TECHNOLOGY LITERATE: Darius Bagdziunas sees prices returning to pre-crisis levels as business picks up.
KLAIPEDA - If you have decided that you need a Web site or an e-store, then while looking for the right Web site designer, unless you are an IT smartie, you may get entangled in the intricacies of the World Wide Web, getting swamped with numerous offers, each of which, as you might guess, offers claims to be “the best.” When you are in search of a pair of shoes or a suit, shopping is a no-brainer, with all the stores out there, but choosing the right Web site designer can be a troublesome headache.
“Unlike other undertakings, Web site designing is the most indefinite, lacking control and shadowy business you can think of today. While other business activities are somehow registered and being tracked, Web site design is out of control, as a big, thousand-litas-generating company and a moustache-less secondary school pupil offer the same product - a Web site,” Nerijus Jasinskas, a freelance Web designer, acknowledged to The Baltic Times.
While piecing up this story, I conducted several interviews, but no one interviewee dared to speculate on the numbers of actual Web site designers, each guessing that the number hovers in the “thousands.”
“With approximately 75 percent of the market being shared among several big IT players, like Gaumina and Artogama, the rest of the cake is divided into hundreds and thousands of smaller, often one-man run business entities. Unlike another business, Web site designing does not require any investment; therefore, it is popular with pupils and students. Since it is online, most often it is out of reach of the state tax inspectorate, which is used to dealing with more tangible business entities. Thus, the majority of the army of designers work off the books, without any fear of being busted,” says Jasinskas.
Gaumina director Darius Bagdziunas says that during the crisis, Gaumina’s Web design prices have shrunk, but the enterprise remains “the most expensive digital agency in the category. Lately, we have been seeing growth in the workload, therefore, the prices should go back to the pre-crisis level soon.” Asked about the shaping up of trends in the market, Bagdziunas maintains that the high quality product requirement is coming back. “During the crisis, clients were often choosing the cheapest solutions. Agencies were often sacrificing quality to cut down labor costs. As a consequence, clients got primitive Web sites and useless traffic. Meanwhile, Gaumina kept investing in increasing the quality of projects and service, as well as introducing new products and knowledge improvement. Today, while the country is at the bottom and the market is only showing feeble signs of recovery, Gaumina has a geometrically increasing amount of work,” Bagdziunas takes pride.
Price-wise, a Web site’s cost, even during the downturn, depends on its sophistication, intricacy of content management system (CMS), input of hand-made design, price tags of other installations and, most importantly, its creator, can vary from 150 litas (43.50 euros) to a whopping 100,000 litas. “A six-digit Web site cost was not an extreme rarity before the crisis, and still you can hunt down these caliber customers that opt to not count their money for the digital launch. However, with the abundance of high quality designers, the six-digit upper mark today seems quite insane. Nowadays, you can have a good Web site created in the price range of 1,500 – 2,000 litas, adding value added tax. However, many well-to-do clients, fearing being swindled by a little known, though skilled designer, would rather pay an awful lot of money for the trademark of a well-established large Web company.
Instead of using world wide famous CMS, Drupal or Joomla, he sticks with Lithuanian CMS, Acantus, which he considers to be more flexible, easier to manage and simpler than the popular foreign ones. “It is simpler; however, it is much less hacking-prone compared to the popular foreign control management systems that are comparably easy to break into. Besides, license-wise, when using Joomla, a designer is obliged to point out that a free-of-charge CMS is used - something that does not look very solid in a strong Web site,” Jasinskas says, explaining the peculiarities.
With the business hit hard and with many businesses moving from pricey high-rent stores to the immeasurable vastness of e-stores, demand for Web site designers was on a steep rise a couple of years ago. “When the crisis kicked in, many entrepreneurs began thinking how to cut down their business costs. Many of them have closed down their conventional stores, as they moved the sales online. Three years ago, the cost of e-store creation averaged 3,000 – 5,000 litas. Nowadays, this is down to 750 - 800 litas, as the numerous one-man run Web site designers have slashed them,” Jasinskas pointed out.
