As a web developer you get that question quite often. My usual answer: what should a car cost? As with most things in life it depends…
Back in the halcyon days of the early web, developers were free to pluck pretty much whatever crazy price occurred to them out of the air and present it to their clients.
These days – particularly at the entry level – pricing is becoming increasingly commodified and pressure is very much in the downward direction.
Working out how much you should be paying for a website remains a pain point for many small businesses though, as does finding someone reliable to build it for you in WordPress.
In this article we’ll tackle the question of how much a WordPress website should really cost, and what you need to know about pricing as a site owner to make sure you aren’t paying over the odds.
Let’s start with why you should pay someone to do this in the first place.
Why You Need a Developer
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to use the term “developer” throughout this article but you will probably be dealing with a hybrid designer/developer – or a small group of freelancers – if you are putting together a small site.
We’re also assuming that on a smaller project you won’t be dealing with agencies. There are some links to point you in the right direction in this regard towards the end of the piece.
The ease of installing and configuring a basic WordPress site these days might even lead many business owners to consider having a crack at doing the work themselves, particularly if they are coming from a technical background.
The question you have to ask yourself from the outset is – what is the most constructive use of your time?
Unless you’re in the happy position of having an existing, flawlessly set up business ticking away in the background and lots of time to kill, you’re probably better off hiring someone else to do this.
There are two obvious reasons why.
- Firstly, you’re getting an expert in to do a job that requires genuine expertise. WordPress is simple to use until it all of a sudden isn’t and – as with any other pieces of software – seemingly minor snags can easily mushroom into days of lost productivity if you’re not 100% sure what you’re doing.
- Secondly, employing an outsider frees up your time and mental space for properly planning and managing the overall build. It’s extremely taxing – even for those with a development background – to be both the project planner and the one responsible for its implementation. A clear separation of concerns significantly increases the chances of a satisfactory outcome.
We also advise, if you do decide to bite the bullet and hire externally, that you do yourself a favor and go for an actual professional.
The classic mistake first time site owners make is in hiring a “friend of a friend” who “knows about websites” or a family member looking to get into the game. Nine times out of ten, this is a recipe for disaster and bad blood all round.
Make sure you’re only considering full-time developers with a strong portfolio of existing client work from the outset.
Finding a Developer
After you’ve established that you’re prepared to actually pay someone to make your WordPress site for you, the next natural question is where to start looking for this person.
Before your search begins, save all future parties a lot of time and energy by taking your best shot at defining the actual scope of work to be done.
A good freelancer will obviously be happy to go through the requirements and help define the final scope of the project with you but it’s enormously helpful for all concerned to have some sort of starting point to kick things off.
Put together a sensible summary of your existing content and resources, start at least thinking about your budget and timeframes, clearly articulate the main problem the site should be solving, and list any special requirements.
With something committed to paper, you’re off to the races. Here are three general places you can productively start your search:
1. Word of Mouth Recommendations
Hiring friends or family may be a bad idea but looking for recommendations from your business peers is an excellent one. Put the word out to your network that you’re in the market for expert WordPress assistance and follow up on any leads you receive.
2. Other Sites in Your Space
Part of the prep work you should do before even looking for a developer will obviously involve reviewing competitor sites and those related to your field, to get a feel for the standards you’ll need to match in terms of content and presentation.
As you do this, make a note of any sites that particularly stand out for the excellence of their execution and see if a little googling can turn up who was responsible for putting them together.
3. Online Job Portals
Assuming you have your own organizational house in order and are dealing with an experienced service provider, there’s really very little reason you need to be in the same physical location as whoever is working on your site.
Elance and oDesk (recently merged under the Upwork moniker) have long been the first port of call for business owners looking for remote assistance. WordPress is a huge category on the jobs portal with thousands of providers bidding for work.
Chris Lema has a good overview on other generalist providers that’s worth a quick read to get you oriented.
A new breed of WordPress-specific job portals are also springing up these days. Sites such as WP Hired, Codeable, Envato Studio are all excellent resources. WooThemes Affiliated Woo Workers is also worth a browse.
What Goes into Putting Together a Site
Specific use cases such as standard brochure sites and small eCommerce sites are essentially solved design problems in 2015, and should be priced accordingly (we’ll get on to that in a minute).
However as a site owner for possibly the first time, you should be aware that there is a lot more to setting up a site than the end product you see on the page. The following elements will all be factored into a well thought out estimate:
- Initial project planning: All initial communication, quotations, mock-up designs etc.
- Site build and revision rounds: Ideally you want to avoid the perils of the Big Reveal and work iteratively with your developer through successive rounds of revisions including user and client testing.
