Katie was so excited. As a personal trainer that works with women, and in particular busy mothers, she had this brilliant idea:
To start a program specifically for new moms. It would be based on specific needs and preferences. She came up with a quiz to sort each solution into an archetype.
All she had to do now to get her idea out into the world is to put the quiz on her website, or at least have the website hook up to her email marketing service, so that each “type” could get their own personalized plan and a separate “track” or series of emails just for them.
This would lead up to her class which focused on how to leverage their archetype to find the best fitness solution for them. She also found that she wanted to be even more specific and focused about who got certain emails and when, in order to follow up in the future in a respectful and relevant way.
Some may get special offers, some may get more emails, and some may get less, or get re-directed to another track based on their behavior (purchases, clicks, opens, etc)
She wasn’t thinking about solving a “tech” problem. She was thinking about how she wanted to get a specific result and the steps she wanted to take to get there. She had a plan!
She was using SquareSpace and MailChimp. Whoops. She just ran into a MAJOR roadblock.
Her email service didn’t have enough flexibility to do any of this. Neither did SquareSpace.
She also needed a “frictionless” way for participants to sign up for the program, but the process was clunky and although she didn’t know it, she was losing sales.
Her website also looked, shall we say, like a SquareSpace template managed by someone whose jam wasn’t really websites. It looked amateurish.
Why couldn’t she just keep using the tools she was using when she first started her business?
After all, she was the “poster child” for SquareSpace: that bootstrapping entrepreneur who wanted a simple solution to solve her problem: Getting a website out into the world.
Only now, she’s outgrown the platform. Now what?
That’s what I’ll be talking about in this article. It’s not a usual piece for me to write. I’m addressing frustrations I’ve seen recently, and I know that not many want to dive into anything “technical.”
But I do want to present a few cases that show what someone like Katie might want to do and why the “easiest and cheapest” solutions may fall short.
I find that too many review sites are too vague and don’t present specific examples that clearly illustrate what makes one platform a good choice, at a given time, and another that may be quite disappointing if it falls short of expectations.
These very specific examples will be highlighted in a gray box, which you can choose to read or skip over. I think it’s important to include cases to support my conclusions. I’ll be including case studies from myself, other developers, and also “non tech” business owners who have reached their limits with platforms that are supposed to be “easy” for entrepreneurs, but fall short.
Many of the people I help seem to appreciate it, because they want accurate data to base their decisions on.
I’ve also noticed that many (mostly newbies) are choosing platforms and services SOLELY based on price and user experience. In fact this is how some make ALL their business decisions: it has to be free and take the absolute minimum of effort and/or time.
This is a mistake. Function and value are also important.. or you’ll be wasting your money and time.
Basing decisions SOLELY on whether or not it’s free or low cost, and always looking for ways to cut corners.. isn’t the greatest way to run a business. It can actually backfire.
You may also be surprised to discover that the platforms and systems that you thought may be expensive or difficult to use are actually affordable and intuitive, and quite possibly cheaper and easier than the current systems you are struggling with.
If you are reading this, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you first seek VALUE, and are ok with putting in a little bit of work up front in order to benefit later. I’m going to assume you are interested in business, making a profit, and growth, but not necessarily doing more hustling and manual work.
If you are not, there’s no point in reading any further.
The right tools for growth
Choosing the right platforms is especially important for business owners who are scaling to include services and products that will be sold as “one-to-many,” such as a class, course, or group offering. These are smart additions to your 1:1 treatments or coaching services, especially in the post-pandemic era as people will be looking for more online options, and practitioners may want to diversify their income.
Selling time slots is something health and wellness entrepreneurs are already familiar with. But selling digital products, or a combination of services, classes, or events and digital products, isn’t the same when it comes to how they are produced, marketed, and distributed.
Let’s start with websites.
Most wellness professionals today understand the importance of having a website. However, if asked WHY, many would say something along the lines of “to establish a professional online presence.” This is a great start.
Based on this criteria alone, I can understand why someone would want something that is “cheap and easy.”
But it ends there, and if I dig a little deeper, it actually comes down to nothing more than having a nice-looking brochure to refer people that ALREADY KNOW THEIR BUSINESS EXISTS so that they can showcase how great their business is, how many conditions they treat, and how cool their modality is (another mistake I’ll discuss on another blog)
It’s assumed that a potential client will also call to book an appointment the first time they land on a website. This is unlikely.
