Whether you are an entrepreneur ready to launch your dreams, or an established business starting over online, you know you need a website but might be feeling overwhelmed and confused by the process of choosing who to work with and how much it is going to cost you.
You want the best possible website that you can afford, but the reality is you might not have tens of thousands of dollars to invest at this time. Or perhaps you are mostly concerned not with the price tag, but with the value of the website or services that you’ll receive, and ultimately the ROI it will generate. So how much does a website cost?
Fast, Good or Cheap – Pick Two
There are no real pricing standards in the web design market so it’s difficult to evaluate proposals and determine who’s providing the most value. Especially, when you’re evaluating individuals on a skill that you yourself know little about.
A colleague of mine once said, “You can have it fast, good or cheap, pick two!”. I’ve always found this incredibly applicable to website pricing and choosing the right web design company or web professional to work with. If you want your website done fast and well, don’t expect it to be cheap. If you think you’ve found someone to do it fast and cheap, don’t expect it to be very good.
The major misconceptions regarding website pricing is that you are actually purchasing an off-the-shelf product. No one, no where walks into a store, or visits a website for that matter, and says “Yes! This website is perfect, it has all of my content, imagery, here is $3,000 or even $30,000 sir, please make her live and I’ll start receiving orders in my sleep!”
In actuality, you are hiring an individual or company to provide the service of designing and deploying a website on your behalf. If you want to be happy with the outcome, and end up with a really good product that is going to work for your business, then it should actually require a great deal of your attention, thought and effort.
It’s a Jungle Out There
There are however tremendous differences in the options available to you, and it is extremely difficult to know how much you should pay for your website, or how to understand pricing. It can be best thought of in the terms of not “you get what you pay for,” but “you get who you pay for”. Robots aren’t building these sites … yet. Web design pricing ultimately comes down to the quality of the individuals you work with. This very rudimentary graph below is a generalization but should paint the picture:
If the individual or company you work with has a lot of experience in their field and does very high quality work, then it’s likely that there services are very much in demand and they are more likely to have a higher hourly rate. If you’re working with someone who is doing the project for very cheap, it is likely that either they aren’t required to spend a great deal of time on the project, or the person working on the job is not likely to be very good.
The reality is most start-ups and individuals looking to launch their website do have a specific amount that they are comfortable investing on their website. Whether it’s a specific amount you have budgeted, raised money for, or simply can afford and have access to, you likely have a range or specific amount that you can invest. So whatever that amount is, a savvy business person will ask themselves, “What is the most value I can get for that $5,000?” or “How can I best use that $5,000 to get the best website, that gives me the greatest return on my investment and sets me up for long term success?”
The answer to this requires a good amount of investigating, and is especially difficult to judge when you are getting website quotes and pricing from various companies and individuals. To make matters worse, it’s likely that you will talk to Company A and they might quote you $3,000 and Company B might quote you $23,000.
Comparing Apples to Apples
Another important piece to understanding website pricing is the project’s scope. In your website proposal, this may be called the Scope of Work, Project Requirements or Deliverables. You can only truly compare two providers’ quotes if each are quoting you on the same exact deliverables or work to be completed.
Most people are at varying stages when they begin looking for quotes. You might only be shopping for prices, and haven’t really determined what you actually need. We recommend that you get a very clear idea of exactly what you need. The more you have your website planned out, i.e. the exact pages, what they will be named, the features, functionality and content on each page, the more likely you will be able to compare apples to apples when evaluating proposals.
Leaning on The Experts – It Pays to Plan, and So Should You
Perhaps you don’t have a clear vision for your website, or you don’t know what exactly you need. No problem! This actually may benefit you. If you are looking to your provider to help you plan out the website and determine your goals, strategy, content, functionality, etc. then it is imperative that you choose someone who is very experienced and someone who is very honest and puts your best interest before theirs.
Know that you will need to pay for the time and effort involved in this process. If you’re hiring a professional based on a fixed bid (or total project amount) then this is likely already a part of the project. It is typically referred to as “Discovery”, and some engage in the Discovery phase only, paying a fee specifically for these exercises. Once completed you should have a detailed scope from which the provider or any other provider can quote from.
Fixed Bids, Hourly Rates and Retainers
There are various models in which web professionals charge for their services. Some web designers will provide a proposal for a total project cost, this is also known as a fixed bid. Others may bill by the hour or agree to a retainer fee that is to be paid monthly for a set amount of services.
