Over the years I’ve spent doing web design for professionals, there is a single question that get’s brought up time and time again: “Why are websites so expensive?”  I would guess that 9 out of every 10 companies that come to me for design have a strict budget that they have to meet and most of their focus seems to be on one thing… cost.  I’m going to give you a general insight into why custom sites might run a little more than a WordPress or Shopify theme (or something of the sort) and explain some of the things that go into a custom site by a designer that most people overlook.

Now, there’s no question that price should be a concern when planning a web project.  I understand entirely why people are concerned about pricing first as, since I’m a businessman myself, I would be wondering the same exact thing when inquiring about a service I need to purchase.  I’m always extremely happy to answer their cost about websites when I can.  Sometimes, I feel as if I sound like a broken record, however, since most questions are very difficult ones to answer and I end up replying something like, “That’s a difficult questions to answer as it varies for each and every business.”  Then I let them know that I’d be happy to answer their questions and get them a proposal after we do a proper business discovery.

“BUSINESS DISCOVERY?! All I want to do is get a price, can’t I just get that?” is probably the thought that passes through most people’s head when they hear that.  In fact, some people are quite verbal about it (but in a nice way, of course), and they all completely understand after I explain what I’m going to go over next.   But first, let me tell you briefly what Discovery is.  Discovery, is a series of meetings where we discuss whatever business my clients are in.  Most of them are small to medium sized businesses that specialize in many unique things.  We typically start out by talking about the basics like where you’re located, how long you’ve been in business, etc…, then we continue to go deeper down the rabbit hole.  We eventually talk about the process a business takes when providing a service or product and what all goes into it.   We will talk about your customers and what they need from you, and we will go over the current market their in.  By the end of discovery,  we are able to tell exactly what you need for your website or web project to thrive online.  We will be able to create a development plan to get you there and create a marketing strategy to continue to attract the best visitors to the site.  Doing discovery usually takes anywhere from 3 to 5 meetings on average.

Now you may be wondering, why in the world would I waste my time doing all of this?  The short answer to that question is: I want to be fair.  I want our business transaction to be fair on both sides, so we are each getting what we both need; you walk away with a great product that isn’t missing any pieces or designed carelessly, and I get fair compensation for providing such a service that almost guarantees an ROI in less than 1 year.  There is something referred to, especially in web design, as “scope creep.”  This is when things are missed in discussions and something additional that will require additional time is expected to be done in a project, and it becomes a problem when it happens after an agreement is signed.  For example, let’s say I meet with a client who comes to me saying that he needs a website.  Let’s also say that I only spend an hour talking to the client before proposing a price (like most designers).  It’s impossible to cover everything in just an hour about any business.  If I end up proposing a price for a website and get a signed agreement from the client, then they bring up a week later or half way through the project the idea of selling a bunch of items in a warehouse that was not previously brought up in conversation, or I don’t quite understand their service offerings enough to highlight them on the site well enough for the client or their customers, it’s going to potentially cost me a lot of time, either doing or re-doing the work for the proposed price.  Any additions to a project or missed information that needs done after a project is discussed and a price is made is scope creep.  If scope creep happens, in order for me to be fair to my client, I have to honor the proposed price.

So why does it seem like a website is so expensive?  It really just comes down to TIME! Most people who don’t design websites for a living don’t have any idea of what actually needs to go into a website in order to do it properly.  Most people tend to have the mindset that you can build it in 30 minutes to an hour and everything is fine and dandy because they saw a Wix or Squarespace commercial.  The reality is it’s way more complicated than that, and there’s a lot more planning, thought, and strategy into getting it all right.  A website consists of several different things that come together.  You have to plan the outline of the site, a map of all the sites pages, strategically design where the content goes and what order it should be in, come up with a color scheme and overall user interface, you have to make all the buttons, forms, and custom apps work, make sure it’s mobile responsive, and much more.  All that and there’s even more you have to do just to get you a basic site that you can launch.  If you want the site to rank in Google for the terms you need, you have to add on a whole new layer known as SEO, which involves keyword research and strategic optimization of the site, it’s keywords, and elements.  Want to do any marketing or Facebook advertising with the site?  Well, go ahead and add another complex layer in order to get the website market-ready.  I’ll release another post soon to break down what all a website needs to have for success.

As far as pricing goes, I generally base fixed-price project proposals off of my hourly rate and how long I expect each job, or phase, of the project to take.  After doing this for over 6 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at speculating how long a specific job will take me.  I determine this by breaking the web project into several smaller pieces then adding everything together.  I get these pieces of the project from doing Discovery.  And I avoid scope creep and provide fairness and quality by avoiding it.  It all ties together.

On average, I would say a typical website for a small business takes about 80 hours of work on my part.  To elaborate, that’s equivalent to working 9-5pm for 2 weeks straight.  If you want to think about this logically, think about your personal income for 2 weeks of work, assuming you work 40 hrs. a week.  If you expect a website for cheaper than that number, you might have a few screws loose.  Over the weekend (yes, this past weekend), I conducted an experiment and also launched a new product at the same time.  I searched for weeks and found what I believe is the best website builder on the market.  I’ve never used any website builders to build a live production site before, so I figured the first one should probably be my own site and built a site from scratch using it.  Just to see how long it took me, I planned to do it in one sitting.  It took me roughly 10 hours from beginning to end to do it correctly and make sure everything was set up in both the front and back end.  You may be thinking this is a relatively good time, and when you look at it, you may be thinking it looks great, but you have to factor in a few things.  1: I didn’t write most of the content since the project developers just provided it to me.  2: It’s only a 1 page site and 3: All images, logos, color scheme, and much more are already done.  Also, what wasn’t done was in my head; I didn’t have to learn about a specific product or industry, I didn’t have to present my ideas and get approval for them, I just did it, and what I needed to come up with, I did.  I had a clear objective, and I stuck to it.

You may be thinking, “Well, I can do that myself.”  My response to that is “I guess you can…”  It’s true.  You can make your own site using a builder.  It will be online and you can tell people your URL to go to in order to see it, and you might even be able to sell products on it.  But I guarantee you it will not be done correctly.  And in the 10+ hours, assuming your site is only 1 page and you get your’s done as fast as I did, you might have lost out on more money than if you paid someone to design it.  Think about what that 10 hours could have done for you.  That’s all the daylight in a single day.  If you spend a week on it, how much money did you not make while you were spending time on your site?  What about if you spent 80+ hours on a large site that has more than 10 pages, how much money did that site cost you then?  Only you will know.

In summary, there’s a lot that goes into a website that people overlook.  The main factor, however, is time which is what most costs for services in the world are based off of.  You can pay someone more with the experience needed to do what needs to be done correctly, the first time, so you don’t have to revert back and fix mistakes or simply have a site that isn’t performing as well as it could for you.  You could spend time making your own site, and if it’s the first site your company ever had, it is a very good starting point, but whenever you’re looking to take your business (and website) to the next level, it’s best to leave that work to professionals who deal with these things each day and who stay up to date on technologies and requirements for modern computing.

Until next time,