What does a web project really cost?

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Whether in a board room or at my kid’s soccer practice, by far the most popular question I hear is:

"What does a web project cost?"

Well... it depends.

You can launch a WordPress site for free right now or build Facebook for hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a decade. It all depends on what “it” is. It also depends on what you mean by “cost.”

Are you talking about the investment needed for initial launch? The post launch hosting, maintenance and support costs? The ongoing iterations and new feature enhancements to respond to users and stay competitive? The creation and curation of all the content that makes it useful?

Web initiatives range from simple web pages to complex, high traffic, stand alone business units with dedicated staff, a management team and marketing budget.

So, it's a pretty broad range.

What drives the cost of web projects anyway?

Understanding agency or consultancy project costs is relatively straight forward. Project size and complexity determines the time needed to complete the job. Time to task applied to the team’s hourly rate determines the cost to build.

Hours x Rate = Estimated Cost.

This is somewhat oversimplified, but you get the idea.

I'm not sure I can afford this. How can I make it cheaper?

Expense is relative. In the world of tattoos, surgery and the web, you can always find someone willing to give it their best try for cheap or free - but you may not be able to afford what comes next.

Rather than gamble the outcome, you can control project cost by controlling project scope. A project half the size will typically cost half as much. Small and simple iterations over time are preferable to one big moon shot that may or may not hit the mark. The key with shrinking scope is to always keep your original goals front and center so you don't end up with a product too small to be beneficial.

Overall, I find that the clients who are looking to build it cheaper are actually asking for a way to reduce the project risk.

Other than making it smaller, how can I reduce the project risk?

Planning, planning, planning. Rather than tackling the entire possible project, you can start by focusing only on planning and definition. Find someone with a track record for successfully executing your type of project and have them break down and document the details. It might take a day, weeks or months, but when complete you will have clarity into what “it” is, if and how it should be built, how long it will take and what costs to expect to launch, support and grow it over time.

So, what does a web project cost? Find a web development company who has been there, understands the inherent pitfalls, can fully understand your project and is willing to get into the details to accurately set your expectations.

Because when it comes to understanding what a web project really costs … it depends.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn by John Simanowitz, founder and CEO of Integrity St Louis web development company.

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