This is often the first question that I’m asked – and rightly so. You wouldn’t set out to buy anything – whether a cup of coffee or a house – without a ballpark figure of how much it was going to cost. But, as with the coffee and the house, the cost of a website will vary according to exactly what you need, and where you’re prepared to compromise.
Let’s think about that coffee for a moment. Do you just want a filter coffee, or a decaff cappuccino with skimmed milk and an almond shot? Actually, how about a cup of tea instead?
Even for something as simple as a hot drink, the range in price is anything from a few pence to a few pounds: the more expensive option is 100 times as much!
Similarly, there are a number of factors that will affect the cost of your website – but cost shouldn’t be your only concern. You need to think about how to get the best return on your investment.
Having said that, if you’re only interested in figures, skip to the bit where we talk numbers.
Do you really need a website?
This may sound like an odd question, particularly coming from someone like me who (among other things) builds websites, but sometimes it isn’t necessary to create new website to achieve what you need.
You can have a ‘web presence’ without your own website
Let’s say you run a local business and you want to let customers know about your weekly offers. Would customers visit a website weekly to find out what’s in store? Almost certainly not – we’re all too busy for that, we want the information to come to us. So how about a Facebook page (like this one for my local butcher)? Your messages are sent out to your customers’ Facebook feeds, so you don’t have to rely on people remembering to visit your website. It’s also free to set up so, even if it doesn’t pull in any extra business, it hasn’t cost you anything but a little time.
What if you run a small home-run business selling hand-made toys? Rather than invest in your own e-commerce website, you could use a go-between like eBay or Not On The High Street to sell the toys. This kind of site will usually charge a commission on each item sold and may also ask for set-up or listings fees.
Just want to write about stuff you find interesting – why not set up a blog on WordPress.com, Tumblr or Blogger? Want to sell photos? You can do that through the likes of Flickr, 500px or Fotolia. Want to advertise your baby music classes? Try posting listings on parenting websites like Mumsnet Local or Netmums.
There are cheap, sometimes free, ways to promote many different types of services, via tried and tested systems. By using a bigger provider, you can tap into a ready-made audience for your business. However, it’s not suitable for every situation. Generally you won’t have much control over the design and style of your page, and you’ll only be able to do what the ‘parent’ website lets you do.
Also, if you’re just one business among many, it’s harder to get recognition for your brand. How many people do you hear saying “I bought this from the Brand X shop on eBay” compared to the number who just give the credit to eBay? If these are concerns for you, then it’s time to think about your own website.
So the next question is:
How do you want to build your website?
What about using a website builder tool?
Nowadays, there are lots of online services such as Weebly and Squarespace which let you build your own website. Some providers, like Magento or Shopify, specialise in e-commerce. Many website hosting companies also offer some kind of web building tools, often bundled in with their hosting package.
There are a few things to watch out for with online web builder tools. Introductory offers can sometimes hide larger ongoing costs, so make sure you check the small print. Also, remember that if a company uses their own proprietary system, you can only use their web builder or e-commerce platform while you’re a paying customer. If you decide that you don’t like the company, you may not be able to take your website with you, but will have to build it again from scratch!
An alternative to a proprietary web builder is an open source content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. These are available for anyone to use, free. A big advantage of a system like this is that you can change website host whenever you want, and take the website with you. Also, because they’re so widely used, it’s also easy to find someone to fix and tweak things if you need help.
How could a digital agency or freelance designer help?
Remember that cup of coffee we talked about earlier? What if the barista said “Sure, you can have a skinny latte with an almond shot. Help yourself. There’s the machine and there are the instructions.”
Whether you use a web builder or an open source CMS, you’re going to have to learn how to use the tools in order to build your website. If you’re worried about doing that, or don’t have the time, it might be worth getting some expert help.
There’s much more to creating a website than just making it look pretty. Your website must also deliver what you need for your business – whether that’s brand awareness, effective e-commerce, or more people getting in touch. There are a huge number of things to consider from layout and colours to tone of voice and terminology. Do you know how to make it accessible to those with disabilities? Will it work well on mobile devices? Is it search engine friendly? You also need to write the copy, find the images and work out how to structure it in a way that makes sense to your visitors, not just to you. Some of these things are tricky to add on after the website is built. That’s where agencies and freelancers come in.
Digital design agencies vary enormously but generally they’ll have a team with specialists in each aspect of your website: designers, coders, copywriters, SEO experts and so on. The good ones are slick and efficient, you’ll get excellent advice and a fabulous website. Unfortunately all this expertise doesn’t come cheap.
An alternative is to use a smaller agency or a freelancer (like me!) You won’t get quite so many bells and whistles but, if you choose your freelancer carefully, you can get what you need without having to pay the big bucks. Please note that when I say ‘freelancer’, I’m not talking about your neighbour’s teenage son who builds the odd website in between playing World of Warcraft and doing his A-level revision. He may be able to knock up a website for you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get value for money.
As you may have spotted, the key thing – whether you want to hire an individual or a company – is to choose carefully.
OK, so you’ve had enough of the philosophical talk. How much hard cash is this website going to cost you?
Well, as I’ve mentioned, you can build a ‘web presence‘ with very little (except your time – and never underestimate how much that’s worth.)
Build it yourself with a web-builder tool or Open Source CMS, and it could cost just the price of your domain name (from around £4/year) and hosting (from around £2/month). Specialist e-commerce providers charge from £8/month.
A simple ‘brochure site’ of just a handful of pages (effectively your sales pitch converted into a website) could cost as little as £500 from a freelancer or from £1,500 with an agency. Note that you should still expect to do a lot of work yourself in order to get this kind of bottom-end price. You’ll need to provide all the copy and images, including your logo if you have one. Your design will be heavily template-based and you’re unlikely to get any functionality more complicated than a contact form and won’t get any bespoke design work (e.g. logo or icon design).
For more pages and a small amount of functionality, perhaps a booking system or listings, your website will cost in the region of 1k-£2k from a freelancer, or £2k – £5k from an agency. Add a logo or other design work and it’ll get more expensive.
E-commerce is where it can start getting very expensive very quickly. The online tools discussed earlier can be a great option for small and medium-sized businesses. However, if you have large volumes of sales or more complicated requirements, say, integration with your back-end supply system or the ability to offer credit to trade customers, or you want better analysis and segmentation tools for marketing, you probably need an enterprise solution. Set-up fees will vary and ongoing costs could be in the tens of thousands per year. Here’s a comparison of some well-known providers to give you an idea of what’s available.
If you want more specific advice about what you should do with your website, do get in touch. Perhaps we could chat over a coffee. Now, did you want filter, or a decaff cappuccino with an almond shot…?