What is a realistic website to build for $2000? Can a non-designer be the client-side web project manager?
December 6, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I owe an organization about $2000. We've discussed me paying this back by doing some work for them. The work they want is web design project management. Can you help me figure out a realistic plan?

In one of the stupider things I've done, I accepted an up-front payment from a tiny organization I was consulting for without a clear plan for what work I would do for that money (end of fiscal year, accounting simplicity for them). The work I was doing fairly quickly wrapped up, nothing new arose in my area of expertise (we've waited about 18 months thinking something would, and it hasn't), so now I owe them somewhere between $1500 and $2300 (I need to add up the hours to know the exact number). I could just repay them in cash, but I'd prefer not to of course, and the other option they've proposed is that I help them make a website.

Now, I don't know much about web design, but it might work. My day job involves project management and report writing, so I can think about scope and approval check-points, and I can ask questions about their audience and goal. I also understand the content they'd be trying to get across, so I could help them organize the content and write some of the copy. There are plenty of technical things I don't know, but I have found CSS templates and modified the CSS and the HTML to change the content and appearance and put that online, so I do know the basics. My cousin is finishing his undergrad in graphic design and has taken several web design/programming classes, and he is willing to work for free because he is looking for portfolio work. So, I can imagine myself serving as the go-between between them as the client and him as the designer.

I am not underestimating the project management issues that are going to arise here. I think it's easily $2000 worth of work. These clients know little about web pages and have expansive, ambitious, and free-flowing brainstorms about what a website could do and what could be on it. Also, this is a hobby for them. And my cousin is a student, so though he does great work, he doesn't have a set process that he uses with clients. For example, he was going to do a basic front page for them for one of his classes, and they weren't available to approve the design at 11 pm, but he had to start coding it anyway to turn it in the next day, and they didn't quite like it. So, I'll have to be the one to create a workable process, set deadlines, and check up about whether people have done what they said they'd do.

My plan, then, is to potentially be the project manager -- write a contract, set up check-in points where people sign off on things, help narrow the scope to something realistic, help them shoehorn their ideas into that scope, etc. I could also offer my cousin some financial incentives if we meet the deadlines.

My first question is: do you think this will work? I know that people do this professionally, so is it crazy to think that my background in writing paper-based reports and doing project management for other types of projects will translate over?

My second question is: what is realistic? Narrowing the scope seems like a very important step here. What is a realistic website to build for $1500-$2300? I want to be fair to them. If a website of that scope is beyond my ability to manage, I don't want to take this on. But I suspect the website we've been envisioning is one that a design firm would charge $30,000 to build. (And of course, making it would take us 10 times longer than it would take that design firm.)

All help, and all constructive cautions, are welcome. (There's no need to waste your time typing up an explanation of how dumb I am. I won't ever get myself into this situation again.)
posted by salvia to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you do, I would keep this AskMe question in mind. You need to make the upper limit of what you can do very clear.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2008

Best answer: Well, to start $2300 is less than a week's worth of work. Less than three eight hour days at $100/hr.

If you do one day for requirements, one day to document processes, you've got one to three days (at most) left. A day for an index page and site-wide look and feel templates and setup (supposing that any graphics and all content is already approved and redy), and you have a day or less for individual content pages. Depending on the complexity of individual pages, call that time for five purely flowing-content-into-the-template pages, or fewer more complicated pages.
posted by orthogonality at 3:29 PM on December 6, 2008

First, you're not dumb. :)

Second, you're awfully brave in even thinking about taking this on. Let me translate some of this stuff.

"These clients know little about web pages and have expansive, ambitious, and free-flowing brainstorms about what a website could do and what could be on it."

They will want it to automatically update, tie in to their Blackberrys, display exactly the same for every user despite hardware/software differences, look just as great as [some other company who spent $$$ on their website.]'s, ad infinitum.

"Also, this is a hobby for them."

They have just enough knowledge to be annoying.

"And my cousin is a student, so though he does great work, he doesn't have a set process that he uses with clients."

My primary designer has other major commitments and has been known to throw unapproved work together at the last minute.

I would do this : ask them to find 4-5 examples of other websites that they like - for whatever reason, be it design, organization, functionality, etc... Once they send you those, with the reasons why they were chosen, ask them how many pages they were hoping to have in their website. (You can provide them a basic navigation chart to help them figure this out.) You haven't wasted any of your project management time yet. Now's the time to ask them - will this be a website from a template, a customized template, or one built from scratch? This is going to make a huge difference - and from that first sentence I mentioned up above, this doesn't seem like it's going to be a small 8-page static website, does it?

