105495081One thing you find when you’re an Internet marketing professional is that there is a huge discrepancy in what business owners think a website should cost. I am often astounded to discover that business owners think they can get a decent website built for a few hundred dollars. Maybe it’s the ‘big box’ Internet service providers of the world advertising that they can get your business up and running with a ‘quality website’ for just a few bucks a month. Or maybe you heard that a friend of a friend got his done for less than $500, and that price is stuck in your head. Whatever it is, I am here to say that it’s not realistic to budget just a few hundred dollars for one of the most important parts of your business. Or wise.

Back in the day, you’d pay thousands – even tens of thousands – of dollars on phone book ads for your business, wouldn’t you? I’ve seen SMALL businesses that were paying upwards of $30K per year or more on phone book advertising. Insane! But that was your primary source of new business, so at the time it made sense. I guess. The good news is, your website has now replaced that medium for gaining new business, and is a hell of a lot less expensive. No printing, no delivery, no ad sales reps to pay – yeah, that’ll save a few bucks. But although we are living in a virtual world, a good website doesn’t come for free.

Having your website built is just like anything else in life. You get what you pay for. The bottom line is that websites – done right – take time. And time is money. Can you go out and get a website for a few hundred bucks? Maybe. But you’d better believe that it will be little more than an online brochure. And probably not a very nice one at that. Or one that works very well to bring in new business. If you own a business that doesn’t rely much on customers viewing your website, that might be OK. But if you’re like most business, your website needs to be your first impression to new customers, a useful tool for existing customers, and it needs to be found when people are searching for what you provide.

So just how much should you expect to pay for a website?

The answer to that depends on your line of work, and the level of technology that you want and need built into your site. I deal with primarily small to medium sized businesses which rely a great deal on their websites for new customer inquiries. These businesses are looking for ways to stand apart from their competitors, and their websites are their primary vehicles for doing so. Most of them don’t require a tremendous amount of deep technology, but they are looking for ways to make the customer experience streamlined and somewhat sophisticated. So let’s take a look at what a small to mid-sized business should expect from their website, and how much they should expect to pay.

3 Items No Website Should Be Without

1. An Attractive Façade. If you own a brick and mortar retail location, the front of your building will make or break foot traffic. A run down building with difficult to read signage in a bad part of town is not likely to get a lot of walk-in traffic. The same rule of thumb applies to your businesses online façade. When customers find you online, they formulate an opinion about your business within the first few seconds of being there. It is therefore imperative that your website represent your business in whatever way necessary to speak to your target audience.

2. Customer Attraction. Having a great façade is imperative, but if nobody can find your site, it’s nothing more than a great façade. Your site should be built with customer attraction in mind, and that comes in the form of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO takes on many forms within a website – page titles, meta data, image tagging, page content, back links, and more – all play their part in helping to ensure that your site will gain high rankings for the key words and phrases that your customers are using to find businesses like yours.

3. Ease of Communication. So you’ve attracted a potential client and your business looks interesting to them. Now what? That customer should quickly and easily be able to get in touch with you in whatever way THEY prefer. Knowing your customers and the ways in which they communicate best is key. Also key is offering several alternative communication methods. Most often this comes in the form of an easy to find phone number and e-mail address, an inquiry or information/estimate request form, and perhaps even an e-mail sign-up form for those customers who are interested, but not quite ready to inquire.

Show Me the Money

Because your website is such an important part of your business, the investment in making it a business-builder is well worth it. Not just from a monetary standpoint, but from a time and energy standpoint as well. When going through the exercise of creating your website (or recreating it), you should expect to spend time with your web designer or design team. They should take the time to get to know you and your customer so that the end result meets your expectations and your customers’.

Having gone through many website builds, I can tell you that for a small to mid-sized business with a website that contains between 10 and 50 pages, your web design and programming team will spend between 40 and 60 hours on your site. Broken down hourly, you can expect to pay the following hourly rates:

Project Management – meetings, coordinating copy writing, design and programming – $25 – $45

Copy Writing – writing specific to web clients, including search-friendly content – $25 – $50

Graphic Design – overall look and feel of your site, including colors, fonts and imaging – $75 – $100

HTML Programming – template creation, style sheets, website build – $100 – $125

Programming – Flash, database programming, inquiry form creation – $100 – $150

To simplify our equation, let’s take an average hourly rate of $85 and apply the 40 – 60 hours. This brings our expected cost to somewhere between $3400 and $5100. Keep in mind that this is for a solid, business-building site, but not necessarily one that contains more in-depth forms or database-driven content. It also will not include hard costs such as photography, domain name registration, hosting and other related costs.

After your site is up and running, to keep it working for you, you should also consider hiring a webmaster or SEO firm to perform regular updates and maintenance. Prices vary greatly for these services depending on the scope of work and should be worked on a customized basis.

Digidaze helps small to medium sized businesses in Maryland and the eastern region of the US create and maintain high quality websites that generate real business results. For more information, visit www.digidaze.com or call 1-855-digidaze.