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WordPress Website Cost to Develop

Every business needs a website. Not only does it tell your customers what you do, but it gives you credibility. WordPress is the best website option, but what will it set you back? The WordPress website cost to develop question isn’t so cut and dry.

Eventually, you have to talk about cost.

If you’re a consultant, you’ve been asked how much your services cost. And you have to make some decisions:

  • What services am I providing?
  • How many hours do I think this will take?
  • How much is this worth to the client from a business perspective?
  • Does the client have money? How about a business plan?
  • Should I charge hourly or by the project?
  • Is this a one-off thing, or is there potential for a long-term relationship?
  • How busy am I? Do I need this job? Do I want it?

These questions are important. The answers are critical. Gauging the client is vital. Every interaction with the client helps you learn more about them and the project and affects the cost.

Cost often also depends on the market and location. For the purpose of this post, we’re assuming we’re talking to an American audience in U.S. dollars. 

How Much Should a Custom WordPress Website Cost to Develop?

Brian has built websites or been part of website projects — all on WordPress — ranging in cost from less than $1,000 to more than $100,000 for complete websites.

So, in short: It always depends.

This differentiation is why we can’t ballpark it for you. It’s essential to build out an estimate specific to your project.

Table of Contents

WordPress Website Cost to Develop

Types of Websites and their Costs

There are many types of websites, each with its potential costs. Brian ranks sites in complexity like this:

  • Simple Blog. Archives and single post views only. A pretty typical layout.
  • Complex Blog. A bunch of “out of the box” styles for various templates. It requires attention to detail on archives, single posts, and other stuff like post formats.
  • Brochure Site. Fairly standard but custom home page design and page layout. Stock archive/blog setup with little to no customizations.
  • Marketing Site. A mashup between a simple brochure and a complicated blog. It requires more designs, and the home page might be a little more advanced than the simple brochure.
  • E-Commerce Site. It could be a mix of any of the websites above plus all the needs in e-commerce (like cart/account/checkout views and tons of configuration considerations). This type of project is often a huge PM bump as well.
  • Small Business Site. Similar to a marketing site, but often includes a couple of custom content types that require design and code, like events, testimonials, services, etc.
  • Large Company Site. Big business websites are like regular business websites, but more. They often have many custom content types, advanced searching needs, tons of content, and some fancy user permissions needs. And, of course, potentially much more.
  • Non-Profit or Advocacy Site. Non-profit and advocacy sites are the holy grail of wanting everything on a budget. These are difficult to keep in scope because they often have the exact needs of big businesses without the budgets.
  • Large Scale Site. You can take any of these types of websites and then say you need it to handle millions of page views per month without breaking a sweat. A whole new layer of complexity comes into play.

The hours it takes to build these different websites can vary tremendously. It depends on the consultant’s experience, whether they’ve done similar work before, how many “gotchas” appear in the project, how particular the client is about any given feature, and more.

Understanding What Goes into Development

Not all websites are created equal, so not all websites will take the same time and work to create. Here are some factors to consider related to the website development process.

Static vs. Dynamic Websites

Static websites are the easiest types of sites to maintain and build. They’re faster for users because they require little back-end processing, and the server only retrieves the requested files. Static sites make it challenging to execute a site-wide change because they require you to update each HTML file. 

Dynamic sites display different information to each visitor. The visitor’s location, time zone, personal preferences, and habits determine the content. This feature creates a more tailored and interactive experience. Instead of building one page that stays the same, web servers build these personalized pages when users request pages. Dynamic sites build these pages on server-side scripting languages like PHP, Python, or Ruby.

Depending on which type of site you need, you may have to work with different developers. Some common types of development include:

  • Front-End Development. The practice of producing CSS, HTML, or JavaScript for a website that the user sees and interacts with directly.
  • Back-End Development. Working with server-side software to make sure the site is functioning correctly. Backend development focuses on databases, architecture, and servers.
  • Database Development. The type of development that focuses on design, programming, construction, and implementation of new databases and modifying existing databases. 

Factors Affecting Website Development Cost

Each website project is unique, and the factors surrounding each project help determine the website cost to develop. 

Factors that affect every project:

  • Level of Complexity. More pages take more time and money to build. Plus, parent and child pages can complicate the process.
  • Design Requirements. Some websites need special features and customization. The more design requirements for a specific project, the more it will cost.
  • Platforms and Technologies. If the project requires the developer to integrate technologies into the website, it adds to the time and cost to build. While many technologies make integrations easy with API keys, not all companies can quickly provide that to their web designer.
  • Functionality. Plugins can be relatively inexpensive, but setting them and ensuring they work well together can take a lot of time. 
  • Security. You can add different levels of security to websites. The costs can be a one-time fee or ongoing. For any e-commerce site, continuous security monitoring is crucial.
  • Maintenance and Updates. The developer will need to add new components to sites, and regular maintenance ensures everything functions probably and is consistently updated.

Considerations for Small Businesses

If you’re a small business owner needing a website, there are some unique factors to consider before you approach a developer.

Factors that affect small business projects:

  • Budget. Knowing the limitations of your budget is crucial. This knowledge will help you choose the best web developer for you while also giving you realistic expectations about the type of website you’ll receive.
  • Timeline. The more complex a website is, the longer it takes to develop. Plus, if you have a lot of old website content that needs to be accounted for, it can add development time.
  • Outsourcing. When you create a website in-house, you have more control of the process and final product. But when you outsource, you don’t have to worry about paying full-time salary and benefits to the developer or tying up team members with the project.