If this is the kind of website you want, ( an online brochure) then yes, you can definitely build one without having the slightest idea about marketing or how the website fits into an overall plan. For something like this, I WOULD suggest finding the cheapest option you can, because if this is all your website does, you are throwing money away.
So does having a SquareSpace site means that you are throwing your money away? Not necessarily.
For those who are just getting started, it may make sense to start with, well, a starter site, but this isn’t by any means a complete plan for growth. (more on this later)
For those who are a little more established and serious about their business and are taking intentional steps towards growth, whether that means getting more clients or patients or scaling with a repeatable process that allows you to become more “predictably profitable,” you are going to need a more functional website.
You can start off with a hosting plan. I recommend SiteGround. Check in, as they often have special offers for first time users: (Yes, this is an affiliate link, which goes into my dog food fund)
(Heart-Centered Marketing and Modern Marketing work together
One thing I hear a lot, and agree with, is that marketing is about building trust and relationships. I also know, firsthand, that business can come from word of mouth as well as networking and collaborative efforts.
If you are making it HARD for people to find you, get to know you, SEE THEMSELVES in your message, branding, and content, keep in touch with you, and eventually book with you, what’s the point? You’ll just have to hop back on the hamster wheel and start all over again as yet another prospect falls through the cracks.
Modern marketing is simply about making it easy for the right people to FIND you, stay in touch, and buy from you. Don’t make it hard. Unless you like those awful lunchtime networking meetings and chasing down clients.
Having the right systems in place doesn’t need to be expensive or even nearly as hard as you might think (Contrary to what SquareSpace marketers have indoctrinated in so many wellness entrepreneurs and coaches)
These systems will do the “heavy lifting” for you so that you don’t have to keep hustling, chasing down, following up, and thinking of daily social media post content. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to spend my time and energy. I wouldn’t expect my network of friends, colleagues, and happy clients to work that hard either.
Remember, people DO want to buy stuff from you. But they are NOT going to hang out on social media all day waiting to hear from you, track you down in a Facebook group, or spend 10 minutes trying to find a way to book with you online. If you are not regularly keeping in touch (with their permission, of course) you’ll likely also be forgotten about.
Make it easy on everyone by making yourself visible/attracting your ideal clients, inviting people to join or subscribe so that it’s easy to stay in touch and get the latest info, and by giving them value.. Including free, low-cost, and premium paid options. (Your 1:1 services should be considered premium offerings)
This is an entire process, or an automated/semi automated chain of events, not just a random set of tactics.
What does this have to do with SquareSpace?
Why SquareSpace isn’t the best option for this process
Unfortunately, SquareSpace doesn’t make this process easy. It’s great for creating a “brochure” site, only to find that you are pretty much in the same scenario as before. It’s also ok for selling time slots and physical products, but not for generating leads, keeping in touch, or booking and delivering those one-to-many products that allow you to grow and greatly increase your earning potential since they are not based on selling time.
It doesn’t even “play well” with other apps and services you will likely want to add on later as you grow.
It’s set up so that daily workflows for content creation is clunky and more time-consuming, especially if you have a LOT of content.
It’s hard to see this when you first start out. Especially if you’ve been sold based on the premise that fewer options always = EASY.
I think that one of the reasons why SquareSpace has been successful not only in serving the niche they were meant to serve, but convincing EVERY small business owner that it’s the right choice is because of this:
Many practitioners are still not familiar with any other business model than the one they have been taught in school: Get more patients and fill your schedule in a clinic or office in your local area. They are also overwhelmed, and tend not to trust marketers or think that marketing is “slimy” or manipulative. (This myth dies hard)
Because of this, the platform is typically underutilized. This means that they will still have to work hard/run in circles/hustle to get bookings manually, and/or spend waaay too much time on social media, as I mentioned before. These tactics are random, unpredictable, beyond our control (algorithms) and yes, disempowering.
In this case, that “affordable” monthly subscription is no longer a good value.
For those who are becoming more proactive and empowered and want to start using the tools that will help them grow, with SS they will eventually run into a frustrating obstacle that will end up costing them more in the long run.
