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How Much Should a Web Design Cost

Budgeting for a Professional Design for a Small Business Website

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It can be exciting to get started on a new business, and in a lot of ways, the web has made it easy to get a new business website off the ground quickly and with very little cash. Here is a common scenario for small business owners (all prices are estimates):

  1. I’ve got a great idea for a website, and the perfect domain name for it is available! ($10)
  2. I’ll get a decent web hosting package, with a good price. ($150 for two years of hosting, pre-paid)
  3. I’m going to use WordPress, and this theme is perfect. ($40)

At first glance this looks great, $200 to start a business! And you don’t even need a designer. And for many businesses, this will be fine at first.

But once you get past the initial stages of a business, you will notice that the theme you bought isn’t doing all that you want it to do. Many technical people will start looking at plugins to try and get it running the way they want, but ultimately, their site is going to look and act like every other commerically themed WordPress site out there. And to differentiate your site, you’re going to need more.

You’re going to need a killer design and possibly some web development work on top of it. And all this is going to cost you money.

What to Pay For

The first thing you need to know when trying to budget web design costs is what you’re going to need. There are a number of things that can cost you money, including:

  • Is this a new site or a redesign?
  • Do you need blog or content management functionality?
  • Do you have graphics already created for the site? Or are you using a template? Or do you need completely custom images created?
  • How are you planning on servicing mobile customers?
  • Do you need multimedia (Flash, video, etc.) on the site?
  • How much content do you have and how much do you need created?
  • Do you need other special features like social media, SEO, ecommerce, or something else?
  • And who is going to maintain the site?

Below I will go into details about all these things, and a general idea of how much you should budget for them. The prices I list are based on my experience and prices may be higher or lower in your area. Be sure to shop around and request proposals from any designer or firm you’re thinking of hiring.

New Sites Often Cost More Than Redesigns

When you’re starting from scratch, so is the web designer. They have nothing to work from, they can’t look at your site and get an idea of what you already love or hate. They advantage to starting from scratch is that you can work more closely with the designer to get the exact site that you want (for your budget). But you should assume that you’re going to pay at least an additional $100 more than if you were redesigning an existing website.

For your budget, you should include at least $500 as a base cost for building a site from scratch, and $200 if you’re looking at a redesign.

Blogs and Content Management Tools

If you’re already running a WordPress site then you have the advantage of already having some type of content management on your site, but these tools (including WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal) have their own challenges. Creating a site using these tools takes more time than building a site from scratch using HTML and CSS because you have to integrate the designs into the CMS systems. (Decide if you need these tools: Dreamweaver vs. Drupal vs. WordPress - Which is Best to Use)

And don’t assume that if you already have a WordPress theme it should be cheaper. Many themes are sold as-is and designers are not licensed to change them. Often, the cost of purchasing a theme that can be modified is as expensive as just building a new theme from scratch.

Your budget should include another $200 if you want a blog or CMS. Include this in your budget even if you already have the system running. If you don’t have it running, you should plan to include another $200 to get it installed and running.

Graphics

Graphics are tricky because they can be difficult to create and stock images are expensive. You don’t want to skimp on this area of your site, however as graphics can cause you more grief down the road if you’re not careful.

If you supply all of the images, you will still need to budget some funds to get those images integrated into the new design (budget at least $200). And don’t assume that if you’ve already got a template you want to use that you won’t need any images re-done. Customizing templates can take time, and you want to be sure that the designer has the rights to customize the images in the template. If this is the route you go, you should budget $400. And if you’re looking for the design firm to create an entirely new design and images for you, either in a template or not, you should budget at least $1000.

But that’s not all there is regarding images. You will probably also need icons and buttons created to go with your design. Budget $300 for them. And any other custom images you need you should budget another $400. The more images that you need, the more money you should budget.

You should always make sure that your designer uses licensed stock images (where to find stock photos) or creates brand new graphics for your site. Be sure to get the license information in writing for any images you will use on your site. Otherwise, you could be looking at a several thousand dollar bill from a stock photo company down the road. If your designer is going to add stock photos, budget at least $100 per photo—and remember that this could be an annual fee.

Mobile Designs

Mobile devices are getting more and more common and your design should at least make a nod towards mobile customers. The best designs are responsive to the device viewing the page, but creating that type of design is difficult and will cost more than a simple site for a desktop web browser. The best sites are designed to handle at least three different device sizes: smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. You should budget $500 to get a responsive design, and expect to add on $100 per device size (such as tablet in landscape and portrait) beyond the basic three. (Mobile designs are different from desktop designs: Writing a Mobile Friendly Website)

Multimedia

Multimedia like Flash and video can be difficult to integrate with a website. And if you’re having the design firm create the multimedia devices the you should be prepared to pay more. You should budget $500 to get some basic Flash or video on the site and another $500 or more to create the multimedia.

Content Creation and Addtion

The cheapest way to go is to create all the content yourself and add it into the site yourself. Most designers have no problem delivering a design template that you populate for no additional cost. But if you want the design firm to add the content you’ve already got into the site, you should budget around $150 per page of typed content (more if they have to type it in) and $300 per page if you want them to create the content for you as well.

Special Features Always Cost Extra

With the above elements, you will have a website that most people would agree is sufficient, but there are a lot of extra features that many designers can provide that will up the price, but can also improve your business:

  • Site membership and registration $500
  • Forums or chat rooms $300
  • News feeds of both your content (outgoing) and adding content to the site (incoming) $400
  • Contact forms and surveys $300
  • Email addresses for the domain and auto-responders $300
  • Newsletters $400
  • Advertising integration (such as with AdSense) $200
  • Photo gallery $200
  • Ecommerce: shopping carts, catalogs, payment processing $500–$5000 or more
  • Metrics: custom reports, Google analytics, etc. $200–$2000
  • SEO: page optimization, submission to search engines, etc. $500–$4000
  • Social media: Twitter, FaceBook, etc. $500–$2000

And Don’t Forget Maintenance

Websites don’t just build themselves, and the best are changing all the time. Maintenance is something that most businesses forget to budget. Or if they remember, they think that they’ll just do it themselves. But the first time you delete your entire home page by mistake and lose 8 hours of sales trying to get it back up and running, you’ll wish you’d spent the extra money on a maintenance contract.

Maintenance contracts vary greatly depending upon what you expect from the firm. You should budget a minimum of $50 per month to have a designer on call if you have a problem that you can’t fix. And if you expect them to do additional work such as creating new images, adding new content, maintaining social media or newsletters, etc. expect the price to go up. Many designers dislike doing site maintenance, so it can sometimes be hard to find a firm that will do it for you.

So, How Much Does it All Cost?

Features Basic Site Some Extras Full Site
Base site costs $500 $500 $700
Content Management or Blog $200 $200 $700
Basic graphics $200 $400 $1000
Additional graphics $300 $300 $400
Total: $1200 $1400 $2800

Adding in addtional features increases the price.

Features Basic Site Some Extras Full Site
Mobile $0 $500 $700 (two extra devices)
Multimedia $0 $500 $1000
Content $0 $750 (adding 5 pages) $1500 (creating 5 pages)
Extras $0 $500 $5000 (or more)
Maintenance $0 $50 per month $500 per month
Total: $0 $1800 ($50 monthly) $9200 ($500 monthly)

So, for a minimal site you can spend as little as $1200 or as much as $20,000 or more. What you budget should be based on what your business needs, but this article should give you a good starting point.

Remember, all these prices are approximate and based on prices in my area, and web design prices fluxuate all the time. You may spend more or less depending upon the size and scope of the design firm you hire or if you decide to outsource or offshore the development and design work.

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