The cost of a custom WordPress website

How much should a custom WordPress website cost?

Eventually, you have to talk about cost.

If you're a consultant, as I am, 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 me?
  • 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 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 important. Gauging the client is important. Every interaction I have with the client helps me learn more about them and the project at hand, and affects what the cost will be.

Cost often also depends on market and location. I'm assuming I'm talking to an American audience in US dollars. What follows may translate well or poorly depending on your location and culture.

How much should a custom WordPress website cost?

I've built websites or been a part of website projects — all on WordPress — that have ranged in cost from under $1,000 to over $100,000, for complete websites.

So in short: it always depends.

This is why we can't ballpark it for you.

And as Chris notes in that link, “Most people’s budget is 2-3 times smaller than their desires or expectations.” And if I ballpark anything specific it's highly unlikely both of us will be happy once it's all said and done.

A proper estimate costs money

An estimate takes time. Whether that time is in a paid discovery or a sunk cost I (the consultant) bring on myself is a different matter. Either way, estimates are expensive because they are time consuming. And I promise you if I spend a week on an estimate or proposal I'm putting that cost into the proposal, somewhere.

Who is the consultant?

There are some broad brush common price ranges I can establish for you. I'm trying my best to be specific with this post, though that's really, really hard.

Let's start by segmenting based on who you are working with. Basically, working with a freelancer will normally be cheaper than working with an agency.

Agencies have more overhead, more padding built in, are more worried 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 a little lower, but they probably move a little 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 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 at once. You also have the benefit of working with (typically) one person that knows everything about your project, and you don't feel like you're constantly getting bounced around contacts like can happen in some agencies.

It's possible to have a great relationship with a freelancer or with an agency. I think it typically depends on the client's mentality and requirements as to determining which route is better.

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

  • The job is small enough for one person to handle the entire thing (note, most projects fit this category)
  • The timeline is tight, and you want them to start quickly
  • Communication channels don't have to be too formal
  • Big contractor agreements don't have to be signed and the contractor doesn't need insurance or other common big-business requirements

In general, agencies are better for the following criteria:

  • You don't want to risk your consultant disappearing
  • You're okay with a project structure you don't define (most agencies have established processes)
  • You're okay with a multi-month project (I'd say most agency projects last between 2-6 months)
  • You don't mind waiting until you can be fit into their schedule to start (often 30-90 days… but great freelancers often have significant backlogs too)
  • You want a dedicated project manager (some freelancers are phone-call averse)
  • Your project will require multiple full-time folks working simultaneously, either due to deadlines or huge project scope

Freelancer rates vs Agency rates

I don't want to get into hourly versus project billing. But either way, for most projects the consultant has to estimate the time it's going to take them to build, and charge at least that. So I'm going to assume the consultant is not charging an amount enormously higher than their cost just because it's worth it to the client.

Whether the consultant is an agency or a freelancer, I'm going to assume 50% “billable” or productive time. In other words, I'm only figuring that half of anyone's day is spent actually building what's being paid for. I think this is a good goal for most and also quite achievable with discipline. Also, I think that number is probably higher for your average web-worker in an agency, but still works as an average because managers and PMs typically won't hit 50%, if their time is counted into direct costs at all.

I'm also going to assume the freelancer is billing an end client, not subcontracting to an agency where their costs go considerably down due to less PM and consistent work.

Finally, I'm utilizing 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 in” to the internal hourly rate — just like if someone were billing the client hourly for the work.

Freelancer rates

  • Beginner freelancer: $25-$40 per hour
  • Intermediate freelancer: $40-75 per hour
  • Good, experienced freelancer: $75 – $125 per hour
  • Excellent, in demand freelancer: $125 – $175 per hour
  • Specialist, best in industry: $175 – $400 per hour

Agency rates

  • Small market general agency: $50 – $75 per hour
  • Medium market general agency: $75 – $115 per hour
  • Medium market reputable agency: $115 – $150 per hour
  • Medium market high end agency: $150 – $175 per hour
  • Medium market best in industry agency: $175 – $225 per hour
  • Large market reputable agency: $150 – $175 per hour
  • Large market high end agency: $175 – $250 per hour
  • Large market best in industry agency: $200 – $275 per hour

When I say “best in industry”, I'm referring to an agency that's made a name for itself in regard to something specific — maybe high-end WordPress websites, or Ruby on Rails, or websites for newspapers, or eCommerce. It depends.

When I talk market size, I mean the difference between working in big towns or small cities (small market), cities that are thriving but not huge like my own Birmingham, AL (medium market), or the type of city that's got pro sports teams and 1 million+ people (large market). Not listed, but notable, are the mega-markets like New York and San Francisco types. I'm sure you can pay as much as you desire for services in such places.

Also, these are all guesses.

Please, please, please don't take these guesses as offense. I'm purely trying to show you a picture of the landscape, as best as I see it.

