Custom Design vs. Pre-made: What’s Right for You?

Picture this: after years of visiting your favorite blogs everyday, getting inspired by their beautiful content, commenting on their thought-provoking essays, and forwarding your favorite posts to friends, you decide it’s time. You want to start your own blog, too!

First, that’s awesome! Blogging remains one of the best outlets to make your voice heard and build a space where you can let your creativity run wild.

One of the most common things we see with new bloggers is a ton of excitement around what their site can look like visually. With so much time spent on other (often full-time) bloggers’ sites, it’s common for a blogger to want their new project to have beautiful branding, unique page templates, and all the fun bells and whistles, too.

But this brings up one of the conundrums we deal with most often: if you’re a brand new blogger, do you need to spend a lot of money on a custom website?

9 times out of 10, the answer I give prospective clients is no. Today, I wanted to share why pre-made themes are usually the better bet when you’re just starting out, along with a few solutions for newbie bloggers. Plus, I’ll also share when it does make sense for a brand new blogger to invest in a custom site! Here goes:

Four reasons why brand new bloggers shouldn’t invest in a custom site (and why going the pre-made route is usually a better option):

Cost.//  A huge factor here is cost. Custom sites can run in the thousands of dollars — even tens of thousands if you work with an established agency or request a ton of unique features for your website. For a brand new hobby — even if you have every intention of turning it into something more — that’s a crazy amount of money to put in up front. An investment in a custom design is a serious commitment to your site. Conversely, for a couple hundred bucks (or a lot less; all our themes are under $70!), you can install a pre-made theme and be off to the races in no time. If you decide blogging’s not for you, we’re pretty sure you’d rather be out $100 than $1000+, right?

You don’t know what you don’t know.//  One thing I often tell clients is that great design should solve problems, and looking pretty is just a by-product. When you are brand new to blogging, you don’t know what problems you’re trying to solve. For example, we could build a custom site completely tailored around your outfit content, with lots of features, galleries, and interactive effects meant to prod users into engaging with that vertical. But say you launch your blog and you discover you hate taking outfit photos. Or, you find that your posts on wellness and recipes are the things that really take off in your community. You’ve just spent a ton of money on a custom site, only to discover you have a new problem that needs to be addressed through custom fixes (and more investment).

When you are new to blogging, there is SO much to learn about your audience, how you create content, and most importantly, what feels good for YOU as the publisher. Limiting investment in a site up front will give you time and space to learn about your content and readership, and then bring what you’ve learned to a design team in the future, when a custom site makes sense for your business. Trust me when I say, it’s a million times easier to design for someone who’s been creating content for a while and knows their audience and workflows, versus someone who has never published a post before. And the finished product is usually more effective and will last longer, too!

You can stay nimble.//  Related to the above, as you are learning about your audience and what you want your blog to be, pre-made themes offer you the flexibility to try new layouts and features as often as you want. We regularly see our own customers switch themes or change features around to experiment with what works best for their audience. When your investment is so minimal, you’ll feel less worried about “messing up” the custom work a designer created by trying out new plugins or adding new features you want to test. Trust us on this! If you want to try adding a customizable Shop page, you can! And if it doesn’t work, take it off your site! Simple as that, without spending a ton of money.

Blogging is a lot of work.// Ok, deep breath. I don’t want to freak anyone out, but if you have never maintained a blog before, a warning: it’s a lot of work. Scratch that, a ton of work! If you plan on posting 3-5 days a week, just know that is a LOT of content to produce. One of the biggest reasons we don’t advise brand new bloggers to invest in a custom site is that for better or worse, many, many new bloggers will eventually abandon their sites. This isn’t meant to discourage anyone, because blogging is also incredibly rewarding! But here’s what we DON’T want to happen to any of you: you spend thousands on a site, and three months in to your beautiful new blog, you realize it’s way too much for you to maintain all those features. You get bogged down. You grow resentful. You give up. Eek! If you have no idea if longterm blogging is for you, go the pre-made route. Seriously.

Ok, so those are the major reasons why pre-mades are the better routes for brand new bloggers. But when IS a custom site the right decision?

Here are a few great signs that you’re ready for a custom design:

+ You’ve been blogging for an extended period of time, and have felt limited by what pre-made themes can do — even though you’ve tried out several of them.

+ With your content creation workflows down pat, you have a clear vision as to how custom layouts could better showcase your work — and you know what you need isn’t available through pre-mades. For example, a travel photographer might recognize they need custom-built galleries that allow them to show off the images and talk about them seamlessly, all in one design.

+ You’ve grown your brand for a few years, and are ready to completely refresh it. New name, new logo, new fonts, new colors, new site.

+ As a brand new blogger, you’re building a major content site related to another established business, OR you are launching a new content site with a team of writers and serious investment in the business already. In other words, “blogs” that have a clear business plan and commitment to the longterm vision of their company can definitely invest in a custom design.

One other common question we get is what to do about a logo if you’re buying a pre-made theme. Should you hire a designer just to create a logo? While you can do this, again, it will drive up your initial investment. We also find that 50% of the time, bloggers want to change their blog name down the line, so if you do invest in a custom identity suite the first time around, think through your site name and be sure it’s something you’ll want to use 1, 3, even 5 years from now!

We often recommend going the pre-made route with a logo too, just until you can get your feet wet and figure this whole blogging thing out. Creative Market is an awesome resource for pre-made logos; there are thousands of designs that are easily customizable in Photoshop or Illustrator. Check out their entire library of pre-made logo templates here.

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I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve invested in a custom design, what did you learn? How did you know when it was the right time? And if you’re a pre-made for life type of person, what do you love about them? Share your comments below!



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