Build me a website for £500

Freelancing, Guest Posts

17 November, 2011

Posted by Dan Edwards

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I'm going to say right now that I do not plan on giving any tips for designing a website for £500. So, if you are here for that you may as well leave, or visit 1&1, your choice.

Recently I posted on Twitter about having to decline a recent client project because they had no budget and wanted to use a purchased theme and customize it with their logo and colour scheme. Not so bad right? The budget was ok and it probably wouldn’t take long… WRONG. Let me tell you why I turned this project down.

What’s wrong with using a theme if the client is happy?

I started out in web design as a part time freelancer, while working in-house for a design agency and studying at Chichester College. At the time if I’d been given £500 to use a theme and simply customise it I’d have jumped at the chance. Not because I was desperate for money but as a designer I could not build websites, nor could I afford to hire a developer. Also, I had no office, no car or bills to pay and heck it would be a good portfolio piece. In fact I even did this for a couple of sites when I started off, they went live, the client was happy and I got paid. #WINNING #NOT

3 years down the line and I’m re-designing my site; I take a look through my projects over time and choose what I feel best shows off my ability as a designer, and amongst the various sites I did at that time sit a couple of theme-based sites, they look fine, work fine, still live 3 years later. But I chose not to feature them, not because I don’t want to admit I used a theme but because I’m not PROUD of them, they don’t get me excited and they do not represent the business I run today.

Standards & ethics have to be in place for any business, that’s not to say that ‘one price fits all’ or that low-budget work should be rejected but why should any designer feel that just because a client has a low budget that his standards and ethics should suddenly become compromised? You wouldn’t expect to ask a plumber to fix your central heating but suggest buying all the piping and bolts yourself to make it cheaper, would you? The plumber has standards, more importantly he has standards that he has to abide to by law.

We’re lucky that we can set our own standards and run our business how we want, but we should definitely stick to them.

Unlike almost any other industry web design has no government law in place to ensure that certain standards must be met. Ok, that’s probably a good thing, there is no way I’d want to be in that industry. We’re lucky that we can set our own standards and run our business how we want, but we should definitely stick to them.

There will be many designers ready to argue that “we’re not all lucky enough to turn away client work”. I totally get that, I’m not sitting here running a mega successful design agency with time to kill and no worries. November is a quiet month, heck, I even have time to write this blog post. I should be worried right? Maybe I should have taken that project?

In my honest opinion – No -  It’s not about ‘design arrogance’ or being too proud to build on someone else’s work. But I set standards for a reason, I believe in my skill and want to be respected for that. Where does that respect for you as a designer go when you deliver that theme-based site, it goes to the guy that built it and sold it to me on ThemeForest. Yeah I’ve got good feedback from my client for being a great service provider, but will he be telling his friends that I’m a super talented designer delivering results or  “Hey, if you need a website speak to Dan, he built me a site for £500 and it’s great” BANG there went the respect as a designer again, yet another project is now coming my way with no budget and I’m not growing as a business, gaining or learning anything.

I am a firm believer in that if you produce good work and are reliable, you’ll get the projects come in and then be lucky enough to be able to turn down the low budget projects that let’s be honest, you never really wanted anyway.

Of course, there is no point in arguing that the large majority of themes are bad, and that they shouldn’t be used for client work. Some themes out there look great and serve their purpose fine, in fact for many blog based sites they do the job very well. It’s using one just because the client has no budget, no understanding of how much design costs and the work involved. They want a quick and cheap solution ‘to get online’.

No one really wants these clients, but many websites actively encourage it (perhaps unknowingly), I even saw a website template package offering a template with ‘space for your logo’. Seriously, that is the least I would expect from a website I’m buying. So how do you avoid falling into this trap?

A few things that I’d recommend avoiding

Price Lists / Tables
Why are these needed? No 2 clients are the same, no 2 projects are the same. Get rid of them. They also devalue our industry, when a client compares 2 companies with no idea of the vastly different quality each will provide, they’ll naturally go with the cheaper option. This might be good for their budget, but it’s not good for the web as a whole and likely not good for the users of their new £500 site.

Website Packages
I’m talking about your Silver, Gold & Platinum offers. Nasty, nasty things. No matter how much flexibility you put in your offers, you’re never going to satisfy everyone, so why try?

Don’t Lie
Sounds simple but if you use WordPress for your clients, be proud and tell them don’t cover it up with jargon like “We’ve developed a system, based upon a solid foundation by an open-source CMS” WTF!? All this does is confuse your client and make you look like a dishonest person. The last thing you want is to be called a liar!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and welcome any questions just add your comment below.

Comments

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  • Joanna Eyre

    11.11.2011

    Really interesting Dan. I previously had the misfortune of taking on a project which was ‘just to install a pre-built theme and change a couple of things’ which turned into a 6 month nightmare of basically re-coding and re-doing everything about the theme that the client didn’t like. Not to mention the coding was absolutely horrific. How anyone can take WordPress and make it un-user friendly is beyond me.

