Custom Website Pricing – What You Need to Know

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I’m a member of several professional networking sites. One of the sites allows people to post web and marketing projects so that professionals on the site can respond if they are interested in it. The other morning I got an email notice that a new project was posted, so out of curiosity, I went to check it out. This is what I found …

New Website for Users Who Will Create Accounts

“This project is a website where potentially thousands of users will create accounts that will be permanent in nature (they’ll keep years and years). Users will enter personal photos and information. Users will make decisions along the way, with some decision boxes required. You agree to build a site that provides standard parameters in everything from framework of site, look, feel, login, recording of personal info and other digital information and other addon items to be discussed. I will provide much more in detail.”

BUDGET: $100 – $499


First, let me just point out that even with the minimal amount of details this person gives, I immediately know that this is a very complex and large project (not to mention, it seems like they want a knock off of Facebook or Instagram). When you start talking about thousands of user accounts, custom programming (ability for people to upload photos, custom form with required fields, etc.) and “addon items”, you are out of the realm of simple websites. And the real kicker, the designer/developer is expected to deliver everything … for a budget of $100 – $499 dollars. 

The Saddest Part

It’s concerning to me that there are people out there that are expecting complex, custom websites delivered for under $500. I can’t lie, I felt personally offended for the entire professional web development industry by this post. Do people go to a home builder and say, “I would like a 5 bedroom house, with high end finishes, and custom woodwork throughout and my budget is $100.00 – $499.00.” No, they do not. For one, that would be absurd. Also, the construction industry has not lowered itself to building complete houses for a tiny fraction of the actual price of such a thing. 

Freelancers and even some companies are feeling pressured to compete with lower and lower prices. They’re also competing with a variety of “do-it-yourself” solutions. There’s plenty of DIYers in home improvement and construction, yet it’s fascinating that if you approach a professional contractor after you’ve screwed up your project, they will still not lower their prices for you.

It seems when it comes to building websites, people don’t put the same value and worth on it as building a physical structure.

Web designers and programmers do not require state licensing or specified training to start doing business like home contractors do. The building of a website can be quite nebulous for a client. The finished product is not something they can physically touch, like a house.  There isn’t a crew of people bringing in materials and sweating all day long to create their internet “dream home”. 

The Reality of Building Custom Websites

The reality is that building professional and custom websites does require skill, training, and a ton of hours to complete. I have been involved with complex web projects that have taken more than 6 months to complete. A team did work very hard to build the website, many hours were spent doing it, and if that team didn’t know what they were doing, the website build would have fallen apart, much like many DIY home projects. Building complex and custom websites is far different from creating a simple informational site with a few pages. It’s like the difference of building a large custom home vs a garden shed. 

So what does it cost to build a custom website?

Much like a custom home, the quick answer is that it varies. There is not set price for a custom website simply because the price is determined by exactly what the client wants. In a house, you choose fixtures and finishes. In a website, you choose functionality. With the little details of the post from the networking site, I would ballpark it at $30,000+. I’m sure if I reached out to that person and threw out that number, they would think I was crazy. While I think they’re crazy (and uneducated) for thinking such a thing could be done for $500 bucks. 

Value and Respect

It’s important to understand that there is value in hiring a professional for your custom website project. The professional will be able able to work with you to understand your goals and your market. They can create a strategy for the build (much like the blueprint for a house), suggest the best coding solutions for the project, and see it through to completion. An experienced professional should be valued and respected, not asked to perform work at 1/100th of the actual cost of it.


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