The “real” cost to build a website was a complete mystery to us at the very beginning. Would it be $500? $1,000? $5,000? Or heavens forbid, more??
When we decided to build websites to experiment with generating income on the side back in 2010, we didn’t even know what the first step is to build a website, never mind the cost of building one.
We didn’t know how to code, so building a custom website on our own was completely out of the question.
We looked around the web and there were a few discussion articles about the cost of building a website. While those did give us a few reference points, they were focused on the costs of building custom websites.
At that time, a custom designed website might be in our future, but we were not ready for that kind of financial, mental and time commitments just yet.
After our long, bumpy journey of figuring things out (meaning, pulling most of our hair out, and feeling like we’ve become really angry people from time to time), we do have a few data points to highlight, insights, and self-reflections to share with you.
This is a Part 1 of a 2-part series on understanding the cost to building a website:
Part 1 – [You Are Here] – We share important lessons from our own trials & experiences, so you won’t repeat some of our mistakes (losing time and money).
Part 2 – What to watch out for when costing out your website project – especially if you are new to building websites. Written by an experienced web designer for beginners and includes detailed cost breakdown.
Click on the following links to read the specific sections:
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GUESSING THE COST OF BUILDING A WEBSITE – OUR FUTILE ATTEMPT
We tried to figure out the final cost of building our website when we first started, and it just became such a heavy point of focus for us that it paralyzed us from taking the first step towards creating a website.
We were so focused on money and budget, that it really blinded us in terms of focusing on the bigger picture. For us, it was to start building websites to sell products online.
We were completely obsessed with questions like:
- Do I REALLY need a website designer?
- How should I hire a designer or developer & how much do they cost in developing countries (such as India) or in developed countries?
- Do I need both a designer and a developer? One is to make the website look good, and the other is a code technician that builds the engine of the website.
- Where do I find good designers and developers?
- How many hours will they really need? They said it will take them 1,000 hours. Really?
- Will I really get what I want after paying?
- Would they “really” understand my vision?
- How do I know they won’t rip me off? I don’t even know them!
- If I get ripped off, what can I do? Will I ever get my money back???
- I don’t have a big budget, so if they do rip me off, I’m really screwed!!!!
- Blah blah blah (other random, frantic questions)…
If you are thinking about the exact same things – STOP!
Having the benefit of making all sorts of mistakes over the past few years, one of the biggest mistake we made was that we didn’t ask the right questions.
Looking back, our minds behaved like an over-hyper monkey trapped in a small cage, just rattling it to try to free ourselves from feeling stuck. Not knowing the average cost to build a website kept us from moving forward.
Over the years, we and our friends at Expert Market have handpicked some quality partners who can build stunning websites quickly. If you’re struggling to build one yourself, or simply don’t have the time, hiring a professional is well worth considering. Have a look below!
START SMALL WITH BABY STEPS – LIMIT YOUR POTENTIAL LOSSES
After coming to a standstill, struggling to figure out our next steps, I recalled what my high school mechanic shop class teacher said:
“To learn how to build an engine for a car, let’s start with building this tiny engine for a lawn mower.”
The simple idea is to start small, get our feet wet, before moving on to bigger things. That way, the damage (if any), can be limited.
The mental mistake that we had, was that we envisioned a grand, complex website. If a visitor did this, our website will do this. If he/she did that, then this other thing will magically do this.
We didn’t even have the basics learned and we were thinking about how to build websites that worked like Amazon, or Facebook, or Groupon.
That’s like planning to build a Ferrari when we didn’t know what an engine is for, or how to put gas in the gas tank.
It’s the same thing with building websites. Don’t get so bogged down with building the perfect website.
The most important thing is to get started, build some momentum, and limit your financial commitment if things don’t work out (just like all investments).
Yes, the cost of building a website is a concern, but there are ways to “manage” this – which we’ll go over below.
Take a DEEP breath and let’s moving forward…
4 QUESTIONS – FIND OUT WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED BEFORE YOU START
In the beginning of our journey, we asked all the wrong questions and that led us to throw everything against the wall, praying that something would actually stick.
