Firstly, default Magento skin should only be used as your first time test store, rest assured it’ll look bland downright embarassing using that as your official store front.
They offer an awesome range of themes, all of which are professionally designed, polished, seo optimized and up to date with current design trends. Undecided on what theme to choose (they all looked so good!) I purchased a 1 year Theme Club license for $99. Essentially giving me access to ALL their past themes and at least 2 new themes a month for the next year. Bargain!
Like any reputable Theme seller they offer detailed installation documentation, setup video’s, support forums and more. Off course you could opt for a completely custom developed design and theme but expect to spend on this. Depending on the designer, and their talent one should budget a minimum of $600, and ideally shoot for upwards of $1500 for some really good designs.
Lastly I needed to modify their themes to suit my needs. Work like this is normally to small for a company to take on and I resort to freelancers. Sites like Freelancer.com and Maglance.com are great for finding freelancers willing to take on small jobs.
Often I advise companies to treat an online store like a physical store. In a brick & mortar store one can spend thousands of rands on fixtures, point-of-sale signage, lighting, flooring etc. Using the same reasoning, surely you should be spending on making your online store look professional and polished. The notion of “online store” being cheap and free needs to be dispelled. Sure start-up costs and overheads might be lower then a brick & mortar store, but overheads are there and one should be spending some cash to keep things running smoothly.
With the above being said, I try to go live as soon as possible. Afterall if your ecommerce store is not live and selling, then it is running at a loss. Be reasonable and realistic, do as much as you can to get things going, the rest you can tackle after you go live and tweak as you go along.
Next post: some of the extensions I use and recommend.