A web designer who uses someone else's template and simply adds your information to it is like the burger flipper at McDonald's calling himself a "chef". Since WordPress started being used as a web design platform, and template websites starting cropping up everywhere, there are lots of "chefs" out there. And like the $1 special at a fast food restaurant, you can often get one of these websites for a very low price. But is it worth it? Like the ingredients in that fast food burger, you have no way of knowing exactly what you'll be getting.
Issues to Consider
There are many issues to consider and questions to ask when deciding if you want to go with the bargain web designer. Here are just a few:
Dropping the Ball
Unfortunately "dropping the ball" can be common with some bargain basement web designers. If you start working with a web designer and find it difficult to get through to him/her, calls are not being returned, and changes are not being made in a timely manner, obviously this is a bad sign. Web design may be a part-time gig and this person is going to school or working full-time, or is a stay-at-home mom busy with her children's daily activities. Other times you may be dealing with a very large company that may use subcontractors or outsource its work to other countries (see my blog on Dex Media and Hibu websites), so you'll rarely talk to the same person more than once.
WHAT YOU WANT
You want a web designer who does web design full time. This means that your web designer's livelihood depends on doing the best job they can do and keeping their clients happy. It means that your web designer is more likely to stay in business than someone who is just doing websites between jobs or to pay for college.
You want a web designer who is proactive. And by proactive, I don't mean someone who simply waits for you to get back to them. If you're a small business owner, it's easy to let things fall through the cracks. Your web designer should understand this and reach out to you to get the information needed to start and complete your website, not the other way around.
You want a web designer with integrity. Anyone can make promises that they may not be able to deliver. An honest web designer will tell you that no matter how good your website is, it's not going to automatically put you in the number one spot on Google or get you dozens of calls within the first month (at least not without additional services, which will not be free). An honest web designer is willing to lose a potential client rather than lie and tell him or her only what they want to hear.
You want a web designer with technical expertise, creativity, and several years of experience. Web design is an art and a science. The website has to be visually appealing and work correctly. Technical know-how without artistic creativity, and creativity without technical expertise, will not be enough for a great website.
Speaking of creativity, you want a web designer who will actually "design" your website. This means using an original layout and design that he/she created, instead of using a template that was already designed by someone else and looks like every other website out there.
You want a web designer who knows how to hand-code "old school" style. This means being able to type html and css code by hand, which very few younger and inexperienced designers are able to do, particularly those who work primarily with WordPress and other templates. A thorough working knowledge of html and css means that your website can include detailed customizations that would be difficult or impossible to do otherwise.
You want a web designer who has experience not just with web design but with everything else that goes along with it, such as advanced image/photo editing and enhancement, search engine optimization (SEO), online marketing and promotion, social media, etc. Your website is only one facet of your online presence.