Estimating the Cost to Develop a Website

An estimate takes time. Whether that time is in a paid discovery or a sunk cost the consultant takes on themselves is a different matter. Either way, estimates are expensive because they’re time-consuming. And if a consultant spends a week on an estimate or proposal, they’ll put that cost into the proposal somewhere.

Estimate Cost and Timeline 

There are some broad brush typical price ranges we can establish for you. Let’s start by segmenting based on who you’re working with. Basically, working with a freelancer will generally be cheaper than working with an agency. Agencies have more overhead, padding built in, concern about cash flow, and generally just tend to be a bit more expensive.

If you work with an agency, the risk of them falling off the map is generally lower, but they move slower too. And you’ll often have to deal with changing contacts as the project progresses (from sales to design to development to maintenance).

If you work with a freelancer, your risks are a bit higher that they’ll disappear someday. It means vetting them is even more important than with an agency. But they also tend to move quickly and don’t juggle as many projects simultaneously. You also benefit from working with (typically) one person who knows everything about your project, and you don’t feel like you’re constantly getting bounced around between people.

It’s possible to have a great relationship with a freelancer or agency. Which route is better typically depends on the client’s mentality and requirements.

Pricing Views 

It’s generally good to estimate how many unique views a website has to consider how much it will cost.

Unique views are:

  • The home page
  • The archive page — although it could be category, search, and more, combined in one unique view
  • The blog “post” page
  • The generic “page” template, though it can be mashed with the post view
  • Custom page templates — like fancy about us pages or a key landing page
  • Custom post types — sometimes in the traditional archive/singular sense and other times the way it sits within another view, like how an FAQ content type may fit into a regular page
  • Variable sidebars within sections of the website

Unique views aren’t always evident. Depending on how discovery conversations go with the client, you can figure out more necessary unique views.

What’s essential about unique views is that they’re excellent for estimating design time, and they can help guide estimating development time.

If a unique view requires a comp (design preview for the client), then that’s a relatively set number of required hours for design. If it doesn’t require a comp, it’s still best to build in time for the designer to do a quality check after it’s developed, so they can make sure it looks good.

Designing a unique view from the ground up could take a designer between four and 10 hours, depending on the complexity. For certain complex or innovative views, that number could hit upward of 20 hours just for design.

Also, design requires a base set of hours to establish the overall tone of the website and to design things rarely considered with unique views, like the header, footer, and overall style guide. The website’s base elements and style guide could easily range between 10 and 100 hours. It’s a ridiculous range, but it’s necessary.

So, we’ve established a framework for pricing the design of unique views. Developing them is a different story.

You must carefully consider development. Generally, every design hour should get a development hour to go with it. But development hours can easily break that rule, especially when developing something complex. 

Development hours can be literally anything for wholly custom functionality, which is entirely outside this post’s scope. Development can cost millions of dollars.

Pricing Content 

With WordPress, you can add as many posts and pages as you want. But the more posts or pages the client’s existing website has (and expects to transfer to the new site), the more complex the new project will be.

Some levels to consider when pricing content:

  • Less than 10 pages No big deal
  • More than 30 pages – Start thinking about structure
  • Hierarchical pages (lots of parent > child page relationships) – Require strategic thinking time
  • Hundreds of pages – Either a problem or a lot of strategy and design consideration
  • Thousands of blog posts, taxonomies (category/tag handling), and searches – Probably cost more
  • A lot of content – Navigation needs to be uniquely priced 
  • Multi-author blog – Needs special consideration
  • Pages or posts need editorial workflow (section management, change or publishing approval, etc.) – Need special consideration
  • Current CMS isn’t WordPress – Migration requires special language and details to make it happen
  • Current CMS is WordPress – Understand plugins or custom code potentially creating shortcodes or weird content handling (maybe with custom fields) or what other bad practices may be present

Pricing Time

Time is a huge factor to consider when building a website. Developers need to charge for the time a project will take to complete. 

Both freelancers and agencies factor time into their pricing. So the time spent researching a project, bidding on it, and meeting with the clients is built into the pricing structure. It’s not just the cost of the time spent working on WordPress website development, though that is the bulk of the cost. 

Pricing Site Factors 

Every website development project is different, and the goals of each website owner vary as well. The developer must consider each specification when determining the website’s cost.

Additionally, the client is a huge factor in price. In short, if a client is going to be difficult, it affects the client multiplier on the overall project cost.

Client qualities that end up costing money are when the client:

  • Doesn’t have a single point of contact (multiple people always have to be looped into communication)
  • Has to get some form of committee approval
  • Isn’t decisive or is incapable of playing the “consultant advocate” role well internally
  • Has a lot of red tape for decision making
  • Payment schedules are awful (payment may take months)
  • Is prone to huge email threads about small issues
  • Wants daily or frequent phone calls or meetings
  • Doesn’t have a clear business plan and will require a lot of advising

These are mostly people and organizational things. They have little to do with the actual project.

Let’s say the work for a project will be about $20,000. Add in these client qualities that could get costly from a project management perspective and apply them to the overall cost.

