Response to an Inquiry for $500 Website

PaulA word or two...

I didn’t write this, but I wish I had. Good reasoning from Joel Barker @

I would love to recommend someone to you to make a site for $500, but your budget is not going to produce anything satisfying to you. I am sorry. I really believe that the small actor should be able to make use of the web and I am always trying to think of ways to make progress on small budgets.

I think you should evaluate that budget. I don’t know a lot about your enterprise, so if I make a few assumptions here forgive me. It is a good thought experiment.

As a programmer, I am sure that your own bill rate is over $50 an hour, which would make $500 a ten hour project. There is not much programming that can get done in ten billable hours. The same is true of the creation of a web site.

There are many variations on the website creation process. All the good ones include you, the customer, as a collaborator. We need to figure out your intention, your audience, your message.

  • That will take at least an hour together.
  • Then we will have to try something out. That is a few hours.
  • Then, we need to get your feedback.
  • Then, we need to either revise or tear up the idea and make something else.

Understand that what we are working on is not just the home page and a color scheme

It is how words and pictures will sit on every page.

It is what needs to be on the top level navigation and what can be found elsewhere.

These days, it is absolutely essential to have sites work on mobile devices, and that requires a lot of time verifying that the layout changes properly for different devices.

That all requires talking and discovery. It takes the time of an expert.

If your budget is actually $500, my recommendation is to open up a Wix or Squarespace site. You can make something yourself that is pretty good looking and obeys the mobile directive.

It will take you personally a lot of time to get it right, but you can get off the ground.

Another option is a “rent-a-site” SEO service that charges monthly to get you hits. They are going to use a pre-existing template and rapidly create a site that will get a lot of click throughs from Google. That can be very useful. You would start at I believe (spitballing here) $350 per month, ongoing. I can introduce you to some people who do that sort of thing as well.

As a thought experiment, I want to propose that you actually spend $3,000 up front for the good of your business.

If you were walking through a mall, and right next to Jamba Juice you found a store whose sign was “Smoothies” scrawled in red Sharpie on a piece of carboard torn from a Milwaukie’s Best case, would you spring for their beverage?

It is absurd to ask of course, because the mall would not allow that. It would call into question the value of every store around it. To be a store in the mall, you have to show the commitment to have a good looking, professional establishment. No one wants to be associated with that guy.

Your website is the new storefront. I am sure that you judge websites pretty quickly as to whether they are successful, worthwhile, shady, authoritative, or half hearted based on your experience with their website. Sometimes we overcome that, but it slows down my willingness to take the next step.

I had that experience recently. I was looking for a particular product, a flat shoe insert that would protect my feet against rocks while running in soft shoes. We live in an amazing time where if you imagine a product, someone is making it. Sure enough: Steep Canyon Running.

That was exactly the product I wanted. However, their website had not been updated in some time. I wanted it bad enough that I emailed them to make sure they still existed before I clicked the buy button. With each sale being $20, that is a pretty inefficient transaction for them.

If they had a competitor, I would have simply purchased from the more believable website. It is good business to be the more believable website, and that does not cost all the much money these days.

If you are willing to do the coding and probably the writing, you should be able to get a website that you can believe in designed for $3,000. Maybe even less. That website will be something you will be proud of. It will show your customers that you are serious and can be trusted.

We are still having the cost conversation. Web designers and builders much prefer to have the value conversation. Successful business think about the value, not “what can I get for X dollars.” How much opportunity can I buy?

Buying a good looking, fast performing, easy to navigate and comprehend website shows your customers that you are into it.

Showing that commitment to yourself will up your own performance and enthusiasm at developing and promoting your products. How many sales do you need to make to recoup that extra $2,500? It seems that if you put that on the business projections of any reasonable business model — even a part time business — that $2,500 debit would disappear pretty quickly.

The result would be that people would be able to see that you were serious. In web design, we presume that looking serious equates to sales for our clients.

If you want, I can find you a designer or two that would fit that bill.

Thank you for bringing this question up. We get asked all the time. I hope I was not harsh.

From our perspective, it can be a little exasperating to feel like someone is trying to talk down the price of web development. It feels that our labor and expertise is not valued, so sometimes we respond to this question with a defensiveness which could offend. I recognize that asking takes some guts and might feel a little vulnerable. As I said, I want there to be a way for you to get the word out about your business.

We take a lot of pride in what we do, and what we do brings value. It presents the value of our clients in a place where absolutely everyone in the world who can operate a computer can see it. That is pretty important work.

Good luck! Do keep in touch. When you find a solution that works for you, I would love to hear about it. The digital world is always changing.