I’m going to show you exactly why SquareSpace not as cheap or as easy as you might think, and what some of its limitations are.
Note: I’ve used both WordPress and Squarespace. I don’t have any financial incentives for recommending one platform over another, since I’m not exclusively a WordPress developer. I can easily adapt to what is working, which means that if tomorrow, SquareSpace was the best choice, that’s what I would be focusing on. I periodically give it another chance, and each time, I just have to pass.
What IS Squarespace?
SquareSpace is a website builder that aims to simplify the process of creating and designing a website so that anyone who wants to bring their business online can do so quickly – no coding required. (In theory, but not always in practice) It offers a wide range of pre-built website templates you can use for a monthly fee.
If you’re someone who has minimal knowledge about building or designing a website, I get how enticing this sounds. However, there’s more to creating a website that is truly effective because makes it easy for your ideal clients and patients to find you.
So with that..
Reasons why I don’t use SS
1. It doesn’t provide you with what you REALLY need
Squarespace provides users with pre-designed website templates and drag-and-drop elements that allow them to easily create and modify their website.
You may think that these tools are enough to help you develop a good website that attracts your ideal patient or client and “converts” them to happy, loyal buyers, but most new entrepreneurs simply “don’t yet know what they don’t know.” I’m not talking about “bells and whistles” and “gee that’s cool but I don’t need that now” kinds of tools.
I’m talking about essentials. SS makes adding these basic features unnecessarily hard (yes!) and expensive.
This is an important concept to grasp. If you want to grow, you have to allow ROOM for it. I’m not talking about “one day” when you have that breakthrough month where you net 6 figures. I mean that each month, or at least every quarter, you are taking steps, no matter how small, to get to the next level.
You are making micro investments, and monitoring objective data and benchmarks, so that your business can start to grow and gain traction.
This is usually the pace most of us have to start off at, since we don’t have a ton of cash reserves to invest.
Here’s an example, if you want one. Or you can skip this entire gray box.
Let’s say I want to grow my list by 100 subscribers this quarter. (Q1) I’m going to do that with a very specific but simple lead magnet: My 6 favorite low-sugar, healthy, holiday cookie recipes.
In order to do this, I’m going to create a list (a container to put leads in, which resides in an email marketing service like Active campaign) This can be done with a click of a few buttons and answering a few very basic questions.
I can create and organize lists in any way I want that makes sense for me.
So my list could be my master list, (all my clients and patients) or a subset of my subscribers who would like to have the recipes, and may be a good fit for a health coaching program for women over 50 I’m launching later this year. I’m going to call my new list “hormone balancing clients and patients.”
I want to build that list so that I can start creating a buzz about the program.
I will also need an opt in form on my website, which resides on a page on my website. It has to look enticing and have great copywriting that convinces people to sign up to download the recipe booklet. (Short, sweet, and effective) Fortunately, a page like this is easy to create in WordPress using the DIVI theme/builder.
This isn’t a “Bell and whistle.” It’s an integral part of a marketing “engine.”
At this stage, I am choosing to invest a minimum of cash, but set aside some time to create and connect these components of my email system. (or hire someone to do it, which will likely pay for itself in the first few months or sooner)
Now let’s say it’s Q2. My goal is to launch my new program.
I want to be able to send specific emails to specific people at specific times, automatically: In this case, those who subscribed to the “hormone balancing clients and patients.” Hopefully that list is growing and I met my goal of 100 new and engaged subscribers.
To do this, I’ve used my cookie lead magnet, but many of them got on the list via another lead magnet about “7 natural ways to get rid of bloating.” In other words, I have 2 opt in forms that are connected to my “hormone balancing clients and patients” list.
I’ve taken time to send pure value once a week. (A “nurturing” sequence) including a link to a podcast about how to bounce back from a week of indulging in holiday treats without beating yourself up.
In this case, around the end of January, I want to send an email with a link to a landing page that explains the program in detail and provides a way to sign up. BUT I’m NOT sending this to ALL my patients. The email will go to only those who are on my hormone balancing list and who have NOT already purchased any 1:1 packages from me, AND indicated that they would like to hear about a cool program launching in February.