This is a classic case of “I don’t have a darn clue what I really want…”
If you’re feeling that way, it’s perfectly normal. Nobody expects you to know what to watch out for and that’s why you’re reading this article, right?
We experimented with drag & drop website builders, WordPress, free templates, paid templates. We even dished out a few thousand dollars to have a custom WordPress website built.
So it’s fair to say we’ve “been around the block” a few times and took our fair share of bump and bruises.
In hindsight, we were running in circles because we asked all the WRONG questions.
So we took some time off, regrouped, and adjusted our approach to planning our website.
We simplified the process with these four questions that you should ask yourself:
#1. What’s your realistic budget for your website?
The cost of building a website goes beyond the design and initial set up.
There are a lot of ongoing maintenance costs like hosting, debugging / troubleshooting, adding new features / tools, etc.
So you really have two layers of costs to budget for (1) the initial setup and design and (2) the ongoing monthly or annual maintenance costs.
If you have financial resources that can go up to hundreds of dollars per month to invest in your website, then something like WordPress might work well for you.
If you’re not ready to spend more than $100 per month as your business is not at that stage yet, then a hosted solution (such as a drag & drop website builder) might be the better approach.
So think about how much you are prepared to invest on an ongoing basis. Is it over $100 per month? Or less than $100 per month?
We’ll get into some more numbers below.
If you think a website builder might be the best option for you, have a quick compare of our favorites in the table below:
#2. How do you want to manage your website?
Do you want to have full control over your website and do things yourself? Or do you want to hand off all the work to a designer / developer?
This was a very important consideration we missed.
Keep in mind that if you don’t mind handing off the work, you’ll generally have to wait for the work to be done unless you hired your own full-time designer / developer. The waiting time can vary, depending on the workload and general responsiveness of your contractor.
Back then, we already have a custom designed website on WordPress. While a custom design sounds sexy, there were a couple of problems we didn’t expect.
After operating the custom WordPress site for a few months at that time, we discovered we didn’t like it that much due to:
- Some WordPress plugins conflicted with our design. When we installed some of the tools / plugins, they broke some of the custom features that our developer built. So we had to pay our developer to re-configure our website to make things work. When you’re piecing together tools that are built by different developers, it’s not surprising that some of them won’t work well together. It’s just part of the process, and it was frustrating for us as that added to our mental burden.
- WordPress doesn’t have the most user-friendly layout design. For example, if you want to add large slideshow at the top of your page, you may need to add a plugin or custom code snippet (if the template doesn’t have a slideshow tool pre-built into the layout). If you want to move some content around the page, you have to edit codes. It felt like every time we wanted to make edits to the design, we had to pay our developer to help us, since we didn’t know how to code back then.
So ask yourself – do you want full control over the editing aspects of your website, without knowing how to code? Or are you okay with handing off all the edits (big and small) to hired contractors?
If you don’t want to pay and wait for someone to do all the changes for your website, so you can retain some level of control, then a drag & drop website builder will be more suitable.
If you have the budget and want to offload most things to a hired person, then something more advanced like WordPress may work well.
#3. What features do you need NOW, what features do you need LATER, and what features are just “nice to have”?
When we first started, we wanted everything. We wanted all the bells and whistles that we see other cool websites have. We wanted what we thought would be the perfect setup.
After hitting the wall a few too many times, we realized that our lives were much more pleasant without the headaches that complexity brings.
We didn’t need all the bells and whistles for our business to work. If our business model was flawed, all the design complexities won’t make a meaningful difference.
So we decided it was best to keep things simple and ruthlessly cut features we don’t absolutely need, to build a lean, functional website that is good enough to get the job done. We knew that once we are making money from the website, we can always upgrade later.
Ask yourself – do you need everything right now? Will your business fail if you didn’t have the perfect website?
Businesses don’t fail because their websites are lacking bells and whistles. If you can figure out a problem that needs solving, we promise you that you don’t need the most advanced website to build a business.
