Putting a price on web design
April 20, 2015 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Web design peoples: I am putting together a freelance web site design business and am curious as to how you go about structuring your rates and costs.

I have been doing web design since the 1990s - pretty much all of it for free (for friends and projects I like, etc). I am solid with HTML/CSS and am currently perfecting my Wordpress skills. I can create a decent basic website and have it online easily within an hour.

Also, I work with a web host collective, so I have become quite familiar with the hosting side of things and the general state of the Internet (hosting companies, email aliasing, free website builders, CMS platforms, the wonderful world of plugin compatibility, etc).

I'm having more people come to ask for my help with making websites and I'd like to start making some money from it (people have also been more adamant about paying me lately, which is nice). The problem is, I really don't know how.

Do you charge by the hour? Or by the project? How do you decide how much to charge?

When I think of what the work can often actually entail - aesthetic design work, nuts & bolts site development, research on hosting options, domain registrations & management, Wordpress Dashboard training for the customer, etc - I start wondering if it should be broken down into chargeable line items as well. Does this make things clearer? Too complex?

My potential customers range from folks who have already had websites and feel ok with getting set up and running it on their own from there, to people who want me to take care of it all and will send infrequent updates now and again.
posted by jammy to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Clients generally prefer a fixed price because it gives them an easier way to budget. By all means break this down into chargable items but be prepared for them to quibble on specifics, or "how come A costs ... and B costs ...?". You should factor in adequate contingency and ensure your contract specifically excludes feature creep once a functional spec is agreed. Extra work is then extra cost (at an hourly rate). For new clients or large amounts, break projects into milestones and ask for payment at each milestone.
posted by epo at 4:52 AM on April 20, 2015

I work (in business development) for a web design firm. I typically break the price down into Discovery, Design, Development, Deployment, and Project Management for the customer. Behind the scenes there is a spreadsheet where I've tried to break down the site into bite sized chunks that we can estimate, but it's an inexact science at best. And I generally don't share that spreadsheet with the client because I don't want to to get in a position of defending when feature A takes 16 hours and feature B takes 32.

I try to sell the idea that I can fix cost discovery and design up front, and we'll revisit the development and deployment costs once we have a project plan, wire frames, etc. Clients seem to be becoming more comfortable with the idea no web designer (on any sort of complex project) can be sure of the effort based on an RFP and/or a conversation. That also give you an out if you get into discovery and realize that particular client is going to be higher maintenance that you want to deal with. You can deliver the wire frames, comps, and project plan and walk away, or they can bid it back out at that point, using your discovery work to get much better bids than was possible without it.
posted by COD at 5:15 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I charge by the hour. I equate it to a business model similar to a plumber. I work as much or as little as the client wants or can afford. I give frequent updates as to how much time I've spent.

Never, ever do I bid a single price for a project. It never works out in my favor and the only way to insure I get paid for my time would be to overcharge the client. Neither seems fair to me.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have done a goodly amount of freelance web dev for small businesses. Do NOT charge by the project, that way lies insanity.

Yes, clients often would prefer a (supposedly) fixed price, but if someone said they'd prefer to beat you with a stick, would you agree to that too? Pricing per project will be a giant headache, both because you will have to do a ton of free work up front to even hope to have a semi-reasonable guess at what you should charge, and because your clients and you will have different ideas about when your deliverables are really done. No matter how solidly you think you've nailed the specs, clients will believe you owe them endless revisions. Building "n number of change requests" into the package wont work because they wont agree that they are really requesting a change when you didnt deliver that magical perfect thing they had in mind. But hourly they can change things and nitpick and be indecisive etc. to their little hearts' content and you still get paid.

Also you should charge for everything, not just time spent actually working on the site. Every time you talk to them on the phone or read an email of theirs, the clock is running.

As for how much you charge, that depends on your market and your skills. Given that web development can be done more cheaply in a country like India, if you are operating out of a country with a higher cost of living, you have to give clients a reason to choose you over the cheaper labor. Face to face meetings, perfect English, operating under the same laws as your clients, and security may be considerations you'd want to highlight.

In Seattle in recent years, I used to charge $40 per hour for basic small business web development like what you're describing. I only ever had one potential client who stated he felt that was too much, and several who commented on how reasonable it was, so I probably could have charged more.

I always gave clients a free initial consultation, and a guesstimate about how long what we'd discussed might take. In some cases where budget was tight the client prioritized items and I had a bank of available hours per period and would stop when I used those up.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:04 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do small sites, mostly Wordpress stuff. I work with the (potential) client to figure out exactly what they need, make sure I understand the work that needs to be done and the list of deliverables that will be included in the quote, and give them an estimate of the hours needed, at $150 per hour.

The initial consultation (which is free) can end up taking quite a bit of time, but I take care to make sure that everything is understood and agreed upon. I also tell them (with examples to illustrate what I mean, if necessary) that any extra time needed because I have underestimated is not chargeable, nor is extra time if I run into problems that arise because of things I did not anticipate in the original quote. If extra time is needed because they are adding requirements or changing the list of deliverables on the fly, I let them know that extra time will be chargeable. I offer warranty work for a set period for free -- if there are any coding or design issues that arise from the work I've done, no charge for X amount of time to fix them. If it's stuff that they need that is outside the original scope, or site problems that arise from things not directly connected to my work, then I advise them that it would be a new engagement at the same rate (or discounted, if they want to do an ongoing thing). I also make sure to give them advice once we've wrapped on best practices for maintaining/securing/updating their site going forward.

If they agree to my quote (with or without fine-tuning), then off we go. I try as much as possible to be clear upfront about everything in both directions, because that's much easier than in-process misunderstandings leading to acrimony. My rates are on the mid-high range for the kind of work I do, and probably about 1 serious inquiry in 5 ends up coming to nothing, but that's cool. I do good work, I think, and deliver value for money.

Most of the work I do tends to be in the (relatively speaking) lower ranges of costs -- generally in the $500 to $2500 range, and it's more a hobby/sidebar to supplement my day job income. So if the client is too vague about what they really want, or it seems like things are going to get... complicated, my preference is just to pass and maybe point them at other friends who do freelance stuff as well.

I find that most folks who get in touch don't know much about the nuts and bolts, if anything, and so giving a detailed, granular list of all the tasks needed to get the site up and working is kind of a waste of everyone's time. I will give them a high level bullet-point view of what needs doing, certainly -- including top-level things like registering domain names, signing up with a host and so on on down the line, but I try to have them do the very top-level stuff themselves, with coaching and advice if necessary. If they prefer to have me do it, it's all chargeable hours, of course.

To an extent this approach requires a high level of trust between myself and the client, but pretty much every single client I get comes through my jobs posting here at Metafilter or referred clients from people I've done work for in the past, so there's a certain level established off the get-go, which makes things easier. If I were running a business that was looking for clients more or less at random, I'd probably have a more structured estimate/quote framework in place.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:23 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

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