The real cost and value of a small business website

Rich Walton

a hand holding cash like a fan of cards next to a computer monitor

The cost of a small business website depends on a lot of factors, but to really simplify it a website can run anywhere between $100 to $120,000(sometimes even more!).

Wow, you might say, why such a big price range? Because you’re not paying for a static object, you are paying for a dynamic tool, a machine that produces a range of value. It’s all about what the website can deliver.

The $100 website sits quietly all alone not doing much more than occupying space on a server. While on the other hand that $120,000 site generates OVER that amount and probably well over.

So pay very little and get little or next to nothing. You get what you pay for.

First, ask yourself what do I want or expect to get from my website? Most small businesses don’t know the why, because they are not sure what their site will be able to do for them.

You buy a car to get you from one location to another. Simple right?

But maybe you need a pickup truck to haul things, or perhaps you need an economy car to save on gas? It could be that you might want to impress customers or a love interest?

You will be spending many thousands of dollars so you should know what kind of vehicle and why, shouldn’t you? It’s the same with a website.

Most of the time we understand the whys when buying a vehicle, but not so clear when owning or planning to build a website.

You need to know why, before you consider how much it should cost.

I address this in more detail in another post about why I think almost every business needs a website, but what it comes down to is your site needs to be a value producer and not just a space occupier.

Every business will have a different definition of what value they need and here are some things a website can do for you.

Bring respect or legitimacy, Communicate with your clients, Deliver products or services, create a community around your brand, Bring you cold leads and warm them up till they get hot, Collect information like emails or user preferences, and the list could go on.

You shouldn’t let your business fail or make bad decisions because you don’t understand the value of your website and therefore you haven’t set it up to produce that value.

In simple terms, a website is just a glowing rectangle filled with colorful pixels.

That’s not worth much by itself, but the value it can deliver or the things it does for your business is where the cost is determined. Let’s start with three different ways to build a website and what it will cost in each.

Hammer on a wood table with lots of bent nails overlay of a frustrated man

1. Doing the work by yourself or DIY.

Cost: Free to $600.

You will find ads all over the Internet and Television telling you how easy it is to build a website. You can have your business online in a matter of minutes, Presto!

Well, it’s true, mostly? Remember the glowing rectangle I mentioned? You’re probably not going to get much more than that.

Those companies are selling you a dream. All you have to do is push a few buttons and BAM your online! It’s just a matter of minutes, maybe a few hours, and the money starts coming in!
That’s the fantasy that gets you to buy. You get sold big possibilities for minimal effort.

What they are honestly selling you beyond a dream is a domain name, hosting, and lots and lots of upsells that you will probably never need or use in your DIY site.

Oh, and by the way, all of this needs renewal each year! They are looking for quantity of customers over the quality of the product delivered.

Your business should look for quality that brings in a quantity of value!

It’s a little like most big box gym memberships. They depend on signing up lots of members but expect most not to show up frequently and eventually quit, but continue to pay.

Their business model depends on it. That’s why the big gyms can offer incredibly cheap memberships and hosting companies can offer super cheap domains and hosting. Quantity, not quality.

So the costs for DIY could be free for a year but will usually be around $100 to 600 depending on a lot of factors like; Different kinds of hosting, Domain Name, Free SSL or paid, Free web builder or CMS, Themes or Plugins, stock photos, etc.

Some of these will bill as a one-time price, and some are yearly with price breaks if you pay multiple years upfront.

These costs don’t include the most substantial and expensive cost of all. Your Time! (and frustration, how do cost that out?)

You don’t have training in UX/UI design techniques that go well beyond just looking good. Do you have experience in how themes and plugins work?

What about server issues or picking the right domain name. What things do you need to know to make all this work for your business web presence? Let alone produce value for your business.

Most likely you will spend many of your valuable hours trying to get what you think you want, only to be frustrated and have to go pay to learn something or try to figure out what to search for to get the right answers.

Doing it yourself you could make the wrong decisions, and your business will suffer or go nowhere. Then if you eventually figure it out. What next?

Do you understand SEO and SEM? PPC? A/B testing, etc. If you want to do these things for a living, then you will need to go and learn them. Otherwise, focus on what you already know and love doing.

Once it’s all up and a few months go by, and you decide you need to change or do something. Will you remember how you did it?

More than likely you will spend more time going back and relearning what you forgot? At this point, we often get phone calls asking for help. You’ve reached the breaking point, but now you’re going to have to pay someone else to untie your knots. How Free or cheap is it now?

Running a small business is not easy, and it takes a lot of hard work to make it successful. You should be all about your business and bringing value to your clients or customers.

two very little kids trying to be adult pretending to type on a computer

2. A nonprofessional builds your site like a friend or relative.

Cost: $300 to $1500.

Using cool free help to build a source of revenue for your business is not a wise idea.

A better option than DIY because now you’re saving your valuable time. A cost we haven’t calculated yet.

At this point a friend or relative can get tricky because, yes this person will likely know more than you but this saves him time only, and depending on what he charges you, all the other costs still apply.

Now, this is when it starts to break down. What if this person gets stuck, or gets distracted? Maybe the work gets done but will it deliver actual value?

