I am often asked: "How much does a website cost?" And the response is usually along the lines of, "There's no one single answer to that question, it will depend on what you want, and it will vary from one project to the next."
Websites are a bit like cars: they can come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and they can perform varied functions. Some cars are built for going fast, some for moving lots of people, some for carrying tools, some for delivering things. And the prices will vary for each type. And even within each type, there will be different models that have lesser or more features which also affect the overall price.
It's the same with websites. Some are for presenting information, some are for selling things, some are places where people can hang out and interact, and some perform business functions. And within the same type or category of website there will be some that have different features.
Always have a good plan first
So asking about price should actually be a few steps down the track. Before you can ask the question, you will need to have lined up some appropriate candidates to ask the question to. And to have drawn up a list of potential candidates, you need to have some confidence they can do what you want. Which means you need to have a good idea of what you want (and don't want) before you begin your search for the right freelance web designer or developer.
Because there are a lot of options out there and you need some ways to filter the choice down to those who are going to work best with you.
How to search
Once you have your plan you can then begin your search. There are a few different ways you can go about this:
- Word of mouth / recommendations
- Internet search
- Competitor search
- Job boards
1. Word of mouth / recommendations
If you know people who have recently had sites built or redesigned, speak to them and ask them about their experiences. If their experiences were positive, then whoever they used might work well for you too. That's not guaranteed though because different personalities can create different working relationships and what works for one person, might not work for the next. But if you trust the person's judgment, then chances are whoever they hired will be a good fit.
2. Internet search
This is where having an idea of what you want comes into play, because if you were to just input 'web designer brisbane' you'd get 227m results! And that's a very large haystack to go through.
You can narrow that down by adding keywords to your search, like…
- a more specific location
- the industry you're in
- specific functions the website might perform, e.g. ecommerce (online store), or
- a particular technology that your existing site uses that you want to keep with any redesign, e.g. a content management system (CMS)
For example if you were to search for 'kids clothing ecommerce website design ashgrove' you get 55,000 results.
3. Competitor search
This involves visiting the websites of competitors in your industry and seeing if they have links to the freelancers or agencies that created the site. If they've done a good job for a competitor, chances are they can do the same for you. Some might have self-imposed restrictions on how many clients from certain industries they work with, but you won't know if you don't ask.
4. Job boards
This method works in reverse from the three above in that this time you post an ad and potential freelancers and studios come to you, whereas with the other three, you're doing all the searching.
You will have to pay to post ads but the money spent on ads may work out less than the time you need to spend searching using the other methods.
If you do decide to go down this route, there are plenty of options, e.g.
Be aware if you choose one of these options, you're likely to receive lots of applications from overseas freelancers.
On the one hand overseas freelancers may charge lower rates because the cost of living in their countries is less, but communication may be an issue, both in language and time zone differences, and some will only do exactly what they're told.
Only doing exactly what's on the list of requirements is fine if you know everything about the process of building a website from start to finish, but if you don't know what you don't know, and you leave important items off the list, they won't get done, and when you later realise something is required and ask for it, you'll be charged extra.
You want a freelancer who is experienced enough, and flexible enough, to realise during the build process that something important is missing and either let you know at the time so you can negotiate for it to be added in, or will add it iin anyway because that's just how they work. Many overseas freelancers won't do this.
What to look for when searching
The first thing you should look at is the website of the freelancer or studio. If they don't have one, or their portfolio only exists on a site that lists lots of other portfolios, or if their email address is Gmail, Hotmail etc. instead of their own domain (web address), you should probably move on. If they can't build a site for themselves, it raises questions over whether they'd be able to build one for anyone else, and if they're not willing to invest a few dollars in getting their own domain name, it raises questions over how professional and dedicated they're going to be.
Once on their site you'll want to look at examples of their past work. You'll be looking to see whether they've done previous work which is similar to what you're after, either in industry, design or functions of the website. Even if there's nothing similar, you might still be caught by the style being presented.
When going through the portfolio, make sure to click through to the actual websites themselves, rather than just looking at images of the website in the portfolio. If you find lots of websites which no longer look like the images in the portfolio, it could be that the portfolio is only showing old work and the sites have since been redesigned by someone else. If a portfolio is only showing old work it could mean
- there is no new work to show
- they haven't had time to update their portfolio
What technologies to use on a site should only be a concern if you have an existing site built with a particular CMS and you want to continue using it and need the site redesigned or upgraded.
If you don't already have a site and have never used any CMSs before, but may have heard others talk about certain ones, don't go specifically looking for people with experience with that one as you'll be limiting your choices and what you're trying to do may not be a good fit for that CMS anyway. After presenting your ideas and plan to the your chosen freelancer or agency, they'll be the best ones to judge which technology to use.
But assuming you do want to use a particular CMS or technology for a project and you're looking for someone experienced with it, you'll want to check that they do actually have experience with it. Check to see if they have information on their site specifically about it. Check the sites in their portfolio to see whether they use the technology in question. You can use Builtwith for that. Just enter the address of the site and it will tell you all the different types of technologies used to build it.
You can also check whether the candidate is part of a professionals directory or has any other accreditations relating to the CMS you want to use.
You've completed your search and drawn up a list of potential candidates for your project. Now it's time to make contact. Hopefully contact methods are easy to find on their website; if not, you may want to reconsider that candidate.
If you send a message either via email, SMS or left on an answering machine, and don't hear back for several days, move on to the next candidate. If your first contact elicits a slow response, it's likely that communication throughout a project is also likely to be drawn out which will lead to frustration.
Also look out for responses sent late at night as it can also indicate someone who's too busy to get back to you during office hours, or someone who struggles with time management, either of which could impact how smoothly the project runs.
Like the price of a website, the next steps are going to be as individual as the project is.
A small project might move quickly from discussing the requirements, to starting work, to completion and then that's the end of the relationship.
For others, that may just be the start as you want the person or people who built the site to always be on hand to make continual improvements. (Hint: this is actually the key to a successful website.)
Or the initial website project may just be the first of many similar projects.
Or maybe you're in a creative business yourself and you're looking for a freelancer to be part of your network of professionals to work on projects in the long term.
Short term v long term
If you're sure that your working relationship is only going to be short term, your initial discussions will probably be all you need to be able to get work under way.
But if you know you're going to be working with your web designer or developer for a long time or on many projects, it may be a good idea to test them out with a small project to start with.
If you're in a creative business yourself and are outsourcing the web development side, this should be easy enough to do: pick the right small project as a test. If you have the resources and are trying out different candidates, you might give the same project to all the candidates and see which produces the best result.
This is not the same as running a competition and only awarding the job to the one who produces the best work; you still pay each candidate for their work but choose the best one to be your long-term partner. It may cost a bit more up front, but may save you in the long run as you'll hopefully pick the right developer and avoid things going wrong on larger projects.
If you're going to be working with someone long term, it's also a good idea to ask for references from previous clients.
Over to you
Hopefully I've provided some useful tips to make the process of finding the right freelancer for your next web design / development project. If you think I might be a good fit for your project, don't hesitate to email or call on (07) 3300 3303.