What does a website cost?

I had a lovely conversation with a new prospective client last week. We looked at his site and talked about how he didn’t like the Enter button and how the address needed to be updated. Pretty simple changes for the most part. I explained how for this kind of maintenance I just charged hourly. (I charge $95 an hour, rates can vary from $40 to more than $120. It depends on the complexity of the work that needs to be done and the skill set/experience of the the developer. Local market rates also come into play.)

Then he directed my attention to a completely different site that was not his. “I want my site to look just like this one.” Oh. Now we’re not talking about a few minor changes, now we’re talking about a whole re-design. This is basically building a new site. Except for having most of the content already written (and really that probably needs some work as well), everything will have to be done from scratch. I can charge hourly for this, but most small business people like to have a clue on cost before starting such a project.

This was my understanding at the end of the conversation:

– He was going to send me the login information to his current site so I could get to the files and make the simple address changes right away.

– He was also going to look at all the content on the current site and decide what was going to go on what pages for the new site and if changes or new images were needed.

Once I had this information, I would be able to send him an estimated cost and a contract. While I have no problem just billing for a few hours of maintenance, for a complete project, I need to have a signed contract and a spelled out payment plan. It is typical to ask for 1/3 up front, a 1/3 after the design has been approved and the final payment once the working site has been approved, but before it gets launched.

Close to a week went by and I hadn’t heard from him, so I sent him a friendly follow-up email asking him about getting the login information so I could correct the current site. The reply I got back is “is the new template ready yet?”

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

My bad, I should have followed up the conversation with an email spelling out my understanding and the action points that we both needed to take.

The cost of designing and building a site is often one of the first questions I get and probably one of the hardest to answer. This is not an evasion. If you went into a Home Depot and asked how much a new kitchen was would you expect a direct answer? No, you know that you would have to pick out the appliances, cabinets, counter top materials, etc. before a price could be generated. So what do I need to be able to write you a quote? Some of that depends on what you need or want for your site, but some of it is pretty basic.

  1. How many pages do you want?
  2. Do you have the images you need or do you need stock photography or?
  3. Do you have the written content ready or do you need a writer?
  4. Do you need a contact form? (What happens when someone fills it out, does it go to you email or a database?)
  5. Is there ecommerce needed?

As you might imagine, I’ve just gotten started. The discovery stage is a very important collaborative effort and one of the main reasons I encourage my clients to fill out my questionnaire. It may seem like a lot of work and it is, but without your contribution to the project there isn’t much I can do. This is exactly what I talk about in my SCORE Chicago web design presentation.

The good news is that every new client and project is a fascinating learning process and this faux pas on my part has at least given me good material for an article and a reminder to never assume anything. Now excuse me while I go reply to that email with some detail about what I need to get this project rolling.

Further References:

How much does a site really cost? This is a great article that outlines the step nicely.