I talk to a lot of people. I read a ton. I listen to a ton of podcasts. I go to conferences. But I've only worked at two agencies and freelanced on the side. But I think I have a decent take on the market, and I think this is a practical range to work with.

Consultants break their own rules all the time

Freelancers and agencies also break their own rules all the time. A great example of this 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 — with the hope that that brand will make other folks want to work with them down the road. Sometimes this is effective, sometimes it's a terrible idea. My guess is that referrals can come from anywhere, and generally bending your rates for a brand name is a bad idea; I also want to do it in the heat of the moment all the time.

There are 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 over and over and know the true costs better. Consultants may charge less for non-profit organizations, or may charge less if a retainer is promised, or may charge less if work is slow, or may charge less if they get emotionally invested in the bid. The list of ways to break the guidelines goes on and on.

Who is the client?

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

What is a client multiplier?

Well, I'm glad you asked! Over a number of years, I've started to pick up on client qualities that end up costing money. Here are some things that can get expensive:

  • The client doesn't have a single point of contact (multiple people always have to be looped into communication)
  • The client contact has to get some form of committee approval
  • The client contact isn't decisive, or doesn't seem capable to play the “consultant advocate” role well internally
  • The client has a lot of red tape for decision making
  • The client's payment schedules are really bad (as in, I might not get paid for work I've done for months)
  • The client contact is prone to huge email threads over small issues
  • The client contact wants daily/frequent phone calls or meetings
  • The client 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 around $20,000. I usually add up 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 I decide 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 important as a consultant. And for potential clients out there: keep in mind that your qualities (organizational and behavioral) affect your consultant's price.

Costs ranges for different types of websites

There are many types of websites, and each has their own potential costs associated.

The many different types of websites

I tend to rank sites in complexity like this:

  • Simple blog (2-3 views): Archives and single post views only, and a pretty typical layout.
  • Simple brochure site (2-4 views): Fairly standard but custom home page design, page layout. Stock archive / blog setup with little to no customizations.
  • Complicated blog (4-6 views): A bunch of “out of the box” styles for various templates, requires attention to detail on archives, single posts, and other stuff like post formats.
  • Marketing site (3-7 views): Basically a mashup between the simple brochure and complicated blog. Requires more designs to be made and the home page might be a little more advanced than the simple brochure.
  • Business website (5-12 views): Similar to a marketing site, but often includes a couple of custom content types that require design and code, like events, testimonials, services, etc.
  • eCommerce website (10-25 views): Could be a mix of any of the websites above, plus all the needs in eCommerce (like cart/account/checkout views, and tons of configuration considerations). This is often a huge PM bump as well.
  • Big non-profits or advocacy sites (10-30 views): I've found that non-profits and advocacy sites are pretty much the holy grail of wanting everything on a budget. These are really hard to keep in scope because they often have the same needs of big businesses, without the budgets.
  • Big business website (12-30+ views): Big business websites are like regular business websites, but more of it. They often have lots of custom content types, advanced searching needs, tons of content, and perhaps some fancy user permissions needs. And of course potentially much, much, more.
  • Big scale: You can take pretty much any of these types of websites and then say you need it to handle millions of pageviews per month without breaking a sweat, and a whole new layer of complexity comes into play.

The hours it takes to build these different types of websites vary 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.

However, I tend to believe in a few key concepts about pricing.

Pricing views

Generally, I try to estimate how many unique views a website has in order to wrap my head around how much it's going to cost.

What's a unique view?

  • The home page is a unique view.
  • The archive page is a unique view. Though archive pages could be category, search, and more all combined in one unique view.
  • The blog “post” page is a unique view.
  • The generic “page” template is a unique view, though can sometimes be mashed with the post view.
  • Custom page templates — like fancy about us pages, or a key landing page — are unique views.
  • Custom post types are often unique views — 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 can be unique views

Unique views aren't always obvious. I usually figure out more necessary unique views depending on how my discovery conversations go with the client.

What's important about unique views is that they are excellent for estimating design time, and they at least 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 hours for design that are required. If it doesn't require a comp, I usually still build in some time for the designer to quality check after it's been developed, so they can make sure it looks good.

Designing a unique view, from the ground up, could take a designer between 4 and 10 hours depending on the complexity; and for certain complex or innovative views that number could hit upwards 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 that are rarely considered with unique views, like the header, footer, and overall style guide. The base elements and style guide for the website could easily range between 10 and 100 hours. Yes, I know that's a ridiculous range. You should be accustomed to this by now.

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

Development must be carefully considered. Generally, my rule of thumb is that every design hour should get a development hour to go with it. But development hours can easily break that rule, especially when you are developing something complex. I use that rule for when the thing being developed is a known entity — like if you're building a custom post type for a team page or something.

Development hours can be literally anything for wholly custom functionality, and that is completely outside the scope of this post. Development can cost millions of dollars.