In a $20,000 project, it’s not uncommon for $5,000 of that to be project management costs. If there are enough concerns to warrant 50% higher PM costs, the project gets a $2,500, or 12.5%, increase in overall project cost.

Looking for client qualities that trigger higher costs is vital as a consultant. For potential clients, remember that your qualities (organizational and behavioral) affect your consultant’s price.

Working with a Freelancer for Website Development 

Freelancers can be an affordable option for website development, but not everyone enjoys working with them, and they aren’t the right fit for every project.

Pros and Cons of Freelancers

Working with freelancers can be good if you have a quick turnaround time. Unlike agencies, freelancers tend to work on one project at a time, so they can focus on your website until it’s finished. You’ll also only communicate with the freelancer during the project, unlike with agencies where you may speak to different departments in various project stages. 

But freelancers don’t always have the same schedule availability since they’re a smaller business operation. So, if you need updates in the future, it may take a long time to get on the freelancer’s schedule. 

Also, many freelancers work alone, leading to a more unstructured process, which means you may not know the project’s stage. The freelancer you work with will also likely be acting as their own project manager, so you won’t necessarily get as many updates or information about the project’s status while they’re working.

When a Freelancer is a Good Fit 

In general, freelancers are great for jobs that fit the following criteria:

  • Are small enough for one person to handle 
  • Have a tight timeline, and you want them to start quickly
  • Are fine with informal communication channels 
  • Don’t need big contractor agreements, insurance, or other common big-business requirements

Working with an Agency for Website Development 

Agencies are a more established alternative to working with freelancers. They tend to have greater resources and an established process.

Pros and Cons of Agencies 

Working with agencies can be good for a lot of reasons. Because they specialize in what you’re paying for, you have the potential to build a long-term relationship with them and will be able to come back to them for future projects. You’ll also have a project or client manager to usher you through the process and explain what’s going on with your website. Plus, agencies have dedicated processes, so you know nothing will be left out or forgotten.

But there are still limitations to working with agencies. They work with a large number of clients, so that means you may have a waiting period before they begin your project. It can also lead to a slower project turnaround time. 

As your project progresses, you’ll have different points of contact for the various stages. 

Working with an agency also can be expensive since they have more overhead costs.

When an Agency is a Good Fit 

In general, agencies are better when you:

  • Don’t want to risk your consultant disappearing
  • Are comfortable with a project structure you don’t define and following their process
  • Can handle a multi-month project that takes two to six months
  • Don’t mind waiting 30 to 90 days to start until you can fit into their schedule 
  • Want a dedicated project manager
  • Have a large-scope or fast-turnaround project that requires multiple people working full-time on it

Comparing Freelancer vs. Agency Rates

For most projects, the consultant has to estimate the time it will take them to build and charge at least that. So the consultant probably isn’t charging much more than their cost.

Whether the consultant is an agency or a freelancer, the developer only spends about half their day on the project. Also, that number is probably higher for your average web worker in an agency. It still works as an average because managers and PMs typically won’t hit 50%, and their time may not even factor into direct costs.

Assume the freelancer is billing an end client, not subcontracting to an agency where their costs decrease considerably due to less PM and consistent work.

Finally, utilize these hourly rates as if it’s for billable work and known costs. So, if the rate is $100 per hour and the design will take 50 hours and the development will take 50 hours, and you build in 25 hours for project management, it would be 125 hours, and the project would cost $12,500. Profits, overhead, and everything else are built into the internal hourly rate — just like if someone were billing the client hourly for the work.

Understanding Special Cases 

Freelancers and agencies also break their own rules all the time. A great example is when you get an inquiry from a big brand. If it’s a competitive bid, and a consultant wants that brand as a featured client, they could easily drop their rates by a third or more to get it — hoping that that brand will make other folks want to work with them down the road. 

Sometimes this is effective. Other times it’s a terrible idea. Referrals can come from anywhere, and generally, bending your rates for a brand name is a bad idea, even though it’s tempting.

Other times, consultants break their own rules or don’t follow their internal rates. Consultants may charge less if it’s a client they work with repeatedly and know the true costs better. Consultants may charge less for non-profit organizations, with a retainer, if work is slow or if they get emotionally invested in the bid. The list of ways to break the guidelines goes on and on.

Common Freelancer Rates

Freelance WordPress website developers today make $30 to $175 an hour, with the average developer charging $70 an hour. Freelancers with good experience, who are more in demand, and those with reputations as specialists charge more for their services.

Common Agency Rates

WordPress website development agencies charge anywhere from $3,000 to $75,000 or more to build a website, depending on your needs, their reputation, and the size of the market they serve. The better their reputation and the bigger, more high-profile projects they’ve completed in the past, the more they can charge. They also can charge more if they have a niche expertise.

Market size is the difference between working in big towns or small cities (small market), cities that are thriving but not huge (medium market), or the type of city that’s got pro sports teams and more than a million people (large market). The bigger the market, the more an agency can charge. Agencies in mega markets, like New York and San Francisco, can charge much more.

How to Get Your Website Development Started

Before you contact a web developer to build your website, there are some things to do to prepare. This list will help you be more intentional about your web development project and ensure you get what you need.

