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The Real Cost of Building a Website

Written by Sam Bishop | October 6th, 2011 | Business, Web Design, Web Development | Comments

Sand timer over dollarsMany people ask how much it costs to build a website and unfortunately there is no simple, quick answer.  It depends on a variety of things including, but not limited to; how many pages, layouts, complexity of features, and a  lot more which will be for another post.

What I will do is briefly outline the steps from the initial meeting through a full launch from one of our previous projects that is simply a brochure site for a small business.  I will outline the hours as well to give you an idea of the man hours involved.

Initial Meetings & Communication (Proposals/Agreements)

The initial meeting can take place over the phone but is preferably done in person.  It is mainly a question and answer to understand the client’s needs and goals of the site.  We have a basic set of questions that help steer the discussion but this is mainly a time for listening and note-taking on our part.  This research and discovery phase is necessary to come up with an accurate project quote as well.  This formal quote is then prepared in a project agreement, eventually signed by both parties, that outlines the project scope, deliverables, timelines, etc. – 3.5 hours (including travel time and document preparation)


Once we have done the necessary research and discovery in the in initial meetings, we can move to the fun stuff.  The creative process can vary in terms of time and actual steps.  We have done everything from mood boards through to working prototypes and everything in between.  Check out a brief overview of our design process.  Each project calls for different steps.  This project required wireframes and mockups before it was ready for coding. – 3 hours

Ongoing Communication with the Client

This is the communication that is often forgotten.  Throughout each step of the creative process we try to keep the client involved and get feedback when necessary.  This usually involves a number of emails, phone calls, and even more meetings.  This particular project moved swiftly with 2-3 emails a week from each party as well as a call or two. – 2.5 hours

Team Communication

A project manager needs constant communication with team members.  We have to properly pass down all project information from the client to our designer and developer.  Each team member needs different pieces of information and questions are relayed back to the client before moving on with critical pieces at times.  This is also where the project manager can help guide the creative process in terms of wireframes and mockups as well in the case of the designer moving slightly away from the project requirements.  The project manager reviews every piece of the project that client, as well as any end-user, sees. – 5.5 hours

Development & Testing

This process is fairly self-explanatory.  For this project it was just a matter of coding the front-end with HTML, CSS, andJavascript without any need for a database.  We did have some simple integration with third-party services (Google Maps and Mailchimp) but both are very simple to integrate with.  We first built out the home page and tested in Firefox and Chrome.  We also did initial tests for Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8, and 9 at this point to make sure nothing was broken to the point of the site not being usable.  After the initial testing is done, the remaining pages are coded and then tested again in all the browsers to make sure everything still works as it should.   – 6 hours

Launch (including any quick post launch fixes)

Check out our launch process post to read exactly what we do on launch but this is usually the easiest part of the project.  It’s usually just a matter of moving files from the testing server over to the live server, which is exactly what happened in this case.  This doesn’t mean it’s always a cakewalk.  There have been times where the live servers were not configured properly where it took days to get a site up and running.  This is an odd case but we didn’t have the necessary server information until near launch. – 1.5 hours

Total Man Hours: 21.5 hours

So as you can see there are a few hours that go into the building of a fairly straight forward brochure website.  These were basically top-level views of each process as each one could have a post on itself, and maybe that’s what I’ll do in the future!  Now depending on the size of the agency (freelancer to large web agency) the hourly cost can vary and will sometimes be a fixed price.  Freelancers can afford to charge much less than a large agency since there is little to no overhead.  Large agencies have employees, benefits, and other office expenses.  That’s why the difference from a large agency can be up to 10x more expensive than a freelancer.  When billing hourly, I’ve seen beginning freelancers charge as little as $10-20/hour (here in the US), rockstar freelancers charge up to $100/hour (these guys are known in the industry and get pulled in as consultants on big contracts), and large agencies charge up to $150/hour (and sometimes more) depending on the type of work.

So based on our man hours above we have the following

Beginner Freelancer @ $20/hour – $430 
Rockstar Freelancer @ $100/hour – $2,150
Large Agency @ $150/hour – $3,225

Most agencies (and rockstar freelancers) will have fixed project costs and different steps but this is just one way to look at the breakdown of time and cost.  Keep in mind that these are only numbers that I’ve seen previously in my experience over the last 7 years or so…mileage may vary.

Hopefully this sheds some light on where all the time and money goes into a web project.  While this list might not be all-inclusive, it’s a great starting point in understanding a fairly straightforward web project.

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