold that our software will perform and do? And that’s where it’s going to kind of draw the line. So if it stays within their ecosystem, some of these hosted software as a service SaaS programs, they’re going to ensure that integrity, they’re going to hold the liability for it and the warranty for it. Now, when you get out of sight of that ecosystem, there’s a lot of pros to it, but there’s also the cons. You’re now in charge of maintaining and taking care of those things. So I mistakenly jumped into owning your own and doing customization. So let me keep back on that. So I talked about this vinyl cover place and they had their own WordPress and WooCommerce site and it took off and it started blowing up.

They also started doing digital marketing for it at different times of the year to work with the seasons to increase sales. And it became very, very lucrative. And therein started to come with a lot of new suggestions. As businesses grow, the needs change. There’s suggestions that come out of all of this new input that says, what if we could do that?

What if we could enhance it in this way? Or people want it with a particular cover or a color, or they want a zipper on the side, and now you’re adding attributes and other components onto these things. How do you just do that? So each system, whether it’s SaaS or it’s going to be owned, you still have to figure out how that’s going to work. So there’s an educational aspect and then there’s going to be your comfort zone in, now I know how to do this now.

Oh, here’s the problem. I can tackle it this way or that way, and I know exactly how to jump in there and do this thing. Once you’re out of that SaaS system, you need to learn it a different way. So I like to say that’s going from old school when everybody had just regular computers and you’re using Microsoft Office and then Google, the whole Google business platform came along. And so I’m like, Docs, what do I need Docs for? I want to use Microsoft Word.

That’s what I’ve always used. And now I can’t even open a Microsoft Word document on my MacBook because I don’t even have a non-licensed version. I don’t even want to deal with it because Google’s product works really, really well. That transition was not as easy. It was a little bit tough and it was a little bit personal for me to overcome and do, but once I learned how to do it, man, this is simple. This is free and this is pretty easy.

Danielle:
That’s just moving from a rented house to an own. I mean now if the furnace goes out, that’s your responsibility. Or looking at it from the other side with limitations, if you’re renting a home and you want to build a garage in the backyard, you can’t do that because you don’t have the landlord permission and they’re likely not going to give it to you. It’s kind of the same way with trying to expand upon those sites that are using platforms that are software as a service. You’re only going to be able to do so much and there’s going to be a point where you outgrow that house.

You’re ready to own your own house, build upon it, make it a space that’s working for you and more your own. And that’s when you just have to make that jump. And like Dwight’s saying, there’s going to be some transitions and some growing pains that are going to come along with that. So are you better off just starting with that starter home and building upon it or starting with the rented space, learning how to coexist or live with it and then moving up?

Dwight:
You have to look at the psychological aspect of this too, is do you understand or are you a person that really wants to know, understand and feel comfortable with what’s being worked on where transactions are happening? So I know we’ve been talking a lot about e-commerce here, but let’s just talk about a regular website and the ability, do you want to feel confident? Like, I don’t need to hire, someone in my office can do this, or I did hire somebody and they’re multifaceted. They also do some social media marketing and they also do some web graphic design and they can make an image and post it on my website. Can they? So a lot of these tools on both sides, your owned customized website or your SaaS version allow you to upload and do those things, but now you come to the point of the businesses growing or I want to go to the next step.

You jumped out of your JCPenney suit and now you want to move up to Neiman Marcus, and that’s going to be a little more customized. It’s not off the rack. Getting things into either platform is going to have its pros and cons. It’s going to have its challenges there too. And one of the things I always try to coach customers about and make them aware of is what’s the long-term goal and short, long-term goal? Because technology moves very, very quickly.

It’s not unheard of that a lot of companies at least do a refresh, update the closet once a year, every 18 months. You need to update a look and a feel and freshen it up and upgrade to new restrictions or new platforms, or it might be a new iPhone model or new browser requirements. There’s a lot of different things that come out that you want to freshen things up.

