The River Road of Kenyan website design

With the hard economic times hitting Kenyans, a market that provides cheap and quick product is without a doubt acceptable to all. River road is a term that has increasingly become synonymous with cheap and ready markets.

From forged university certificates to human body parts, the street is a haven for everything. Even technology has not been spared. With many young Kenyans remaining jobless despite holding Computer-related certificates, such a group is increasingly derailing the website design market.

Kenyans willing to have a website are now going for the cheapest solutions to their website development desires. Whether this knighting of Kenyans to cheapskate-hood will forever remain a birthmark on their online exploits remains a mystery. But what is certain is that several reasons can be attributed to this innate desire to subscribe to the cheapest website creation options out there. So, why do most Kenyans go for cheap websites?


1) Freelancers

Clients loosely translate the term freelancer to mean desperate techy seeking to build your solution at the lowest price possible. What has been excluded from this definition are the words, ”with no regard for quality or standards” – at least in the eyes of the client.

Freelances are abused by corporates, individuals and other clients in need of a website. They are seen as the equivalent of roadside “hecklers” that call you to the shops on the River Road of tech. The result has been a lack of differentiation between the genuine and “Chinese” website maker. Clients will pay a freelancer meager amounts to setup and host their websites. At times they even refuse to pay them, which is why some of them choose to avenge this by placing the websites offline, in a bid to force the clients to part with their dues.

The fact that so many freelancers are available, has also contributed to the low pricing of websites. Some of these freelancers price their services so low, that the genuine ones end up looking expensive.

There are many costs involved in the production of a great website; the main ones include photography, graphic design, hosting, domain registration and communication (i.e. internet, printing of website design agreements, transport, etc). It beats logic that with such costs, one would be able to build a website for 8,000 KShs.

As a freelancer, one should strive to be professional in their approach to their trade. Register your firm whether as a sole proprietorship, limited liability firm or otherwise. Document the costs you incur as you conduct your business and use these as the basis for the pricing model you will adopt. Let’s encourage the growth of this sector, not merely its existence. Great things start small, and this must always be your mantra as a freelancer.


2) The relationship between the web designer and the client

Content Management Systems (CMS) – which are website solutions that enable the client or webmaster to easily update content on the website after it goes live with minimal intervention from the website developer – were introduced to the web world in the late nineties. As time would have it, many Kenyan website makers took to them as the ultimate potato-couch solution to the faster creation of websites. The main driver of this is the fact that CMS’s come with predefined templates of the pages that a website will contain such as the home, about us, contacts, portfolio, gallery and other pages. As consumers caught on to the availability of the “Joomlas” and “Worpresses” of the CMS world, many mistakenly believed that a CMS did “everything” for the website maker.

This inadvertently became the best excuse to pay less for a website. It made it quite difficult for a website designer and/or developer to defend their pay packages.

Let it be known that we MUST promptly burst this bubble and confine its pieces to the depths of our recycle bins. CMS’s don’t do everything, a great partnership between the website maker and their client does. This is one of the most fundamental issues that will contribute to a great website.

As the name CMS suggests, great content is needed to give birth to a great website. Just as you import a vehicle from abroad and customize it for the Kenyan market, so must a website team do for the client in order to produce a fantastic website. The CMS only provides for a framework or shell, for the website maker to merge their content and customize in order to meet the client’s requirements. As a client works closely with the website designer and/or developer, chances of producing a website that meets standards and the requirements of the client are high.

Lack of an understanding by clients about the features that should be on their websites further aggravates this issue. It is time Kenyans dirtied their hands by working closely with their website designers to understand the life cycle of website development. Content Management Systems are great, but without clients outlining their needs clearly, they’ll always get cheap solutions that contribute to the list of sub-standard websites in the garbage bins on River Road.


3) The proliferation of do it yourself videos and “the template”

The internet is a vast sea of knowledge. The latest fad on the web is train-yourself videos. Websites such as and now provide rich resources for any novice to learn cutting-edge website-making technology at an affordable cost.

Couple this with a VISA card and a visit to any of the online website template / theme websites such or and “anyone” with sufficient motivation and the time to give in exchange can quickly put up a website in a few days depending on the complexity and size of the website.