2 things must happen:
1. Since I am selling my program by sharing a page where people can click to buy on the spot, this MUST be done automatically, so that transaction emails can be sent immediately: A confirmation, a receipt, and a welcome email with next steps and login info. Not doing this would result in some pretty irate customers, and for good reason. This is somewhat handled by SquareSpace, but is designed more for delivering products rather than onboarding sequences, which are important.
2. I want to send only relevant emails, to the right people, at the right time.
Trust me. As you grow, you will run into scenarios in which you will need this kind of flexibility, not just for the sake of functionality and effectiveness, but RESPECT.
What you are doing is making it easier for people to see what you are about, get helpful information, eventually solve their problem, and perhaps buy from you at some point. Some people will also unsubscribe and drop off, which is fine, and normal. And of course, you need to deliver on that promise, which MUST be automated.
MailChimp is not only underpowered for this, it’s also clunky, less intuitive, and actually more expensive.
SquareSpace is also very limited. Yet when you choose SS as your platform, you only have 2 choices for email: SquareSpace or MailChimp. That’s pretty limited, in a world with so many powerful, flexible, easy-to-use, and inexpensive choices.
Can you see why a monthly newsletter that you send manually is going to seriously limit your income potential? And why sending ALL your stuff to EVERYONE is going to start to seem a little spammy, because most of what you sent isn’t relevant, tailored, or useful to most of your audience?
Or how a very, very basic automated series may not be enough if, or rather WHEN, you want to send an email only under a certain set of conditions?
If there’s even a slight chance that you may introduce memberships, courses, classes, or events, you don’t want to be limited to the most basic series of automated emails or be forced to pay more for subscribers that are on more than one list.
I hope this example is proof that you will need a robust and flexible system at some point, and it doesn’t even have to be expensive. (As in $15 per month or even FREE)
2. SquareSpace is only “easy” if you do it “their way.” (Exhibit B)
Recently, I set up a lead magnet and automation for a client. We had to accomplish the following:
- Create an attractive and high-converting opt in form
- Put the form on her SquareSpace website
- Use her existing email marketing service (which is a good choice due to the limitations of SS email and MailChimp)
It involved 40 steps, workarounds, troubleshooting, 3rd party apps, and code. It may be easy to conclude that this was due to my lack of expertise, but my research revealed that the leading experts were ALSO USING THE SAME WORKAROUNDS. Crazy!
The reason: In order to achieve all 3, which was a non-negotiable, we had to resort to a 3rd party just to get a form that looked good/was customizable and also connected to her email service. We could have had a pretty form, but would have sacrificed functionality by resorting to MailChimp or SS, our only 2 choices. OR used her email service to create the form, which was ugly and not very customizable. (as is the case with most email service forms)
I have no complaints, as it was a great learning experience for me (and it was a great client)
However, if they had a WordPress site with DIVI or a plugin, this could have been accomplished in less than 10 (easier) steps, without the headache and extra expenses.
This is only ONE example of obstacles you are likely to run into by cutting corners with a platform like SquareSpace.
I can think of another right now off the top of my head. Remember Katie in the example above? If you want to use quizzes to segment your audience and create automations based on their quiz results (HIGHLY recommended) so that you can send targeted and personalized emails and solutions, forget it. At the time of this writing, neither SquareSpace nor MailChimp are capable of anything beyond the most basic automations.
It’s like living with parents and paying rent, but having to live with strict rules. Eventually, you realize that investing in your own place makes more sense.
Bottom line: When making a website for your business, you don’t just think of the now, you also need to consider the future.
This means growth, evolution, changes in technology, changes in how we market, (more personalized and relevant content) and making it EASY for people to search for, find, and BUY from us.
This leads to my next reason:
3. SquareSpace doesn’t “play well” with other platforms, apps, software, and systems
If you want to use only the options available to you in their “walled garden,” you can do that, but eventually are going to run into a situation that will limit what you are able to do, and this can be frustrating.
SquareSpace is a closed, proprietary system. It’s how they make a profit, so that they can in turn invest it into a convincing marketing campaign that makes it seem as if WordPress is horribly difficult and SS is always the easiest and cheapest solution (The truth depends on the goal.. and if “all under one roof” makes sense, see my last point at the end of this blog about much better options for this)
Email, again, is a great example. There are hundreds of other examples, ranging from quizzes to memberships to SEO to a CRM to how you organize your media files. You simply have very few options when it comes to functions and features, and the more you grow, the more restrictive it will be. You may not notice it when you first start, but that day will arrive when you want to pull your hair out and realize that now, you need to find a way to move to WordPress or even Kartra or Kajabi.
