Small and medium-sized businesses face the same dilemma when thinking of building a new website: should we use an open source content management system (CMS) such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal, or should we start from scratch? Which one is the best? Which is the most economical? Which will cause less “a headache” during development? Which one will make my ideas better? And finally, which one will provide the best profitability?

Building a website from scratch is a great way to get all the features and props you need and the way you want. Customized web solutions are very flexible because you determine the appearance, functionality, tools, interactivity mechanisms, administrative interface, reporting and integration with third-party software, such as CRM tools, marketing tools, optimization, among others. However, all this flexibility comes at a cost. The cost can be very high, especially if you do not take the time to plan it. There is also the problem related to hiring the appropriate development team, who understands their vision, their needs and who is fully capable of completing the project within the budget.

The alternative, generally considered to be the least costly, is to use a content management system (CMS). CRM platforms can be open source, i.e. “free”, such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal, or they can be commercial solutions, such as Sitefinity and Sitecore, or even CMS for an industry that offers specific solutions for the sector. However, for this post, I will focus only on the open source platforms, which have currently gained great popularity.

At first glance, open source software comes with many features for free. The primary functionality of a content manager (CMS) is to allow non-technical people to easily add new pages and update the content of a site. This is an asset to companies that pay for every content update because it allows companies to make numerous and frequent updates at no additional cost. In fact, open source software has drastically lowered the cost that companies pay for this type of task that can now be done internally.

However, today’s websites demand more and more sophistication and captivating features. We, as end users, expect sophistication because more and more websites use carousels, lightbox effects, videos and more. However, the default functionality of an open source content manager is only the content manager itself, not specific functions that will definitely be needed for your site and, in my experience, it is at this point that we face complexities and costs.

Additional features are achieved by installing plugins, which are programs written by other developers to increase the default functionality of CMS.

  • There are many free plugins, but chances are you’ll have to buy some of them
  • Regardless of whether the chosen plugin is free or commercial, it will need to be installed by a developer
  • You’re likely to have some compatibility issues
  • It is likely that the plugins do not work exactly as described or the way you want or need them to work
  • You may have to look for another plugin, customize an existing plugin, or build a plugin from scratch

There is another problem with regard to plugins, the more plugins you add to your site, the more chances of incompatibility you will have when you have to upgrade the open source CMS. Now you might be thinking, “Okay, we’re not going to do any upgrades!” But the bottom line is that updating open source software is your first defense against security issues. Keeping your CMS up to date is absolutely necessary for you to have a technically stable website.

Plugins are a necessary evil when we use an open source content manager, and for the development cost to be minimized, they must be carefully chosen. If you do not choose your plugins carefully, the cost of an open source development can be as expensive as building a solution from scratch.

Regardless of whether your site is running through a custom solution or using an open source platform, planning is the key to success.

In fact, no matter what you choose: custom or open source solution, building a new website will never be free of bumps along the way. When you see how things work, you’re likely to want to make adjustments. So consider this in your planning.

Regardless of whether you own a small, medium or large company, you should consider your options carefully. There is no right or wrong solution, it all depends on your needs. Thus, before “giving the green light” for a solution:

  1. Imagine: Think about how your new website would be if you had no budget constraints. Visualize all of the interaction mechanisms, tools, and resources that your site would have and how each of them would work. Take time to analyze your various audiences and the end user experience.
  2. Specify: Review the top open source platforms available, such as Joomla, WordPress and Drupal, and their plugins. Will any of them fulfill your vision? Do they have the plugins you need or will you have to customize or write one from scratch? Write a document about all of your site’s features, where you can specify exactly what your site will require, and then determine which of the open source platforms will meet your needs or whether any of them will meet your requirements. In my next post I will detail the pros and cons of each platform but, in short, here is a general rule:
  • WordPress: is great for companies that need a low-cost website and blog functionality. It also has many plugins that can be used to expand its standard functionality.
  • Joomla: works well for sites that require more complexity than a WordPress build, but they are not extremely demanding. Joomla has powerful features and the learning curve is easier for developers and end users, but it has limitations. Joomla requires repetitive work, understanding the code, and can take longer to make the site work than a Drupal build.
  • Drupal: it’s geared towards complex websites. It has a larger learning curve for the end user and requires more experienced developers, but once you adapt to it, Drupal will be more intuitive than Joomla.
  1. Quote: After specifying your needs, get a quote to build your website using an open source content manager that you determine and build a solution from scratch. In addition to the price, consider the developer’s experience, the size of your team, their scheduling, and their ability to deliver on time, within budget and specifications. (Check references cautiously).
  2. Analyze and Plan: According to my experience, customers always find the first budget a bit too expensive. If that happens, do not worry, you can get what you want and the price you need if you break the project into phases of manageable developments. Prioritize the features you need to have right now and move the features you’d like to have to the next phase. This is an excellent practice: Build a solution that can be easily expanded to accommodate future needs.
  3. Execute: Now you have your plan, run it! You will never regret all the time invested in planning.

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