  • Assess Any Current Site Failings. What do you wish your site could do that it doesn’t? Are there any functions you absolutely need to add?
  • Identify Your Goals. Know what you want from a new site. This direction will help your developer build a better site for you.
  • Create a Comprehensive List of Needs. This list will help your developer create a website that works best for your business and help you determine what’s most important during the web development process.
  • Determine Your Budget. Knowing how much money you have to work with will help you choose a developer and understand what features you can afford.
  • Research Freelancers or Agencies. Think about your timeline and how you’d like the project to proceed. Find a developer that will work well with you.
  • Track Progress and Stay Connected. Know where your website is in the development stages. This tracking will help you stay on top of the project.

Do You Want to Learn More About WordPress Development?

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88 Comments

  1. This is the best breakdown of costing I’ve read related to the kind of client-work I do (small-to-medium). I’d love to hear what others in the industry think about the cost estimates you’ve indicated. I’ve undercharged for years and only recently started trying to correct my cost estimates.

    Often the social costs (project management) of small jobs equals or exceeds the technical costs, because the client is too invested or not invested enough, or just needs a lot of hand-holding. I give huge discounts to a couple clients that I’ve worked with in the past, because I know when I deliver something they’ll say “great” and go with it and I won’t hear from them until they really need something.

    One of the biggest client multipliers for me is feature creep. If the client has a new feature request with each new discovery conversation, that suggests to me that they’re only really thinking about the project when we talk. That feature creep is not likely to stop as the project goes forward.

    Another big one is one-line answers to complex questions. If I’m asking a complex early-stage question about strategy and I get a one-line answer, from experience I know that they’re only really going to start investing in the project when they start to see the result (ie – once I’ve done all the work). That makes for a lot of headaches late in the game.

  2. Great article,
    I wish that all our clients can read this before contacting us. Pricing is hard and you are right about that. In last couple of years there are so many developers and freelancers and getting even near prices you have written here is almost impossible.

  3. Great article Brian! A lot of great takeaways for a range of different web workers, it has definitely given me a few points on how to structure pricing for my next project.

  4. This is by far the best article I’ve ever read on this topic. Great, great job Brian! The only thing I would add from my experience (8+ years of building mostly WP based sites): don’t be afraid to ask the price that you deserve. Clients will respect you more, and you’ll have a whole different clientele to start with. Those with bigger budgets are usually “easier” clients, they hire you for a lot of money because they don’t want to deal with the details. Cheap clients will have all the time on their hands (because their business isn’t going well, that’s why they can’t afford realistic prices) and will try to control your every move. Oh and more often than not they’ll want to teach you how you should do your job too! 🙂 So yeah, do yourself a favor and ask 1,5x-2x the original price you had in your mind when you thought “I should really get this job, it would be awesome…”!

  5. Totally accurate in every respect. I’m going to link to it and use it in future correspondence. It might be on the long side for them to actually read, but if they do it will help me qualify them and help them orient themselves and their expectations.

  6. Brian, thank you for this, it’s a great article – and like others have commented, I plan to make this required reading for all future freelance prospects.

    The points about client multipliers and pre-made themes were especially poignant.

    @MarkGavalda Your comment completely echos my experience with agency projects over the last several years.

  7. Awesome post Brian. Very detailed and well executed.

    I personally place myself in the Excellent freelancer category and I’m continually striving to improve.

    What’s been helpful for me in my estimates and quotes has been the approach you discuss with Unique Views along with keeping track of how long I spend on each one. I break down each Unique View into two phases: (1) scaffolding (creating the template files and any backend customizations they require); and (2) styling.

    Currently I estimate my time at 4.5 hours to scaffold a unique view and 3 hours to style a unique view at 3 responsive breakpoints. I don’t always keep these numbers the same for each project, but these are my starting points and they can fluctuate up or down depending on the other myriad of details you touched on.

    It usually does not take me 4.5 hours to scaffold a contact page, but if a custom post type has multiple custom taxonomies that need custom search functionality then my time spent tends to even out.

    In general though, I feel like most freelancers spend too much time contemplating how much to charge or how to breakdown their quotes. It’s an important part of the business, but if you’re not consistently approaching the *right* clients for you then you won’t have much contemplating or breaking down to do in the first place.

    Happy coding!

  8. All of this is so spot on, thanks for articulating. The challenge is many clients are “unsophisticated” when buying our types of web services. I think the key to success is setting their expectations properly and letting them know if they want their project to come out well someone is going to have to pay close attention to it and in order to do this it costs $$$. 😉

  9. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a client asks “How much does it cost to build a website?”. That’s like calling a contractor and asking them “How much does it cost to build a house?”…. um, well, first there is the land, the location, the size, the type, the products used, etc. etc. etc. Naturally various companies and individuals charge differently for what seems like the same things – but in my experience it’s NEVER apples to apples. If you bring me a website quote from another company I am going to look at the entire website checklist and I’m pretty sure there will be differences in what this person is offering verses what I would suggest. For example, sure- a basic website on a WordPress Template might be “cheap” but does that include custom and responsive design, images, content, website architecture, on-page SEO, forms, a custom thank you and 404 error page, installing Google Analytics and Webmaster tools, call tracking, etc. No? Oh. Well, maybe your website quote is cheap for a reason. Good luck with that. Call me when they are done building you your crappy website so I can fix it.

