A row of colorful fabric with the same sign repeated above them. It reads: All Fabric $1. A LA street in the background. A yellow taxicab is parked there.

Cheap, fast, or good?

Spend on quality is what my wife always says.

The old adage goes, “You get what you pay for.”

When it comes to working with agencies or contractors, I think that’s especially true. I get a bit angry looking at the landscape of buzzwords tied to products or lowball bids from glorified keyboard jockeys all aimed at convincing smart people there’s an affordable, quick fix to the problems.

No place does this make me angrier than in the higher ed web space. Small colleges and universities nationwide — from career colleges to four-year privates — get targeted all the time. Whether it’s a new AI chatbot promising to fix their lead issues or a web firm saying they can build a WordPress site for around $10,000, higher ed gets swindled out of its money on a routine basis.

Cheap is cheap

Let’s talk web projects. At Bravery, we’re not the most expensive player in town, but we are priced fairly and make decent margins on our work. We also practice value-based pricing because we know our work performs. When Bravery does a website redesign or a performance audit, there will be positive results.

I recently joined a mandatory pre-bid conference (hey, procurement offices. Stop doing that.) where over 80 agencies joined. The vast majority were companies that don’t work in higher ed, many of which were not US-based. I can only imagine the undervalued bids the procurement office had to sift through, wasting a few dozen hours that could have been spent developing better stewardship policies.

As we’re working toward launching SpeedyU, our higher ed website performance database, I’ve been reminded of the small colleges across the Midwest that decided to hire local design shops to build their websites, probably for around $20,000. Their websites are slow to load, have accessibility issues, and certainly do not reinforce the image that you’ll receive a quality education from the institution.

This is a matter of priorities. When the cheap website performs like a cheap website, they turn to dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a media buying agency that is only concerned with the administrative fees they charge on top of the ad spend. CPLs are low, but why are they still facing dwindling enrollment?

Garbage in, garbage out

Maybe they should try live chat on the website. Never mind that they can’t afford enough admissions staff to service all the chat requests in a timely manner. The solution? AI chatbots! Right?

Except the cheap website’s slipshod information architecture is confusing, and there is no formal content strategy to speak of. Did you know chatbots are trained on your existing website’s content? Did the vendor tell you that? Did they explain that chatbots don’t make your content better?

Don’t fall for predators

One simple truth is at play: you get what you pay for. Sometimes, you can pay a little less and get immense value (hi, we’d like to work with you), but there is a floor. A college website for less than $80,000? LOL. Did you want applicants with that?

A silver-bullet “personalization” feature? How about a chatbot? Or a carousel? Or a campus map? Just don’t expect any attributable return on your investment.

Spending where it counts

One of the biggest challenges for colleges and universities in the U.S. is spending money where it will make a difference. Cutting through the paid advertising noise and vendor calls to determine if that money is ever coming back takes some knowledge.

Not every vendor or agency cares enough to make sure what they give you makes a difference for your brand. Look at all the M&A (that’s mergers and acquisitions) games being played across the big agency space in higher ed right now. Sure, I want to make some money from the services we offer at Bravery, but I’m not looking to get rich at the expense of mediocre work and my clients’ reputations.

Do we pitch above our weight sometimes? Yes. It’s how my work has grown in stature and performance. We have to stretch. But Bravery will never put something out there that I wouldn’t put my name to.

When you spend money on quality, you see the value fast. When you cheap out, you will end up dumping more money down the drain to try and fix it later.

Stewardship rests in longevity first. You might even get some quick wins if you pick the right investment.