What if something breaks will he or she know how to repair it, or will this person even be interested in fixing it because they are getting paid nothing or very little?

Getting a nonprofessional might turn out ok, but it could also be a disaster!

Do you feel lucky, roll the dice, and see? The only difference in price from doing it yourself is what will he or she charge?

Another hidden cost could be if you take this gamble and lose, what is the cost to fix it?

a team of professionals looking at a website on a laptop

3. Someone else builds your site: hiring a professional.

Cost: $1500 to $60,000 and up.

There are two options here. Going with an Agency or a Freelance designer/developer. Both of these choices are preferred, and the cost to value ratio goes way up!

Professionals are just like you!
They are running a business doing what they love, and they value your and their time and money.

If they are like me, they get as much or more pleasure seeing your business succeed than they do with just earning an income. It is in the professional’s best interest to be invested in your success!

The individual or their team has spent lots of money and many years learning and putting into practice their craft.

Because the web is ever-evolving they have had to relearn, adapt, refocus and change to the different standards and technologies.

They are well-positioned to know and have the experience of what works and what doesn’t. Years of trial and error.

Their business depends on always attempting to over-deliver because they know your satisfaction is dependent on long-term results.

Remember quality over quantity? A professional prefers Quality. That means fewer clients that are happily getting ongoing value from their web presence than having many one-off short-term clients.

They are looking out for your business’s long-term success because they know when you want to change, adapt to new technology or make more money from your site they will be there to help deliver it to you.

Hiring a professional: Agencies

Agencies usually start out as freelancers but decided to expand by hiring a team that generally works out of a physical office.

They are often divided up into skill sets; a designer who only designs, a developer who just writes code, a salesperson, a copywriter, a social media specialist, a secretary.

Agencies give you lots of expertise because of specialization, but it makes their cost to deliver go up. If they have a convenient office and pay their employees a salary, cost go up some more.

Agencies will charge a higher price because they have to pay more for their expenses.

Many agencies won’t do anything for under 10,000 some even start their pricing at 20,000.

Many small businesses will find that beyond their budget. But a great agency will deliver a significant ROI.

Many professionals including freelancers will offer payments or financing to help defray costs.

Hiring a Professional: Freelancer

So let’s talk about a freelancer because that’s what I am.

A Freelancer is an actual small business owner.
He will often do many or all of the different parts of the job depending on his skill set, however, if he doesn’t have the time or deep enough skills for a task he will hire another freelancer who has that specialized skill.

He will only hire the additional freelancers if he needs them. Whereas the agency keeps the employee on staff for any job that comes in.

Because of this freelancers tend to be on the lower end of the professional spectrum.

  • New freelancers will usually start at over a thousand dollars usually not below $1200.
  • More experienced freelancers start around $1500 to $2500 depending on if it’s a redesign or a new website.
  • Most charge for a complete site between $ 2500 to $8000.

I Would be suspicious of anyone charging less than $1000 unless there were other factors like maybe helping a nonprofit or something else?

Some of the reasons the prices are higher at the upper end of the professional category are maintenance plans and ongoing marketing packages.

Any decent professional should offer it, or at least refer/recommend that work to somebody else.

A good professional should spend a lot of time doing discovery work before building anything. Discovery is where the real value starts!

Getting to know your business, your clients or customers, and your true value proposition. As a freelancer working with small businesses, I find it helpful to offer a road mapping session before I’m hired to build anything.

It’s a session usually lasting for up to a couple of hours. After this session, I do some more research and give them a detailed report of what we discovered and the options to proceed forward.

You get a lot of clarity, a guide or roadmap, options to take now and into the future. A tremendous value for a fraction of the price of a project.

Whether they choose to hire me or not they walk away with a better understanding of their business, customers, and a roadmap toward higher value and success.

I get paid for my time, and the business owner receives a critical and essential first step without a long-term commitment. Plus if they do hire me, I deduct this payment out of the project.

In this article, I’ve tried to focus not just on price, but the real costs and some of the reasons behind those fees.

Most small businesses working with a professional and getting great value will usually pay between $2,500 to $30,000.

Yearly ongoing costs.

After the first year, the cost per year could be $200 to $4,000 a month or $2,400 to $48,000 total for the year.

To keep this in perspective a year of physical commercial rent for a small business could average about between 35,000 to 40,000 per year, and that doesn’t include utilities, hiring and employing staff as well as signs and advertising.

So to finish off.

You can see there are a lot of reasons for a wide range of prices.

Going with a professional will save money and time not to mention a lot less frustration in the long run.

You can do that because you focus on seeing the true value of a web presence that is well researched, designed, and built by professionals.

If you want serious results you need to take your business online seriously! You should treat a web presence as a living thing. At the very least it’s an asset, just like an employee.

If she is well trained and given a plan and resources, that employee will generate a lot more money than the amount you paid to employ her.

So in the end you need to value your web presence and treat it as an asset, not just a cost.

My name is Rich and I’m the Owner of Big Sun Design. I bring a passionate desire to help small business owners, like coaches and consultants figure out how they can get the most out of their web presence and be successful online. If you would like any help with the things mentioned above or any website-related info, contact me.

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