  10. This is great. But why are you talking about “views” and “custom content types”, instead of “custom post types”? We are not in Druipal-land any more. 🙂

    1. Haha. I find “custom content types” to be more clear than post types to non-WordPress centric folks. And I determine “views” as uniquely designed templates, purely for quoting purposes. I’ve found those terms do well with less technical stakeholders.

    2. Remember a customer has no knowledge about building a website, so when a customer asks, your response should be it depends and explain it to them.

      Better yet, design a website that has a few input variables that gives a very rough estimate of what price range it will be in.

  11. Brian, this is a great piece. Thanks! I’ve recently updated my online estimate system to use sites based on the breakdown here in your post as I think it’s a lot more intuitive for prospective clients.

    (the estimator itself is a work in progress but hopefully it’ll get there one day)

  12. Absolutely brilliant. Someone above said they would link to this post. I will go one step further and say that it should be linked to from beneath all our contact forms. Before a prospective client can click submit, they have to also click the check box that says they’ve read it.

    1. To be honest, this is one I hit head on. After an initial meeting with the potential client, I straight out ask them what the budget is that they have in mind. I let them know that I’m aware it’s not an easy question to answer (because who want’s to give a number first right?) but it is very important that I know if they are looking for a $500 site (which will not be me) or if they are willing to spend actual money and have a quality website built. As long as it’s reasonable and I think it fits what they are trying to do, I move forward. It also allows me to scale up or down, include things instead of up charging (for instance ‘great, we can even include 10 hours of SEO to help you write the pages’) which gives them the feel that they just received more for what they were already willing to pay.

  13. Really well written post Brian, that’s undoubtably going to help many many people.

    I’d like to see more written about getting into the top end of the market. I’ve been on the client side of a CMS project, with 3 websites, that was 7 figures. That went to a business pitching an open source PHP based system (not WordPress, Drupal or Joomla).

    The expectations at that level are very different including, in our case, the need to respond to a tender. No-one pitched WordPress. The company that won spends a lot of time pitching and cultivating relationships, they offer end to end solutions (planning, design, development, hosting, migration, support, training,etc) and they have a large team behind them.

    There aren’t many WordPress businesses operating in this space and I’d like to see more step up to the plate – it’s hard but potentially well worth it!

    1. The top end is a lot different to where a lot of people start, or are, like myself. When you’re playing at the top it matters more about strategy and results, and it’s a lot easier to get that right if you have better relationships with the clients and suppliers.

      On smaller jobs and budgets it’s a lot easier to get stuck in the details, but details like what CMS/framework/language you use generally doesn’t matter.

      One person that has started to challenge my thinking is Jose from http://theskoolrocks.com/ – his approach is a lot more on the strategy and client relation side which I think is increasingly important.

  14. Bravo. I wish I had this article when I started my business, but I will use it as a reference point from now on when pricing out client projects (and for explaining pricing to prospective clients).

  15. I’ll echo the comments above – this is one of the most comprehensive, well thought out posts on pricing WP projects that I’ve come across. Thanks for sharing!

  16. hi
    I have a startup and am looking for someone to develop my site for me – I understand the pain of having to try and get a proper estimate
    one thing that is missing is a template or guide etc that customers can fill out that helps them define exactly what they want and need from their sites – this would enable customers to provide the developers with the best possible information and this would make the proposal easier to prepare
    If anyone has such a document please post it here – thanks
    michael

  17. I’ll echo some of these previous comments and agree that this one of the best and most thorough pieces on the subject. In addition to everything you mentioned, I find myself often forgetting to charge for educating the client on how to use their new website. From backup plugins, to SEO, to commerce, to simple things like “don’t forget to about the Featured Image” section. Really adds up… Thanks again!

  18. Wow,

    As a representative of a web agency, I can tell you that this is one of the most thought out and well-written posts I have seen in quite some time. People charge too little all of the time and it stinks to see that!

    Awesome job Brian!

  19. Good article, but I think your rates for freelancers are off, both the hourly and per-site rates. I’ve been a full-time web development freelancer for over 15 years and have spent a lot of time writing and counseling and advising freelancers to charge more, for the same reasons and reasoning you give here. But I believe your rates are significantly higher than reality in both those areas, especially in the current economic climate in the U.S. In a recession, and with services like SquareSpace and WordPress.com eliminating millions of potential clients from the pool, it’s hard to get paid a lot. I think I stand my ground and am more determined to be paid well than 9 out of 10 freelancers I talk to, but even I can’t charge the rates you give here.

    1. Freelance rates or project rates?

      I’m definitely not speaking to every freelancer and freelance market here. You simply have to make certain assumptions.

      especially in the current economic climate in the U.S. In a recession, and with services like SquareSpace and WordPress.com eliminating millions of potential clients from the pool

      If you’re competing against WordPress.com and Squarespace, I think that’s the problem — it’s not the client you should go after.

      I also question the note that we’re in recession. Are certain aspects of the economy forever changed due to the fallout in 2008 and recession that followed? Absolutely. Are there still places that are suffering from it? Yes. But are we truly in a recession? I don’t think so. I think there is a lot of money in the economy and in businesses right now.

      I think I stand my ground and am more determined to be paid well than 9 out of 10 freelancers I talk to, but even I can’t charge the rates you give here.

