Spoiler Alert: The Price of a Website is Shocking

Author: Ben B. Ben B | 3/11/15

I  have an interesting power as a web developer, with mere words, I can give people a horrifying condition called sticker shock. If you’ve never felt it, imagine a mix of the feeling that someone is trying to steal your money and the feeling of disappointment when a solution to all your problems exists but you can’t get it.

Truth is, most people have no idea what a website really costs. They’ve heard stories of the wonders and affordability of hiring developers in distant lands OR they’ve seen the tech giants give away amazing technology for free and they think this stuff must come easy. I know because I was once a like them.

A question I often get is, “how much would it cost to build a site like [insert the name of a famous tech company]?”

When asked this, I realize that people usually aren’t thinking about the fact that these tech unicorns are created using hundreds or thousands of very pricey software engineers over long periods of time for millions of dollars.

I’ll admit that even the least tech savvy among us intuitively understand that technology is scaleable, you code it once and then benefit an infinite number of times at very little additional cost. That said, the “coding it once,” usually comes at a high cost. Why?

Technology isn’t cheap because the value it provides is enormous. This will always be true.

So, pretty much every time I get the question above, I hesitatingly use my shocking power. Unfortunately, it sometimes ends the conversation, but that is what it takes to have happy clients in the long run.

They usually have someone else build the site for cheap and then come back to me in 6 months to fix it. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. One thing is sure at that point, the client is in crisis mode, they’ve lost lots of business, they’ve wasted money on development, and it is a much less pleasant experience for the both of us.

Cost of a Website

cost

In an attempt to reduce the sticker shock of my future clients, I’ve included some numbers below. The following estimates aren’t meant to include outlier developers; you know, the shops/freelancers that price themselves far above/below the general market for one reason or another. Typically, outlier developers have a very unique niche OR they are about to go out of business.

Here is a table of site developers (Dev Shop, Freelancer, etc.) and the types of sites I typically see (marketing, eCommerce, mobile, etc.). Keep in mind, prices vary widely depending on (1) the number of templates, (2) the types and complexity of custom functionality, and (3) the technology you choose, but these should give you a good idea.

Projects Dev Shop Freelancer Overseas Beginner
Simple templated marketing site with little customization: N/A $1.5k $.7k $.5k
Custom marketing site with multiple pages and some custom business logic: $20k $10k $5k $2.5k
eCommerce site with some custom business logic: $25k $12.5k $6.25k $3k
Custom website or web application (no cms*): $60k $30k $15k N/A
Custom mobile app: $50k $25k $50 N/A
Per hour (recommended): $2000-$80 $120-$25 $60-$20 $50-$25

*cms stands for content management system like WordPress, Shopify, etc.

If you’re looking to get a more accurate estimate, feel free to reach out, we have a quick way of estimating projects that turns out to be really accurate, but estimates become much easier and more accurate after the plan and designs are fully flushed out.

From an hourly perspective, you’d pay higher in the range if the developer specializes in the technology you’re working with and less if they’re willing to learn it. You’ll also pay a higher rate for more experienced developers because an efficient developer at a high rate can often outperform a slow developer at a low rate. Let me repeat this in a different way, you can’t compare developers based on rate, you have to compare output to rate.

So, who should you choose? I can’t answer that for you, but I can share some thoughts that may help you decide.

Dev Shop (or Agencies)

freelance

Although I’m not an expert on agencies, I did work for an agency for 2 years and while there I also worked for several other agencies. They are definitely the most expensive solution, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t right for your project.

Some of the increased price is due to overhead  and some is a premium you pay for strategy, experience, and speed.

Shops often do great work. The code you get is usually well written and eloquent and you can bet they won’t start on your project and then just disappear a month later. They also offer a cohesive team, all focusing on your project, which can reduce some of the risk of launching a new technology.

The only real downside to working with a shop, besides price, is they’re less invested in your project. The developers see hundreds of sites like yours a year and the minute your project is done they move onto the next.

A lot of people ask me if Buink falls into this category. We do call ourselves a dev shop, but our business model makes us more like a group of freelancers.

Freelancers/Independent Consultant

freelancer

An established freelancer with a good portfolio and a work history will offer many of the same benefits that a shop will. The difference in price is because they typically have very little overhead and are not necessarily profit driven.

A good example of having less overhead is the fact that freelancers typically don’t have project managers as middle man. They talk directly with the client which saves time and reduces communication gaps. In other words, the client doesn’t have to pay for the project manager to learn what they need, then pay the project manager to communicate that to the developer.

Freelancers are also more invested in your project. You’re not just one of the many clients, you’re one of the few. Through time, they become invested in your business and have more personal incentive to do good work.

Hiring a freelancer may not be all kittens and memes, however, there can be some downside. Freelancers typically have less bandwidth than a shop and it may take longer get to market.

Also, freelancers generally have less credibility than a shop. Sometimes they’ll take on work they can’t complete and they may just disappear on you if they don’t like the project. Make sure to get good contact information for them just in case you run into a problem down the road.

As I mentioned above, we consider ourselves at Buink more like a freelancer than a dev shop, really we’re a hybrid that overcomes some of the issues of both.

Read more of the benefits of working with contractors/freelancers.

Overseas

offshore

Hiring an overseas developer is one of the cheaper options. The price is an obvious plus and if you can find the right developer, you may have no problems at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t my story or the story you often hear.