And so all these things you’re producing to put on content that’s going on the website, there could be banners, there could be images, all these different aspects. Over that period of that time, you start to get some age and some authority and some relevancy for your website and those individualized pages. And now we talk about optimization. So long term of where Google is going to start to recognize who your business is, what are the individualized services and how important those are for a geo-specific area that you operate in, whether it be localized or national, and then also industry or silo segment that you’re going to be in. If it’s a very particular type of a part or you’re servicing a particular type of an industry, those are all going to start to be recognized and become relevant and you’re going to start to rely on some of that traffic that’s going to start to bring you business, which is why you did it in the first place.

You want to get business, you want the phone to ring, you want people to fill out contact forms. How are you going to transition those? If you are renting on a platform and you don’t own any of those things and how are you going to move the address from one site to another? And it’s very particular. So now you’re going to have costs involved in doing the pre-planning and the post-production, if you ever want to move from one to the other back and forth? That’s even going to be trickier. If you’re on a regular simple website and you go to a SaaS solution, the URL structure.

And I’m talking about addresses. So if you think of an apartment building, it has a physical address and then there’s individual unit numbers and you’re going to have to now remove that entire apartment building over to another system, whether it’s from SaaS to a customized WordPress or WordPress over to a SaaS system.

You still have to redirect all of that mail and make sure that Google can find all of those things. And that can become very challenging. And you’re just like, “I just wanted to build a website. I just wanted to get this up and running. I don’t want to deal with all of these things.” But when you neglect facts like that or those are the things you forget about or you didn’t know about, and then when it comes time to it, you’re like, “Oh, I launched this whole new website, it’s beautiful and this person worked on it and it’s great,” and then all of a sudden nobody can find you and it’s like you’re starting over again because you didn’t know that you needed to take some of these steps. So all that effort, all that time, all the late nights and all the money you paid to have all these beautiful things done are kind of forgotten. They’re kind of forgotten.

Danielle:
And this is where hiring professionals and working with individuals who know how to go about that process, what steps to take and as a part of that transition is going to be crucial. And it’s not the random freelancer who helped you with your original site and now you want to transition to a platform that they’re not familiar with, so unfortunately they can’t help you. Now you need to find another freelancer or individual to help with the move and then navigate from there. In terms of, like DC’s saying, what you don’t know. There’s going to be some surprises just like moving from a rented space to a house you own. There’s things you don’t even think are going to break that are going to break or things you don’t think you have to address that you need to. So having a partner who knows what to do in those situations is going to be key.

Dwight:
So let’s talk about what hosted system, let’s just talk commerce and Shopify. So you’ve got a very fast go-to signup and quick start you can design, they’ve got a wizard involved with it. They have a lot of integrated payment options. So if you’re going to be selling something, so let’s say you make really, really cute dog sweaters, okay? You can quickly add that to the website via the wizard, via the easy to use tools and you can now pull together Shopify actually a acquire to made their own merchant system Shopify payments, and you can now accept credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, very, very quickly. They’re already going to have apps available to do built-in shipping, shipping, label printing and documents. So push of a button, all that stuff’s going to get spit out, allow you to throw it in the bag and get it to that new wonderful dog lover that’s going to put that sweater on there for them.

Danielle:
But now, 10 years from now, your product line has advanced and you have to use a system-

Dwight:
10? That’s eons.

Danielle:
Well, five years, 10 years, whatever. In the future your product line is going to advance and now you have to use a custom inventory system or ERP system. And unfortunately there isn’t a natural Shopify integration with that. So again, you have to go a Zapier route, try to find the connection. You might not even be able to. It depends on the limitations of that third party software and if it connects to that software as a service.

Dwight:
I like this, so let’s keep going back and forth in regards to it. So I can quickly integrate with a bunch of ship vendors and I can do print on demand for all of those suppliers too. So let’s say I have my own homemade dog outfits, but I also found a couple vendors in Indiana, Maine and Puerto Rico that make dog outfits and I can go ahead and drop ship from them and do that stuff really quick.

Shopify lets you integrate all of those things. It also allowed me to take and start selling on Facebook Meta network and Instagram and it has marketing tools already built in. So if I’m really eager and I want to start to spend some money, I can start putting together ads and do it all inside of one platform and start advertising across Facebook and Instagram very, very quickly.

A lot of integrations and some of the other ones too is I got really, really good making these dog outfits, sweaters, weren’t they? And now I opened up a little mall center island store, right, because that’s the next step. I got to do that, the outlet store. It allows me to integrate with the POS system.

