The world of web design is quite exciting right now. There are lots of agencies and freelancers offering websites that range from $5 to arm+leg. So how much can you expect to pay for yours?
I came across a spectacular article Brian Krogsgard called, “How much should a custom WordPress site cost“. The mindset in this article falls right in line with how we try to gauge each website and design project. The articles are mainly targeted toward website designers, like myself, but can give potential clients a good insight into the quote process – whomever they decide to go with. I wish I had read and sent these articles to a recent client that turned us down in favor of a $350 website. If you are professional business owner, you should realize that professional work always comes with a professional price tag. After all, would you trust the work of a plumber that only charged $5 to fix your leaky pipe?
I have included some excerpts from the article below along with some additional thoughts.
“Most people’s budget is 2-3 times smaller than their desires or expectations.”
An estimate takes time. Whether that time is in a paid discovery or a sunk cost I (the consultant) bring on myself is a different matter. Either way, estimates are expensive because they are time consuming. And I promise you if I spend a week on an estimate or proposal I’m putting that cost into the proposal, somewhere.
Let’s start by segmenting based on who you are working with. Basically, working with a freelancer will normally be cheaper than working with an agency. Agencies have more overhead, more padding built in, are more worried about cash flow, and generally just tend to be a bit more expensive. If you work with an agency, the risk of them falling off the map is generally a little lower, but they probably move a little slower too. And you’ll often have to deal with changing contacts as the project progresses (from sales to design to development to maintenance).
If you work with a freelancer, your risks are a bit higher they’ll disappear someday. It means vetting them is even more important than with an agency. But they also tend to move quickly and don’t juggle as many projects at once. You also have the benefit of working with (typically) one person that knows everything about your project, and you don’t feel like you’re constantly getting bounced around contacts like can happen in some agencies.
It’s possible to have a great relationship with a freelancer or with an agency.
In general, freelancers are great for jobs that fit the following criteria:
- The job is small enough for one person to handle the entire thing (note, most projects fit this category)
- The timeline is tight, and you want them to start quickly
- Communication channels don’t have to be too formal
- Big contractor agreements don’t have to be signed and the contractor doesn’t need insurance or other common big-business requirements
In general, agencies are better for the following criteria:
- You don’t want to risk your consultant disappearing
- You’re okay with a project structure you don’t define (most agencies have established processes)
- You’re okay with a multi-month project (I’d say most agency projects last between 2-6 months)
- You don’t mind waiting until you can be fit into their schedule to start (often 30-90 days… but great freelancers often have significant backlogs too)
- You want a dedicated project manager (some freelancers are phone-call averse)
- Your project will require multiple full-time folks working simultaneously, either due to deadlines or huge project scope
FREELANCER RATES VS AGENCY RATES
I don’t want to get into hourly versus project billing. But either way, for most projects the consultant has to estimate the time it’s going to take them to build, and charge at least that. So I’m going to assume the consultant is not charging an amount enormously higher than their cost just because it’s worth it to the client.
Finally, I’m utilizing these hourly rates as if it’s for billable work and known costs. So, if the rate is $100 per hour and the design will take 50 hours and the development will take 50 hours and you build in 25 hours for project management, it would be 125 hours and the project would cost $12,500. Profits, overhead, and everything else are “built in” to the internal hourly rate — just like if someone were billing the client hourly for the work.
Beginner freelancer: $25-$40 per hour
Intermediate freelancer: $40-75 per hour
Good, experienced freelancer: $75 – $125 per hour
Excellent, in demand freelancer: $125 – $175 per hour
Specialist, best in industry: $175 – $400 per hour
Small market general agency: $50 – $75 per hour
Medium market general agency: $75 – $115 per hour
Medium market reputable agency: $115 – $150 per hour
Medium market high end agency: $150 – $175 per hour
Medium market best in industry agency: $175 – $225 per hour
Large market reputable agency: $150 – $175 per hour
Large market high end agency: $175 – $250 per hour
Large market best in industry agency: $200 – $275 per hour
When I say “best in industry”, I’m referring to an agency that’s made a name for itself in regard to something specific – maybe high-end WordPress websites, or Ruby on Rails, or websites for newspapers, or eCommerce. It depends.
When I talk market size, I mean the difference between working in big towns or small cities (small market), cities that are thriving but not huge like my own Birmingham, AL (medium market), or the type of city that’s got pro sports teams and 1 million+ people (large market). Not listed, but notable, are the mega-markets like New York and San Francisco types. I’m sure you can pay as much as you desire for services in such places.
THE MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF WEBSITES
- Simple blog : Archives and single post views only, and a pretty typical layout.
- Simple brochure site : Fairly standard but custom home page design, page layout. Stock archive / blog setup with little to no customizations.
- Complicated blog : A bunch of “out of the box” styles for various templates, requires attention to detail on archives, single posts, and other stuff like post formats.
- Marketing site : Basically a mashup between the simple brochure and complicated blog. Requires more designs to be made and the home page might be a little more advanced than the simple brochure.
- Business website : Similar to a marketing site, but often includes a couple of custom content types that require design and code, like events, testimonials, services, etc.
- eCommerce website : Could be a mix of any of the websites above, plus all the needs in eCommerce (like cart/account/checkout views, and tons of configuration considerations). This is often a huge PM bump as well.