4. Do you want a “Clean and elegant” template site that looks just like everyone else’s
I have nothing against starting out with a template. I actually do this with DIVI. The key is paying attention to customization and branding.
By this I do NOT mean simply slapping a logo on your page and calling it done.
Arguably, this can be done in SquareSpace, but it’s certainly just as easy, if not easier, to accomplish this with WordPress and DIVI. So much for saving money using SS if you still need to work with a developer.
In in fact, I did some research on Reddit and discovered that SS developers DO in fact rely on code, only to find that when template updates are made, it can be a big pain in the arse:
If a non-techy person doesn’t have the skills or time to do this (and most don’t) SS sites have a tendency to look amateurish.
If you have a professionally designed and well-thought-of website, people are more likely to trust you and do business with you. But, if your website doesn’t provide them the experience they expect to get from a credible company, then expect visitors to bounce.
Bottom line: Design IS important. Your reputation IS important.
Don’t expect to have a SquareSpace website that reflects you and your brand, and looks professional, right out of the box, or that it will be “set and forget” since their updates can take away your own design control. (This does NOT happen with DIVI and WordPress when you take 2 minutes to create a child theme)
5. The SEO is STILL kind of “meh.”
Every year or so I investigate to get to the truth about SEO on the SquareSpace platform, While it’s no longer as terrible as it once was (which has to do with the way it is built) it’s still not great. I’m not going to dive into that in this blog but talk about it in the future, after doing some more research.
6. Poor backend functionality and clunky workflow
Squarespace takes pride in the fact that their website builder is so easy to use. In theory, it sounds great. In practice, it’s not so much, when you start to consider how you can streamline your workflow on a daily basis, not just one-time projects like creating pages or setting up email.
When I want to create a blog, I need to have access to data about how my site and certain pages or posts are performing, SEO tools, a media library, and easy ways to access pages or content I want to link to.
Here are the biggest potential workflow frustrations I’ve experienced:
1. It has no media library. This means, for example, that if you want to create a blog with images, you can’t store those images in a library, nor can you edit, search for, organize, or re-name them easily like you can in WordPress. Or if I want to create a .pdf lead magnet, I can’t keep it on my website.
2. There is no way to set up a universal blog template that does exactly what I need it to. There is a reason why WordPress is still the best platform for blogging. There is also a reason why DIVI is so popular.. because makes it easy to design universal features for blogs, headers, footers, and 404 pages.
3. There are no productivity tools like a publishing calendar or ways to organize all my files and content. When you get to the point where you have a rather large and still growing library of content, this IS a big deal. SquareSpace is clunky for handling it.
If you can’t quite visualize what this means, let me just assure you that my workflow is MUCH MUCH easier with the system I have set up than I could achieve with SquareSpace. There are so many tools available that make batching, dynamic content, (content that will adjust automatically depending on a certain condition) sophisticated universal templates, organization, SEO, data analysis, and more.
Unfortunately, SquareSpace seems to think that a “minimal” interface is what makes using a website “easy to use.” (as it’s built, but also for creating new content, like a blog) I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself” Where is this function.. How do I make it do this? Only to find that it involved MORE steps, repeated and unnecessary manual steps, or was flat out was not possible.. or only possible by paying more $, for features that every small business needs to have.
Accessing the limited tools it does have is also not very intuitive. In order to get to most of the basic functions, I had to search beneath layers of menus before I could find the thing I needed. WordPress isn’t perfect, but SS is definitely NOT easier to use, especially when you know what you need and why. A beginner still isn’t aware of these things, but they are sold, via powerful marketing, a concept of “easy” that really isn’t.
An analogy would be learning to drive a vehicle that is “easy” to learn, but is slow, requires paying extra for everything that should be included in a basic model: tires, windshield wipers, decent seats, a reliable engine, and storage areas. You could spend a lot of money and time trying to make this cute but underperforming vehicle functional on a highway, but you’ll be better off just buying a vehicle that’s just as easy, but more capable, and has any kind of function you may want, from a new engine to a cupholder.. For NO extra cost.
