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I am a beginner freelancer eagerly trying to get my first client but I am wondering is having a CMS for a website really that important? Before I thought about this question I thought that it goes without saying that the client would benefit from having a CMS for their website, that they would love to be able to edit their content on their own. But then I realized it's not that simple.

One of my biggest concerns actually is a monetary one. If you install a CMS for a client then they depend on you less which means you will do less work for them which means you will make less money from that client. Sorry to sound greedy, but that really seems like the reality. Or am I missing something?

At the same time, if you build sites without a CMS doesn't that make you seem less professional to future potential clients?

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This is a better question for programmers.stackexchange.com –  Matt Ball Oct 13 '10 at 15:41
    
Well, if you want to go the unethical/incompetent route (making money off of intentional incompetence), just make sure you're the only web dev in the market space. Otherwise clients will quickly catch on and you'll gain the reputation of being a poor web dev. –  Lèse majesté Oct 14 '10 at 15:10
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Oct 14 '10 at 13:30

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3 Answers

A CMS of some sort really is a must nowadays in most cases. Making money off updating clients' sites may have been a business model in 1998, but isn't any more really.

At the end of the day, of course, it's a question of cost, benefit and updating frequency. If a site needs changing once every two years, having static HTML pages that are re-worked manually is a perfectly valid option.

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Agreed! If the site isn't frequently updated, you still might get paid to update it if the client doesn't know how to (or doesn't want to) use the CMS. It's easy enough for you to do it. In this case, have them pay a retainer fee per month for you to make changes. On the other hand, tech-saavy clients will get frustrated if simple edits cost too much when they can do it themselves. –  Silkster Oct 13 '10 at 15:46
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This is a question possibly better asked on developers, but since I have a pretty strong opinion on this, I'll answer anyway...

I really try to ensure that, when a client asks for a CMS, that the CMS actually meets their needs. If it is not going to, I try desperately to talk them out of it. I've had clients insist on using Wordpress when it was possibly the worst tool for what they were trying to do. I went along with it anyway and definitely regretted it; it made my job much, much harder, and it didn't make life any easier for the client.

If you are building/designing a relatively simple, static-content or blog-driven site, a CMS can make sense. If the client is going to come to you to ask you to update normal content in their CMS anyway (and, yes, that happens with alarming frequency), why have the CMS? The point is to allow non-technical people to manage their own content. If the CMS isn't accomplishing that goal, then it's probably not the right solution.

If you're doing anything more involved than a static/blog site, and you're going to have to do a lot of custom development, you may find that the CMS just gets in your way. YMMV, of course. I just try to use the right tools for the job, and for the stuff I've been asked to do, that tool has almost never been a CMS.

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Good point. Choosing the right CMS is an art in itself. –  Pekka 웃 Oct 13 '10 at 15:52
    
Yes, very good point. In the case where it's up to you, the developer, to decide how to manage a site, then go with what you know best - especially if you will be the one to make edits and updates. Try to get familiar with a few different CMSs that run in the environment you work with most, e.g. PHP or .Net, to find what works for you. This might also you get familiar with common design patterns and standards that will help you write better code. –  Silkster Oct 13 '10 at 16:03
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Even if the client isn't asking for a CMS, I still install one. Partially, it's for consistency. I've been refactoring and improving my CMS for 5 years now, so I've got it to the point where it works for me (and my clients) really well. I know that it's a matter of one button click and a few text box answers to install the back-end, and my front-end code to integrate the content is consistent across all my client's sites. When I do layout and cutup, I've got a standard strategy I follow to get the content into the design. When doing maintenance, every site looks visually similar, so there's no learning curve to do maintenance on older sites.

The biggest reason, though, is that if I'm handling content for the client it's just faster to update content in a CMS. So, in the end, I come out ahead. And, if the client decides that they want to "upgrade" to a CMS, I simply double check my settings, collect my check, and they're on their way. Everyone wins!

I would caution that if you're a developer who's tied to a CMS like Joomla or Wordpress, you've just opened a can of worms following this method. Open source needs CONSTANT updates to maintain security. Flaws open up all the time--it's the reason that people are constantly asking how they got Javascript Injected on Stackoverflow. In my case, I have a common codebase, so one update fixes nearly all. With the others, you'd be doing an update for every site you have installed, which can get very old in a hurry.

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