I constantly work on templates for CMS systems, commonly called “themes”.
In fact I work so often with pre-built WordPress, Magento and Joomla themes that about 1/2 of my business is based on working with them.
The right attitude to have about pre-built templates:
“This is just a starting point for my idea of what I want in a website, time to call a Web Developer and let the real work begin”.
I want to take a moment to clear up some common misconceptions about using themes for clients and developers.
Using a pre-built theme is cheating, copying, unprofessional or somehow “wrong”.
I suspect this statement is rooted in fear and misunderstanding. The fear portion comes from old school developers and codeheads that are afraid they are being phased out by the themes. This is not true, in fact, its the farthest thing from it. When robotic manufacturing began to dominate the assembly line it did not end the need for mechanics, in fact the demand for mechanics increased (for a verity of factors which we can examine later).
I believe the misunderstanding portion of the statement is rooted in the idea that a company must build their own stuff from a blank page in order to be considered “professional”. Although ground up builds are indeed a hallmark of a fortune 500 company it is not the defining standard for success, I have been writing code since 2001 and I can tell you with confidence its OK to use a template, theme, framework, or pre-built package.
Once I buy the theme or template I will save allot of money on design and code, I can cut out the need for a designer, coder, and webmaster!
You will save some money if the template is nearly perfect for your needs and wants. The opposite is often true, there is no “lemon law” for CMS templates, over time clients are very likely to end up spending more money and time fixing that template or undoing the problems it created.
Building a website from the ground up custom tailored for a client is always the best option and often it is more cost effective. I have a ton of great analogies as well as long winded technical talk, but lets keep it simple, candid, and direct.
“Captain, spending $50 on a theme and expecting it to perform like a $10,000 website is illogical.”
First consider The Bigger Picture of a Website Build . My own website here is a theme, I spent time and effort customizing it to make it work the way that I want, I was able to save allot of time and effort by using this theme only because I write code and do not invoice myself.
Using a theme is convenient because I can see everything it does, all I will need to do is simply swap out the content and my website will be well done and work the way I want!
You will indeed be able to swap out much of the content, and maybe even change every color in the options panel, your website however will only be as well done as the theme was. One of the services I offer is “theme checkups”, this is like bringing your trustworthy friend the mechanic to the used car lot to tell you whats wrong with that car, the real reason that BMW C-Class is only 6k instead of 60k.
Lets keep it simple and candid: most pre-built themes are “starter kits”, they are not completed websites, they are starting points that work great for first time users looking to explore or as a visual aid in determining the rendered “intent” of a final website.
When pre-built CMS templates are used exactly as the author intended they work perfectly
To prove this to anyone I simply head over to the template and find their support system. I have never once found a support system, forum, or comment area for a pre-built template that did not have at least 10 posts from customers asking for help, fixing a broken issue, or an update notice from the author about a bug.
On rare occasions there is only a few hours of visual customization needed, this happens when a client is wiling to simply replace dummy content with their own. If that is the case then you do not need a web developer!
In my experience this almost never happens for the same reason a suit made on an assembly line will usually need to be tailored to fit you. Clients inevitably will ask for something to be done “right” and many times doing it right and doing it ‘that way’ are not the same.
The solution is quite simple, remember the #1 rule of web development: “Intelligent, skilled and experienced Human labor is not optional”