Why there’s no such thing as a cheap website

I’ll make it clear from the start, this isn’t a sales pitch, I am not taking on third party work. What I do get asked to do from time to time however is to give advice to somebody wanting a website. This is what I tell them.

In short, there’s no such thing as a cheap website.

I often hear the phrase “my [Insert relative or friend here] is doing it for £40.” This is where I have to try and remain tactful and not start laughing at them while calling them stupid. More often than not the person doing this website turns out to be 14, and their experience of web design stretches to being able to rip images off the internet and fashion them into a rudimentary page. I’m not trying to knock these people, because I was wheeling and dealing when I was 11, writing bits and pieces for people in return for small amounts of money. What I am saying is that if you’re looking to grow your business through a website, cheaping out on it isn’t really the way to go.

Lets start with the fixed costs: For two years of decent web hosting with a domain name you’re looking at £165 + vat, and that assumes you don’t have to buy your domain name seperately. Now you have an online premises for your business, what do you do with it? This is where I come in, but before I continue, lets look at the maths with regards to cost:

Lets assume you have someone fairly junior do your site, on a salary of £21000 a year. This works out to them earning £81 per day which means you are likely to be paying around £150 per day for their services. I on the other hand wouldn’t get out of bed for £81 a day, so for my services you would be looking at paying closer to £300 a day.


This isn’t a “back of the sofa job”

So you’ve accepted that you’re going to have to pay a decent amount for a good website, so now what happens? So you Google for “Web Design” or some equivalent search and you’ll find all manner of companies offering packages for various numbers of pages for between £200 and £800. Tempting right? Not really! Remember I said that you would be paying around £150 per day for a fairly junior person, well that works out to about a weeks work for your £800. While that sounds good, it’s not going to give you a top notch website. The company may tell you it’s a totally bespoke website, but when you look at their portfolios, you’ll see that save for the colours and shapes of the components that make up the page, they are all roughly the same. For your £800, you won’t be getting any personal time with the designers either, perhaps via phone or email, but not proper sit down time, and this is where these packaged websites fall down.

This is where I come in

The first thing I will ask you is “Why do you want a website?” to which I expect a number of answers to do with growth and increasing sales, in which case I may be able to help. If the reason is to look cool or because everybody else has one then I would suggest that you come up with a more substantial business plan before going any further. So why would I turn down the chance to make some money, even if the customer doesn’t really need a website? Remember, I don’t actually do this work, so my advice is unbiased by the need to make money.

Lets take a potential client “Bob the Builder” as an example of a general tradesman who wants a website to help his company. The service I offer depends on what Bob’s business model is:

    • If Bob works directly for the customer, then a website is a great idea, and we’ll come back to this scenario in a moment.

 

    • If Bob is a contract builder (Another company pays Bob to do work for a customer on their behalf) and most of his business happens offline. In this case I would ask whether a website was really necessary? If it was, perhaps because they have a domain for email, or want something to link to from directory websites then I would recommend a single splash page to represent the company, for which you would be looking at a day’s work (£150 – £300.)

 

    • The more likely situation is a mix of the two scenarios above, with Bob doing some contract work and some direct work. In this situation, the effort spent on a website should reflect the importance of the direct market to the company.

 

  • Finally Bob may decide he wants to offer a client portal. This extends the three scenarios above to allow customers to log in and perform any number of bespoke actions such as submit documents, arrange or view appointments and invoices etc.

So it has been decided that you want to make an investment in a website to market your company direct to customers. Where to begin? The first thing I would want to do is sit down with your stakeholders. In reality this means the Managing Director, the Sales Manager/Director, the IT staff who are going to run the site (Assuming you aren’t looking to have me run it), the administrative staff who have to deal with the customers the website brings in and perhaps one or two of the staff who actually do the work. I’d be wanting 3-4 hours with them, around a table, so you’ll need to factor their time into the cost of a website, along with a half day of my time. In this meeting I want to get to know what your business does, and how it does it, as this lets me then make suggestions on how you can best tailor the content to suit your customers. All the while I will use your feedback to sketch out rough ideas for the design and get your feedback on what you feel works and doesn’t.

The kind of things I’ll discuss with you relate to what makes the customer choose your company and how do we get that message across to them. Many websites tell you who they are and some of what they do, but they don’t give you actual pictures of their work. They don’t explain why you NEED their services, how their services work or tell you the products they use and give you a rough idea of the price up front. The rule of thumb I use with a website is “Do I still need to call the company in order to get enough information to make a decision whether to consider them.” If the answer is yes, then the website is next to useless. A good website tells me enough that I can all but make up my mind to use that company before I have to phone them.

I’ll leave the meeting with a fairly good idea of what you are looking for from your website and will now begin putting a design together. Expect this step to take up to a week of work. At the end I will present you with a outline design. It’ll show you the proposed layout of the site, the content pages you’ll have, the types of images and graphics used with directions on their manufacture and representations of the colour scheme. Sometimes these may be delivered seperately, but in all cases you’ll need to approve each and every part before we proceed. It is at these review steps that you can propose changes to the design, which will cause the design cycle to be repeated as necessary until you are happy with the design and sign it off. This has the effect of locking the design down so there cannot be any more changes to the design until implementation is complete. While this sounds harsh, it prevents the type of scope creep that kills so many IT projects.

The design then moves to the implementation phase. First the layout is created and all the pages and script files created and linked together. This is then checked against the design and any issues that are found are rectified. The graphical elements for the website are either procured or manufactured according to the design along with photography which is either bought in or supplied by you. Scripts and dynamic elements set out in the design are implemented at this stage. The seperate elements of the site are now brought together which should result in a website that meets your original requirements. The site will then be tested, with any bugs being fixed before being passed to you as the customer for signoff. This stage could take anything from a week to months depending on the type and amount of content you are looking for. Where necessary I will also produce documentation for the site and training prior to the site being released.

Once the website has been released, my work need not end. I can assist you with advertising the website, and can provide you with reporting on how well visited the website is and what visitors are doing on the website. Additionally I can manage the content for you so you don’t have to do anything with your website.

Conclusion

A website requiring a week of design and three weeks of development would likely cost you between £3500 and £7000 (depending on who does the work) and don’t forget you’ve still got to add the hosting fee and VAT on top of this. If you then wanted me to spend an hour a week performing managing and reporting on the site with minor content and design changes, then you’d be looking at about another £1000 per year.

To summarise this into a couple of sentences, if you want a website on the cheap, it is easily possible to get one, however there is little point in spending even £200 on something which adds no value to your business. Conversely a well designed website would only need to bring in a handful of customers to break even. Coupled with the fact that a good website can reduce the number of purely speculative calls, resulting in less time spent by your staff, a good website can pay for itself many times over.

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