Each has it’s pros and cons for both the provider and client, enough to be it’s own post, so below is just a brief overview. Ultimately, this shouldn’t be as important to you as the quality of the individual you hire, their experience, skill level and professionalism.
Fixed Bid – A quote for the total amount for the entire project. If you’ve received a proposal with a fixed bid it should clearly outline exactly what will be included for this price and any stipulations. While the price you owe may be set regardless of whether it takes up (or exceeds) the anticipated amount of time or effort estimated, it is very likely you will be limited in terms of the exact scope and number of design revisions. One of the down sides to this type of arrangement is that it does not offer much flexibility. For example, if you change your mind about something and want to add new pages or functionality, it will likely result in a Change Order. The biggest problem I’ve seen with this in my experience is that clients do change their minds, part of this process requires a bit of organic, trial and error to get things right. It’s difficult to commit to sitemaps, wireframes and mockups until you see the real deal live and working in front of you.
Hourly or Retainer – The hourly rate of a web designer or company may range from $15-$150+/hour depending on location, expertise and experience. In this case you will be billed for the amount of time required to carry out each task related to your project. Often the agency or web designer will commit to dedicating a specific amount of resources and time for a specific monthly rate. One benefit is that this allows the Client and provider to work organically towards their goal without trying to manage a restrictive pre-determined scope. Another positive is that you will pay-as-you-go and likely won’t be required to outlay 50% or more of the total project upfront.
No matter what the quoting and billing model is, the honesty and trustworthiness of your provider is most important. As is having realistic understandings and open communication. No matter how it’s structured, more work, requires more time, which requires more money. A fixed bid may seem like you’ll get more for less, but it often leads to limitations and change orders.
Independent Web Designers Vs. Web Design Agencies
When you’re working with a low budget, (less than $10,000 in the Los Angeles market, for example) Freelancers or Independent Web Designers often provide the most bang for your buck. Ranging from students and the self-taught, to seasoned professionals who’ve left their 9-to-5 for mid-day Yoga classes, their pricing will still vary based on experience and talent.
A professional web design agency, on the other hand, offers a lot of appeal to established businesses and professional marketers who are looking to “do it right”. Those who are looking for reliability and a higher quality work and customer service often find peace of mind by working with an agency.
One of the benefits of working with an Agency is they typically offer a broader range of services that can be managed under one roof. For clients needing multiple services, many agencies provide web design packages that cost less overall than the various components would cost separately. You may pay a premium but it can be more efficient to manage and there typically will be individuals assigned to your account including a dedicated project manager and bigger support staff.
Can’t I Just Build a Website By Myself?
Solopreneurs and small business owners with limited budgets and an independent streak often choose to use DIY website builders to help them design their websites. These hands-on, more-technically-friendly platforms offer an affordable option for individuals at varying design skill levels.
With all of the advancements in technology and web applications, we’ve seen web design and development evolve rapidly. There are a number of solutions available today that provide a great start for most DIY’ers. However, ultimately there are limitations and for most businesses you will require more customization and robust platform. Below is a quick review of each:
SquareSpace. Officially the newest, coolest kid on the block, this company describes itself as a provider of “creative tools” for users seeking to create their first mobile or desktop website. They offer a highly flexible styling editor, as well as around-the-clock customer support with guaranteed 1-hour email responses. Additional positive attributes of SquareSpace include their attractive, responsive templates. One thing to note, it is a hosted solution, which is slightly different than an open-source solution, where you can take your code with you.
Wix. For small businesses, this free website builder was created by individuals who were not professional web designers. Although this may strike fear into the hearts of the uninitiated, it should have the opposite effect. After all, who knows better than a non-designer how difficult it is for everyone else? With over 280 pre-made templates, custom options, an easy “drag and drop” interface, and extensive online and phone support, Wix provides a multitude of advantages. However, its prominent advertisements, rigid templates, and limited ecommerce tools may frustrate some users.
Save Money for Marketing
My last bit of advice I want to stress to those about to invest in launching a website is about TRAFFIC. No matter how much you spend, a website alone, with no traffic, no eyeballs, no strategy for generating targeted traffic that converts to sales or leads, is unlikely to serve you or your business very well. So please do yourself a favor and plan your marketing strategy from the very beginning!