Anyway, once you have an idea of what they want, and you talk it over with your cousin, you can tailor your proposal to say - "OK, you can have X for Y hours of my time, and my designer's time. If you want more than X, that's a different proposal, and more $."

And we haven't even gotten to everyone wanting to approve different sections of the website, dragging content out of people, trying to organize training on updating the website so you don't keep getting calls like "Oh, could you just make this tiny change? It shouldn't take you more than 5 minutes."

I know I sound very discouraging - but honestly, web design is only a small percentage of my job, and I'm glad. That's why good web design companies get paid well - because it's just not easy. So your sentence here is very accurate :

"...I suspect the website we've been envisioning is one that a design firm would charge $30,000 to build. (And of course, making it would take us 10 times longer than it would take that design firm.)"

If you'd still like to give them a service so you don't have to pay them back all the money, just help them figure out (like orthogonality mentioned) the requirements and make a basic process diagram, including a proposed navigational structure. That's a good chunk of work right there.
posted by HopperFan at 5:01 PM on December 6, 2008

Anything that would cost them $30,000 from a design firm is completely outside what you can even give them. That is what you and they have to realize if this going to work.

If you are talking about a simple 10 page static site that looks pretty decent with the help of your cousin who hopefully knows his stuff then sure go for it. Once we start talking about crazy brainstorming and custom solutions we are talking about web programming. Does your cousin know php, ruby, or python? If not then you aren't going to be able to do any crazy, custom stuff.

Just make sure that you and the client are on the same page about what the final product will be. The above advice about them finding a few sites that they like and are roughly what they want is a good one. That is usually the first thing I suggest to clients that don't have a clear idea of what they want.

Good luck!
posted by meta87 at 6:37 PM on December 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far.

They will want it to automatically update, tie in to their Blackberrys, display exactly the same for every user

I have heard several of these things, yes, and they are talking about setting up a CMS so they can update it, so no, it doesn't sound like an eight-page static website. (Though I could counter-propose that.)

Are there any tools that could make this conversation easier? It would be awesome to have a website with a chart that showed the amount of money people could expect to pay for different levels of work. Then we could discuss where this amount of money falls and what amount of work is reasonable to expect.
posted by salvia at 6:43 PM on December 6, 2008

There isn't really a chart, and this is a pretty good description of why:

"You could visit 100 different developers and get 100 different price quotes based on your description. The price will vary based on the business experience and skill set of the developer, what their services include and what type of site you would like them to create for you. And, many times clients are surprised at how what they feel is a simple description, may not be as simple to implement." (here)

For example, a CMS (like Joomla) is not that difficult to implement. It gets difficult, like meta87 says, when web programming/custom solutions come into play. Nail down their ideas a little more.

Note: Found an interesting source for pricing here. Find a bunch of these and use them to back up your proposals (and counter-proposals!)
posted by HopperFan at 7:08 PM on December 6, 2008

Best answer: What is a realistic website to build for $1500-$2300?
A stock CMS installation, zero code customization, with some minor design work in the templates. At most.

I believe you're setting yourself up for a blind-leading-the-blind situation. I wouldn't recommend it. It's possible for an experienced company to work around an inexperienced project manager, or vice-versa. It's even possible for for an experienced designer/developer to work around both. But you've got none of the above. (Some of your existing PM experience will carry over fine, but you need more subject knowledge than you have to do this properly.)
posted by ook at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2008

Best answer: If you have it, I would give them the money and be rid of them - even though it might hurt in the short run. This sounds like a huge headache and a lose-lose situation. They seem to be expecting more than what you can realistically provide, and I have a feeling they'll keep asking you for more and more.

Then again, if this sounds like an exciting opportunity to get your feet wet in web design, I'd tell them that $2000 = x amount of hours spent on the project, and after that they'll have to pay you $x per hour. (I had an earlier question about what I should charge for simple web design, so those answers may be helpful. Most people said $50-75.)

if I am not making any sense, chalk it up the flu
posted by desjardins at 5:59 PM on December 7, 2008

Response by poster: Just wanted to check back in -- I got a lot out of all these answers, and what I proposed was that I serve as their "staff" in working with a grant-funded web designer (if they could get that grant), or that I work with my cousin on a very limited set of tasks.

All of these answers helped greatly as I thought the problem through, but the ones that were most useful over time were those that helped me really grasp just how little work $2000 really should be, and the fear that this would be "the blind leading the blind," which I mentioned in my conversation with them. Thanks for all of the help!
posted by salvia at 7:13 PM on January 6, 2009

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