Blog Design and Web Design Pricing

Chris Pearson started an interesting conversation on pricing over on his blog. A few folks have complained about the cost of blog design in the comments and around the web as a result of this.

Pricing is a hot topic in web design, especially at the small to medium end of the spectrum that most designers and clients occupy. At issue is the fact that there are no standards: no standard industry rate, no standard industry process. No standard industry anything.

Shopping for a designer must be incredibly frustrating. Asking “how much to design my blog” will return quotes ranging from the insanely low to the absurdly high. Why? There are a number of reasons, a few of which I’ll review here.

First, we’ve got to separate providers of web sites into three groups: professional design/develop agencies, professional design/develop freelancers, and amateurs. Generally speaking, agencies will charge more per hour than freelancers, and freelancers more than amateurs.

Agencies have greater overhead, but are able to offer more full featured services, including marketing, copywriting, and strategy. Often a blog or web design agency will have deeper technological skills, more well rounded and specific experience, and may be able to offer more complete advice. Most professional web design/development agencies charge between $90 and $250 per hour.

Professional freelancers are able to offer specialized service for less than the average firm. Most charge between $50 to $100 per hour. Working with a freelancer offers significant benefits, and significant risks. For example, a client who knew specifically which details and features would best suit her business may save some money by hiring talented freelancer vs a full service agency. Also, a project dependent on a single individual can fall victim to the designer’s other simultaneous projects, to illness, etc. While agencies’ deeper talent pools reduce that risk.

Amateurs are often students fresh out of school, or self taught individuals. They will often charge anywhere from $10 to $50 per hour. Note that I’m not using the word amateur disparagingly, but as it’s defined by

A person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession

While the amateur may know how to code a page, beware (or at least know what you’re getting into). Building a website for a client involves a heck of a lot more than negotiating html. One must be skilled at client relations, project management, marketing, communications, and more. Note that most professional freelancers were amateurs. Hiring an amateur does not mean you’ll receive sub-par work (I was an amateur fairly recently myself – I have the battle scars to prove it). But it’s playing the odds.

The range of hourly rates is only half of the equation. The other is the number of hours included in a quote. In my experience, many designers tend to significantly under estimate the amount of time jobs actually take. This is especially true of amateurs and the occasional freelancer. This is a very dangerous practice, and often leads to feelings of animosity between the client and the designer.

Secondly, based on my own research, designers include wildly different levels of service in their quotes. For example, most projects include some multiple variations of design comps. The multiple may vary, affecting pricing dramatically.

To explain further, the finished work that the public sees is one of only two, three, or even four site designs presented. Some clients are willing to pay a premium in order to have greater choice. They offset their risk by “buying” more of our time. In the end, a website that cost $2000 may not look hugely different than a website that costs $4000. But odds are, that more expensive site is doing a better job of fulfilling the client’s needs.

We also frequently include training and ongoing management services (including hosting) as part of a project.

Thirdly, supply and demand affects the rate dramatically (and quickly). There are only so many good design firms out there. We design bloggers tend to think there are many, because all we look at is design blogs. But as a percentage, it’s a pretty tiny number. Maybe a couple of thousand firms around the world that are suited to your particular needs. In many locations and niches, like blog design, that number is much, much smaller.

For example, we’re very busy at the moment. We’re in the luxurious position of being choosy about the projects we take. We’d be incompetent business people not to be sensitive to that situation. We’re not being foolish about it – we’re building long term relationships, not wham bam thank you ma-ams. But the opportunity cost of our time has become more valuable: if you’re not willing to pay us $X per hour, that fellow over there will. So taking your project has to bring some value other than the immediate revenue.

As designers and developers, we occupy a nebulous no-man’s land of quasi service and quasi product. What we build doesn’t actually exist. It can’t be felt in your hands. Yet it’s not a pure service either; we don’t usually consult and not execute. Our potential clients often don’t know what to make of us. They may not be aware that we often have experience that is broad and deep. We’re craftsmen and skilled marketers. Our time has value. And our deliverables (hopefully) reflect that.

One must finally be aware that usually a designer or agency gives an estimate. The final bill may be quite different. The estimate that was low due to inexperience or error may not be billed out at the same amount. The estimate that was higher because it more clearly reflected actual experience may be billed at less than the initial estimate (it happens – rarely).

Pricing is tricky. There’s no real science to it, and no standard estimating process to follow. When considering a range of estimates, be aware of the range of deliverables, the additional services included, the experience of the individual or team, and the supply and demand of the moment.