How Much is a Website?

There are so many different web design companies out there.  Each has its own target market and design style.  And each has its own cost.  How can you know which is best suited to your project? How much does a website cost to build?

Here are listed the various types of website design companies out there, how much a website design costs for each as well as the pros and cons of working with each type of web company.

While I can’t tell you which web company to choose, I hope to arm you with some foundation knowledge. Knowing how website design firms price their products should help point you in the right direction.

‘Guy in his Basement’

If your budget is next to nothing, it is possible to find someone that’ll invoice close to that amount.  This type of business is usually not a company in the ‘brick and mortar’ sense, but is usually what I like to call a ‘guy in his basement’.  Many web developers start out as freelancers.  Some are quite talented.  Others are a bit rough.  If you choose this route, I’d advise you to go off a referral rather than shoot blindly.

How much will this website cost?

The clients who take this path usually have very small budgets so the bargain basement developer tends towards WordPress sites.  I’ve known these developers to charge as little as $300 for a basic template install (you’d better know how to customize it yourself!).  They can charge as much as a few thousand for a higher quality build.  The guy in his basement tends to shy from projects much larger. Fair enough.

Going this route is risky and I would only advise it if you were in a tough spot financially.  There’s a lot more to a website than smacking a template on a web address.  A website is a marketing tool that’s only as effective as the strategy behind it.  The goal of a website is to get people to complete your ‘call to action’.  Do you want them to phone you? Email?  Purchase online?

Now we’re moving away from a ‘design’ and talking about what’s called ‘user paths’. A user path does what it sounds like–it controls the path the user takes through the site. Is your $300 site going to give you control over this? Have you even talked about this with your developer?

When you’re talking about such a small budget, I don’t think it’s fair to make those kinds of demands of your developer. Don’t be the nightmare client. Expect your website to be very simple and bare bones.  It will have mistakes. You will not be proud of it. But please be fair to your developer.  For under $1000, he is literally giving you a ‘basement’ price.

Small Web Design Company

A small website design company (usually a start-up with 1-3 years under its belt and around the same number of employees) will often be located in a home office or a small rented space.  I have seen many of these businesses launch with a partnership between an entrepreneur and some kind of design talent.  Realizing there’s more strength in a team, they form a small company and dream of one day owning a trendy downtown office.

These companies can be great if you have a budget of $1000-5000 and the end result may be high quality… if they are indeed talented.

When you’re shopping around in this market, look very carefully for pinch points.  How organized is their proposal?  How do their testimonials read?  How well kept is their website?  What is the quality of their portfolio?  And how professional are they in the sales meeting?

Some start-up companies are extremely well organized.  They work hard to get things right.  They’ll have process guides, contracts written by lawyers and scheduled budgets.

Even if your project is quite small, I’d recommend you ask to see proper documentation.  Web design is a very subjective thing and emotions can quickly escalate if you feel you’re not getting what you paid for as the project advances.  If you feel the start-up is disorganized, I’d advise you to find another web design company.

If you find that allusive good company, you’re in luck.  One of the main pros of using a small web design company is that they’re going to have only a few projects on the go at any given time so they can focus on you.  If they view you as a potential portfolio piece, they’re going to lavish you with care.  They’ll bend over backwards to keep you happy.

Before you imagine this is pure good, consider this: without a clear cost-to-time ratio agreed between your two companies, things can get messy.  You may ask for multiple revisions.  After all, you’re paying for the product, not the time it takes to generate it.  The first time you ask for a revision, they will snap heels and get to work.  The second time, they will start to moan to each other. The third time, they will go for beers after work and talk about what a nightmare you are.

Resentment over a project can quickly break down a relationship and make for an ugly break up. I’ve known developers to simply drop tools.  Desperate clients will come to us with horror stories about their last experience.

Here’s another thing.

A strange paradox is that the better a small web design company gets, the greater the odds it will fold (if you have a different opinion, leave a comment below!).  The game of web design is ruthless and high quality designers, programmers and developers get poached all the time by larger, more established companies.  Being part of a start-up is stressful.  The work load fluctuates and there’s rarely enough money.  Add things like a mortgage or kids into the soup and a cozy offer will convince any wife to whip her dreamy husband into a salaried position.