In 2011, I outsourced the initial development of one of my startups. At the time, I didn’t think I had the experience to build it myself and I didn’t have the time.

I contacted some local dev shops that all quoted the project at ~$25k.

I experienced a little sticker shock myself.

My budget was significantly less than that, so I found a company that worked with developers overseas and they quoted me $5k. The site took forever and ended up costing $10k. Looking back, I’m not surprised. Tech often takes longer and costs more than the original estimate whether you use overseas developers or those near home.

When I finally got access to the code base, I had more shock than just sticker. The site didn’t meet my specifications, it had ton’s of security flaws, and it had misspellings in functions and variables names that were very difficult to correct. In addition, it was very difficult to communicate with them. In short, I got what I paid for. If I had more capital and time, I would have re-written it from scratch, but I just had to go forward with it.

This is a huge reason to decide early how much you want to invest in your website. If you decide to go with cheaper options thinking that your website isn’t a big part of your strategy, you may have to totally re-write your site if that changes.

I have friends who swear by working with developers overseas but, in my experience, they are the exception rather than the rule. Also, checkout this article I wrote about the pros and cons of offshore development and what you can do about them.

Beginners

Everyone starts somewhere. If you find a diamond in the rough, you may want to invest in the person long term. They’ll start out slow and their code won’t be great, but it will probably work as long as you don’t start growing gangbusters.

Do-It-Yourself-ers

You may have noticed that I didn’t include the cheapest way to build a website in my table above, building it yourself. Technology to help you do this will typically cost you under $200 and a lot of your own time.

I was once in this group myself. I built my first website with a builder (Web.com), my second website on an open-source platform (Magento), and I currently own an eCommerce necktie site on Shopify. Today, there are some pretty credible platforms that help you build a decent site with no knowledge of code: Shopify, Bigcommerce, WordPress.com, ect.

These sites are great for getting started, but if you want to keep growing, your customers are going to expect a more professional, custom looking web presence.

In Conclusion

The price of a website is usually shocking. There are different options, but they all come with trade-offs.

I had a conversation last night with a good friend and very successful business man (I think he’ll be a billionaire some day, seriously). He told me how he worked for years with a freelancer at $70 an hour. He was happy with the work but then brought in a more experienced freelancer at $120 an hour. He found that the more experienced freelancer could do the same work 3 times faster and deliver better code. Turns out the more expensive developer ended up being cheaper.

Hope you enjoyed the read! May the price of your next website be a little less shocking.

About The Author

Ben currently works as a senior developer and technical business consultant outside of Boulder, Colorado.

More about this author

About Buink

Buink Web Development is a development shop founded in 2009 by Ben Buie. For years, Ben built and modified web assets for clients in Utah. In 2011, he moved the company to Colorado and in 2015 he started taking on new clients full-time.

Buink’s Core Values:

  • Cost effective technology (with business strategy in mind)
  • Eloquent, maintainable code
  • Responsive and transparent communication

Read more about Buink

Seth Lofgreen
Seth L.
21:36 29 Jun 19
Ben and team are incredible to work with. They are reliable and proficient. I'd highly recommend hiring them for web development work. SethVOLTAGE
Craig Adams
Craig A.
20:50 18 Jun 19
It was a pleasure to work with Ben and his team. It is rare to find such attention to high standards of coding and devops.
Lexi Steele
Lexi S.
15:36 18 Jun 19
Grateful to have Ben and his team as such a capable, reliable partner for completing client work!
Tom Showalter
Tom S.
13:18 14 Jun 19
I reached out to Buink after finding Ben’s name in a local developer/consultant listing in 2017, and I have to say, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with Buink. Ben consistently understands not just the development task laid in front of him but the business application behind the task. I’ve never felt more comfortable with a development team than I do with Buink. I truly feel Ben and his team are integral partners in the success of my business.read more
Craig Scribner
Craig S.
22:01 13 Jun 19
Buink saved my company's bacon at a very critical moment during my company's evolution. With almost no warning we had found ourselves stranded without any dev support, even though we had hundreds of users from big brands every day logging into our application and relying on things to keep working. We couldn't afford to have system failures, and I was amazed at—and will be forever grateful for—the way the Buink team stepped in and calmly assumed control of the craft. We and our clients were safe in their expert hands from that moment forward. I whole-heartedly recommend the quality of their work and the dedicated and ethical leadership they continually provide.read more
Marilyn Ference
Marilyn F.
22:47 13 May 19
I could not recommend Buink Web Development more highly. Ben and his team have recently developed a budgeting app for me (both web and IOS). I have had the opportunity of working with them for over a year and I am extremely happy with the results. I would say that the biggest plus for me is that I trust Ben completely. From the very first, Ben has helped me make decisions that were in the best interest of my company. I have never felt like he is taking advantage of me. Ben does his best to keep the whole process very open and upfront. I have really appreciated that.I tell people all the time that I love my developers. And I do. I'm very happy that I chose to use Buink to develop my apps. It was the best business decision I could have made.If you are looking for someone to develop a website or app, I strongly suggest choosing Buink Web Development. They are fantastic!Marilyn Ference, President, Defend Your Money, LLCread more
James Landon Buie
James Landon B.
01:33 28 Aug 18
Great company to help with all your web design needs!
Next Reviews

Connect with Buink

Connect with Buink via email, send us a message, or subscribe to our blog.