How long do you want this piece of string to be?

Every few years I do something which is a little bit naughty, and perhaps a little unfair on my web design brethren. I write up a fake web design brief, and send it out to get quotes. I do this both to see what sort of costs come back, but also to see how other people write their proposals, how they break their costs down etc.

A couple of months ago I did the same to around 50 web design companies across the south of England. I wrote up an extremely detailed brief, leaving no room for confusion or guess work as to the amount of work involved. There was no requirement for any “grey areas” (guaranteed Google rankings, ongoing maintenance etc). This was purely to build the website as detailed in the brief.

In short, here was the requirement (the brief I actually sent was around 3 pages long):

  • It will be 8 pages, 6 of them won’t change often
  • We should be able to update the blog and portfolio sections ourselves
  • It must be responsive (adapting to tablets and mobile phones)

Pieces of string of all shapes and sizes

I waited for all the replies, and politely thanked each and every one as it arrived, explaining we were waiting for a few more quotes and that we’d be in touch if we wanted to discuss it further.

As you will see from the chart at the top of this page (each marker represents a real quote received), costs varied quote a bit.

This wasn’t a surprise to me, but it got me thinking; how on earth do people know what they should be paying for a website?

Taking the extremes of my set of returned quotes, if I’d have emailed just these two companies I would have got one quote for £495, and another for over £10,000. For exactly the same task.

Of course, companies are entitled to charge whatever they like. A trendy web design agency in the center of London with 30 staff, foosball tables and hanging pod seating will of course charge more than a freelancer working from a home office. But this is not a guarantee of getting a better end product or service (I have seen quite the opposite on a number of occasions).


What is a day worth?

I had estimated that my pretend website would take me around 6 days to create, split down into the following tasks:

  • Client requirements/industry research
  • Wireframing/site-mapping
  • Design mock-ups
  • Site development & content population
  • Browser/device testing
  • Pre-launch bits and pieces
  • Launch

Again, taking the two extremes of the quotes, this means that the lower end would be working at a daily rate of £62, and the higher end a daily rate of £1,250. Assuming an 8 day build time.

Clearly the £62/day is too low for an experienced website designer, so one must assume that they are cutting corners in some way. The most likely answer is that they are using (or even re-using) a template, so they can cut right down on development time. This may be fine for some people, but have they really put the necessary thought and research into providing a website that is the perfect fit for the customer? Using this approach they could turn out a website in a day or so, so their cost suddenly makes a lot more sense. Will it fit the customers needs? Maybe. Will the customer be able to request a bunch of changes to make it fit better? Probably not.

At the other end of the spectrum are the guys who quoted £10k. There are legitimate reasons why this could be the case. They may have a swanky office where you can go and visit any time you like, see how your project is going (and play foosball with your dedicated web team). Also, they may have dedicated staff working on each stage of your project to ensure you are getting an expert at every step (market research/business analysis, designer, developer, QA/testing). Plus, perhaps they intend on using their very own customised content management system, which took them years to perfect. You are buying into this system and this methodology.


What’s your budget?

When asked what their budget is, potential customers are understandably cagey, assuming that whatever they say, that is magically how much the quote will come out at. But this is exactly what the question is posed for; to get the maximum available to spend. You just need to make sure you are not getting a £500 service if you give a budget of £5k.

Compare it to buying a car. If you need to buy a new family car, then you will have in your mind a rough idea of what you can afford. You wouldn’t call every 2nd hand car dealership in the area and ask them what their absolute cheapest car is.

You may have £2,000 to spend, or you may have £20,000. Both will get from A to B, but the differences in terms of look, build quality, speed, reliability, safety, features, ongoing maintenance/support is where the extra money goes.

It’s exactly the same with websites

What do you think? It would be great to hear your experiences with getting web design quotes and what the resulting site came out like…

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