"How much will this website cost me?" is a very common question I field from clients. Much to their disappointment, there is no simple answer; there is no generic dollar figure. The real answer is much less glamorous : "it depends." But then what is it exactly that the cost depends on? Actually the cost is highly dependent on the client's priorities. Clients may prioritize high quality over cost or perhaps they need the project completed quickly no matter what. But oftentimes, cost is the deciding factor.

To help guide clients express their priorities during project scope and pricing conversations, I like to give them a choice: cheap, fast and good - pick two.

In other words, clients have the choice of:

    1. A cheap and quickly built site.
      A cheap and high quality site.
      A quickly built site of high quality.
  • A cheap and fast site aka client nirvana.

    Be prepared for a fragile or generic system that will either break upon the slightest tremor or won't be the unique site you had in mind. But why can't we have the project be "good" here? In my definition good means that we've met the client's original project standards without cutting corners, that the site looks and functions beautifully and that it delivers a high quality experience to the audience. Crafting a "good" site requires time: time to build, time to test, time to iterate, time to redesign. Sacrificing time without compensating for it is the same as asking for trouble down the line.

    A cheap and good site: our most popular client request.

    Will clients give up immediacy in order to save money? Yes, and in fact these projects often don't turn out to be so urgent after all! What exactly is the client giving up with this combination? Control. To save costs I will use as many prebuilt components that offer the best available balance of customization and baked-in features. Custom development is what we want to avoid since that is per unit the most expensive element in a project. Therefore in order to get you the closest prebuilt solution to match the site requirements, I will need to spend time searching, testing and comparing prebuilt software. Some of the original requirements may need to be jettisoned if they are not found in prebuilt software or they will require custom coding. You won't get much choice in the details but you will get about 80% of the expected features and they will work reliably.

    A fast and good site: The least popular option requiring the largest monetary investment.

    These projects are possible but they're also intense. I've participated in quite a few of these projects as part of a "rescue" effort. A previous vendor or internal group may have failed to deliver the project and I am consulted to come in and salvage what has been built in order to try to meet there original deadline and deliverable as much as possible. To accomplish this type of task, I will pull in my highest quality developers and look for prebuilt (and often commercial) reliable technologies that help us cut down on development time. In the end, you will get your project done as you want but at a high cost.

    An alternative to the above choices

    I usually recommend a different approach. Instead of launching a complete site, break it down into iterative phases with moderate timeframes. And while the total sum of time for all phases may be greater than if we built the site in one go, progress will be visible much sooner. Interestingly after each phase, we often find that some requirements planned for a successive phase are no longer necessary. I believe this decision is tied to Pareto's principle.

    So start small. Start soon. Learn and iterate quickly. When you see actual results sooner that are of high quality you will gain the motivation and confidence to invest time, money and resources towards the next phases. And the perception of quality web development costs will evolve from appearing to be a risky venture to a valuable investment.

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