August 17, 2017

The Cost & Value of Custom Web Development

The Value of Custom Design

The importance of custom design, as it pertains to the look and feel of your business’s web experience, has become increasingly diminished in recent years. The emphasis for a quality website is now on speed and performance more than appearance. Design has become very flat and minimalist, both as a result of aesthetic trends and as a casualty of building website layouts that can adapt for mobile screen sizes and load quickly in a lightweight fashion. As such, is there any real value in paying for a custom, unique web design when a proven template will offer nearly the same look at a fraction of the time & cost? Unless your business operates at the level of a corporation with clearly defined and reinforced brand standards that require a dedicated design specific to your rules, the answer is likely “no”.

The Things that Build the Things

With few exceptions, there’s really no such thing as a “website” anymore. When you contract an agency or an individual to create a website for your business, you’re really purchasing or licensing the software that was created to expedite or automate building your website and any number of other websites. Modern web builders and content management systems are incredibly powerful and feature-rich, and they make creating a website faster and easier than ever before. But with so many options out there, it's important to select a platform for your website that can properly support the needs of your business. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of pre-built web tools is crucial to ensure you don't make a bad investment in a web solution that you end up having to replace in the near future.

The Widening Gap of Fitting Into a “Mold”

The prevalence of these excellent web-builder tools has created an interesting sub-market in the web development industry. If your business’s web experience falls within the 95% (for sake of argument) of the types of content and features that all other websites commonly need and use, then you fit the “mold”. It’ll be cheaper and easier for you to get a great looking, high performing website than ever before. But on the flipside, if your business is nuanced and your website requires custom integrations or complex feature sets that can’t be supported through commonly available web builder tools, then you’re in the 5% that will be faced with high costs for custom development.


Complexity & Customization

This widening gap has had a dramatic impact on our client base. Many smaller business now balk at the cost of working with an agency like ours, since they compare the cost of our services to those of things like Wix or Wordpress. As such, many small business really no longer require the services of a dedicated web development agency. Larger business, though, are as dependent as ever on a quality vendor to support their web applications. That comes with a premium. The people programming the tools that power your website are no longer junior level developers who work primarily in HTML and CSS and might dabble in a little PHP. The architects of the web are specialized, experienced programmers who carry a high-level skill set necessary to properly conceptualize, plan and execute solutions that meet your needs. Customized web solutions require a top-notch team, and top notch teams have to charge their clients the appropriate amount of money for the service they provide.

Software as a Service

Speaking of charging money for web services… Gone are the days of “selling a website”. Going back to “the things that build the things”, agencies like ours invest heavily in creating software that powers websites and web solutions. This software is our product and our service - it is the result of years of experience in understanding how to provide and support high-performing websites and web solutions. Your website is an application powered by this software, and the fee you pay is your license to use the tool that powers your website. Depending on the size and complexity of your web experience, this cost can vary greatly. The advantage is that your website isn’t an isolated package of code resting on an island out in the ether of the internet; it is a part of a continually updated and supported network of sites all powered by the same sophisticated tool.

Budgeting for Success

So, what does this all mean for you and your business? What will your website cost? There’s no accurate answer for that that will be correct for any variety of business, but we’ll try to give one anyway. If your site doesn’t take payments, isn’t ecommerce, and doesn’t have tremendous complexity, but does require custom-built tools to meet your business needs, you should expect to budget $10-15k up front cost and $150-$250 a month for the SaaS fee. If you do sell online and have a traditional ecommerce experience that takes payments, manages customers and orders, and integrates with a CRM, inventory software, or shipping tools, then plan for ~$30k-$40k up front and $400-500 monthly. And if you happen to have a particularly nuanced business that requires a purely custom workflow that deviates from any traditional or ecommerce norms, you’d be hard pressed to find a built-from-scratch solution for less than $50k+.

Consultation

If you’re struggling to understand what your business’s web needs are and what “mold” your web experience fits into, we’d recommend you approach an agency like ours and ask for a consultation or strategy engagement to help you define your needs. For minimal cost, you can contract a knowledgeable firm to simply help you make a plan. It might be that Wix is a great option for you and you can have your website up and running in mere weeks at a low cost. Or you may need help evaluating potential developers for an enterprise-level, six-figure engagement. The answer for most business is somewhere in between. If you need help figuring out what’s right for you, give us a call. We’re always happy to help.
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By: TR Williams

Director of Project Management