7. You Don’t Own Your SquareSpace Website
This is the BIG one that trumps them all:
Once you’ve built your website on Squarespace, there’s no turning back. They won’t allow you to transfer your website to your hosting account even though it’s technically yours.
The only way to move your website out is to build another one somewhere else. Doing this is not only time-consuming, but it can also be costly. Plus, it may cause problems in the future, like duplicate content. (This has a negative impact on SEO)
This ALONE is a deal breaker for many. When business owners realize that they have backed themselves into a corner, they end up having to pay to make that move, when they could have done it MUCH more easily by using WordPress and a builder/theme like DIVI.
It’s best to work with a website designer or developer that gives you full authority and rights over your website, even when you decide to end their services.
If you are a DIYer, it still makes more sense to start with WordPress and DIVI in most cases. (Keep reading for some notable exceptions I’ll be mentioning)
8. Marketing Hype and persistent myths are a major part of SS’s marketing
Or even “disinformation.” I know that disinformation is a strong and often loaded word, but technically, it fits perfectly.
This is because part of the message that platforms like SquareSpace and Wix are delivering is based on capitalizing on “Fear of Tech” and promising a “godsend” that will solve every problem (while neglecting the ACTUAL problem.. A website that doesn’t DO ANYTHING to move the needle in your business!)
I’m all for cheap, easy and intuitive, IF the system does what it is supposed to do!
To be fair, WordPress developers also use this fear to get you to hire them to do everything for you. And many of them know very little about marketing, and deem the main problem that needs to be solved as creating great code. (This is like having a great engine in a car that just sits in a garage)
The truth: WordPress has had options for using drag and drop builders, which work much in the same way as SquareSpace, for YEARS now. This means that DIYer’s and my clients have as much control over their website as they want, (Either complete admin control or editing control)
The backend isn’t any harder to use than most dashboards you see on other apps and software you may be using. It’s just been played up to make it seem like you need to be a coding expert to figure out how to use it. With builders like DIVI and Elementor, it’s really not a process that needs to be shrouded in “tech wizard” mystery anymore.
It’s more about getting used to where everything is at than having any special coding powers. It’s also entirely possible to never have to use one single piece of code and still build a great, high-performance website these days.
In fact, SquareSpace is probably WORSE when it comes to how basic functions are accessed.. Often buried under layers and submenus.
And ironically, I had to use MORE code with SquareSpace, just to get it to work the way it needed to for the client I mentioned earlier who wanted to use her OWN email marketing service and create decent-looking forms. Same goes for making the site look more branded, customized and professional using CSS coding changes.
Making changes in DIVI is just as easy as making changes in SquareSpace. In fact, it’s even possible to change themes and the overall look of a WordPress site. It’s not the case with SS. Once you have a template, you are stuck with it.
Another thing to consider about SS templates: As I mentioned earlier, when they make updates on that template you are stuck with, you may need to go back and fix it. I’ve actually had this happen on a few test sites. I’ve never had a problem like this with DIVI.
Shouldn’t a site owner have complete control over the content and design of their own site? I think so.
9. The pricing is deceptive and not really that great of a value in the long run
Over time, SquareSpace doesn’t deliver the value it promises.
When you add up the monthly costs, including having to pay for basic business and marketing functions, it’s no longer a great value. Eventually, you’ll likely need to pay an outside expert to get you out of the “walled garden” and into the world of websites that are actually more suited for a growing business.
Which leads me to my next point:
10. Better options are available
Depending on where you are at in your business, you may want to look at some other options. If you sit down and crunch some numbers, evaluate functions you will be using both now and in the near future, you may find that the $100 version of Kartra will be a MUCH better value than paying a total of close to $70 per month for SS, calendar booking, and a mediocre email system.
I would not be surprised to discover that people would be paying MORE than $100 to get the same functionality as one can get from Kartra at a certain point in the growth of their business.
When you can have a TRULY functional and integrated and more robust system that also includes a CRM, email automations, membership site, landing pages, product checkout calendar booking, surveys, and more, this DOES translate into more sales and fewer headaches.
Need help with your website?
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