You Get What You Pay For

An obvious issue when explaining how much a website will cost is that most people aren’t familiar with the process. Many people don’t realize there are different ways to build websites and significant differences between solutions depending on a site’s features.

I often get asked simply, “How much do you charge for a website?” Which is virtually impossible for me to answer without gathering details about what the client wants.

In his book Design is a Job, Mike Monteiro explains the situation as follows:

“After all there’s not much difference between asking, “How much do you charge for a website?” and “How much do you charge for a car?” Except that people have probably bought a car before. They know that the type of car a college student needs to get back and forth to class is vastly different than what parents with a new set of twins need. And that they’ll have to pay more for the latter. And that, even among one type of car, the price can vary wildly based on their quality and feature set, which really isn’t that different from decisions you’d have to make in choosing what kind of website you want and who you want to build it. Except they may not know that yet.”

I also find that many potential clients will often balk or hedge when asked about their budget. One such individual confidently told me “I know how this works, I tell you my budget and you tell me that’s what it will cost!”. Which made me pause and reconsider trying to work with this client. I doubt any business relationship can get off to a good start if one party believes the other is intent on ripping them off and if that’s how he thinks the world operates I’d question the likelihood of being paid by this individual. It’s important to keep in mind that all solutions are not created equal and much like any product or service there isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” formula for every client. For any project there are various levels of sophistication and technology that can be used.

Once again Mike Monteiro sums up the situation pretty well.

“Some clients think that if you “trick” them into telling you their budget you’ll tailor your estimate to it. You know what? They’re right. If you tell me that you have $200K, and I feel it’s appropriate, I’ll show you what a $200K design solution looks like. If you have $40K, I’ll see if I can come up with a $40K solution. But they’ll be different solutions. I’m not going to charge you $200K for a $40K solution just because I know you have it. But the least helpful thing possible is for me to come up with a $200K solution when your budget is $40K. It wastes both our time. So tell me what your budget is and I won’t show you the Audi on the lot when you have Civic money.”

If a designer knows your budget they can avoid making suggestions or coming up with solutions that are beyond your means. For instance, if I know that a client’s budget is very tight I won’t bother suggesting a custom design; I’ll start by recommending a pre-made theme and customizing from there. I’m also not going to recommend a lot of snazzy animation and cool interface effects. For this reason it’s important to know how much you’re willing or able to spend and be ready to accept that you may have to compromise on features or design if your budget won’t allow it.

Now some designers will promise you the moon for nothing, which I think should make you nervous. But if you decide to go along with them be prepared for unexpected difficulties or expenses later on. Below I present a few questions you should ask a potential web designer so that you know what you’ll be getting for your money.

Some basic questions regarding web design quality.

If you are seeking quotes from web designers, here are a couple of question you can ask. The following are just a few of the ways that web companies can make it seem like you’re getting more for your money than you really are.

1) Do they use modern web standards and semantic mark up?

2) Are their websites coded using tables?

If they answer “no” or are confused by the first question and “yes” to the second, you’re looking at a loss of search engine ranking for your website as well as an inflexible and difficult website to make design alterations.

3) Do they use in-line CSS styles or HTML formatting?

This means that the code for the formatting (colours etc) has been placed in each individual web page rather than in a separate, easily updatable file and can result in hours of work to make basic changes to your design.

4) Do they propose using an existing theme or template for your website?

Using a pre-made template or theme is a cost efficient option, however you may be disappointed to find another website or (even worse) a competitor’s website that looks exactly like yours. Personally, I’m a strong believer in the importance of having a unique web presence for your brand or organization.

5) Will you be able to update content yourself or will you have to pay them each time you need something changed?

A lot of quick and easy ways to make a website involve using HTML editors such as Adobe DreamWeaver to make changes to web pages and if you don’t have someone on staff who knows how to deal directly with web page mark-up you’ll not only have to pay the web designer to update your website you’ll also have to wait for the updates to be made on their schedule. Having your website built using a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress gives you the ability to update content whenever you want without added expense.

In conclusion…

I hope this has shed a little light on why costs differ between designers and made the process a little less opaque. Now I encourage you to go forth and ask someone to build you the website of your dreams (as long as it’s not built using tables).

This article was originally posted on trevorfischer.com – August 3, 2012
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