So from my website, controlling inventory to what I have in the mall island store, there’s a whole entire POS system. And if there’s a challenge with somebody that wants to buy some customized sweaters for their dog in the island store at four o’clock on a Sunday, I can get on with support. Not that support is going to be that helpful and that correct and it’s going to move me along, but it gives me a fact of the matter that I can call someone very quickly to get those things handled, supposedly. So what’s the throwback to that?

Danielle:
I think again, even in that instance, you’re going to be connected with whatever random support person is on call for that time. They have to get caught up with your website with what it is that you need and are requesting. And then if they can get you a solution right away or if they have to follow up with it versus again, working with an agency and you have dedicated team members who know your business, they know your site, they know that you were at that store on Sunday, testing out the new POS system and trying out your new stall at the mall or center island stall.

Dwight:
Stall at the mall.

Danielle:
I don’t know what they’re called. Then there’s just kind of those pros and cons. Do you want to, every time you have an issue, you have to explain everything about your site, what’s done and what you’re looking for to a new support rep every time you submit a new ticket? Or do you want to work with someone who you’re working with on a regular basis, they know what your goals are, what you’re working towards, and they can help you a lot quicker?

Dwight:
So let’s go back to Shopify now. So in order for me to get into that system, the pricing is going to be about $40, $105 or $399 a month depending on the business needs. If you’re going to use Shopify payments, you’re going to pay a 2%, 1% or a 0.5% depending on your monthly plan per sale to them to use the merchant services.

What’s nice about that though is you’re going to get your deposits every single night. They guarantee that. So if you’re brand new and you’re just starting up, other merchant providers, they might hold the money for a couple days for fraud and other types of considerations, but you have per transaction fees as well. So you’re going to be spending a couple points in order to take a credit card with Shopify.

Danielle:
With Shopify also though, once you get to that bigger plan, which isn’t advanced, it’s Shopify Plus, that’s starting at $2,000 a month. So your residual costs-

Dwight:
Yeah, I was just talking about the walk-in once there.

Danielle:
Right, right. So as you continue to grow, your residual costs will skyrocket and not just paying for-

Dwight:
Could be relative.

Danielle:
Relative as compared to a WordPress site. We’re only paying for hosting. Even if you were to be on your own dedicated server, that would only be a couple hundred bucks a month.

Dwight:
Yeah, that’s true. That’s one of the things is when you’re with Shopify, although they have the infrastructure for it, you’re hosting, it’s part of your monthly fee and it’s going to limit you. And as soon as you start getting more traffic and more, a lot more integrations happening at your site, it’s going to have more needs and more resources. And so they’re going to control different ways.

I know I talked about a lot of all these cool features in the beginning a couple minutes ago, but that’s some of the things there too, is you didn’t pay for those yet. So these are all Shopify apps. So you want to add all those things on. They’re going to add monthly costs in addition to it. And then the other thing too is people like to produce content. You have to produce content nowadays in order to remain relevant unless you have that element 15 or something that nobody else has.

That was always considered to be blogging, but it’s content production, so you need to be able to post and add stuff to your website on a regular basis. Shopify has a blog, but it’s very simplistic, and that doesn’t include your content creation, management display options. Those are all going to be very, very limited to how you put those things together.

So I think where we’re kind of bringing that back towards is WordPress is really geared towards a business wanting more versatility. And I don’t want to say necessarily in it to win it because I know a lot of Shopify store owners that are in it to win it, and they do very, very well, and they don’t have the complexities. But once you start gearing towards other types of integrations and specific customizations that match your business flow processes, the way orders are done, ordering on credit and other aspects like that, WordPress and WooCommerce is going to be kind of the better way to go.

Versatility is kind of what WordPress is known for. It is open source, it is free to get WordPress and it’s made as a content management system. Now, WooCommerce is going to be WordPress’s brother or sister, so to speak. Same deal, made to do commerce that integrates directly to WordPress.

And you can expand upon using a various amount of different plugins or features that have all different types of functionality, including e-commerce, as I said. But all of the shipping features, all of the marketing features, a lot of connectors to other types of third party softwares, like you were talking about Danielle, like SaaS, it might be an ERP system, it could be a other type of accounting system. It could be an inventory system. It’s going to have more placidity, did I say that right?

