Help! I Need a Website!! Part Two: Custom Websites

We dive into the weeds to consider the ways you might be able to get a website up and running for your private practice.

Therapists who run their own practice need websites. Any small business today simply needs a digital presence. In our last post, we talked about some easy ways to get your site off the ground using some of the DIY site builders that are available. Many of these services will allow you get a functional site up and running in very short order and are often available as complete all-in-one solutions.

If you haven’t seen that post yet, it might be a good idea to check it out.

Of course, as good as many of these DIY solutions are there are constraints. Sometimes, those constraints get in the way of your site being everything you need it to be. It could be that you simply want your own design. It might be that there is a Content Management System that you have used before and really want to incorporate. It might be that you want to have a greater sense of ownership and ensure that your information – and your clients’ information – is absolutely as secure as possible. There are any number of reasons why a DIY site might not be right for your practice.

Thankfully, there are solutions for these problems, too!

Enter the custom website.

As you might expect, custom websites are built from the ground up by a web developer to your exact specifications. Just like if you were building a custom home, you and your developer will sit and work out all of the details, look at various designs, move components around exactly where you want them, and collaborate on a site that is totally yours!

When you build a custom site, you still need the same components we mentioned in part one. You need a web server, a domain name, and some sort of system to manage your content. However, this approach is much more modular and you and your web developer may choose to use services from three different companies.

Web Servers

The web server is the place where your site is stored on the internet and you can choose from dozens of companies that offer a variety of options. All of these companies, though, basically offer the same three categories of services. The first and cheapest option is called Shared Hosting. Though they’re cheap, it’s hard for me to recommend them. The shared idea comes from the fact that dozens of other companies may be sharing your web server. This can have an impact on the speed of your website and, more importantly, the security of your website. If you are absolutely certain that your site will not receive any confidential client information, this might be a consideration that could save some money.

The second option is called Virtual Private Servers (VPS). They’re more expensive than shared hosting but they are much more powerful and can far more secure. In this case, you are still technically sharing a server but with far fewer other accounts and there is much more powerful software that keeps your information private and safe. If you think of shared hosting as a dormitory where you might have your own locker, but you share your space, the bathroom, and the entrance with everyone else, the the VPS is like a condo. You might be in a building with other people, but your space is totally your space and you control it.

Finally, we call the last option simply a Private Server (PS). Just as it sounds, it’s a complete server, just for you and your website. More than a condo, this option is kind of like having a sprawling estate. You have complete control to manage your server – which also means you have complete responsibility to make sure its live and functioning well.

Every website is different, but almost all cases, I have to recommend at least going with the VPS or higher. If you’re building a blogging site or something that is purely informational, shared hosting might be fine, but more and more, I would steer those people back to Part 1 for the DIY options. Because you’ll most likely be dealing with client data and information, the VPS and PS options allow you to best keep these things protected.

Domain Names

When you build a custom site, not much changes about domain names. However, unlike DIY sites that often will include and configure a domain name when you sign up a, you have to configure your domain for a customized site. Your web developer should know exactly what to do. Every server has an IP Address (something like 50.22.1.29). After you purchase your domain, you or your developer can make sure your domain is associated with the correct IP address. It can be the case that changes to your domain like this can take several minutes or even hours before your able to see them on the internet so be patient.

Content Management Software

Just like with the DIY solutions, you’re going to need a way to keep your content fresh and updated. You and your developer will choose software to install on your server that will allow you to log in and make changes to any of the content on your site.

For a large majority of websites in this custom category, the default CMS tends to be WordPress. It is everywhere. And it’s a fine choice and I’ve used it several times but it’s generally not my recommendation for most websites that I get to work with. WordPress started as a blogging platform and has built an incredible community around it. It’s got developers who build plugins for just about every situation you can imagine. Since then, though it still holds tight to its blogging roots, its added the capability to manage sites of all sorts and sizes.

However, being the largest comes with it’s own set of risks. Number one in this industry is security. Because so many sites are running WordPress, hackers target WordPress, knowing that if they can find a bug that allows them to steal information, then they get the maximum bang for their buck. Or, the maximum bang for their bug, I suppose.

Many people don’t realize that there are other options for CMS solutions. In fact, there are dozens and dozens to choose from, each with their own limitations and drawbacks. When I was building a large enterprise site a few years ago, I sifted through many of them trying to find just the right CMS for the job.

What I found was MODX (pronounced MOD-ex). Like WordPress, it is free and open-source (which means it has been developed and built by a community of people around the world). I still work a lot with the system and have come to appreciate many more aspects about it. Because it has a much smaller footprint, security issues are easier to manage since hackers don’t want to spend too much time trying to figure out how they can break into a system it far less common. Since it didn’t start as a blog platform, it doesn’t carry that legacy with it. I find it much more intuitive for managing content on most of the sites that I’ve built or worked with. As a developer, I also find it far easier to work with, to create new features for the website, or to create new designs and layouts.

The goal here is not to simply go with whatever just because. You’re choosing to build your own website and you have the opportunity to check out several CMS tools and make the best business decision for your practice.

Wrapping Up

Custom sites are obviously require a larger investment than if you took a DIY approach and not every practice requires a custom build. For the majority of new or smaller practices, I would recommend thinking about the scenario we presented in part one. It might mean hiring a trusted consultant to help you build the site that you want, but with platforms like Squarespace, your ideas, and your consultant’s expertise, a beautiful, compelling website should be well within reach.

That said, there are absolutely legitimate reasons why you might want to pursue a customized site. DIYs can have a cookie-cutter feel to them – there are only so many templates to choose from after all. Custom sites allow you complete freedom to design the site so it looks exactly how you had envisioned and to add any kind of functionality that you can dream up. Especially as practices grow – or as you’re preparing to grow down the road – custom sites allow you to integrate with other systems that you might have in place for managing appointments, taking payments, sending text reminders, and more.

The practical implication? Cost. DIY sites are meant to get you up and running quickly and easily. For a Squarespace website, budget at least $300 per year to cover the $18/month subscription and keep a small cushion for other costs you might encounter. You might want to budget more if you need to keep you consultant on speed dial to help you with some things.

Reasonable Startup Costs: $250 (assuming you hire someone to help)
Reasonable Budget per Year: $500

On the other hand, for a custom-built site, start up costs are likely to begin at a minimum of $1,500 and go up depending on who you hire and what you need. Your monthly fees for hosting will be higher too. They vary from provider to provider but a good starting figure would be to budget $50/month in hosting fees assuming you pursue one of the VPS services we mentioned above. You’ll also want to budget about $100/year for something called a security certificate – you’ll want this to ensure that when your clients come to your site, any information they submit will be encrypted.

One final cost to keep in mind for custom sites: unless you’re a programmer, you’ll want to keep a web developer close by. There may be times that your server isn’t cooperating. There may be a need to add or change something to the software that powers your website. Either way, you’ll need to have budgeted for these expenses too.

Reasonable Startup Costs: $1500+
Reasonable Budget per Year: $1,250+

So there you have it! Two options for creating a website for your practice. Whether you’re starting a new practice or realizing that it’s time to expand your website, hopefully this information is helpful and can guide you in the right direction.

If you have questions, of course, you can always reach out!