The Ultimate Guide to Planning and Budgeting for Your Small or Mid Sized Business Website Project

 

 

There are lots of ways to skin a cat, as they say. And there are lots of ways to go about creating a website. There isn’t a single “right way” to develop a website, but there are many, many mistakes that can be made to detract from getting the best results. There are also many mistakes that can lead to a frustrating process, unnecessary iterations, and increase costs.

The perspectives herein are based on 22 years of digital marketing experience including production of over 200 websites for companies of all shapes and sizes, from varying vantage points–as a customer, freelance consultant, and agency strategist.

What You’ll Learn

This guide designed to help small and mid-sized businesses set proper expectations with regard to costs and benefits of different approaches to developing this very important business asset. After reading this guide, you’ll understand:

  • The main categories of scope in the development of a website
  • How to organize your website requirements
  • How much to expect to pay for a website based on the scope requirements
  • How the scope and cost are impacted based on the approach to development
  • When to use freelancers vs agencies for your project

Website scopes can vary so widely in size and scope and quality, that they defy generalization. So we invoke the 80/20 rule: the generalizations we use here may describe 80% of situations at best.

What Does it Cost to Build a Professional Website?

Most small and mid-sized business websites will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on two main factors: (1) role it will play in your business strategy, and (2) the corresponding complexity. Most of the variance in website development cost is explained by these two factors. A website that is minimally tied to strategic business objectives will typically be smaller, less complex, and require less intensive design and development requirements. A website that plays a vital role in growth goals will require more strategic thought, design rigor, customization, content, user journey mapping, optimization, and technical integration.

It’s also possible that even with a defined scope of work, multiple providers that may provide cost estimates that are thousands of dollars apart. How and why is that?

Here are three common explanations why one agency may charge more than another:

  • They have better, more expensive talent
  • They are proposing a more comprehensive scope, or more extensive strategy work
  • They are employing a more comprehensive process
  • They are competing with a less experienced agency that is willing to shave margins and/or is desperate for work

It is imperative to understand not only the price tag but what the cost and value drivers are in the design and build of a website so that the best decision can be made for maximum return on investment.

Three Website Scope Use-Cases

While there is a spectrum of use-cases for any website, we can simplify by thinking of these three basic website scope categories:

  1. An Online Brochure
  2. A Business Tool
  3. A Growth Hub

These general scope categories can be visualized on a spectrum from minimally to highly strategic, minimally to highly central to revenue and growth. We’ll discuss each of these scopes in more detail, but here’s a snapshot:

Online BrochureBusiness ToolGrowth Hub 
Who It’s ForSome restaurants, gift shops, small services companies not trying to growSmall and mid-sized businesses who need web presence to get found and/or generate demandGrowth focused, high volume B2C companies and high ticket B2B companies needing to generate and nurture leads
Primary Functionconvenience for customersself serve sales and support toolgrowth engine driving sales and marketing efficiency
Size & Scopea few pages of basic infodetailed product / service / functional pagesengagement paths for all target personas designed for conversion
TechnologyBasic, usually created using a template-based builder like Squarespace or WixBasic, with some integrations, optimized for search and conversion; Often WordPress platformFully integrated with sales and marketing tools; behavioral tracking & automation; Managed WordPress or enterprise platform 
HostingInexpensive, shared hostingManaged hosting, VPS or dedicated server

Managed hosting, VPS or dedicated server

 

Complexitylowmediumhigh
Development Cost$1000 – $6000$6000 – $25,000$18,000 – $50,000
Hosting cost$5-$25/mo$50-$200/mo$200/mo+
ROI Potentiallowmediumhigh

 

Your actual use case may not fall neatly into one box. The goal initially is to identify the approach with which your needs most closely align.

Let’s look at each approach in more detail.

 

Mobile responsive website development, wireframe design preview on smartphone screenThe Online Brochure Website

There are plenty of businesses and situations for which a website may be a necessary asset, but not strategic for growth. For example:

  • You may not even be trying to grow (small owner-operated service businesses with no desire to expand personnel)
  • Some businesses still operate in very traditional channel sales models (e.g. niche B2B products and supply chain companies) where business is done almost exclusively through relationship selling to a few dealers or distributors
  • You might have a business that is driven entirely by local / foot traffic (e.g. gift shops, coffee shops)

In situations like these, a website may principally serve as an online brochure–that is, an online repository where stakeholders can find basic information about your business and product or service offering.

Characteristics of Online Brochure Websites

Websites in this category tend to have the following characteristics:

  • 4 to 8 pages
  • Basic information that rarely changes about the company and products and services
  • Easily findable contact information
  • Varying levels of design quality
  • No special functionality or technology integrations
  • Very low website traffic

Usually, online brochure websites are at least in part driven by price sensitivity, and thus more predominant for very small companies and sole proprietors. Because of this, they are usually created by solo freelancers or using template-based website creation tools such as Squarespace or Wix.

Some template-based website solutions can be quite beautiful and inexpensive. The trade-off is flexibility, control, and customization.