Don’t forget – we guarantee that you will need to re-design your website at some point. It can be a big revamp, or just re-designing portion of your website. You will be making a lot of changes to the layout and content as you better understand what your website visitors are looking for, and what’s working on your website and what isn’t. Keep this in mind and plan accordingly. We wished someone told us about this back then.
Build a basic, functional version of your website and upgrade later when you need to. The worst thing you can do is spend months and commit a lot of money building a website, then finding out that your business doesn’t quite work.
#4. Do you want to deal with the hosting, security and technical aspects yourself?
Operating a website can be very administrative. Things such as configuring your hosting services, monitoring it, updating your platform (such as WordPress updates that are issued from time to time), ensuring the updates won’t conflict with your template and plugins, etc.
These might not be a big deal for seasoned veterans or people who don’t mind rolling up their sleeves to do a bit of technical work. But are you that person?
We haven’t experienced enough back then to consider this question before setting up our WordPress website, and ended up with a lot more technical work to manage than we bargained for.
Managing the technical aspects of your website is a personal preference. You don’t have to if you don’t want to (with the help of drag & drop website builders – more below).
Some people don’t mind it and have the time and resources to deal with it. Some won’t have the time, financial and mental resources. Do you?
KNOW WHAT TYPE OF WEBSITE YOU SHOULD BE BUILDING – IT AFFECTS YOUR COSTS!
How did you answer the 4 questions above?
A more flexible and intensive platform such as WordPress will work well for you, if:
- You have a higher and flexible budget (for BOTH the setup stage and ongoing maintenance stage).
- You prefer not to be too hands on with building and editing your site. You have the financial resources to outsource the work to designers / developers, even when it comes to making small design edits. You also don’t mind waiting for the changes to be done.
- You really need advanced features and more bells and whistles, that can be custom coded into your website and you’re okay with paying someone to fix them if they break.
- You don’t mind managing the hosting yourself, performing updates to WordPress and monitoring your website performance – basically playing the role of IT Manager for your website.
If you have concerns over any one of the questions above, then you might want to consider using a drag & drop website builder to get started.
You can always upgrade to more advanced website builders (such as WordPress) if your business gets to a point when such an investment is justified.
Jumping into using something like WordPress requires a substantial investment of your time (which can be limited as you probably have other things to do). It is also a big financial investment as well.
So if you’re not 100% certain that you need something as advanced as WordPress, how do you manage / reduce your risks?
Detailed Cost Analysis of WordPress vs Drag & Drop Website Builders – breakdown of what costs to watch out for (written by a web designer for beginners)
LEARN THE BASICS OF WEBSITE BUILDING TO LIMIT A FINANCIAL DISASTER
What we finally decided to do was to start really small. One small step at a time, so to speak.
We were pretty beaten up from chasing all the latest features and frankly we just didn’t have the time to deal with all the technical work that came with more advanced web builders.
All we wanted (and needed) was a functional website that worked and didn’t require a lot of time, money, and ongoing maintenance commitments.
We were trying to build a business, so committing a lot of time and money to a website wasn’t a priority or a “must”.
Drag and drop website builders are online software that enabled us to create websites without knowing how to write a line of code. So that was perfect for us.
They also have support teams to answer any questions, and technical teams to manage all the technical aspects of building websites, so we don’t have to.
If our business concept worked or gained traction, we can always invest more money and time into building a more advanced website, or even hiring a developer to help us.
But before we get to that point, we wanted to protect ourselves from a financial commitment perspective, and “prove out” the business idea first with a drag & drop website builder.
By using a few website builders, we became more familiar with what domain names are, how to connect them to websites, how to set up emails, how to use simple image editors to create graphics, how to perform basic SEO (search engine optimization), how to create blog posts, how to generate content, etc.
These are all basics of building a functional website. Using these simple to use, code-free, website builders, enabled us to free up a lot of our time so we can “practice” other aspects of building a website.
Looking back, if we were too caught up in learning how to code, or learning how to manage a developer without having the benefit of building a few simpler websites first, I still think we can get to where we are today, but that road would have been a lot rockier (mentally and financially).