Danielle:
Placidity? Yeah.

Dwight:
Placidity in allowing you to use those connectors. And you need a developer, you need someone that’s going to have a little bit more experience to work with the other provider to make those connectors be there for you. But once you paid for it, you have it, that investment is going to yield you back a big amount of return.

Danielle:
And the ongoing maintenance isn’t going to be that standard, just $2,000 per month just to have your website up. The updating plugins and things like that, it’s not going to be as costly as compared to just their standard plan, or I’m sorry, plus plan for Shopify. And that always being the residual price you have to pay in addition to those other softwares or third party apps that you have to add on top of that.

It just gets extremely costly. Versus with WordPress, I’m paying a lot of friends to get my website developed, which you probably are with Shopify too, if you’re not doing it yourself and you want a more advanced theme, but that ongoing management is going to be a little bit more achievable or easier to swallow. And then as you grow and as your business continues to expand, yeah, your residual might go up if you have to add more softwares, even for a WordPress site, you’re having some more paid plug-ins, but the limitations aren’t really there and you’re not going to be paying astronomical amounts.

Dwight:
Yeah. And are you a marketer? Are you a web developer? Are you a graphic designer? Do you have time to do all those things? And I think that’s when you start to grow and evolve and you start to consider all of those facets of where’s your time best spent?

How am I a functionality of this organization, this business that’s making revenue, and where can I contribute? I’m a cog in the machine and I can’t be everywhere at all times and do all of these things because there’s only so many hours in the day. And you look at those costs as a function of doing business, but where they contribute also to revenue in the business. And I think that’s a real important point, and I kind of call that the come to Jesus point of a lot of people that are coming off of the SaaS platforms is they’ve done that factoring and they’ve looked at it and thought about the differences of those.

And maybe you’re going to use an agency or a freelancer, whoever it is to make that transition. And you have a better idea of, I need to take pictures, I need professional pictures, I need to masked backgrounds with no shadowing. I need to use those in a couple different sizes. So when they shoot them, I need high resolution, I need low resolution. I need them as JPEGs, I need them as PNG.

Start to understand all of that process efforts of what’s going to go into, and you understand paying someone a little bit more is actually, you’re getting what you’re paid for and you’re going to be able to utilize those in a lot of different ways. And so that is kind of the transitioning point. And you may realize, now I know if I’m going to hire somebody in my organization, I’m going to want them to be able to show that they can work on these aspects, or they can help create these features.

Or they can do the photography, or they can do the graphic design, or they can write the content, or they can optimize the content specifically and they understand the business aspects and how that’s going to function inside of the website with customers there. And you may not be spending that all just on a freelancer, could be someone that becomes on payroll and that’s going to allow you to facilitate those needs. But ultimately it’s exciting. People get into this because they see options.

They get their first order from Hawaii or Montana, it’s in the middle of nowhere. They never heard of the city. And they’re like, “How’d this person find me? And they want to buy my stuff?” And it’s great. It’s an exciting time. And with that awesomeness, little new things pop up and you start to realize that, man, this is a business. It requires a lot of other things. And so when you’re looking at that growth, it’s important to consider is what do you want to own and maintain versus what you want to be locked into and what restrictions you have.

Danielle:
Right. Trying to define what those goals are and realistically how fast you’re going to be able to achieve them.

Dwight:
And so that’s why working with an agency like us would help to walk you through, at least even from a consultative standpoint, helping you vet and determine what are going to be the requirements and what is potential costs, what are going to be needs you’re going to have, immediate and ongoing, and how to factor those in so you can make a more logical decision.

Danielle:
I think it’s just that. There’s probably a lot of businesses out there that they have a website, but now they don’t know necessarily what to do with it, how to optimize it, how to treat it as their 24/7 salesperson. That’s where agencies come into the fold. We can have those ideas, those structured discussions and give you suggestions that will just help to continue to propel you to your growth.

Dwight:
Propelling.

Danielle:
Propelling.

Dwight:
Propulsion.

Danielle:
There we go.

Dwight:
We’ll propel you if you just give us a call.