Why does professional web design vary in cost?

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I recently received a request for a quote from a prospective client. There were about 3 lines of text which simply explained that they were starting a new business, needed a website, and needed an online reservation system with a way to pay. They also mentioned they were on a “tight budget”.

When I responded, my initial question was concerning the budget. I needed to know what they were working with in order to determine if we could help them at all. From there, a dialog would normally begin where I could learn a little bit more about their business, their goals, and most importantly, the functionality of their website.

What I received as a response was, “When I completed the quote request I expected at least a base price with some options. I am not in the web design business nor do I know what it costs to put together a site.”

An opportunity ….

While some might be put off by a response such as this, I see an opportunity to educate a potential client on why a website project (especially what appears to be a complex one that would require ecommerce and possible custom programming) can not be quoted properly based on broad or vague information. It would be similar to rolling your car into an auto shop and saying, “My car is making a clunking noise, can you tell me how much it would be to fix it?”, then expecting to get a quote without any further investigation.

So what’s so complicated about delivering a website quote?

Many articles we’ve written over the years stress the importance of collecting information from a potential client to better understand their needs and this will be another one. It is one thing to give very general ballpark estimates such as, professional website development can range from $3000 – $50000+, but I’m sure you can see how that isn’t very helpful. How are you to know if your site is a $3000 site, a $50000 site, or anywhere in between? That is where information comes in.

There are numerous variables to consider when providing a quote on a website project.

  1. Does the client have goals and functionality for a site mapped out? If not, then extra consulting time might need to be factored into the quote so these can be determined.
  2. Based on the exact functionality of the site, the best solution for development will need to be determined. Are there pre-existing (pre-programmed) solutions that will work? Will certain functionality need to be custom programmed? Custom programming is not only complex to do, but complex to quote. The more details, the better, and the final price could fluctuate based on any changes to the development.
  3. Will the client need to be able to maintain and update the site on their own or would they like to have the development company maintain it?
  4. Will ecommerce be involved? What type of ecommerce – a third party service such as Pay Pal, or a traditional merchant account? Depending on the answer here other factors will come into play such as the need for SSL certificates and PCI compliant hosting.
  5. Will any third party software or services need to be purchased (think shopping carts, pre-built solutions for specific functionality, monitoring or other services, etc.)?
  6. What are the deadlines involved with the project? If development needs to be fast tracked, that can most definitely affect the price.
  7. How complex will the actual design of the site be? It’s important to remember that much like programming, design also takes experience and skill. It also dovetails with functionality. Considerations need to be made for the time to create concepts for a home page, as well as interior page layouts with attention to any specific functionality required on the pages. Will any elements of the design need additional programming, such as slideshows or animations? Budgets for stock photography need to be included as well. Mobile programming is also consideration.
  8. Will the client be doing their own copywriting, or will copywriting be included in the quote? If it’s included, then the site map also needs to be completed in order to determine how many pages need content, if additional content will be required (such as marketing phrases or calls to action), etc.
  9. Will any additional services be required such as: logo design, website maintenance, graphic design for complementary marketing materials like business cards or brochures, and printing. While these aren’t part of the web development project, many times a client has needs that expand beyond the website.
  10. How much time will it take to manage the project properly? Many people don’t realize that this is even a factor, but to keep a project organized and on track takes time and expertise as well.

Once details are obtained the development company will typically estimate the number of hours necessary to design, develop, and manage the project as well as any additional costs for third party services or software to come up with a final, flat quote. Note: be a bit wary of a company who only quotes you an hourly rate for a large project like a website build. Simply giving an hourly rate does not tell you what the overall, final cost of the project may be.

A quick quote for a complex project is often a disservice.

As you can see from the points above, a lot goes into properly quoting a larger project. It’s imperative that the potential client provides information to the potential developers to receive the most accurate price quote. A developer that provides a fixed-rate quote without knowing details like those mentioned above, is not very professional.

I have had many potential clients over the years want a “ballpark” quote on a phone call or an email. While I can throw out a number, I also explain to them why it’s a disservice to them for me to do so. A ballpark quote is so variable it can often be utterly useless and can be completely off from a final quote once all the information and details about the project are gathered.

A closing note on price …

Do not be disappointed or offended if a development company chooses to not offer you a quote. Hopefully I’ve illustrated above that even putting together an estimate takes time. If the client has a specific budget they need to work within and the development company says they can not build what is required for that amount of money, take their word for it and either up your budget or move on. Like any service-based business, it is good to obtain quotes from several companies. You may find wide variation in price. Don’t be afraid to ask (if it’s not clear from the proposal) how the company arrived at the price they did.

If you’ve never been involved with the process of designing and developing a website before, it can be daunting. Like the email response I received, a potential client may not have any idea what a website costs. It’s up to the developer to explain the process and costs but it’s also up to that potential client to provide enough information in order for the developer to provide an accurate quote.

At JV Media Design, we’re all about client education and making sure that even people who don’t go on to become actual clients of ours at least feel more informed about the design and development process after they’ve encountered us.

If you would like a free estimate on your next project, contact us. And if you haven’t already, download our free ebook, “50 Tips for Working with Designers”.

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