However, as Hostex hosting business director Darius Matuliauskas notes, a beautiful and eye-catching e-store does not necessarily guarantee an influx of clients. He suggests “The most successful e-stores are not the ones that put a lot of money into their design, but those that offer a good price and provide the easiest ways of executing the order,” Matuliauskas observes. However, he cautions, “As an e-store is a revenue-generating business, it is unreasonable to pick up a least-priced e solution – a glitch can put your money at risk, client trust and the whole business.”
Though Jasinskas emphasizes the Web site design business has been through a considerable slowdown in recent years, he sees a rise of customers who seek a professional designer’s help to fix and improve their low-cost Web sites. “People have come to the understanding that you cannot get a good item for a hundred-plus-something litas. Quite often, people complain that once their Web site designer, as a rule some youngster, has gone to Great Britain, no one besides him is able to renew or make corrections in the site. Once you start looking at it, you often find out it has the most complicated or out-of-date CMS on earth. There is a large bunch of guys out there that take advantage of people’s Web illiteracy, creating sites that no one but them can manage,” Jasinskas points out, acknowledging he always uses easily-run content control tools.
Always open for bargaining, he admits to not going beyond a certain low price mark. “If a designer goes with a few hundred litas and promises a good and easily run Web site, there is something wrong. Likely it will be difficult to operate, therefore, the customer will have to ask the designer for extra services later, for which he will be charged extra money every time he does something. A good, professionally designed Web site has to be managed easily, requiring little Web knowledge. For my clients, once the work is done, I provide an easy, step-by-step video guidance on how to run the Web site,” Jasinskas suggests.
Anyone looking to have his or her own Web site should do a designer background check, paying attention to a wide range of things, including whether he has done work for well-known brands. “If, out of ten listed designs, three or five are of famous undertakings, it indicates the designer’s skills and him being trustworthy. Do find some time to call the entrepreneurs to ask whether they are satisfied with the way their Web sites or e-stores are being run. Only then make up your mind,” the Web site designer advises.
Another website designer and director of IT company VIA LAUREA, Gailius Kazlauskas, maintains that the Web site design business has been shaken dramatically. “With thousands of designers out there, ranging from secondary school pupils to well-established IT ventures, demand for Web solutions has dwindled away, leaving only bits for everyone,” Kazlauskas concludes, admitting, “I was very lucky being able to set up my business in the bustling shopping emporium, Akropolis, in Klaipeda. While the majority reckon Web site designers are somewhere in the vastness of the World Wide Web, my desk is here, for everyone to see. While the crowd flows continuously, there is always somebody who will stop by out of curiosity.”
He has been heading a company of four people, including two Web programmers, a designer and himself, for two years now. His previous undertaking, “relevant to IT,” he says, had gone into bankruptcy. The entrepreneur maintains that Web site design lately has become less complicated, as he asserts “Content control tools have simplified to the extent where kids can do it.” Before, hand-drawn design prevailed, increasing the overall cost of a Web site. “Today every Web designer has dozens and hundreds of ready layouts and IT solutions, as he needs only to have a bit of fantasy to create a good Web site. With different content management software available, including the worldwide-acknowledged Drupal, Joomla or Word Press, among Lithuanian designers, I see an increasing trend in using Lithuanian systems. Our venture uses Rubert, our own low-cost CMS which, compared to the foreign ones, allows more flexibility, is less intricate and enables us to produce a high quality product,” acknowledges Kazlauskas.
According to him, before, many designers charged 15,000 – 20,000 litas for an e-store. However, nowadays, the costs have gone down to a maximum of 3,000 litas, with an average cost of 1,500 litas. The simplest Web sites can cost as low as 250 litas.
Before launching your Web site, picking the right hosting provider is the other must-do step. In Lithuania, no one has yet done market research on the existing hosting companies, thus, it is difficult to estimate their numbers, though most agree they are high. Interneto vizija director Martynas Balaisis, who runs the most acknowledged Web hosting server, www.serveriai.lt, says that it hosts over 36,000 Web sites, which makes it the market leader.
“Our price list has not changed a lot over the last years, as we focus on medium-sized and medium-income clients. In order to get through the crisis, we constantly renew our service plans, giving out special deals while increasing Web site traffic resources. In Lithuania, as well in the rest of the world, we see the same trends in Web hosting services, which could be described as constantly decreasing hosting costs and giving more website traffic resources for a client,” Balaisis maintains.