If the small design company collapses, you lose your support.   That might not be a problem if you’re just looking for a one-time website build.  But I would advise you not to rely on them for ongoing services and most especially hosting.  Insist you go with a big 3rd party hosting company such as Godaddy, Blue Host or Netfirms.

Established Web Development Company

An established web service company is one that’s been around a while and has seen it all.  They survived the ‘dot com’ burst back in the ‘90s.  They saw the rise of Google and WordPress.  Their years of experience allow them to narrow in on very specific target markets: construction, government, real estate, etc.  Needless to say, they have an office, board room and office manager.

They will also use very specific platforms.  Some specialize in just one such as Drupal or Joomla.  This further narrows their market and also ensures their clients will return for support.  If they accept smaller clients, they’ll likely have a combination of platforms: WordPress for the smaller ones and Drupal for the larger, as an example.

Depending on the company, you may find it has a range of services not offered by a small web design company.  They may offer Social Media Marketing, mobile development or Google Adwords campaigns.  Keeping all your online products under one roof will streamline your marketing strategy.

The dollar cost of working with an established company is often higher than with a small web company. The established web design company is not looking to compete on price with the smaller firms and would quickly fold if it did. It could not offer the same quality services and products if it pulled down its rates. It couldn’t afford the best employees or its office.

The trade-off is often worth the price for those looking for a long term and reliable business relationship.  There is usually 10-15 years momentum behind an established company and they’re likely not going anywhere.  Established companies get the benefit of hiring the top players from small start-ups and other larger companies so the quality of staff is often excellent.

As a starting price point, you can expect to pay around $3,500-5,000 for an entrance level small business website, depending on your goals (for a basic WordPress install you could sneak by for around $1500).  You will be matched with a project manager who will oversee the scheduling, creative brief and sitemap.  And you will have a developer who will work closely with the project manager.

Usually a custom designed project with special functionality will cost a bit more. For instance, that top ranking luxury realtor or general contractor that ranks #1 in Google may have paid $7-20,000.

If you’re a small business with this kind of budget, you can expect to have your project scheduled once first payment is made and it will take around 4-6 weeks after that for it to launch.  Costs will be based on the estimated time for each skill set and can increase where further work is required

Established companies will often bid regularly on larger projects in the $20-150,000 range. These could include grocery stores, government initiatives or tech sector projects that include some higher level of functionality. Most established companies will have the ability to build using what’s called a ‘licensed CMS’.  These are a pond away from Drupal or WordPress being high powered with advanced features. Clients will usually pay $20,000+ just for the license to use this sort of CMS! (check out SiteCore)

But even that is small beans.

An eCommerce site will typically start at around $20,000 and there really is not cap. I’ve talked to the sales guys at ‘executive’ eCommerce companies that won’t look at you if you don’t have a budget of $1-3 million! (check out Hybris, as an example) At my office, we charge by the hour.  These guys charge by the week!

When an established web design company lands a larger flagship project, it not only gives them a financial boost, but it gives the development team an injection of experience.  They also feel quite proud of their work, which is great for retention.  When they do smaller projects, it’s a bit like taking the weight off their legs and they can complete them with professionalism and finesse.

Summary

When you do a Google search for web companies, you’re entering a market where the multi-staffed established company is rubbing shoulders with the guy in his basement and everything in between.  Before getting overwhelmed, take a look at your marketing budget and compare that to the quality of the online marketing you wish to have.

How much would you expect to hire a good salesperson for? $70,000 a year? $100,000? Well, your website is probably your most important salesperson.  It’s the thing that gives your business most of your leads. It has the potential to give you more than you could dream possible. So how much do you feel is a reasonable price to pay for your stellar online salesman?

If your budget is between $300-$3000 and you’re in a gamblin’ mood, role the dice and hit one of the smaller companies or the freelance developers.

If your looking to spend a little more and you’re not in any kind of gamblin’ mood, why not sample the diverse selection of established companies.  Look through their portfolios and narrow in on the designs that intrigue you the most.  Find the web companies that work in your industry as they’ll understand the nuances of your business.

Chances are if you made it to the end of this article you’re either a competitor or someone interested in a new website.  Either way, I’d love to hear your opinion.  Please leave a comment below.

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