How custom is your custom site design?

You decide you have had enough of pre-made themes from the likes of Themeforest or Creative Market and you want to hire someone to create a custom site just for you.

You need to find the person who is going to make your site dreams come through. And suddenly you realise how overwhelming this is, there’s so many options… who do you hire?

You want a custom site right?

You’re paying for a custom site right?

Are you sure? Would it annoy you if the person you picked installed a pre-made theme that was created by someone else?

How custom is your custom site?

I have five posts in my drafts from October 2013 to June 2015 around this subject. It’s been on my mind for a long time! Why publish it now? I came across something recently in a Facebook Group that quite frankly pissed me off!

I hired a web developer to code a custom website for me. It was $3,000 over a year ago and I’m not sure if I got ripped off or if that’s a normal price. But I’ve recently realised it’s a white label theme from Themeforest. That’s how I was doing my website myself before I hired someone expecting something different. Is that normal practice to just white label $40-60 themes? It’s not responsive, there’s a couple of problems and I’m having issues with duplicate content.

Now, I’ve always been against this practice. I know people who have done it for years, who charge INSANE prices and tell me I’m crazy for not doing it.

Is it a good business model long-term? Probably not.

Is it a quick and easy way to make money? Absolutely.

I know I’d make WAY more money this way, be less stressed and have less work on my plate. But I would feel such horrible guilt!

Plus I actually enjoy the process of building themes from scratch. And when I say from scratch I mean from nothing. I create a folder, add theme files one by one, add basic code to make up the pages and build them out from there based on the clients requirements. All while following WordPress standards.

I’ve had people come to me over the years asking me to look over their website that they have invested a lot of money in and not realise that it was a white-labelled theme from someone else. I actually had one small business owner contact me through a family member – they paid close to €10,000 for a website which I found online for €50. And they were hacked within a month.

But it wasn’t until I saw the comments on the above post that I realised just how many people are doing this and how many clients don’t know about it.

What are you paying for then?

This is going to be different for every designer/developer you go to.

Some will use a pre-made theme from the likes of Themeforest or Creative Market that they’ve purchased for $30-$80 and either give it to you with hardly any alterations, with some custom CSS to change the visuals or with tweaks to the HTML, PHP and CSS to customise it for you.

Some will use a “drag and drop” visual or page builder like Divi or Elementor Pro.

Some will use a third-parties pre-built boilerplate or starter theme, or maybe their own pre-built template.

Some will use a framework like Genesis, Thesis or Headway.

And some will build it completely from scratch.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. However, whatever the process, I do think you should be told upfront. And you shouldn’t be charged an arm and a leg for “hours” of work, if they are hitting a one-click install button on your web host and uploading a theme from elsewhere.

Why does this matter?

  1. One issue I have with white labelling a pre-made themes is that these themes are typically feature-heavy to appeal to all different types of site uses. This means there’s a lot of features and functionality you do not want nor need. This is adding bulk to your site, slowing it down and leaving it open for security issues.
  2. Another issue is that a lot of the time it is designers who can’t code that white label pre-made themes. Then they don’t know how to keep it updated to coincide with WordPress updates, security holes or bugs. They also have no idea how to fix issues that come up. I know this, because their clients then come to me.
  3. My main issue though is that the client doesn’t know. They are paying thousands for a custom site but aren’t told that it’s a pre-made theme. I think it would be a much better practice to say “I’m going to use X as a base theme as it will save us time which will save you money. I will then charge X to make the changes you require.”, but then they probably wouldn’t be able to charge as much would they? I also think that if they themselves didn’t think this was shady practice then they probably would be honest about it.


The main point of this post is just to make you aware. Obviously there’s no way to know 100% before hiring someone, but make sure you ask about their process and get a breakdown of their pricing if you’re not sure.

If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend having a read of my differences between a web designer a web developer post for more guidance about who to hire for different projects.

I’ll work on finishing those drafts so I can give you more insights into this topic and share tips for finding and hiring a graphic designer and a web developer.

Until then I have two posts for you to read. Ashley (a developer) and Anna (a designer) published companion posts – $50 Code – Less Money, More Headache and Why A $50 Site Costs More Than A $900 Site – that sums up custom versus pre-made themes, and should give you an idea of how custom sites are priced.

Did you realise this was a thing? Would it annoy you if the person you hired for a custom site installed a pre-made theme by someone else?

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