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How Much Should I Budget For My Website?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

One of the first questions prospective clients ask is “How much should I budget for a website?” I can’t give you an accurate answer on the spot for a few reasons. But I understand why you’re asking.

As a wise man once said, you’re curious about a ballpark figure because you want to reduce your risk. You’re asking to make sure you can afford it, and to make sure my number sounds reasonable when you compare it to other quotes you may have heard.

But every project is different. It’s impossible to know what your real pain points are, the best way to solve them, and how much work that will take until I start digging. But there’s more to it.

By giving you an arbitrary number without doing research, I’m giving you the number that you’ll expect to hear in the future. Then the interview process begins. We start talking in depth about your challenges, and details emerge that didn’t come up when you first asked for a quick quote. So, the number you asked for off the top of the dome is probably inaccurate.

It’s my responsibility to listen to your initial requests without taking them at face value. It’s my responsibility to keep asking questions until we get to the root of the problem. Only then will I get a better idea of what needs to be done and how much you should budget.

Opening The Black Box

You see, there’s a reason you’re wanting to upgrade your website now, and why it wasn’t on your mind before. Like a detective, it’s my job to investigate what’s really going on, and figure out how I can make things better.

Investigating leads to diagnosing. And like professionals in other specialized fields (doctor, lawyer, mechanic) those questions help me assess the situation, diagnose a solution, and prescribe a strategy that will guide the rest of the project.

Some of my clients have purchased website design before, but many clients have never purchased a website before. They don’t know what to expect. It’s my duty to guide them through the process and alleviate the fear of the unknown.

The Disparity of The Playing Field

It’s tough when a prospective client has purchased web services before, but done so from a bidding service. I have nothing against developers on eLance or Thumbtack. But selecting a designer on those platforms is like hiring a contractor to build a house based only on price. There is no communication between client and developer. This hurts both clients and design studios.

The reason clients seek a professional is to get specialized advice and guidance from an expert in that field.

Bidding sites remove the design process and communication entirely, making the quote the only factor in the transaction. This leaves the client responsible for the self-diagnosis, prescription and strategy of their problem, and the web developer is merely a set of hands to carry out the request.

Conversation As A Tool

There’s usually something going on behind the scenes that is driving the need for a new project. When I know why this project is important, and what will happen if we don’t do this project, then I have a better idea of what the real goals are. This gives me a better understanding of what will make this project a success or not once we’ve finished.

There’s usually something in the business itself that is making you unhappy/stressed/overworked/worried. Conversation brings those things to the surface. Then we can make sure the project addresses those conditions and change things for the better.

Continuity

I use a structured design process to lower your risk and ensure repeatable success for clients. These stages include: Discovery, diagnosis, research, strategy, planning, visual design, development, quality testing, migration, launch, post launch marketing.

Many clients won’t have a shot at another web project for a while. Being a good steward of your investment is important. It’s critical that I figure out the right shot to take. Firing blindly is not a good option. Your business is worth more than that.

One Rule of Thumb

The larger and more complex a problem is, the more you should budget for it.

Risk Management

Lower price comes with greater risk. Part of the web consultant’s job is to reduce overall project risk for their clients. My job is to ensure that your investment bears fruit over time.

The firms that race towards the bottom on price are riskier for clients. They must take on more work to be profitable, without the resources to handle the extra workload. These firms may cut corners, rush through work, or burn themselves out in order to stay in business.

But many of these do not stay in business, forcing their clients to find a new developer to maintain, secure, and update their site. It is a service to a web firm’s clients that they remain operational. They should be investing in new techniques, training and equipment that will serve every client on their roster for the duration of their relationship. To do less than this is a disservice.

Laying Other Fears To Rest

You may notice that many web professionals ask about your budget early on. This isn’t a trick. It is a candid conversation, meant to save everyone time.

Some clients are reluctant to reveal what they are willing to invest, thinking that the cost of the project will “magically” expand to the size of their budget. But knowing what your budget is means I won’t waste time showing you solutions that are outside of your range.

Knowing your budget is finite means that instead of prescribing you a huge project all at once, we can break it into stages. It means we can prioritize what needs to be done first, and what actions will have the greatest impact. Later, we can come back and complete the other stages of the project as your business grows.

Return on Investment

Investing in your business is a big decision, but absolutely necessary. Remember to always ask these questions when assessing the price of any web design and development:

Will this investment bring a tangible return? Will my real issues be addressed and solved? Do I trust this consultant to guide me through things that I don’t understand about the web? Will this company be here to help me down the road?

Will this consultant tell me if my ideas are bad, and steer me in the right direction? Will they deliver what they say they will? Will the workmanship be good? Will this help me make more money, save time, or improve something about the way I’m doing business?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

7 comments on “How Much Should I Budget For My Website?

  1. Very well written article that covers many points in a concise manner. I really agree with all the points you’ve made – I wish more did. It’s always a shame when a prospect is unable to trust me on things like asking for their budget, because they’ve had bad experiences with other designers/developers in the past.

    We just need more communication, and you’re right, sites like eLance are really not helping.

  2. Hi Sean:

    Trust is a big issue with clients who have been burned before. I try to have face-to-face conversations before any money ever changing hands. It helps both parties get a sense of who they are working with, and help set everyone at ease.

    Communication is the foundation of every project, relationship, and business. The more communication, the better. It ensures the client’s imagination does not run wild with how you are allocating their investment.

    Appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. Well, how refreshing!

    This article absolutely hits the nail on the head.

    It takes time to work out the breadth of a project. It drives me to distraction when potential clients think they are buying a fixed product- not surprising though when they are constantly bombarded with ‘I can do your website for $x or £x’ (usually silly price).

    Rant over.

  4. Hi Patrick:

    I agree that the expectations for most prospective clients depends greatly on what they have experienced before. I think it surprises many to realize there is a wide array of budget ranges, not necessarily what they have encountered in the past.

    Establishing trust and communication, and getting a solid understanding of the business itself are critical to a successful project. Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts.

  5. Hello John,

    I am currently working on a website development worksheet.
    I live in India and truth be told – obviously I will get the site constructed in India.
    With an exchange rate of USD 1 ~ Indian Rupees 63, this is a no-brainer.
    The domain name maabolipunjabionline.com has been booked.
    By way of explanation – Maa Boli is the mother tongue.
    Punjabi is the vernacular language spoken by people who live in the State of Punjab in India. This language is also spoken by those who live in the State of Punjab in Pakistan.
    The course would be marketed to children and adults who live outside India. As also to spouses and fiancees whose other partner is not Indian.
    Could I pick your brains and ask, what are the elements that should go into the worksheet.
    I understand that the stock answer would be “it depends”. You explained this rather eloquently in the article above.
    The website would be for a Punjabi speaking course that would be taught online via Skype/Hangouts.
    Obviously, SEO would be of paramount importance. This would include factors like page load time, schema and everything else but not overkill.
    Thank you.

  6. Hi Kuldip:
    This would be a partial list of questions I would ask for this type of site, in addition to factors you mentioned:
    It sounds like you have a defined audience. But how would we reach our target customers? What types of marketing would we do to raise awareness?
    Who else is doing something similar in that space? If there is, can we co-promote with them?
    How do people sign up? Is the content free or protected? Would the site be hosted on a secure server or not? (SSL)
    How easy will it be for you to add new content/videos? What type of Content Management System would it be built on?
    How much ongoing maintenance will be required? What about website security?

    Every project is different, these are just things that spring to mind for what your project sounds like.

    1. John,
      Thanks a million.
      A couple of points you mentioned did not cross my mind.
      The worksheet just keeps growing!

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