Such training and availability of website templates has resulted in an army masquerading as web designers and developers who are out there duping unsuspecting clients into parting with their hard-earned cash for mediocre solutions.

They charge peanuts, just to cover the costs of buying the templates or they download them for free from torrent sites such as then implement them for unsuspecting clients. The habit is so rampant, that it is an obvious fact nowadays that a website can be put up overnight thanks to “the template.”

Maintenance is always the downfall of website designers and developers who do not understand how such templates work. They should educate themselves on the technology behind such solutions because websites have a life cycle beyond their launch date; and they need to support their clients. A great website maker should be able to carry their services through to the launch period and beyond. We are tired of calling website makers to fix or maintain our websites only to receive the infamous “Mteja…” voice tone.


4) Bargaining culture

Kenyans want to bargain for anything and everything so long as they have a breath of air in their lungs. This has taught website designers and developers to provide their services according to the amount that the client pays for.

An article I once read on a popular Kenyan blog addressed this matter in a very interesting manner. A Kenyan website designer said that it is not that Kenyans cannot build great websites from scratch starting from designing a mockup of the website, then creating the website design in Adobe Photoshop and finally converting the design from the Adobe Photoshop image to a fully fledged website; however, many desist from this process because the client is not willing or may be too small to pay for the hard work that goes into this whole process.

Bargaining as a culture is not bad, however, an appreciation of what it takes to develop a great website is key when deciding to negotiate on the price that your website designer and/or developer has quoted.


5) Web designers not wanting to forego income because of cheaper alternatives to their pricing

“Yes, we can!” Those are famous words by US president, Barrack Obama, and some Kenyan business-persons. It has been known for ages that Kenyans, especially those starting out in business, never say no to a job, regardless of what it will pay.

Some website designers and/or developers have adopted this habit and will accept whatever you pay them just so that they can make that extra coin.

They have understood the psychology of their clients who will not want to part with their hard-earned cash for something that is as intangible as a website. They know that when a client needs a website, they will get one and there is always someone cheaper than they are.

The first website I ever built for a former client of mine was for free. I only asked them to pay for domain registration and hosting. The website was static, meaning the content would not change without my intervention and I thought that one day, after they appreciated the value of their website, they would pay me a significant amount to do a dynamic website with a content management system. I was sure I had locked this client in. However, you would understand my shock on the day that I told the client I will charge them to upgrade their website and they promptly sent me an email demanding their login rights to the domain. The client went ahead and got someone else to redo their website, might I mention – for free!

Some civic education on the benefits of websites is long overdue. A website should not be built for the sake of having a website. A website should be built in order to meet a marketing function. Whether you are a small business or a large business, a website can greatly enhance your reach. Just as you budget for your marketing and develop a marketing plan, you should also have an online marketing plan which merges into your existing marketing plan with a separate budget for online marketing.

Lesson learnt is, as a website designer and /or developer, always know the value of your expertise, and charge according to your perceived value. Free is expensive, as I painfully learnt. There will always be a cheaper alternative to your solution, so articulate your costs to your client and let them choose whether to use your services or to go elsewhere.


6) Kenyan Businesses Online

The promise of free websites from Google in Kenya under the campaign Getting Kenyan Businesses Online has cast a dark shadow on the website design world.

During one of my marketing exploits, I happened to meet a prospective client to whom I gave a business proposal. The client looked at me and asked me why I wanted to rip him off. When I came to, I was outside their premises, dusting my trouser.

It is admirable that Google saw the need to get Kenyan businesses onto the internet. However, it is imperative that they desist from entering markets for which they have no experience nor regard for the consumers. The websites they are putting out there are of questionable standards to say the least. They contain minimal information and limited creativity in terms of design. Whether this stems from the fact that they are using website designers and / or developers with little or no experience in the field or some other factors remains open to speculation.

It would be better for them to opt for an apprenticeship program, where they teach these young techies how to be great at what they do while still meeting the needs of their target clientele. When young Kenyans are out there trying to market their skills to potential clients and huge corporates join the race, young entrepreneurs will have little chance of surviving. The corporates are already trusted and it becomes a matter of your word as an entrepreneur versus the corporate.