Building websites, and making your business thrive with the website, is not a single moving part in isolation. It is an entire system that involves a lot of different moving parts (marketing, product creation, etc.)
Leveraging the help of a drag & drop website builder, something that’s quite simple to use, enabled us to free up so much of our time and mental energy to focus on other things.
We really attribute the fact that we were able to unburden ourselves from mental anxieties of building a complex website, re-channel our energy into other more important parts of our business, to what we’re able to achieve today.
WHAT ARE SOME DRAG & DROP WEBSITE BUILDERS & HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?
If you feel that using a drag and drop website builder might be a potential option for you (where it’s easy enough for you to manage your entire website, and without you having to know how to code), then it’s time to test out a few of them to see which website builder might actually work best for you.
Since we’ve used a lot of them extensively in the past, we put together a comparison to highlight the pros and cons of some of the website builders. It really depends on what you need, and how you liked using their user interface.
Take our Free Quiz – Not sure which website builder to try? Take this quiz to see our recommendations.
Using a website builder costs anywhere from $4 – $25 per month, depending on which website builder you use, and which plan you sign up to.
Most of these websites have a free plan so you can test them out for free before committing. There are no time limits to their free plans, so you can keep using the free plan for as long as you want to. If they don’t have a free plan, they will at least have a free trial period of 2 weeks at the minimum.
While the paid plans are monthly, recurring fees, keep in mind the idea here is to limit your financial risks.
Our thought process was – we can stomach $25 per month (and that’s at the higher monthly plans), instead of paying an “unproven” developer hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Further, at $25 or so per month, we get support from their customer care teams and their technical team works in the background to ensure all the technical aspects of our website are fully managed.
What’s the worst that can happen? We can always cancel our plan with the website builder and walk away.
Don’t forget, you can get fully comfortable with the builder as you can use their free plan or free trial period. In fact, you can almost build a full website with a free plan without paying a dime to them.
The website builders will give you most of the tools you need to build a functional website, including hosting services (so your site can be published online), content creation tools (ability to insert titles, text, graphics, slideshows, etc), and design templates.
Click here to see some free ecommerce templates you can use to build an online store.
You get all of this for free, and to unlock more tools you have the option to upgrade.
That’s how you can effectively manage your financial risks, and just as importantly, to stop mentally obsessing over the average cost to build a website.
Some of the website builders will give you a free custom domain name for the first year if you sign up to their annual plans. After the first free year, it typically costs around $20 to renew every year. If you prefer to buy your own custom domain name elsewhere as it is usually cheaper, you can purchase your domain name is through GoDaddy, and it will cost you about $12 – $15 per year. From a bigger picture perspective, it’s not a significant difference.
COST TO BUILD A WEBSITE USING A DRAG & DROP BUILDER, WORDPRESS OR CREATING A CUSTOM WEBSITE
We know you’re quite eager to dive into some rough numbers. So let’s get going.
If you want some broad-stroke guesstimates, here they are on a per year basis:
- Drag & Drop Builder – $100 to $400
- WordPress – $140 to $500 **
- Custom – $2,000 – $10,000+
We’ve loosely factored in the cost of a domain name, cheaper hosting and premium template for WordPress, and some data points from our own experiences in having a custom site built.
** We feel it’s REALLY important to point out that for the range of cost for WordPress, we have NOT factored in hiring a WordPress developer to help you out with changes.**
WordPress commands much higher learning curve and so you do have to have some technical skills to become proficient with designing your site.
If you factor in the cost of hiring someone to help you with WordPress, this can cost you anywhere from about $30 per hour (from developing countries like India) to $100+ per hour for a good WordPress developer in developed countries.
For our WordPress sites, we pay $100 per hour to a capable developer to help us out from time to time (after building websites since 2010, we still need to pay a WordPress specialist $100 per hour for some tasks). But it wasn’t until we were quite knowledgeable about WordPress did we have the capability to determine if a WordPress developer was good or not.