    Anyway, I totally agree… not everyone has the luxury of turning down projects, but I guess just weigh up the pro’s and con’s, and if you are going to take on the project check out the coding first so you know what you’re getting into!

  • Steven Piper

    11.11.2011

    Nicely put Dan.

    It is difficult for some younger start ups to decline *any* offer of paid work, but in this industry you have to have your morals and your standards, otherwise you have nothing. By simply taking on any work not only do you devalue yourself but you also tie up your time which you could spend looking for a paying customer.

    And yes, this is from experience. The first website I designed and built I charged £100 for – not a lot of profit in that one.

  • Carl Robinson

    11.11.2011

    Interesting theory and had you not balanced it out well, I think it could have been mistaken for design arrogance.

    But what you have here is a compelling ‘business case’ for declining these types of roles; as you say, if your objective were to be the tiptop purveyor of such projects then you probably could move into this area. However, yours is about creating bespoke websites because it’s what you’ve come to be most skilled at and ultimately from where you want your income.

    In actual fact, I should imagine that as a developer (I’m not but I think I can understand the workflow in theory) that if you do cook your staple diet from lean, lowcost websites, then your evolution as a developer is stagnated; the desire for enhancement, improvement, the pushing yourself into realms unknown will never be there. I should imagine most successful developers are such because they’ve continually ‘pushed boundaries’ within their capabilities. With each brand new bespoke solution, comes another skillset.

  • Author

    Dan Edwards

    11.11.2011

    @Carl Robinson – You are totally right, it’s in no way about design arrogance but simply that for my business to grow in the way I want it to I need to set standards.

    This should apply to any business. Whether you are a developer, designer, copywriter or social media guru, your standards need to be in place to ensure a level of quality work that you are happy to share and be proud of.

  • Shane Hudson

    11.11.2011

    You have hit the nail on the head with this one! If you are doing work for cheap, it will hurt in the long time. I still get emails every few days asking for some work done… and sure, a few pound here and there would help, but it is not worth it!

    As you know, I cannot stand working from themes… because not only does it not make you as proud, but also everybody has their own way of doing things. Their way might be perfectly fine, but if you cannot adapt to it.. then the final product will be at a much lower standard.

    Well done for this article Dan! I actually have one planned that will probably work perfectly alongside this one… but I have work to do first!

  • Sam

    11.11.2011

    Fair enough, but not everyone who builds websites sees them as ‘works of art’ – sometimes they are just functional, content rich and simple websites which perform well in the main measurable areas such as conversions, usability etc.

  • Author

    Dan Edwards

    11.11.2011

    @Sam Ok, it’s not about producing ‘works of art’ but having standards in general. Whether that be the content, the design or the code. It does not matter if the website is not ‘beautiful’ but that what you are providing is something that you can be proud of and works for the client and users.

    This post is really about how clients can undervalue design and why when you set yourself a standard in your business you should stick with it and hold your ground. Not provide something cheap just because you can, be that by using a theme or by cutting corners elsewhere.

  • Henry Thompson

    11.11.2011

    Certain clients do need to be educated about the value of design, but at the end of the day you are a service provider – you’re providing a service. Not every client has a huge budget set aside for an online presence, a local cornershop for example isn’t going to want to spend thousands just to have a site up, for this reason pre-built themes have their place, they look good and provide far more functionality than those built from scratch for small budgets. Just because you can’t put it in your portfolio and ‘be proud’ of it doesn’t mean you’re damaging the design industry, either way the client is going to pay the same amount, rather they have a half decent pre-built theme design than the horrible alternatives. It all seems a bit precious to me! Man up son.

  • Author

    Dan Edwards

    11.11.2011

    @Henry I have answered a lot of what you’ve said in the post and previous comments. It’s totally up to you what standard you set for your business. For me it’s not where I want my business to be or the client I would like.

    Sure I’ve used a theme before for your corner shop client, but nothing more had ever come from that work because they expect the same price point all the time, for everything. Why would I want to provide that service? The time could be spent on much more exciting and well paid work.

    There is no denying that there is a market for it, of course there is. It’s like shops, some sell your high end products and some sell budget products – both have business and deliver a similar product but which one will be considered the market leader or the better product? I’m not talking about overpriced products but that there are 2 ends of a market and if you decide where you want to be, stick to it. Don’t lower your standards just because someone can’t afford it.

    You wouldn’t see Jaguar selling a fiesta now would you? High end is their market and they won’t change for you. Why should a web designer?

  • Andrew Leeds Burton

    12.11.2011

    Right with you Dan. The reality is, whether some of the other commentators like it or not, that the clients who pay the least in financial terms are the clients who give you the most grief. Sometimes low cost projects can be taken on because they are creatively rewarding and that is fine. However, the client needs to know that there has been a decision taken to effectively offer a substantial discount and any future work may not be priced in the same manner. As we see it, if you build a site for someone for £500.00 it usually ends up taking the same amount of time as any other job, because you have standards and that probably equates to about £20.00 an hour or less. Although your client won’t see this. So when they request changes and you tell them that will be, say, £100.00, they don’t understand and retort "you built the whole site for £500.00 so why does adding 1 more page (for example) cost 20% of the whole job?". The result is that everyone gets upset.