- Big non-profits or advocacy sites : I’ve found that non-profits and advocacy sites are pretty much the holy grail of wanting everything on a budget. These are really hard to keep in scope because they often have the same needs of big businesses, without the budgets.
- Big business website : Big business websites are like regular business websites, but more of it. They often have lots of custom content types, advanced searching needs, tons of content, and perhaps some fancy user permissions needs. And of course potentially much, much, more.
- Big scale: You can take pretty much any of these types of websites and then say you need it to handle millions of pageviews per month without breaking a sweat, and a whole new layer of complexity comes into play.
The hours it takes to build these different types of websites vary can vary tremendously; it depends on the consultant’s experience, whether they have done similar work before, how many “gotchas” appear in the project, how particular the client is about any given feature, and more.
With WordPress, you can add as many posts and pages as you want. This is true. I’ve also found that the more posts or pages the client’s existing website has (and expects to transfer to the new site), the more complex the new project will be.
I don’t have a perfect factor for increasing the price of a proposal because there is a lot of content, but I have some levels that I consider worth noting.
- If there are less than ten pages, no big deal.
- If there are more than 30 pages, you better start thinking about structure.
- If pages are hierarchical (lots of parent > child page relationships) it’s going to cost strategic thinking time.
- If there are hundreds of pages, there’s either a problem or a lot of strategy and design consideration to be made.
- If there are thousands of blog posts, taxonomies (category / tag handling) and search are going to be important to consider, and will probably require more cost.
- If there is a lot of content (of any sort), navigation needs to be uniquely priced for internal quoting purposes.
- If it’s a multi-author blog (likely with big blogs), it’s going to need special consideration.
- If pages or posts need editorial workflow (section management, change or publishing approval, etc), it’s going to need special consideration.
- If the current CMS isn’t WordPress, the migration is a huge deal and you need some great language and details about how that’s going to happen.
- If the current CMS is WordPress, you need to know what plugins or custom code is potentially creating shortcodes or other weird content handling (maybe with custom fields), or what other bad practices may have taken place and need to be accounted for.
- These are just some quick thoughts on content. There are more, but this is a great starting point.
CUSTOM DESIGN VS A PRE-BUILT THEME
You may have noticed I have not once brought up the question of whether the website is built using custom design or with a pre-built distributed WordPress theme. Websites cost money for many reasons beyond the base styles. Yes, custom design costs more than pre-built themes — until you try to add functionality to or modify the way something works in a template. Then you want to cry and run into a hole and pity yourself for having charged less money for using a pre-built theme.
For small sites, the question of custom vs pre-built themes is a big one. As the site gets bigger and more complex, the savings for using a pre-built theme are far less and can easily invert.
In short: clients shouldn’t get too excited about the potential cost savings of pre-built themes and consultants should be careful about charging less for them.
CUSTOM WEBSITE PRICES
Okay, so after all of this, how much is it, you ask again? Hopefully now you realize it could be anything. People are not kidding when they say $1,000 or $1,000,000 (or more!). However, in the interest of being helpful, I think here are some “ballparks” to consider:
- Can you get a custom website for under $3,000? Yes, but be very careful, and know your risk of getting something imperfect is high.
- If you work with a good freelancer, I think ~70% of custom websites for average folks and average businesses will cost between $3,000 and $15,000.
- If you work with a good agency in a medium market, I think ~70% of custom websites for average folks and average businesses will cost between $8,000 and $40,000.
This difference from freelancers is because larger sites will naturally gear toward agencies, and agencies will be less likely to take on smaller projects if they can take bigger ones instead. That said, some agencies love the small jobs, because they get really good over time at doing quality work in less time than the competition.
If you work with a best in business freelancer to build something special (whether a simple blog or complex website), you’ll probably spend between $10,000 and $50,000+. The freelancer you work with will probably utilize a team of other subcontractors in this scenario, because it’s rare for someone to truly deliver all the things you need running solo.
If you work with a best in business agency to build something special (whether a simple blog or complex website), you’ll probably spend between $15,000 and $100,000+. Most agencies will self-perform the work, and often times you can expect them to be available for retainer contracts, hosting / maintenance agreements, and other long-term relationship style services.
It’s also worth noting that in large projects, it’s very common to break them into multiple projects and phase them. This is very typical with six-figure clients, and in these scenarios it’s not uncommon for some agencies to have million dollar per year clients, whether billed hourly, by project, or a combination of both.
I write this post for three audiences:
- Clients looking to hire a consultant, and not knowing what to consider when comparing costs
- Consultants trying to wrap their head around pricing
- Me, because I’ve been building websites for years and pricing them for a couple of those years, and I’m not even close to having it down
This post falls right in line with what we’ve experienced locally and across the country. I always suggest that clients do extensive research on the people they entrust to help them with their online business presence. Ask LOTS of questions. I’ve known of several clients that took the cheaper route elsewhere and have always been dissatisfied in some regard. I have also heard from clients that chose a trusted local agency and then had trouble getting issues resolved quickly.
Using the above pricing structure, Mediagin Creative calls into the “Good, Experienced Freelancer” with an average rate of $75-$125/per hour, depending on the project type (web, video, audio). We are a one-on-one business that believes in personal connections to our clients. If you have any questions about our pricing structure or how much your web project might be, please contact us.