Cost of an Online Brochure Website

Even within this category the cost of building a website can vary dramatically depending on a number of factors. For the typical Online Brochure website, you can expect to pay as little as zero if you have time on your hands and feel comfortable using a tool like Squarespace. On the other hand, you may spend up to $6000 or more if you want a more experienced freelancer to handle it all.

Here are the key drivers of cost related to a basic website project and what you can expect to page in each range:

Cost DriversLowMedHigh
Who does the workDIYLess experienced freelancerMore experienced freelancer / small agency
SizeUp to you4-6 pages7-10 pages
Design ScopeUp to you1-2 revisions2-3 revisions
Design QualityTemplate with minimal modificationTemplate with minimal modificationTemplate with some customization
ContentYou organize and write all content and provide to designerFreelancer provides guidance and editingFreelancer / agency produces some/all content
Search OptimizationMost likely noneEssential on-page elements, e.g. titles, meta descriptions, etcPage content written for SEO; keyword research; basic technical SEO
Special functionality or integrationsMost likely noneMost likely noneMinimal
EXPECTED COSTFree/Low Cost$2000 – $3500$3500 – $6000

 

website planning and budgetingThe Business Tool Website

The main difference between an Online Brochure approach and a website that serves as a Business Tool, is a recognition that the website is responsible for helping to achieve specific business objectives. As such, it must meet a higher bar with regard to branding and design, as well as the ability to attract and engage new and existing customers. Business Tool websites recognize that prospective customers and other stakeholders are seeking detailed information to help influence their purchase decision. At this stage, website analytics become more important.

Characteristics of Business Tool Websites

Websites in this category tend to have the following characteristics:

  • 10 to 20 pages
  • Design and messaging is aligned with brand
  • Higher level of performance in terms of speed, reliability, and search engine optimization (SEO)
  • More detailed products and services pages that help visitors engage and convert (make a connection with the company via a phone call, form submission, book a meeting, request a quote, etc)
  • Interactive or rich content, e.g. video, demos, feature selectors, pricing tools, etc.
  • Pages or section supporting functional areas of the business, such as employment or vendor support
  • Blog functionality with active publishing of new content
  • Clear measurable actions the visitor can take to engage with the website / company
  • Higher quality, more customized design
  • Some special functionality or integrations unique to the customer journey
  • Integrated reporting and goal tracking

Companies that seek Business Tool websites are usually larger small and mid-sized businesses with the resources to invest in a more unique and professional web presence. While template-based CMSs like Squarespace and Wix can be used in this category, websites built on more flexible platforms like WordPress are more common and offer more scalability, and performance.

And because of their added size and some complexity, DIY is rarely an option. Most websites in this range are built by experienced freelancers and agencies.

Cost of a Business Tool Website

The range of a typical Business Tool website can range dramatically. You can expect to pay somewhere between $6,000 and $25,000 depending on a variety of factors. So let’s narrow that down…

In addition to supporting more pages and customization, websites in this middle category take a more strategic approach, usually delivered by an agency. More attention is paid to maximizing the specific actions visitors should take, namely attracting prospective customers and providing self serve information to bring them closer to a purchase decision. The same is true for other stakeholders such as prospective employees, or donors.

Thus, the crux of the strategy and scoping process for a Business Tool website lies in understanding the needs and opportunities for each functional area. How can the website help generate more employment candidates? How can it reduce support costs through self serve support content? How can it help us get found on search engines?

And it is at this level that more special functionality and integrations can be supported, such as:

  • Integrated job board with backend editing
  • Customized tools for entering, displaying, and managing offers
  • Auto social publishing tool integrations
  • Blogging tools
  • Landing pages and click funnels to maximize conversions on digital campaigns
  • Customized reporting and goal tracking
  • Contact forms with email auto-responders

Here are the key drivers of cost related to a mid-level website project and what you can expect to page in each range:

Cost DriversLowMedHigh
Who does the workExperienced freelancerSmall agencyMid-sized agency
Size10 – 15 pages*15 – 20 pages*20+ pages*
StrategyBasic site structure, discovery, design directionDeeper design/brand integration, wireframingStrategically structuring site and pages for target personas
Design QualityTemplate with customizationTemplate with significant customizationFully custom design, not using template
Design ScopeChoose template, 2-3 rounds of revisionChoose template, 3-4 rounds of revision2 unique concepts, plus 3-4 rounds of revision
ContentAgency provides guidance and editing on content provided by internal teamAgency participates in content creation processAgency produces all content
Search OptimizationEssential on-page elements, e.g. titles, meta descriptions, etcKeyword research; Core pages fully optimized for strategic keywords; basic technical SEOComprehensive Audit; advanced technical optimization
Special functionality or integrationsSome / BasicModerateSignificant
EXPECTED COST$6,000 – $10,000$12,000 – $16,000$18,000 – $25,000

*not including blog and e-commerce pages

 

Website design and development project conceptual image

The Growth Hub Website

A website that is acting as the growth hub for your brand is one that is playing a central role in generating and nurturing leads, impacting sales and marketing alignment, and driving return on marketing investment (ROMI).

