Feb 24, 2009
Such a simple question and yet seems to cause so many problems!
This post is aimed at two groups 1) the small business owner who is seeking to invest in a modest web presence 2) people that might be new to the world of building websites and are struggling with the dilema of quoting. Confession time, the original motivation for this post came from a recent conversation with a colleague at n3w media during which we lamented the fact that clients with small budgets were always the hardest & most painful to work with!
Of course there is no one single ‘correct’ price for a website and it is totally dependent on who is working on it and what they are going to deliver. For ease of comparison I will focus on the most rudimentary of requirements a small 5 – 10 page brochure site with a simple contact form, maybe a simple image gallery. The site has no content management system or bespoke application functionality.¬† You could pay any of the following fee ranges for this ‘same’ requirement!
** PLEASE NOTE ** there will always be exceptions to the following. I only offer this as my experience of how the market breaks down after a good many years working in the industry. For my own convenience I am going to work in GBP (Pounds Sterling).
Also I am not criticizing or advocating any particular fee range – they all have their place.
¬£0 – completely Free. Yes there will always be someone that will build your site for nothing. They maybe in a different continent or maybe are just starting in the business and so have no experience but are desperate for some portfolio work. If you are paying ¬£0 then you should not set your expectations too high! I posted an article recently on typical reasons why a web site fails, you would be well advised to take a look.
¬£500 – ¬£1500. This is the domain of the ‘bedroom’ web designer. Typically an individual working on their own from home. Not always, but generally design focused and will often have a particular style. If their style appeals to you then you can get a good job done for quite a small fee. You will benefit from the fact that they have tiny, if any, overheads and the person that sells you the work will also be the person that delivers it which can be an advantage in terms of accountability. On the downside, timescales, process, on-going support and breadth of advice can all be limited by the experience and abilities of the individual you are hiring. On the whole you should expect something that is quite pretty to look at (the site NOT the designer!) but will not come with much online business advice to support it. You will probably have to write the content yourself. Timescales may be a moving feast if puberty or other better paid work comes along (not to mention holidays or illness).
¬£1500 – ¬£4000. Going up a bit in terms of fee range typically buys you a website¬† from a small agency. Visually the results maybe similar to the one man band designer, but you should now start to expect more input on how the website will support your business, marketing advice for the new site and even dare I say it SEO (feeling ill now, sorry!). A small agency should also offer you options for expanding your site in the future. The agency will almost certainly have a copywriter to produce the copy for you and will have expertise in development as well as design skills. For a simple web project the advantages are that the copy will be professionally written and the site will be better thought out in terms of navigation and visual communication. You should be getting advice about usability and best practice. You should be buying more experience. On the down side you may be dealing with an account manager / sales person rather than the person doing the work. Now that there are more people than just you and the designer involved some basic project management is required, but does a small agency have that skill set? You will also now be paying towards their overheads, so you should consider how effectively they run their business to determine if you are wasting some of your spend or not.
¬£4000 – ¬£20,000. Yes you really can spend ¬£20,000 (or more) on even the simple requirement that I have outlined as our comparison. As you move up the fee range you are of course dealing with increasingly large agencies, who will have equally large overheads. However you are now going to benefit from a broad multi-disciplined team working on the project. The ‘problem’ / ‘task’ will be much more carefully analyzed, people will talk to you about customer journeys, brand manifestation, visitor experience and lots of other expensive terms. Out goes stock photography, meet your photographer who will be taking bespoke images that have been specified in huge detail. The photo shoot will be supervised by an Art Director who will be in overall control of the creative for the project. You can start to expect that messages will be cleverly delivered on your new website in much the same way as an advertisement might work. This of course also means that there will be many additional processes like brainstorming workshops, visualization sessions and user testing; all of which you will be paying for. Not only will the copy be written for you by a copywriter (with specific expertise in web copy), but his output will be edited by a separate professional Editor. So much more money, but you are buying a lot more creativity, experience, input and frankly skills! The result will be worth every penny…
Deciding which fee range is appropriate for your project is remarkably easy, it is determined by how much budget you have and the anticipated return from the website. If you are a local ‘dog walker’ who wants a site because you think you should have one and turn over a few thousand pounds a year, then you are hardly likely to find value in working with a larger agency.
Understanding your return from the investment is also surprisingly easy. How much new work will you expect to generate because you have this new website? How much profit will this work probably generate in a year? If you are anticipating ¬£10,000 of additional profit and the site will cost you between ¬£5000 and ¬£10,000 to have built (subject to your business having sufficient cash flow or capital available to fund the project) then why wouldn’t you spend that much money? The reality is that the more your website has to deliver the more you are going to need to invest in the team that builds it.
Going back to our fee bands; from circa ¬£4000 upwards I would suggest that the agency should be engaging you in this type of discussion about ROI.
So what of the ‘pain in the bottom’ customers that initially inspired this post? Well actually they are created by web designers and agencies rather than occurring naturally in the wild! Customers sometimes make appalling mistakes in terms of who they approach with their project. Rather than being turned away and redirected though, sometimes, the desperate / naive / greedy (delete as you see fit) web designer or agency takes the work. If they have taken on a client with a budget much smaller than they normally work to, then they will probably grow to resent the client and feel they are ‘giving it away’. If they have taken on too big a project then they will struggle as they will not meet the clients expectations and start to feel that the client is over picky and too demanding! So if you don’t love your client then you probably have yourself to blame!
In summary my message is simple. Clients: be realistic and try to approach the most appropriate resource for your actual rather than ‘dream’ project. Web people: be realistic about what you deliver, it’s commercial value and try to only take on the projects that fit what you deliver and where you sit in the market.