What Does a Website Cost? (part 2)

Choosing a Web Developer/Designer

I stipulated in Part 1 that costs depend on things like functionality, complexity of the design and types of content. But more important still, your cost will depend on the type of developer or development firm you choose.

Now I can almost hear you say, “who I choose will depend on what they charge.” Fair enough. But notice I used the word “type.” Before you start asking for quotes you first need to decide who you’re going to ask. And I believe this is where the pricing problems and confusion begins.

There are five major types of people/organizations that build websites:

  1. Large web development/services firms
  2. Smaller web development/services firms
  3. Advertising Agencies
  4. Graphic Artists and Web Design Studios
  5. Hobbyists, trainees and non-professional freelancers

The keys to choosing which group to solicit bids from are budget size, website goals and the overall complexity of the project. So here’s how I position a project for each of the developer types.

  • Large Web Firms require big budgets because you are paying for their big overhead. If you have a development budget in excess of $25,000 and plan to spend several thousand dollars a month marketing your site, then shopping large firms isn’t a bad idea. A large firm will have more specialized staff members to handle your needs.
  • Smaller Web Firms, assuming they are full service, can do most of what a large firm can do, but they have fewer staff and thus a smaller overhead. Small firms rely on outsourcing parts of your project that require a different expertise. For instance, at Just Imagine, we outsource custom programming and design elements like Flash development. Remember, the smaller the buget the smaller the firm.
  • Advertising Agencies came late to the web party and, for the most part, still don’t get it. Personally, I would avoid going this route, unless you already have an agency for traditional marketing. Even then, I’d get outside quotes to keep them honest. There’s nothing an ad agency can give you that you can’t get, usually cheaper, at a large or small web services firm.
  • Graphic Artists and Web Designers are not the same, but I lump them together because they must be interviewed in a similar fashion. Graphic Artists and Web Designers, for example, are typically one dimensional. They make things look pretty. While I know that you’re looking for pretty, remember that the actual look of the site is pretty far down the list of what makes a website successful. So again, unless you run across someone who is experienced in all phases of web development, and just happens to be called a “designer,” I would gravitate toward a web services firm.
  • The final type of website player is one to be most cautious of. This is where the majority of client horror stories come from. “I hired this student but now I can’t get hold of him,” etc., etc. If you decide to go this route, almost always because of money, just know that you get what you pay for. Also know that building a website isn’t like designing a brochure. You’ll want to change the content on your website at some point. Then what?

So if you follow my advice, the first thing you need to do is figure out how much money you can devote to this project, making sure you leave enough for an ongoing marketing campaign, if leads or sales are your objective. Once you’ve got a general idea of your budget (under $1000, under $2000, etc.) then you can start making calls and interviewing vendors.

If you don’t work in this order, then you’re likely to get wildly disparate quotes that won’t allow you to compare apples for apples. For instance, the $2,000 web project at a very small web development firm is $3,000 at a slightly larger firm, and it could be $15,000 at an even bigger firm. In fact, the bigger firm may start it’s quotes at that level because they can’t feed their overhead for anything less.

I should also mention, because I know you’re going to ask, that there is no standard breaking point between big firms and small firms. It really depends on your market, if you’re shopping locally. A big web services firm in Charleston, SC, for instance, may only have half a dozen full time people. If you read part 3 you’ll at least be able to know ’em when you talk to ’em.

So what does a website cost? Read Part 3.

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