      Which rates? The $25-40 per hour or the $200 per hour? Different people with different specialties and in different markets charge different rates. But I know for a fact that those rates and everything in-between are being charged, and the higher end rates are working for a number of successful freelancers.

      1. Your reply seems a little defensive; I was just offering my opinion to add to the discussion, as someone with a large amount of direct personal experience and knowledge of what many other freelancers get paid. I’m not going to get into a debate, but I do stand by everything I said in my first post, point by point.

        1. Hey Patty,

          I wasn’t attempting to be defensive; I’m just curious about your perspective.

          Either way, I appreciate your comment and perspective.

        2. Patty – I do feel that the rates that Brian put are pretty spot on for my area. My question though is where are you from and what are the prices you are seeing? Not being defensive of the post, I’m truly curious as I know the prices vary so much. Here in Maine, we tend to seek out clients that are out of state because they don’t mind paying. Also we’re cheaper then most companies in the large markets such as Boston/New York.

  20. This is an excellent breakdown. It took me a few years to learn about what you refer to as the “client multiplier,” and it made critical difference in getting paid adequately.

  21. So if a good freelancer will charge $3,000 to $15,000 per website, the next post in the series should be: “How many websites should the average freelancer make in a year to earn a respectable living?” wink wink 😉

  22. Having just moved from a free lance role to a newly established Agency, this is Spot-On. The variables are interesting too. We usually factor in 10-20% contingency based on those factors… It’s usage eaten in PM time. Thanks for sharing!

  23. I think I’m going to have to make this required reading for all future clients. An excellent breakdown and discussion of why I have to charge what I charge for something that “should be pretty simple”.

  24. I’ve been building wp sites for four years as a freelancer after working in an agency. I find your insight very accurate and very helpful to have it so well laid out. Thank you for sharing this great tool!

  25. Brian – Awesome post. Pricing is often the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there, but no one quite knows how to talk about it.

    Speaking from personal experience, I had to come to the point where I realized I was running a professional business, not a hobby shop, and that I couldn’t bill 40 hrs a week, and my taxes were 30% higher that a corporate job. So I knew my rate needed to go up quite a bit.

    The thing is, clients don’t care how much it costs you to run your business. They just want to see results like increased revenue, time saved and business problems solved. Focusing on real-world business results is what will allow you to have happy customers, repeat business and a great income.

    Thanks again Brian!
    – Caleb Mellas

  26. Very well articulated and accurate. As an individual running an agency out of Toronto, Canada we run into these scenarios all the time, and in specific the question about cost. The problem we often run into is the general consumer doesn’t quite understand the difference between Custom vs. Theme. Everyone’s heard about WordPress and typically from my findings have been mislead to think you download the software, install a theme and voila, you’re up and running. You’re breakdown and accuracy surrounding efforts involved in customization, planning and project management are perfectly outlined! Great job and thanks again for the contribution to our amazing community!

    Cheers
    – George!

  27. Definitely one of the most spot on pricing articles I’ve read. Well done. I’ve been in both the Agency and Freelance pricing worlds and both require the the Client Multiplier or (PIA charge. Pain in the A@$ Charge). If you don’t factor that in any amount of ‘profit’ will get sucked right up.

    One thing I have found that is really helpful it to estimate with a range. I range allows for PIA, slush, overages, creative blocks, (some) feature creep etc. If you are upfront with that the client is usually very forgiving.

    When a client balks at a quoted hourly rate (ex. $125 – 175) I usually ask them, “What do you pay your plumber? Your auto mechanic?”. In the Bay Area those guys are $85 – 125 per hour so that usually helps put it into perspective.

    I also can’t agree more to the comments about charging what it’s worth. Freelancers and agencies that underbid only do a disservice to the entire industry.

  28. Great article, as a small agency owner its a constant battle to gauge each project, but we always refer back to how much time we think a project will take from all the data we can get from a client including their analytics data, their requirements, their current site, and requirements we know that they will need based on what they give / tell us.

    Always add a small cushion on pricing to, as you mentioned their is nothing worse than something taking a lot longer than you anticipated and not getting paid for it.

    Also always outline all specifics in a proposal, that way, anything out side of the project scope, you can charge additionally to the client and have a point of reference if they argue it was initially outlined.

    One final thing… Know what you produce, your place in the market and when to turn away potential business that doesn’t fit in to this.

  29. from the customer side – does anyone have a template or similar that they send to clients to help the client define the exact project, functions etc
    I think this would be a great way to make sure there is a meeting of the minds and that each side knows what to expect
    thanks

  30. You know there’s clearly been a lot of thought gone into this post and it really is an excellent point of reference but I ultimately think it’s off beam.

    I would make 2 points:

    Firstly the 18-30 crowd are pretty much computer savvy in a way that not all the 18-30 crowd from a generation ago were not. This means that the typical 25 year old thinks they can and probably could make a decent fist of putting a website together themselves. Sure they may need to hire someone to round off the edges but they’re not having to get someone onboard from start to finish.

    They just go buy a theme they like, set up and away they go.

    Secondly, there’s the foreign market. Why pay top dollar to an agency in New York who have huge overheads and secretarial support or even a freelance who has a huge rent bill to pay when you can contract a guy out in India or the Philippines to make one for you at a daily rate of $1.50.