Generally speaking, in the world of WordPress, the higher the fee per hour the developer charges, the more capable he/she is. But please exercise good judgment, though, this is only a high-level guidance / rule of thumb.
Here are some discussion articles that we have which you give you a more in-depth idea of our thoughts on comparing using a drag & drop website builder against using WordPress.
Elegant Themes (one of the best WordPress theme developers today), estimated that it can take around $200 – $1,000+ just to get started with WordPress (and this does not factor in hiring someone to help you).
They also estimated that a custom WordPress theme will cost around $3,000 – $6,000 (for design and development), and a custom WordPress website is around $6,000 – $15,000 (for design and development, with custom plugins). You can see their estimates here.
It’s important to realize that it’s really challenging to pinpoint even a ballpark cost. If you’ve ever spoken with some people who attempted to build their own houses, then a fairly consistent story is budget over-runs due to unforeseeable circumstances. The same concept applies very much the same way to building a custom site.
The cost to build a website is a constantly moving target, especially when it comes to WordPress or custom sites.
This is why using a drag and drop website builder is a good way to start learning the basics of website building, experimenting with your ideas, and to limit your financial risks (since the monthly fee is fixed, and you can build your own site as without any codes – you don’t have to be technical at all).
YOUR TIME IS ALSO A COST TO BUILDING YOUR WEBSITE
Let’s face it, time is money.
If you want to build a website, be prepared to commit a lot of mental and physical energy into your project (even if you outsource the building of your website).
How do you factor this cost into building your website? Well, you’ll have to take a guess at how much an hour of your time is worth.
Is an hour of your time worth $20? $50? $100? If someone approached you and asked how much it will take to “purchase” an hour of your time to help them do something, what’s a fair price to you? The amount your employer is paying you right now can also be a rough gauge.
Take that number, multiply it by how many hours you plan/ budget to building your website, and you will loosely guess how much additional costs it will take to build your website (based on your time commitment).
So, will you be spending time on figuring out all the technical stuff, such as hosting, security, coding? That adds up really fast based on our own experiences.
Not only are technical aspects a major time-suck, they tend to ruin your mood, outlook on life, and just makes you a pretty grumpy person to be around (that’s what happened to us!)
So the cost extends beyond time, and may affect your personal happiness!
Using a drag & drop builder removes this pain point to a pretty large extent. They deal with all the technical headaches, so you can focus on other more important things, and in general, keep you in a much better mood!
CONCLUSION – THE COST TO BUILD A WEBSITE
We know how frustrating it is to build your own website, especially when it is your first time. There are a million things and concerns running through your mind, and we’ve been through that ourselves.
As with any major endeavors or projects that you want to explore, start with small, baby steps, to help limit your downside risks.
So instead of going out with all your guns blazing, committing thousands of dollars to an unproven developer to build your website for you, why not try doing it yourself with a smaller monthly commitment of $4 – $25 by using a website builder?
If you change your mind after a few months, your financial losses are only limited to around $100 – that’s pretty decent in terms of risk management.
Using a website builder removes a lot of the technical headaches you’d encounter, and limits your financial risks.
This also helps you free yourself of the mental anxiety of worrying constantly about how much it will cost you to create a website. You can always stop your monthly payment plans.
If the website you create shows potential, and gets your business / project moving in the right direction, you can always consider investing more money in building a more customized website later. By that time, you’ll have a general sense of how website building works.
This is one of the best approaches to limiting your financial risks when it comes to building your first website.
Website builders allow you to get started quickly, to gain momentum so you can see actual tangible results. Versus going through a series of mental gymnastics, trying to sort out all the technical “stuff” of building websites, and worrying about how many thousands of dollars a bad developer can potentially rip from you.
Not saying this happens a lot, but it’s the “fear factor” that paralyzes you from taking action and moving forward. That’s what happened to us back then, and it wasn’t particularly fun at all.
So to save yourself time, headaches, and to minimize your financial risks, we do recommend you consider testing out your ideas with code-free, website builders.
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