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Business Building: How Much does a Website Cost?

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by monicadear

Through my company, I've been working as a web developer since 2004, and I've been coding websites since my first one in 1999, so here are some perspectives on that ongoing question: how much does a website should cost? If we consider the following assumptions:

1) you do not have a brick-and-mortar presence

2) you require your website to do most business processes for you (e.g., accept reservations, accept deposit payments, provide downloadable or web-based forms, share information & links, offer members-only access to documents, etc.)

3) you are open to using open source content management tools

4) you have a fixed budget and you need to make the most of your budget

5) you are not a bare-bones startup (please see my article on setting up a website for $150 for that)

then here are my best recommendations on breaking down the price you'll pay for a complex, highly functional, effective website that contributes to your business success.

Tip 1) Focus on quality content

A good series of pages, articles, white papers, downloadable files, events, and information related to your core audience is essential: we recommend you spend less than 20% of your budget on design and the rest on getting your "content" into a format that makes it accessible to everyone else on the web.

Consider all the different platforms people use to access your content (mobile, web browser, handheld devices). Think about being geo-specific and increasing your ability to serve clients in their own communities. Search engines do not crawl for good design: they crawl for well-writen, concise, clear content. Put your initial website efforts into developing multiple content pages for your website.

Tip 2) Use open source tools

There are a number of free, easy-to-download tools such as,, and that allow you great ability to edit pages and posts. Use these tools and the many free modules contributed by the developer community for each of these tools.

Many existing hosting companies offer one-click installation of the most commonly-used tools.

I am committed to Drupal and have found the ease of installation and the flexibility to be powerful: a Drupal site tips the balance of power to your organization in terms of search engine optimization, content production, and configuration.

Any good Content Management System (CMS) will allow you access to the most important parts of your website: the ability for you to make your own updates and edits to pages, posts, links, files, and photos.

Tip 3) Find a good theme

A wide variety of themes are available for you when installing your website. Themes may be free or paid: do a search on "themes" when researching your favorite content management system. For example:

It is helpful for you and your team to review 5-7 other sites you like the look-and-feel of and use those samples as a base in identifying what type of theme you'd like to use for your own website.

Become familiar with concepts such as color, typography, layout, font choice, and overall style --- your web developer will give you some options within these guidelines.

Tip 4) Understand your desired functionality

A functional specifications list allows you to understand what you want the website to accomplish and also gives your web developer clues into what type of site you need to build and how complex you need it to be.

For example, a straight HTML brochure-type website is very different from a marketplace site with multiple items for sale. An introductory webpage is very different from a full-fledged member directory website. A portfolio website is very different from a social networking website. A blog can be an excellent add-on to a corporate or informational website.

When you understand, in great detail, what you require, it is easier to convert your ideas into a Request for Proposals.

I suggest you create a table with the following headings:

Description of Desired Functionality Suggested Solution Priority Notes

Tip 5) Understand user access and permissions

Many websites have the ability to offer members-only access to particular items. Some websites may have "pro" member and "basic" member access, depending on payment levels.

Consider what functions you'll allow to different levels of membership and draw a grid that identifies these different access levels. For example: perhaps "non-logged-in" public users may leave comments, but only logged-in members may create blog entries.

Contact Form Public Member Admin
Create calendar   Member Admin
RSVP to event Public Member Admin
Create page   Member Admin
Edit own page   Member Admin
Edit all pages     Admin
Invite a new user   Member Admin


Tip 6) Understand basic terminology

It helps if you and your web person talk about the same things. For example, we typically reference:

  • Menus (the tabs or links across the top, bottom, or sidebar of a website)
  • Modules or Functional Elements (the ability to extend basic functionality with additional code)
  • Users (the people who log in to use your site, including administrators)
  • Roles (the different roles that users may be assigned to)
  • Relationships (relationships, if any, that may be specified between users)
  • Permissions (what role can do what functional action)
  • Blocks (blocks of how information displays within all pages or specific pages)
  • Views (what Drupal uses to display information in a particular format: for example, how does a directory listing display?)

Tip 7) Create "priority levels"

Everyone wants to wave a magic wand and have a website that accomplishes tremendous amounts of functionality starting at launch, but the reality is that websites evolve over time in relation to customer and employee needs.

Assign "priority levels" to the functionality and content you need: this makes it easier for your web developer to understand what you want and to offer an option to do a "phased" approach to your website, with Priority A items coming online first and Priority B, C, D, and E items coming online at the 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month mark and beyond.

For example:

+ The ability to add, edit, and delete pages and update the calendar are Priority A items.

+ The ability to create detailed member profiles is a Priority B item.

+ The ability to assign a latitude and longitude via mapping software to users is a Priority C item.

Go down your list of functional specifications to identify your priority levels for each function.

Tip 8) Communicate

Building a website is similar to building a structure: the overall goals of the website must be decided, next the plan and blueprints must be created, then the construction and finalization is next.

When developing your list of needs for your website, communicate, as best as you can, what you want the website to do for you. This helps your chosen web developer come up with options to match your budget. It also helps you request bids from different developers and make sure the bids are referencing the same project outcomes.

Tip 9) Stay within your budget

Stay within your budget and focus on quality. Insist on the ability for you to make your own updates. What we've found is most business owners or startup groups will get started with a very basic website presence, but as the organization starts to grow and the business needs to generate more of a professional image and do more tasks via the web, it is time to upgrade to a more highly functional solution.


We allocate about the following:

~15% project management

~20% design

~40% coding, custom programming

~15% error checking, browser checking, quality control

~10% documentation + training


SAMPLE A: On a $1000 budget

$150 project management

$200 design & themeing

$400 coding, custom programming

$150 error checking, browser checking, quality control

$100 documentation + training


SAMPLE B: On a $5000 budget

$750 project management

$1000 design & themeing

$2000 coding, custom programming

$750 error checking, browser checking, quality control

$500 documentation + training


SAMPLE C: On a $10000 budget

$1500 project management

$2000 design & themeing

$4000 coding, custom programming

$1500 error checking, browser checking, quality control

$1000 documentation + training



Tip 10) Plan for the best, expect the best

I tell clients that every 1 hour spent planning results in two hours saved during construction. You want to be able to envision the site in as much detail as possible first, instead of waiting to the buildout to change things around.

The process of planning often takes the longest part of the website's development, because many loose ends need to be tied into one large document, including the answers to questions like:

  • who will update the pages?
  • how will we monetize the website?
  • who will be responsible for what content?
  • how can we accomplish X (fill in the blank)?

With a planning document that includes the actual text of pages, or the layout of member applications or other forms needed, you have much more ability to utilize your web developer's time to create a working website.

My last piece of advice: hire the best you can afford. Your web provider will find you options that you probably didn't know were available.

You'll end up saving yourself time and money by working with someone who is involved with web development on a daily basis, who plans to stay available as your web provider, and who keeps informed on trends and industry-wide standards.

Here's to your success!

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