Organizations that have committed to the inbound methodology as their primary marketing and growth strategy will need a growth hub website.

Characteristics of Growth Hub Websites

Websites in this category tend to have the following characteristics:

  • 30 – 50 pages, not including dynamically generated / database driven pages
  • Integrated “growth stack” of tools to align and manage marketing and sales funnels and activities
  • Blog that is integrated with social channels and SEO strategy to drive new inbound traffic and leads
  • Page structure, categorical content aligned with personas and lifecycle stages, that helps identify user needs and trigger relevant and timely 1:1 communications
  • Detailed user tracking and integration with CRM, enabling timely and relevant communications from sales
  • Website behavior and interaction drives automated email nurturing and dynamic content
  • Highly optimized for search across multiple persona lifecycles
  • Multiple content offers targeted at each stage of the marketing funnel

In the following categories and many other niche categories, an inbound approach and growth hub website are essential to drive revenue growth:

  • most B2B companies
  • high ticket products and services with longer sales cycles and highly researched purchase decisions
  • B2C companies with higher ticket offerings such as private educational organizations, health and wellness services, professional and financial services, and real estate
  • high frequency or repeat purchase categories
    subscription services, e.g. SAAS or other high lifetime value (LTV) services

Cost of a Growth Hub Website

As you would expect, this level of sophistication comes at a cost. However, for the right types of organizations, an inbound-enabled website offers a much stronger return on investment potential. Just a few years ago this level of sophistication would have been unattainable for small businesses. Today, many tools exist that are affordable and allow small businesses to start small and work their way up.

While there are some exceptions, most small and mid-sized companies do not have the internal resources ready to hit the ground running with a new inbound marketing strategy and generate positive ROI. Thus, in addition to the initial website development and growth stack implementation costs, Growth Hub websites typically also require ongoing retainer-based inbound marketing support services in order to ensure success and positive ROI.

Inbound retainers are the subject for another forthcoming post. But for the purposes of this discussion, be ready to bring on external support at roughly the same level as a mid-level PTE to FTE (roughly $5000 to $10,000/mo) depending on how much internal staff can contribute and the aggressiveness of your growth targets.

If that doesn’t scare you off, here are the key drivers of cost related to a growth hub website project and what you can expect to page in each range:

Cost DriversLowMedHigh
Who does the workInbound web agencyInbound web agencyInbound web agency
Size<30 pages30-50 pages50+ pages
Strategystrategically structuring site and pages for one target personastrategically structuring site and pages for two target personasstrategically structuring site and pages for three personas
Design QualityTemplate with significant customizationFully custom design, not using templateFully custom design, not using template
Design ScopeChoose template, 2-3 rounds of revision2 unique concepts, plus 3-4 rounds of revision2 unique concepts, plus 3-4 rounds of revision
ContentAgency produces initial blog content plus 1 premium assetAgency creates initial blog content and 2 premium assetsAgency creates blog content and premium assets for each persona
Search OptimizationComprehensive Audit; advanced technical optimizationStrategic KW optimization for each persona / needStrategic KW optimization for each persona / need
Special functionality or integrationsTool integration, Onboarding, trainingTool integration, Onboarding, trainingTool integration, Onboarding, training
EXPECTED COST$18,000 – $25,000$25,000 – $35,000$35,000 – $50,000

*not including blog and e-commerce pages

 

Conclusion

The reality is each website project is unique, and these are just guidelines to help you flesh out your needs and set reasonable budgets in the early stages of planning.

Organize your Website Requirements

You may have noticed in each of the three use-cases we presented, that the tables were organized by cost drivers. These drivers are a great way to organize your requirements document. A detailed requirements document or RFP is essential to reducing the variance in proposals and help you make an informed decision and accurately compare costs and benefits.

Make sure your requirements document details the following needs:

Size

  • How many pages and page-types do you need?

Design scope

  • How important is design quality to your strategy?
  • How differentiated does the design need to be? Can it be a template, or does it need to be fully custom?
  • How many concepts do you want?
  • Do you know what you want and are you able to describe it in terms a designer can understand? (If not, plan for more concepts and revisions)

Content needs

  • Do you have, or will you be writing your own content and supplying to the designer/agency? Or do you need the agency to write your content?
  • How much content and editing will be needed by the agency?

Search Engine Optimization

  • How important is it for your website to rank highly on search?
  • How many relevant keywords do you want to rank highly on? (Is the pool of keywords diffused or concentrated)
  • How much competition is there for your strategic keywords, and what are your current positions?

Technology

  • What platform will the site be built on?
  • Are any special features, plug-ins or integrations needed?
  • Is any e-commerce functionality needed?
  • Are there any special business management needs, such as workflow management tools or database integrations?

Additional Considerations

Some additional considerations we didn’t address in this guide that can impact the cost of your website project include: branding, e-commerce configuration, photography/videography, custom illustration/artwork, custom interactive tool development, and hosting requirements.

Be sure to think through each of these considerations and include in your requirements document if relevant.

We hope you found this guide useful.

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