- Hosting: Your site needs somewhere to live. And though the hosting costs themselves may be fairly minimal for most small sites, someone still has to do the heavy lifting in terms of getting them set up.
- Maintenance: You may or may not be quoted for ongoing maintenance, updates and minor fixes of the site. Clarify how this will be handled at the outset. Services such as WP Curve can provide an excellent low-cost, long-term solution for this problem.
How Developers Arrive At Their Rates
There are two basic ways you may be charged for work done in getting your WordPress site set up: hourly or by the project.
The subject of which to choose is a hotly debated one, but it’s worth noting two things about the prices you’ll see quoted:
- Pricing is ultimately arbitrary. There is no one true scale of rates that everyone agrees on or is bound by.
- Prices quoted have to factor in a considerable number of items above and beyond the specifics of the project.
So, with those points in mind, what are some typical numbers for WordPress work?
The last official large-scale survey of the WordPress developer community was performed in 2011 and publicized in 2012’s State of the Word review.
Siobhan McKeown provided a solid summary of the pricing takeaways at the time, with the median hourly rate being $50. Bear in mind, that figure covers a potentially massive range of different types of work.
In March of 2015, Brian Krogsgard put together an excellent outline of illustrative rates for site development in his piece How much should a custom WordPress website cost?
We’ve picked out the highlight rates below:
- Beginner freelancer: $25-$40 per hour
- Intermediate freelancer: $40-75 per hour
- Good, experienced freelancer: $75 – $125 per hour
- Excellent, in demand freelancer: $125 – $175 per hour
- Specialist, best in industry: $175 – $400 per hour
Based on personal experience and conversations with industry insiders, I’d say those rates are pretty representative.
As you can see, there’s a fairly hefty variance in terms of pricing. If you’re looking to hire Mark Jaquith, it’s going to cost you $350 an hour. If you’re hiring a relatively freshly-minted developer, $25 per hour would be much more normal.
As with most other things in life, you will get what you pay for, so looking for the cheapest bid is almost certainly not a great idea.
What a Typical Site Should Cost
Giving estimates for development work of any kind is a notoriously tricky business. You also have to bear in mind that there are a large variety of different types of sites that could be built.
Krogsgard breaks out an eminently sensible set of nine different options in his article, and it’s questionable whether there is even any such thing as a “typical site” these days.
All that said, there are two broad classes of sites whose creation tends to be relatively standardized and priced on an almost product level: business brochure sites and small eCommerce sites.
As far back as 2011, Chris Pearson was making a decent case for small brochure sites to be starting at the $1800 range. In 2015, Krogsgard pegs it at around the $3000 mark. Meanwhile, a range of package solutions are available online starting at around the $500 price point.
That spread from $500 to $3000 is the difference between something built entirely off the shelf using pre-built themes and minimum customization, and a solution tailored to your needs that might require significant design input.
For a professionally put together small brochure site that involves working closely with the developer, you should be expecting to pay north of $2000.
Solutions such as WooCommerce have significantly simplified the creation of eCommerce websites in WordPress but it remains a site category with a lot of potential pitfalls.
There may be complex product feeds to integrate, multi-language considerations and custom checkouts required. That’s before you get into any of the complexities of fulfilment or international shipping and tax rates.
WooCommerce’s own breakdown of the typical fixed costs involved comes in at a generous $89.40, but that’s conveniently assuming you perform all the work yourself and don’t count your time as an expense.
In an excellent post by Chris Lema on the difficulty of eCommerce website pricing he mentions one very useful rule of thumb:
Did you know that on average, of over 150 online retailers studied by Forrester, the cost of supporting their eCommerce systems was 7% of their online revenues.
Now there was a wide range, from 3% to 10%, but think about it. If a company generates $1 million from its eCommerce platform, it should expect to spend at least $30,000 in a year – to keep it well-tuned.
The good folks over at Commerce Gurus dove even further into the issue with a detailed breakdown of all the stages an eCommerce site can go through, and arrived at a minimum outlay of $10,000 to get the ball rolling.
Based on experience, that figure seems a touch high to me, but it’s by no means extortionate. Expect to be spending a minimum of $5,000 to get up and running in this department.
We hope the article has shed at least a little light on the subject of what you should be expecting to pay for your site. All sites are of course different and your mileage will vary, but start-up costs of $2000-$5000 are not unusual.
Bear in mind that the purpose of virtually any site is to become a significant profit center in its own right. It’s worth spending real money to get this essential part of your business right straight out of the gate.
We’re curious to hear of your own experience in this area. Think the figures quoted are way too high? Or should the starting points be even steeper for really top quality work? Share your opinion with us in the comments below.