Freestart Website Builder - A Balanced Review
Who Are Freestart?
So first of all, who exactly are Freestart? Well Freestart are a UK based company who offer their services to help you build your own website. They specialize in small businesses and look to offer simple web building tools that anyone can use. Their motto on the homepage is simply 'get untangled from the web'. Freestart therefore market themselves as being a simple easy to use web builder which almost anyone can use to create their very own website.
Freestart offer a range of packages depending upon their clients need. The basic package starts at £149 per year, this offers very limited options though and is only suitable for the most basic of websites. Their top package costs £399 a year and has lots of features that most people would be expecting when building a website. They also have a few packages in between which vary in price.
Why Am I Reviewing Freestart?
I work for a small furniture company called Kingdom Furnishings. We sell French Furniture on the internet mainly via eBay and also on Facebook. The owner of the business has been talking about getting a website for the company so we can sell our furniture on there and cut out fees that we pay when selling on other people's websites. As he is not very tech savvy I was given the job of creating a website.
We often get phone calls from companies offering their services to build us a website. We have had quotes range from around £600 right up to £5000. As we are currently quite a small company it was seen as to big a risk to pay that much money for something we didn't even know would succeed.
Then Freestart gave us a call. I spoke to one of their sales team and was informed due to government funding they were able to offer their top package at a big discount. So I was told instead of paying £399 we would only have to pay £150 per year for the website. I was assured the website would be of the highest quality and I would have complete control over the website and it's content. After discussing it with the business owner we decided to give it a try. So we signed up for the Premier 3 package.
So, I have now been using Freestart to create our website for over a month, how does it rate?
The Control Panel
To create your website you log in to a control panel on the Freestart website. From here you can manage your site content and design. My first impressions of the control panel were very poor. I have used website builders before and I found this one was very oddly set out and overly complicated. Doing simple things is much more difficult than it should be and it took me a good few weeks to get the hang of the control panel.
Once you get the hang of the control panel it does the job but again, it's not a simple panel and there are much better ones out there. Another issue is performance, I had problems using Internet Explorer and so when I contacted customer services they asked me to use Chrome instead as some of their software was not compatible with IE. Since using Chrome I have still has issues with certain aspects of the panel, the website preview page does not load, neither does the support page. I also sometimes have load problems with other pages. I was told this was likely a problem at my end but as everything else I was doing on the internet was fine I suspect this was just an excuse.
Overall I would say the control panel is a big let down. There is a limit to what you can do with it, the design is very poor and it's not easy to use. For this Freestart gets a big thumbs down.
This is one area where I can not fault Freestart. Every time I have had a problem they have tried to do everything in there power to help me out. The staff are friendly and polite and even when I have been very frustrated with the site they are very patient and try there best to help me.
There have been several occasions when the operator has not been able to answer a question or fix a problem. They always try to find the answer though. Sometimes this means putting me on hold for a few minutes sometimes it means ringing me back a few hours later, they do always come back to me though which is a credit to them.
One issue if the phone number. They provide an 0844 number which is very expensive to ring from a mobile. I have spent several hours on the phone to them over the past month and I imagine if ringing the 0844 number I would have a very large phone bill. They do have a standard number you can call on although they don't advertise this. I stumbled across it and saved it in my phone and so I always use this. You can contact them on 01942 406100 if you don't want to have to pay silly amounts for the 0844 number.
Total Control Over Your Website?
The reason we signed up for a website with Freestart was that we were told we would have total control over our website. So is this true. Well sadly no it is not! In fact I would say the control panel severely limits what you can and can't do on the site. For instance, on a product page there is a big bright green and yellow 'add to cart' button. On my site this looks very out of place as the colour scheme I have used is mainly blue and white. So I tried to change the yellow button. I found this was not possible. So I rang up only to be told the design team could do it but it would cost £50 + VAT. For such a small change this seems very expensive.
I also had an issue with pictures. When you click on a product picture the picture expands, but only very slightly. On an iPhone or tablet the picture is very small. So again I rang up to inquire about this and was again told it would be £50 + VAT to make the change.
So it seems you actually only have limited control over your website and the control panel is very limited in the options it gives you.
Have Your Say
Have You Used Freestart, Would You Recommend Them?
Freestart - Not Great Value At All
When we signed up and paid our £150 we were initially very happy with the price we had paid. However, this soon changed. Every time I want to edit something on the site that can't be done via the control panel I am told it will cost £50 + VAT. To make all the little changes I would like to make I could have easily spent well over £1000 so far.
Freestart are also very quick to offer you extras. I have been offer an SEO package at £350 a year, an app at £150 a year, additional domain names at £50 each and a few other additions to. When I was first contacted by the sales team I was told the package we were buying had everything we would need and would give us a really slick SEO friendly website. This is clearly not the case.
Another annoyance is when I was offered the SEO package at £350 a year I asked what it involved. I was told they would look at keywords, phrases, linking etc... I informed the lady I already had a background in SEO and I had already done all this on the my website. She sounded a little flustered and then told me they could go into the lines of code and edit these, something I could not do from the control panel. So yet again this is basically another area where you are not in control.
Freestart Oveall Rating
So overall how do I feel about Freestart? Well to be honest I am quite disappointed by them. They have not fulfilled there promise of total control over my website and they have made it very clear that for the £150 we have paid we are only going to get a basic website.
Despite that I have worked very hard on the website to get it looking as good as I can with the tools provided. Feel free to have a look at our Kingdom Furnishings site and see what you think. It's of note that on the Freestart homepage there are lots of example of websites that have been made using Freestart. If you look closely though you will also notice that all these have been made using the bespoke service which basically means you pay someone a lot of money to build the site for you and get it looking really good. The standard packages do not allow this kind of control.
Although we now have quite a nice little website there are a lot of things on it I would like to change given the chance. So overall Freestart gets a big thumbs down from me. If I could go back and start again I would try a different company. Apart from the excellent customer support there is not much good I can say about Freestart Website Builder.