    The web design business has become nothing more than a race to the bottom, if you can still pull in clients dumb enough to pay $3000 or more for a website then good luck to you, enjoy it while it lasts – because it won’t.

    1. I have fixed many a website that someone thought they could outsource overseas. People only need to learn that lesson once. And while you are right that a lot of people (even those over 30) can put up their first website themselves, those aren’t the clients a freelancer should be going after. A serious business owner is going to hire a professional web designer at the point where their business can afford it and they understand the high-value role that a website can play in their business. That is the client a freelancer should be going after. You are exactly right, although not in the way you intended. A freelancer who is going after the clients you described isn’t going to be a freelancer for very long.

    2. I respectfully disagree on many points. One sentence almost always comes up during a discussion with the potential client. “You’re good at what you do, and I’m good at what I do. I won’t try to do your job if you allow me to do mine”. Now clearly I say it in a friendly way, but basically, I let them know that they are in good hands and I respect that they are probably great at their job, so I expect the same respect from them. This being said, when a client says they can do it themselves, I say go for it, and let me know when you are done and ready for a real site (again, paraphrasing, I’m not an egotistical ass). Usually they don’t like what they put together or more likely, don’t have the time as they are trying to work all the time. Who has time to make a site, heck they can’t usually get me the content!

      As for the 1.50 per day in the Philippines, tell me who you are using?! I pay my designer in the Philippines quite well, making more like $100 per day. You get what you pay for and if you’re paying $1.50 per day, you will not get the dedication, devotion and professionalism that is required.

      That being said – clients like dealing with someone near them – or at least in the country. They feel secure about that. If my designer decides to take off, that’s my issue and I better resolve it before they come to my house and threaten me. They can’t do that if their designer is in the Philippines. They are aware (as I’m open about it) that my employees are all over the world, but they know that I am available almost 16 hours a day and only a few miles away most of the time.

  31. I think there’s a big difference between selling “a website” as you describe it and developing a business solution for a company’s online presence. If a client’s main goal is to “have a website”, it’s my job to shift the conversation to things that matter more — how will a website contribute to your business development, what matters to your market (so we can drive conversions) and where do you want to be in 3-5 years.

    An overseas agency or cut-rate local developer will never take the time to understand a local business’s customer base and use that to craft a solid business solution. In my experience, small business owners (and even non-profit orgs) almost always grasp the significance of business-related metrics immediately. Most of them already have under-performing websites. They’re taking another stab at their website because they want to invest in something better.

    If all they know they’re buying is the CMS and a theme, it makes sense that they’d balk at paying $3000. But for small businesses, if their website can drive steady income their way, $3000 is not a big investment.

  32. Nah. The cheap solutions lack the language, writing, marketing, sales, client handling, and support skills and capacities to turn out good work and long-term satisfied clients. What they do is provide “good enough” solutions for cheap clients who may eventually be able to spend for quality.

    1. Nate said, “An overseas agency or cut-rate local developer will never take the time to understand a local business’s customer base and use that to craft a solid business solution.”

      I understand the point you’re making but I don’t necessarily agree. What makes you think an overseas developer or the local guy is going to care or understand less about his customer than one elsewhere?

      It’s all relative of course, that cut-throat local developer may not be making the stellar bucks that some other guys are making but he still has his reputation to consider and if they’re not producing websites that convert then they’re going to suffer long term for it.

      I’m aware of plenty of really excellent, attentive web developers and craftsmen who would baulk at charging their clients $3000 and upwards but who to a person would do an equally impressive job for any of them.

      In short, charging more sometimes just means charging more. If you think the developer from Asia who is charging 20% of your rate isn’t a threat to you then you’re already in trouble.

  33. Nate is exactly right. Excellent, attentive developers who charge less than $3000 to “build a site” may exist, but they’re wasting their skills. They’d provide more value and get paid better as freelancers if they learned to cover a few more bases beyond coding and design, or if they joined a team that complements them well in delivering long-term business solutions. In ten years I have only seen prices and value go up for those solutions, not down, and there has been no complaining about it.

    Nobody’s market is jeopardized by cheap offshore developers unless their clientele is people who only look at price and think they just need a “developer.” This is a mistake those buyers will learn from when they realize it’s hard to communicate with developers even if they’re local and speak the same language fluently. Just getting a project articulated properly in its specifications, scope and contract is half the battle. Coding mills in Bangladesh don’t do this. They also can’t deal with existing applications where data security and trust are key. I have done work for people who learned the hard way that giving root access to people half a world away is a bad idea, and if it just results in crappy, broken code you are lucky.

    I get contacts daily from Asian developers who want me to farm work out for them. If they are such a threat, why don’t they just talk directly to North American markets? When they are able to do that, things will change, but I don’t see it working out for them without good domestic partnerships.

  34. I think it comes down to figuring out what the market will pay for your skill level. I’ve been designing websites for 16 years and in WordPress for three. For the past year I have ranked in the number one spot on page one of Google in my city for web design and I get a lot of calls. The more work I take in, the more I raise my prices. The work keeps coming.

    At some point, I will top out at what the market is willing to pay. This will be when I get less than 50% of the jobs I send estimates to. This is the price I will be comfortable staying at.

  35. Hi there!

    I love this article and the way you brought about a subject that is often taboo for certain clients: Money!

