The classic issue almost every business faces is what to spend on their website or web application / IT project. This may be a new website or simply the cost of maintaining their existing one. For some businesses, in SaaS or eCommerce its easy to quantify the value with sales. For others that rely on lead generation and other sales tactics its not always that easy to quantify the value.

When investing in a new website I think its important to understand that assuming the website quote you get is accurate is not a good starting point for building a successful new site, especially if you provided limited information about the requirements to build it. You are making a very dangerous assumption that stops you from making smart and calculated decisions during your project.

Don’t let me be the only voice here either. There are many prominent top software firms saying the same thing:

https://robots.thoughtbot.com/why-fixed-bids-are-bad-for-clients-too

http://orthogonal.io/software-development/fixed-bid-projects-fail/

Thus, its important to first understand why quoting a website project is nearly impossible.

Your website is not a website, its really a software:

Most websites are built via a framework like Laravel, Ruby on Rails, etc or a platform like WordPress, Magento, or Shopify. All of these are really a software, therefore they take extremely talented software engineers to be constructed in a smart way. Software development is hard. Period. It is not something that can be easily estimated or calculated accurately because there are so many variables that go into building software.

Websites can be built in an infinite number of ways…how you build it massively influences cost

If you don’t have a very specific roadmap for how you are building every feature the cost can skyrocket. Two exact looking websites built via Shopify and Magento can have very different costs because the two software require very different skill sets and time to configure. Additionally, using an app or prebuilt add on can save cost but sometimes those apps don’t always work perfectly. Thus, adding a new feature can either be a fairly simple task or very time consuming custom development task.

Most websites have something unique about them, and thus its not a simple repeatable process

Probably the closest analogy to building a website is construction. Construction often goes over budget and its hard to reign in costs. However, when building simple homes or buildings that use very common parts and processes, this process can be very repeatable and more accurate from a cost perspective. Software development rarely has that luxury. In some ways you can use a software like Shopify or Magento and use prebuilt add ons, but its rare everything you need will fall into all of those buckets and all those add ons work perfectly together. The fact of the matter is that most websites require some unique mix of features and components that have never been built in exactly that manner.

Its very difficult if not impossible to capture perfect requirements before building the website

The obvious solution would be to capture all the exist requirements. However, most people assume they can do this and estimate design perfectly. Its like estimating the cost of a building before you have architectural designs nailed down. Unless the design is complete, you can’t really do this, so getting requirements nailed down before design is complete is not realistic. In most cases you want to do some development concurrently with design in order to speed up the project, thus requirements are never really perfectly nailed down. Design will influence requirements, and often times as you get into the nitty gritty of testing and building out your features, you will encounter new ideas or nuances that will change the cost of that feature.

When working with a third party there are communications & project management costs, and estimating that is difficult

Most of the time you are building a website with an agency or some collection of contractors and third parties. This means there are communication gaps and additional work to manage all these different people. Communication has a cost, and its very difficult to estimate the cost of communicating with every client and third party.

Design is very subjective, and can be a very simple or very in depth and time intensive process

Design can have a massive influence on cost in the work itself, and the features it creates to actual make that design come to life on the web! This is very difficult to estimate even if you have some requirements. Its hard to know for sure how many revisions need to be made and how in depth every page and design will be for the entire website before you get into it.

The software industry is rapidly evolving, thus supporting all new browsers and device types is not easy

By the time you actually start your project, new features and things will have already come to life that may impact your project! Literally that is how fast things move. We are talking monthly, new features and updates coming out. Its a very fast moving industry, and its moving so fast that things are constantly changing and you have to adapt.

For instance browsers update and cause new issues to comply with their standards. Complying with all the latest web standards is a constant juggling act.

A website most likely uses many third party add ons, apps, integrations etc

Most websites require some sort of integration with third parties or apps / plugins added to a software like WordPress. It is assumed these all work perfectly. However, the more apps and add ons you add the more chance for problems arise. Thus, its difficult to estimate the cost of trouble shooting app conflicts that are not all designed to work together. The app’s are designed to work with the core software, but not other apps! You never know the cost of encountering app conflicts until they come up.

The integrations can easily break and require updates because you are relying on API’s etc from other companies. Its difficult to estimate the cost of these projects because the third parties can update their API’s and cause major issues because you don’t have control over their platforms.

Software has Bugs. Period…

Software is riddled with bugs. Your Iphone has bugs. The largest company in the world with the best product in the world has many bugs. Why? Unfortunately as you build more and more complex software you will run into bugs. Thus, troubleshooting and estimating the cost of bug fixing is very difficult if not impossible. The best thing you can do is be pragmatic about bugs and focus on the most important ones to fix. Most bugs you can live with and won’t stop you from making money.

To put it in perspective the core software you are using like WordPress has bugs. A lot of the constant updates are security patches and bug fixes, not new features.

A website can easily cost anywhere from $500 to millions of dollars. That is an absolutely massive range and therefore you should focus on getting the best value for your money, instead of just assuming that a bunch of random quotes for vendors is an accurate price for your software project.

Stay tuned on a follow up piece on how you can get a more accurate quote and value from your project!

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