    As you rightly say, there is a place for low-priced work and individually we all need to decide where we are, or would like to be in the provision of our services. We have all done cheap work when starting out and feeling our way. Most importantly this choice gives space and opportunity for people to move into the industry. It just needs clients to be educated about the level of product or service they are buying. And the responsibility for hat education is down to all of us.

  • Ash Francis

    12.11.2011

    I understand this article completely from your point of view Dan – there is no reason for you personally as a high end designer to devalue your time low end sites.

    However, from a different perspective – and I believe for the general good of the web. There is a place for these £500 sites. You alluded to it yourself in reference to car makes. Whilst some can make Jaguars, others can’t. It all depends on how you place yourself within the market. For example a ‘premium’ service, an ‘average’ service or a ‘budget’ service and many more types besides. Whilst Jaguars are brilliant cars, there are more Fiesta’s sold.

    As for the general good of the web and the design industry I believe low-budget sites actually help, I think the lower the entry-level the more likely companies are to make the jump. Once they see the value in the web then they may go ahead to truly invest in it. Also, as mentioned before – a little local shop is never going to spend thousands on its web presence. It would be better to get these business online cheap, than not at all.

    I think high-end designers should definitely stick to the high-end market – otherwise they’re potentially losing income, enjoyment and challenge.

    On the other end of this, if they’re a low/mid range designer, then they should still push themselves but shouldn’t punch above their weight client wise. I would rather pass on a high value client than let them down any day.

    I would consider myself on the lower end of design (at least for now!) and when I rarely do client sites, I am happy to charge £500 and a retainer.

  • Author

    Dan Edwards

    12.11.2011

    It’s interesting the different views people have on this. But ultimatley I think it’s something that most web designers battle with.

    Great point about future changes, this happened to me after I built a site cheap, when the bill for extra changes came in they did not want to pay my usual rate, and went elsewhere. This is one of the reasons I now turn down that kind of work, because there was no value in what I was providing. Thanks for the great comment Andrew!

  • Carl Robinson

    12.11.2011

    I think it’s worth noting too that, in your own example, you didn’t dismiss the work before considering the merits and limitations of the project. This in itself shows that this isn’t elitism or general snobbery – you ought to have that kind of to and fro in business, it is called being ‘comercially sensitive’.

  • Joanna Eyre

    14.11.2011

    It’s finding the balance between price, the client, and the project. Sometimes you might not like the client very much, but it’s very well paid, and sometimes you may not find the project the most exciting in the world, or it may not pay very well, but the client is a dream.

    Learning which projects to take on is something you develop over years of freelancing, and even those who have been in the business a long time can get it wrong sometimes. You’ll have heard it many times before, but gut feeling is incredible important in this business!

    From personal experience – I’ve more than often found the lower the budget, the more of a nightmare it will be. People often expect the world for nothing and you can end up tied up in a project where you’re undervalued, and ultimately you will end up resenting the project which is not a good place to be.

  • Rich

    19.05.2012

    Great article, great responses…

    The power of the web is "sharing".

    The only reason WordPress, Joomla and the other open source CMS exist is their dedication to sharing. In 2003 I had a design agency and we used propriety purpose built CMS for our clients with large license fees. The license fees covered the cost of version updates and general maintenance on the CMS.

    In just a few short years open source CMS providers have become so fantastic that they have become the default choice over paid for CMS. There is still a requirement for paid for CMS but the majority of the market now goes to the open source CMS due to price (or lack of) and quality of product.

    You are right, there are no qualifications for a designer… Everyone ‘thinks’ they can design… Or they have a "mate" or "friend of a friend" or family member that might have Photoshop on their laptop… This is true for small businesses and massive PLC’s in my experience (just different amounts of money involved). The fact is a lot of people have a good eye… But it takes experience and past knowledge to know what is right for a particular situation, system or process.

    Even by using an open source CMS like WordPress you have lumped yourself in with the masses that are "working from a template" – but that is not an insult… That is the power of the Internet… The power of sharing!!! That’s why Facebook has just been valued at $66bn… Sharing!

    At some point apple or another bright spark will bring out FREE easy to use adobe creative suite and it will bring design to the masses… The world will still need designers but it will allow everyone to design…

    From ratatouille "anyone can cook" – a cook can come from anywhere, but not everyone can become a great cook.

    In summary, do what you do best, don’t reinvent the wheel but make your wheel better…

    Don’t make clients pay for things twice and don’t miss lead them either…

    You are right the cheap jobs become the most time consuming and loathed but that Is down to expectation levels and it’s our job as designers/consultants to educate our clients. Not upsell but educate them.

    Good luck and best wishes :)

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