    That said, I think I would of covered a little more the agency side of different web solutions. Although a solo worker can be good at many things, he can’t be an expert in everything. Agencies tend to have different experts. Giving you some quality no matter the aspect (design, programming, marketing, seo, etc.) of your project.

    I’ve never seen a solo worker be able to excel at every aspect of a web presence. That is also something to think about. Having to manage many different resources to obtain the same quality of work 🙂

  36. Great article Brian! Really well thought out and extremely thorough. There’s definitely a number of points you’ve made that are making me rethink how I approach proposals, from now on. Thanks!

  37. Wow, Brian – that was the most thorough, well-thought out post I’ve read on pricing so far. Completely agree with your client multipliers. I’ve learned over time that some clients need more managing than others… and that I need to start working that out ahead of time so I can charge accordingly.

    Really like your breakdown of unique views and of content. That’s an approach I’m going to take from now on. Thanks!

  38. Agree, wow, this is one brilliant article on estimation and WordPress. Rates are pretty accurate from my experience working in an agency and as a freelancer in the North West. If there was ever a document which could help bring some more education and price control to the web design/dev industry, this would be it. There is so much variation days and confusion on pricing that it can baffle the confidence in both the clients and companies pitching. e.g. – the scenarios where you get variance of more than 10x between the lowest and highest bidder.

    Thanks

  39. A fantastically well thought out post, thanks very much! It’s lovely to read a post by someone who has such a detailed understanding of all the factors that come into play on a WordPress web design project, I have had very similar experiences. I love the following paragraph and agree 100%!

    “Yes, custom design costs more than pre-built themes — until you try to add functionality to or modify the way something works in a template. Then you want to cry and run into a hole and pity yourself for having charged less money for using a pre-built theme.”

  40. Great article with excellent details. I’ve shared it within my own company as it provides several good talking points.

    I know this is focused primarily on WordPress website design, but I would reiterate others’ comments that a full-fledged agency can provide benefit in the form of long-term business services that incorporate overall strategy and marketing principles, even when it isn’t a “huge” project. A holistic approach can help ensure the website is not “on an island” and provide the most benefit. I’ve seen several times where it’s difficult for one person to take that many viewpoints into consideration.

    Freelancers can of course partner with other independent contractors, but at the risk of individuals with differing values and goals. A team in an agency (usually) is on the same page and can offer the client a big picture.

  41. This is a difficult topic to summarize but you did a great job. One thing I have learned over the last few years is how to judge clients and projected time. You get a good idea after doing a number of wordpress projects how long each may take based on the client and content. I think to myself what should I be making in this time frame based on my experience and previous salaries.

    The other variable which has almost doubled my rate over the last few years is the above and beyond steps you should be taking to optimize their site. A site I spent 20 hours on 4 years ago I spend 40 on now just based on all the things above the design. Keyword research and content writing, SEO, consistently optimizing plugins like WP SEO, Google implementation, directory consistency, etc. This is all time consuming stuff I did not do years ago.

    One thing I do not agree with though is the rate structure most people associate with agencies vs. freelancers. I always thought if I am providing lets say level 4 design and seo as a freelancer, why should an agency make more who has a level 2 designer doing the project. I always felt you should charge what you are worth, regardless if you work in your parents basement as a freelancer, or your an agency with a $4000/mo oceanfront office lease.

  42. It’s great to hear I’m not the only one who really struggles to avoid giving discounts to clients for various reasons.

    This article could well become the pricing bible to help keep freelancers like me from making huge pricing mistakes for new projects.

    I really like the pricing structure based on the number of views, that should help with communication too to make it clear what is going to cost extra and why.

  43. Hi Brian

    And thank you so much for this article. Amazing.

    I’m curious in regards to the 50% billable time. Does that have an effect on project costs? For instance, if a consultant has a higher billable time, do they usually charge more because projects get done faster?

    Or is that simply a rate to give us an average idea of timelines?

    Thank you for your reply, and of course, for this article.

  44. “The freelancer you work with will probably utilize a team of other subcontractors in this scenario, because it’s rare for someone to truly deliver all the things you need running solo.”

    As someone who would be considered a rarity based on this comment it’s unfortunate that some clients share that sentiment, in that no one person would be able to deliver all the things they’d need, especially those clients whose projected investment would be in the $5000 to $15000 range. I’ve taken clients away from local agencies whose knowledge of the services they were offering and subsequent deliverables did not justify what the clients were paying.

  45. Fantastic article and I’m thoroughly confused – which is a good thing. I’m looking to take on building a website for my startup business, and the more I read, the more I realize how vague things are – price to charge being one them.

    Thanks again for this. I’ll be reading it a couple times more to make sure I’m less and less confused 🙂

    JB

  46. Nice post. I had lot of doubt in pricing before, now I am cleared. Yout pricing list is correct, we spent lot of time in internet for learning designing, programming, analysing and marketing. So we have to fix reasonable price for our website. Thanks one again.

  47. Although I have done freelance work for 15 years, I still haven’t wrapped my head around the best way to price. As my reputation grew, my rates increased, but this article gave me a great starting point for pricing factors like “views” and those mark-ups for difficult client. Of course current economics also influences price. If I have no projects lined up, I may take a lower price.

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