It should have been simple: Ola Morin-Muhammed, founder of custom stationery boutique Ijorere The Invitation, wanted to add a small "shop online" component to her existing website, Ijorere.com. "I wanted to introduce something called ‘Love Letters' for Valentine's Day. I realized it would hurt my sales if I couldn't accept payments online," she says. But things got complicated, fast.
The site's original designer was no longer in business. The replacement designers recommended by friends were out of Morin-Muhammed's budget or didn't have the creative and programming chops to make the site really sing. "I stumbled a few times along the way," she says, admitting to a loss of about $600, a product launch delayed by several months and a dysfunctional shop-online experience that gave her website an "unfinished presence."
Following up on a tip, Morin-Muhammed looked into Elance.com and Guru.com. "It was the best HR advice I ever received," she says. Within hours of posting her project description on Elance, proposals came in from around the world. She scouted businesses with high ratings, eventually settling on South African company RedHot Design to create the front-end shop feature and Bounce Designs (recommended by RedHot) to implement the back-end programming.
Total cost: $1,250--about half the price of the more expensive quotes. "It's cheaper to hire contractors in other countries," she says, "and time zones don't matter when it comes to getting a job done the way you want." Bounce Designs transferred Ijorere's site to WordPress' user-friendly content management system (CMS), allowing Morin-Muhammed to be really hands-on, with the ability to tweak themes, add new products and even start a blog.
The revamped site was up and running in time for Mother's Day. By July, orders were trickling in, and web traffic was up 150 percent. "I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my site, and the freelance services turned a very frustrating experience into something successful. They've got everything I need," she says, noting that she recently hired a blogger the same way.
A Second Opinion
The end result was great, but there are ways to avoid learning things the hard way, says Susan Villecroze, a user-experience design specialist at hexaZen, a software development and design firm in Vancouver, British Columbia.
At the very start, Villecroze advises, consider every possible addition you could want: "If you think that one day you'll want a social community, go with a service or design that would support that."
If you're not a programmer, go with an easy-to-use CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Movable Type. Something more specialized requires help to maintain, and that can be a waste of money and affect your control over the site.
If you do need to bring in someone new, make sure that person has the skills you need. "Everyone has a unique way of building and developing a website," Villecroze says, "so the moment you realize your styles don't mesh, cut your losses."