26  June  Posted by Aaron

I want a cheap website, you charge too much


“I need a website built by tomorrow and my budget is 300 dollars…”

“…Our starting price for a custom website is 2,000 dollars and goes up from there.”

I am sure that when you read the above you either laugh at a 300 dollar budget and or shriek at the 2,000 dollar starting point.

In short these reactions are a pretty common occurrence in my profession. Designers that hear a budget of around this amount for a website are insulted and a prospective client hears a much larger amount expected and thinks that they are having the wool pulled over their eyes. In reality, most of the time it is a miss-understanding.

There are a number of reasons why a prospective client might think that 300 dollars is reasonable for a website. And I get it, I really do. I am a business owner as well and run a tight ship. But in the end it’s more about your return on investment (ROI) than it is the initial costs. So hopefully this information will shed some light on why things *might* cost more than you assume.


Past experience

Maybe the only “web designer” they know of is someone that only dabbles with design on the side and really does not have much if any real experience or proper training. On a side-note, It is interesting how freely people call themselves “designers” of some sort with very little to no experience. I know you have to start somewhere, but I don’t label myself as an architect or construction worker etc just because I am remodeling my basement. Anyways this topic is for another time.

No knowledge of what goes into a website: This is usually what it is where the miss-communication lays and it usually breaks down into to a couple different main areas.


Most do not understand that to design a website out can take a lot of time. And when I say a lot, the skies the limit. Personally, on average I like to put in around 15 to 25 hours all in design for a website (this is obviously a generalization, but you get the idea). People also tend to think of design as “the way it looks”, this is really just skin deep and is only a small portion of a designers role. User-experience design is also a part of that time and the only time that people usually notice user-experience design is when there is an absence of it. Think about it, When a website works nicely, you enjoy whatever the site has to offer and move on. If the site is confusing and hard to find out where to go you definitely notice! Of course this is not always the case, people with an “eye for design” will pick up on nice user-experience, while others may just get an underlying feeling but do not know exactly what is wrong.


This one is tricky and I would say is on a case by case basis. If the functionality is pre-built somewhere and you can essentially “plug and play”, then sure it’s probably relatively quick and easy. If the functionality is not freely available and you have to build it from scratch then the sky is again the limit on what it could cost. I’ve worked on sites where backend development has gone close to reaching 6 figures. In the majority of cases however, this is not the case. The only other thing I would mention here is that if you do want a highly designed site be prepared to pay a bit more in the development, and as things become more custom in design this has to be translated into code.


This is pretty straightforward. How much content you would like me to add to your site will effect the price. For all of my clients that hire us for custom sites we throw in a couple hours of free training time so that you can add your own content if you would like to.


For typical websites we start, a lot of the time with a blank photoshop file and design out websites from scratch. From there we find a template built on what we have established to work best for that client (WordPress, Squarespace, Big Commerece etc). We use templates simply as a starting point, strip it and rebuild it according to our custom design. The template is a solid base to start from and is standard practice in building most relatively basic custom sites (why reinvent the wheel?!). Many hours can go into the development to customize a template completely. Another game changer is screen responsiveness, meaning the website morphs to fit into many various screens. If a template has this, stock it is helpful, but once you start customizing a website the templates responsiveness ends up breaking. The result is more design and development work.


Before any design we start from the ground up, similarly as we would with a logo project, looking at competition and other sites as examples of what’s working and what’s not.

Debugging & Browser Testing: It is completely necessary to test the site on multiple browsers to make sure that they all look presentable. Most people do not realize this and just how necessary it is to test and debug on different browsers and machines.

Sample project hours examples

The example hours below are just to give you an idea of how long a project might take to design and develop.

Hypothetical EXAMPLE ONE:

  • Budget is 4-6k
  • RESEARCH: 3hr
  • LAYOUT: 5hr
  • DESIGN: 16hr

TOTAL: 68 hours

What a person might get with this amount of time could be the following:
A site that is designed out very professionally way beyond a template, multiple design layouts for different sections, custom functionalities throughout and a moderate amount of content added as well as training to use the site.

Hypothetical EXAMPLE TWO:

  • Budget is 1,500
  • RESEARCH: 0hr
  • LAYOUT: 0hr
  • DESIGN: 5hr

TOTAL: 19 hours

What a person might get with this amount of time could be the following:
A template that has minor customizations following more of the template layout so that it will not break as much on mobile or other browsers. Functionalities but only ones that are already a part of the content management system and or template and a small amount of content added to establish the design and layout as well as training to use the site.

How can we get on the same page?

Coming up with cost estimates for websites is definitely not a straightforward task. We need to know your budget, functionalities and how much content we will need to add. The more information the easier it is to estimate accurately. Experienced designers are usually fairly accurate in gauging how long a project might take, but they should be somewhat flexible. After an initial estimate and rough line-items are established it is common and completely healthy to have a little bit of back and forth, tweaking line-items and coming to a finalized agreement so that you are all on the same page.

As designers I feel like it’s our duty to teach our communities and prospective clients what processes are taken to build a professional website and design so that they understand why it costs what it does. We need to teach people that design is not particularly about “pretty” but useful, usable and extends a positive identity which will feed into  and promote their brand positively.

Designers all have their sweet spot on how much time they feel they need for the typical project. Like mine, as I mentioned in the beginning, 2,000 dollars and up. Although I will work with projects lower than this if I feel that I can still do a good job, even with less time, like example two, above. So from the start it is ideal to know your budget and not treat negotiations like you are buying a car withholding this information to try to get the “better deal”.


Return on investment?

For us and other service based companies time = money, so if you end up getting a “great deal” you are probably getting an inferior product and the big question is if that money you saved will out-weigh the long term effects of a more professional website. On the fence? I would love to discuss it with you and give you my opinion, and there will be no pressure, I am a service provider not a salesman 🙂

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