Questions about creating websites for small businesses.
February 2, 2009 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I have a few questions about creating websites for small businesses.

A couple of small businesses have approached me about creating websites for them. I am experienced in software development, but only as a full-time employee at large corporations. I have a few questions for people who have done/are doing this sort of small-scale work:

1. I assume that I would include the price of the domain registration and the hosting (using a shared hosting company) as part of my price, right? However, would there be issues with me being listed as the owner/contact for the domain registration? I'm imagining that a concern of the client would be what would happen if I got hit by the proverbial bus - how would they get the domain registered in their name, etc.? Is there a standard approach for handling this type of thing?

2. Is it standard practice to charge the client for the initial work, and then have a monthly charge for support/maintenance/enhancements? (If so, I suppose it would make sense to roll the cost of the hosting into that monthly charge).

3. I understand that this is something I will mostly need to figure out myself, BUT: Is there any sort of standard charge (hourly or fixed bid) for doing this sort of work? The sites will probably be Microsoft ASP (active server page) based, driven by SQL Server databases. The sites are for retail businesses that have a physical presence (sales lots) that sell big-ticket items (similar to car dealerships). The businesses want prospective customers to be able to browse through photos and "plans" of the items, and search for items by perhaps a half dozen criteria. Because the businesses want the ability to maintain the information themselves, I will also need to create maintenance pages for them to use, as well.

posted by JeffL to Technology (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1. When I've done website work for small businesses in the past, I've registered the domain owner as someone at the company (ceo, director, tech rep, whatever) and made myself the technical contact for the domain. That way in the event that I moved on, they would still retain ownership of their domain and could just change the technical contact to whomever was replacing me.

2. In my experience, this is totally up to you. I usually declined to participate in the monthly maintenance, but if I were to do that part of the project as well, I would set it up the way you described. It's amazing how much time the maintenance can take up, even for a small site.

3. It sounds like this will be a fairly large project. In my experience it was better to charge an hourly rate for big projects because they often go way over estimated time and scope. It's much easier to charge for work done by the hour than it is to renegotiate a fixed price once a portion of the work has already been done. As for actually dollar amounts, that will vary greatly based on your location, your client, and your skills.

Good luck! :)
posted by geeky at 10:59 AM on February 2, 2009

1. You should always register the client as the owner of the domain, never your own. It's in violation of the TOS for some registration to do this. You can list yourself as the technical/billing contact if necessary if you are want to handle renewal's etc. Don't assume the client want's hosting, some might already have it. You should list this as a separate hosting fee, allowing for your time to administer this.

2. Sometimes, it varies according to the job, but its not uncommon. In the place I worked it would typically be an initial fee, a fixed monthly fee for hosting & support etc and extra work charged at an hourly rate.

3. This is often asked and the answer is no. Often there will a standard hourly rate that is charged (or a series of hourly rates depending on the task) but this depends on who's dong it, and to a certain extent the client. In my experience the split between upfront and ongoing costs and/or different parts of the project varies widely according to what the client will take. Sometimes jobs are taken on at a low initial charge, for instance, in the hope that there will be plenty of ongoing development work.
posted by tallus at 11:16 AM on February 2, 2009

1) geeky is right; this is what technical contact is for (vs. admin contact and billing contact) in whois records.

2) I do this for my clients; I also have a colo cabinet for the ones I host directly. Monthly maintenance / hosting can be good if you're willing to answer the phone for them during normal working hours- otherwise, you shouldn't do it.

3) I'd definitely look into the various content management systems out there- with your background, I'd investigate sharepoint and dotNetNuke . This particular wheel is already out there, and it's pretty well rounded at this point. This can have an enormous impact on the number of hours that you'll need to invest in development. Every project needs to be estimated independently; I'd establish an hourly rate for yourself (craigslist can help you there), and then ballpark the number of hours needed to complete the project. Then double it, because all developers underestimate the hours the project will require by 50%.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:18 AM on February 2, 2009

2. Is it standard practice to charge the client for the initial work, and then have a monthly charge for support/maintenance/enhancements? (If so, I suppose it would make sense to roll the cost of the hosting into that monthly charge).

That way lies madness. Enhancements are separately estimated and paid. Many small business owners will have no idea that a "little tweak" can take many hours. The scope creep will kill you. You are wiser to establish that you keep the sites running and may make small text changes within the monthly contract. Be upfront with them, separate enhancements from maintenance.
posted by 26.2 at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2009

I've been doing everything with Wordpress and building in an hour to give the client a training session on updating their own site. It seems to be working as I'm not getting overrun with "please add this photo" types of requests.
posted by COD at 12:17 PM on February 2, 2009

1. Get the client to register the domain; if you pick a good registrar and talk them through it they'll be fine, and it'll save you from hassle later. The only technical thing anyone will need to do with the domain is set the name servers, you can either give them instructions or log in for them. Also get them to purchase the hosting, you don't want to be held responsible for that. You should outline these expenses but not invoice for them.

2. Some businesses make a lot from maintenance by 'milking' clients over a long period of time, but personally I prefer to focus on more constructive uses of budgets. So instead of a vague maintenance charge for changing bits and pieces maybe outline some plans to add more and more self-management features to gradually improve the site (you can charge more for nifty new features than for donkey work, and it keeps the client more enthusiastic about the project).

3. Unfortunately there are never 'standard' charges for anything, you need to work it out based on what others are doing, what you need, what you can offer, and what the client can bear. Try to give fixed quotes for clearly-defined areas to minimise the sense of clock-watching on both sides, but obviously use hourly rates for anything vague or open-ended.

One approach I can strongly recommend is to treat the planning stage as a separate project if possible, so you're not committed to anything before it's clear exactly what's needed. You only need to charge for a day or two to draw up a simple, mostly non-technical specification (aims, features, technologies, hosting requirements, site map, storyboards, costs and rough timings) and from there both sides will feel the project's under control (or can walk away if it's not working out).
posted by malevolent at 2:32 PM on February 2, 2009

People always ask what the standard rate is and there is never an answer. I propose that the universal answer be $70/hour. If you or the client can't imagine earning/paying that, add or subtract four times. If you either of you still aren't happy, you both walk away.

No snark, I've had the same question many times before and this is the only answer that works for me. Sometimes I come down $60 to $10/hour and sometimes I got up $60 to $130/hour. Sometimes I walk away, sometime they walk away.
posted by ChrisHartley at 4:15 PM on February 2, 2009

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