Pricing Content

With WordPress, you can add as many posts and pages as you want. This is true. I've also found that 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.

I don't have a perfect factor for increasing the price of a proposal because there is a lot of content, but I have some levels that I consider worth noting.

  • If there are less than ten pages, no big deal.
  • If there are more than 30 pages, you better start thinking about structure.
  • If pages are hierarchical (lots of parent > child page relationships) it's going to cost strategic thinking time.
  • If there are hundreds of pages, there's either a problem or a lot of strategy and design consideration to be made.
  • If there are thousands of blog posts, taxonomies (category / tag handling) and search are going to be important to consider, and will probably require more cost.
  • If there is a lot of content (of any sort), navigation needs to be uniquely priced for internal quoting purposes.
  • If it's a multi-author blog (likely with big blogs), it's going to need special consideration.
  • If pages or posts need editorial workflow (section management, change or publishing approval, etc), it's going to need special consideration.
  • If the current CMS isn't WordPress, the migration is a huge deal and you need some great language and details about how that's going to happen.
  • If the current CMS is WordPress, you need to know what plugins or custom code is potentially creating shortcodes or other weird content handling (maybe with custom fields), or what other bad practices may have taken place and need to be accounted for.

These are just some quick thoughts on content. There are more, but this is a great starting point.

Custom design vs a pre-built theme

You may have noticed I have not once brought up the question of whether the website is built using custom design or with a pre-built distributed WordPress theme.

Websites cost money for many reasons beyond the base styles.

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.

For small sites, the question of custom vs pre-built themes is a big one. As the site gets bigger and more complex, the savings for using a pre-built theme are far less and can easily invert.

In short: clients shouldn't get too excited about the potential cost savings of pre-built themes and consultants should be careful about charging less for them.

Pricing is hard

Are you confused? Good.

Pricing is hard. Really. Hard.

People write books on this subject. I've written over 3,000 words and I'm not sure I've done it any justice at all.

Custom website prices

Okay, so after all of this, how much is it, you ask again? Hopefully now you realize it could be anything. People are not kidding when they say $1,000 or $1,000,000 (or more!).

However, in the interest of being helpful, I think here are some “ballparks” to consider:

Can you get a custom website for under $3,000? Yes, but be very careful, and know your risk of getting something imperfect is high.

If you work with a good freelancer, I think ~70% of custom websites for average folks and average businesses will cost between $3,000 and $15,000.

If you work with a good agency in a medium market, I think ~70% of custom websites for average folks and average businesses will cost between $8,000 and $40,000.

This difference from freelancers is because larger sites will naturally gear toward agencies, and agencies will be less likely to take on smaller projects if they can take bigger ones instead. That said, some agencies love the small jobs, because they get really good over time at doing quality work in less time than the competition.

If you work with a best in business freelancer to build something special (whether a simple blog or complex website), you'll probably spend between $10,000 and $50,000+. 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.

If you work with a best in business agency to build something special (whether a simple blog or complex website), you'll probably spend between $15,000 and $100,000+. Most agencies will self-perform the work, and often times you can expect them to be available for retainer contracts, hosting / maintenance agreements, and other long-term relationship style services.

It's also worth noting that in large projects, it's very common to break them into multiple projects and phase them. This is very typical with six-figure clients, and in these scenarios it's not uncommon for some agencies to have million dollar per year clients, whether billed hourly, by project, or a combination of both.


I write this post for three audiences:

  1. Clients looking to hire a consultant, and not knowing what to consider when comparing costs
  2. Consultants trying to wrap their head around pricing
  3. Me, because I've been building websites for years and pricing them for a couple of those years, and I'm not even close to having it down

I hope this has helped you, and I apologize if it offended you.

If you have more to add, please let me know in the comments. I know many of my readers have much greater wisdom on this subject than I do.

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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.

      1. Your excellent article is just as applicable to my wordpress, silverstripe or rails work. Great choice of terms.

    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.

  13. Thanks so much for this awesome write up. Really helps me wrap my head around pricing, which is such a tough subject.

    Do you have any tips for getting a budget out of a client?

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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).

  16. 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!

  17. 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

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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 😉

  23. 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!

  24. 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”.

  25. 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!

  26. 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

  27. Awesome post Brian! “I’ve written over 3,000 words and I’m not sure I’ve done it any justice at all.” = the best sentence i’ve read all day.

  28. 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!

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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 🙂

  38. 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!

  39. 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!

  40. 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

  41. 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.”

  42. 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.

  43. Great post. I usually cost $1000 to $1500 for a static website. And yes, and agreed here that it varies on different projects.

  44. Fantastic and very exciting to study this content. I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. “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.

  49. According to me no one can calculate the exact cost of word press websites because it depend on functionality of your website. You can calculate the approximate cost of websites.

  50. 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

  51. 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.

  52. 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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