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Choosing a web developer: the questions you need to ask

by Tim Rimington | February 28, 2011

This week I spoke to a sales prospect that was starting up a new business. They appeared to have done their homework and seemed to have everything in place, from a professionally designed logo, plus stationary, office equipment and a lease for some modest office space. They were now shifting their focus to a website.

They knew what a website meant to the business and knew how important a tool it was going to be. Without a website, building the business would be made all the more difficult.

When we started discussing prices it became obvious that through all the planning to this point, little in the way of funds had been allocated to the website. It’s easy to present a case about what’s considered to be a fair minimal spend but in this case the prospect had already chewed up their budget on other expenses, and their eyes were set on websites in the sub-$1,000 range.

This got me thinking. How is it that a professional group of people who are quite capable of planning and setting up a business get the costing of a major element such as a website, so horribly wrong?

Yesterday I was poking around Google looking at what competitors were up to, observing prices, features and so on. What dominated the search results was a mountain of web design companies arguing that you needn’t spend more than $500 on a website. One company even claimed that you needn’t spend more than $65 and went on to provide step-by-step instructions on how to build a website for your business!

To be frank, some of the arguments appeared sound and this would ring true for someone who knows nothing about websites and what level of capital outlay is required to actually build one that stands up in the marketplace (perhaps similar to a guy understanding why his wife needs to spend $2,000 on a handbag when there’s plenty of handbags at Myers for under $100!).

As I did for this particular sales prospect, I’d like to break down the main elements of a website build and offer, by way of fair argument, the hourly cost and time frame to deliver a commercial-grade website. Once things are broken down you soon discover that these $500 website claims are mostly hot wind. Sadly, many of these budget cowboys are there one minute and gone the next. SiteSuite’s been around for a long time so trust me on this one, we’ve seen plenty come and go and it’s generally the budget boys who disappear first.

So let’s assume that we’re building a simple website, say, 5 pages in size and incorporating a simple – yet custom – graphic design to match a business brand. Nothing fancy, just a competent solution that will stand up for the next few years; a website that a business would be proud to promote amongst a sea of competitors. Let’s assume a development hourly rate of $150 because, let’s face it, if you’re in business and you work for less than that you probably won’t last very long. I’d argue a higher rate and beyond but let’s keep the exercise simple. Before I start, I’d like to drop a disclaimer in: SiteSuite can build custom commercial-grade solutions for less than the total I’ve reached here in this exercise. Every build is different, and what we quote for one business may not be the same for the next. Speak to us first!

Design brief meeting: 1.5hrs $225
Initial design wireframes & client changes: 2hrs $300
Actual design from concept to client: 8hrs $1,200
Alterations to the design to match client: 4hrs $600
Code design to CMS software: 6hrs $900
Load content to pages & layout: 4hrs $600
Alterations from client: 1hr $150
  Total $3,975

So, then, how can some providers sell “custom” websites for $500? They can’t. You’re getting a mass-produced template website and everything is rushed through (I call them sausage factories). There’s likely to be no brief meeting (or at least, a very rushed one), there’s likely no understanding (or care) about your business and there’s no one to hold your hand when something goes wrong. If you want a longer argument, read this article about template versus custom websites.

I’ve also prepared a simple PDF for you to download if you’re unsure as to the  questions you need to be asking of a web developer: sitesuite-choosing-a-web-developer_v1.pdf sitesuite-choosing-a-web-developer_v1.pdf (83.72 KB).

When speaking to us, there’s never an obligation but at least you walk away with knowledge you may not have had before you called. It’s that knowledge that you can then use to ensure you keep any other tenders honest.

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