Template Site Pros:
“Done is better than perfect”
Do you just need a site to act as a simple digital brochure and business card? “Who we are, What we do and How we do it”, and most importantly, “Contact us”? If you do there are a ton of good solutions for getting a site up quickly and cheaply. They are usually referred to as “template” sites which means the the code, graphics and layouts are mostly prebuilt with limited customization features and basic text and image editing options. In the world of WordPress (the largest web publishing platform) and other CMS’s these are sometimes referred to as themes.
If you have your marketing materials and messaging in order and don’t otherwise have too much to say about your firm then this is a valid way to go.
You have three main options.
- Using a website publishing SaaS like Squarespace or Wix. These allow you to spin up a site almost completely on your own. They give you access to all the system admin, hosting and editing tools so the whole thing can be done by a layman. There is a learning curve but you can do almost the whole thing yourself, save a call or two to customer service for technical support. However, there is a very low barrier to entry therefore you will find a lot of other folks will be using the same template as you.
- Ala cart site set up using a template. In this scenario you cobble together all the services from different vendors—hosting and basic site set up from one place, purchasing your template files from another, maybe some custom graphics and a logo from a freelancer marketplace. You then assemble the site yourself. This option is a bit more flexible and sometimes cheaper but requires more know-how. For that extra effort you have a higher chance of not seeing a lot of other sites that looks just like yours.
- Hiring a shop to set up the template site for you. This can be helpful because they can do it more quickly than you can. In addition, if you need any custom assets created such as a logo, infographics or anything else then they will usually do that for you too. Hopefully they employ at least one person with some graphic design training so they can help make sure everything looks good. Working with experts will definitely keep you out of the learning curve and get the site to market more quickly, but you still aren’t talking about a custom site, so your options are still limited by the constraints of the template.
Why to go this route: Speed and cost. You know the old expression: “You want it quick, cheap and good? Pick two.” But you can get good results depending on several variables and many Private Equity sites go this route with varying degrees of success.
Template Site Cons:
The allegory of the Procrustean Bed
Buckle up, we’re about to go all mythological on you. There is a fun little greek myth that works well as an allegory for the pitfalls of a template driven site. The myth tells of Procrustes, a hostel owner who had only one bed. Travelers who wanted to stay the night had to fit the bed. If they were too tall, their feet were cut off, if they were too short, he stretched them on a rack.
The “bed of Procrustes,” or “Procrustean bed,” has become proverbial for arbitrarily—and perhaps ruthlessly—forcing someone or something to fit into an unnatural scheme or pattern.
How does that translate into a website? Well, for example, what if the space allotted for your company’s summary on the homepage is text-aligned center and only 40ish words long? Your marketing content needs it to be two side-by-side, left-aligned paragraphs, do you rewrite it? What if your team page template is set up for a simple 4 column grid of head shots and you need to break your vast team into sub categories with an option to sort by last name and industry? What if your portfolio companies are publishing some great content and you want to cross reference those articles on their individual profile views? Do you even have the ability to add individual portfolio company profiles? Want to create some cool interactive graphs to represent the breakdown of sector expertise across your portfolio? That’s not part of the template, you’ll have to try to communicate that with text alone (maybe some predefined icons). It hurts our hearts to think of firms cutting their content off at the knees or stretching it to the point of meaninglessness, but we’ve seen it done—it happens far too often.
What kind of private equity firms that benefit from using site templates:
- Firms that are too busy to do otherwise and don’t mind seeming that way.
- Firms that have a very simple and organized marketing message that is already laid out and ready to present (and they don’t mind editing it heavily to fit the framework)
- Firms that are not in technology heavy sectors but rather focus on legacy industries where digital expertise is not part of their value prop.
What we almost always recommend:
Custom website design
Why? There are all the obvious reasons, including getting a unique site that allows you to stand out in a field of competitors. However a less obvious reason is that the process of strategizing a custom layout is in itself an amazingly effective way of clarifying your value proposition and market differentiation. When there is no proverbial procrustean bed, your messaging and branding are free to be themselves (and not be ghoulishly dismembered).
We’ve worked with many internal teams who’ve had serious Paul-knocked-off-his-horse moments as they round-table their content in the design/strategy phase. This process is not just a means to an end but an end itself. Clients who’ve come to us for the simple yet admirable motive of wanting a unique site, have come away from working with us with a whole new perspective on who they are as a firm. I know it sounds heady and seriously, it is. The ability to have almost free reign over the process gives clients scope to ponder their place in the universe. This is something that is not always possible in the tactical, day-to-day grind of growing other people’s businesses. Come for a one-of-a-kind site and get a bonus ontological audit. We joke, but seriously, it really is cool.
For more details on why custom design is good, please see our boss’s article on custom web site design. He takes a deeper dive into the specifics. Also, on a related note, check out his article on the importance of creating great content for your private equity site to establish yourselves as thought leaders.
What kind of PE firms benefit from a custom design:
We think your sector is a part of this equation. If your value-add includes anything digital and/or branding related then you must have those things dialed-in on your own website.
Another factor is your firm’s tenure. If you are new and getting established but crushing it IRL then a minimal digital presence is to be expected. You are marketing through other channels, probably mostly word of mouth. You have time, the custom site can wait.
If you are a prestige firm that has been around for years and are a known player that employs and mostly works with an older generation then you probably don’t need/want to look like mutton dressed as lamb.
However if you fall into that middle range: you’ve been around for a while, you have a jacked AUM number and you are an important player in your field, you need to have a custom site for all the aforementioned reasons. A lot of PE firms are competing for a handful of great deals. You know you have the best offering, make sure your site reflects that.
In summary: As a shop we do both custom and template websites. They both have their place and we enjoy doing both, but we most enjoy acting as the conduit for the shaping of a firm’s identity that a great custom website project produces. Its a fun, sometimes bumpy alchemy that can only happen in this setting. Templates and self-publishing website services are proliferating, and with their growth we’ve notices a rise in the existence of predicable, repetitive sites that don’t really serve the companies they are representing. Don’t be part of this dismal trend, take the extra time, it’ll be worth it, we promise, we’ll help you.
If you want to see examples of some great custom work done by several different agencies around the world, check our our post Top 10 Private Equity Website Designs. We had way more fun writing it than we had a right to and we hope you enjoy it too.
Below is a nice, short video demonstrating some of these concepts. Take a look, a video is worth more than the 500-some-odd words in this humble post.