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Affordable Website BudgetSmall busi­nesses and startups often seek affordable web­sites — but what makes a website “affordable”? How do you set a website budget?

In fact, it mainly depends on whether it’s a per­sonal site, or a business site.

Why? Because whilst per­sonal web­sites often cost money, suc­cessful business web­sites do not. In fact, con­trary to the hype of DIY plat­forms and cut-price cowboys, a cheap business website can easily cost you more than a pro­fes­sional one.

How To Budget For A Personal Website

Personal web­sites aren’t built to make money. So traffic isn’t their pri­ority, and even if mon­etised with ads or affiliate income, that isn’t their key goal. They aren’t expected to pay for them­selves. They also often depend on “boot­strapping” — per­sonal funding from savings, friends and family.

So, per­sonal web­sites are a true cost, not an investment. As such, it makes sense to min­imise that cost.

Still, when traffic, profit and per­formance aren’t pri­or­ities, delays and mis­takes have little impact. So for per­sonal web­sites, DIY can be a rel­at­ively low-risk option.

Hosted plat­forms like WordPress.com can help you build an affordable per­sonal website. For more flex­ib­ility, a little tech­nical know­ledge can let you buy a domain and hosting to run the WordPress software on. Some great WordPress resources exist to help you with that.

Why WordPress?

WordPress software now runs on over 40% of all web­sites, for good reason. It is very flexible, free, “open source” software, with many thou­sands of plugins and pre-designed themes available. Considering that flex­ib­ility always creates com­plexity, it is also impress­ively user-friendly, if not to everyone’s taste.

Portability is important, too. Whilst other hosted DIY website builders may seem simpler, many lock you in to using their ser­vices. That’s a problem when you reach the limits of their flex­ib­ility, or they change their service. With WordPress (and other self-hosted CMS plat­forms), you can just move to a dif­ferent web host and keep using the same software.

DIY Websites Not An Option?

Still, even WordPress isn’t perfect for every project. Whilst it sim­plifies a lot, there’s still a learning curve, and it still takes time. So if you really aren’t com­fortable with tech or design, your per­sonal website budget may need to stretch to pro­fes­sional help.

Getting Professional Web Design Help

Web designerIf you do need a pro­fes­sional web designer, get all your content and images together first — and be real­istic. Even a simple website can easily take over 30 hours of skilled work, often spread over a couple of weeks. You’re engaging an expert, not employing someone to just follow instruc­tions. It takes time to discuss your plans, and you’d be wise to heed their expert advice.

Freelancers are more cost-effective than employing someone for a short project, but have costs to cover. So don’t expect employee rates. Automated pro­cesses can some­times speed things up and keep costs down, but will also limit your options.

Hopefully those tips will help you to reduce the costs of your per­sonal site, or at least to set a real­istic website budget. So, what about a business site? Would the same advice still work? Well, no — not if you want it to succeed.

Why A Business Website Budget Is Different

The moment you start hoping that your site will pay for itself, it stops being a cost and becomes an investment. That changes everything.

Unlike per­sonal sites, business web­sites are mar­keting vehicles, com­peting for search pos­i­tioning, traffic and sales. So they need to pri­or­itise per­formance, on several fronts. It’s not just about looking pretty — a pedal-powered Lamborghini won’t win the race.

Search engines try to promote quality, because that’s what users want. However, quality requires investment, effort and expertise.

Now, that doesn’t mean you will always have to out-spend your com­pet­ition. Still, it does mean that focusing on cutting costs can easily cripple your chances of success.

Why? Well, con­sider that “mar­keting vehicle” analogy for a moment.

Skilled salespeople and new cars aren’t cheap — but would you really send an intern out to see potential cus­tomers in an old banger to “save money”? Of course not — the lost sales would cost you more than the “savings” on those false eco­nomies. This “oppor­tunity cost” would out­weigh the fin­ancial one.

If you think it’s expensive to hire a pro­fes­sional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur. — Red Adair

So, when profit depends on per­formance, it is wiser to invest more than you need to, rather than too little. Extra investment tends to increase rates of return. Underinvestment risks project failure, wasting the whole budget. This is some­times called the Common Law of Business Balance.

As the Huffington Post put it, “Sorry, But Saving Money Won’t Make You Rich”. It’s still a good idea for per­sonal sites, but fre­quently fatal for businesses.

Setting A Business Website Budget

Business web­sites can either be seen as part of an overall mar­keting budget, or as stand-alone solu­tions for spe­cific problems. In truth, they are often a bit of both.

The Marketing Budget Approach

Because mar­keting is vital for any business, common guidelines exist for setting mar­keting budgets. The simplest suggest a base investment of 5% of annual turnover just to maintain existing brand vis­ib­ility and sales levels, or 10% to drive growth. That said, firms in more com­pet­itive indus­tries may invest up to 20%, or even 50%, of their turnover on marketing.

So, how much should you invest in a website or digital mar­keting? That depends on how vital they are — but web­sites are key assets built to drive growth. So, website budgets of around 5% of pro­jected turnover are quite common, and busi­nesses that depend entirely on digital mar­keting may double that.

Surprisingly, many first-time business owners don’t set a turnover target, though. So, let’s use a very small business as an example.

Imagine a sole trader with an average profit margin of 25% and a simple goal of “making a living.” The UK Living Wage is cur­rently over £21,500 per year for a single person. That implies a minimal turnover target of £86k. So, 5% of that would be around £4,300 — and twice that might be reas­onable if the business is entirely web-driven.

Now, you may think these figures are high, or low — that’s fine. They’re only common guidelines. Just remember that your com­pet­ition is likely to follow them, and under­in­vestment increases risk.

The Value Of Websites As Solutions

Another option is to list each of the key problems you want to solve and goals you want to achieve. Then work out the annual savings and profits you’d get by fixing each point. Add those up to get the annual value of addressing them.

This approach can be very sub­jective, so be careful. It is easy to overlook or under­es­timate the value of some factors and to over­es­timate others.

For instance, keeping a real office open for business 24/7/365 would need at least 5 staff. So, that would cost over £70k annually — but is every website really worth that? Only if they make that much profit each year; some could be worth far more. Still, it’s worth noting that busi­nesses are often valued at several times their annual profit. If your website is your business, that can make it very valuable indeed.

Microbusiness Mistakes

Now, if you’re a sole trader or other micro­business owner thinking, “I can’t afford that!” — I under­stand. That’s where I started, and I’m here to help. Still, I see many making the same mis­takes, so help starts with some home truths about budget web design:

  • Budget web design isn’t simply cheap web design. “Cheap” cuts costs by cutting corners and com­prom­ising quality. Your website will be in a mar­keting race with almost 2 billion other web­sites  So cost-effective beats cheap every time.
  • Building a suc­cessful website involves far more than putting a few images and a splash of code online. Undervaluing that leads to under­in­vestment, which will under­perform and increase the risk of failure. Most sites need ongoing support too, so don’t forget that cheap designers tend to dis­appear.
  • You don’t have to decide what you want before talking to a pro­fes­sional. Ask us what you’ll need first. It may be very dif­ferent – but if so, expect us to explain why.

…and some points about investing that are espe­cially valid during a recession:

  • Whilst it’s never wise to invest more than you can afford to lose, any “savings” you have are already losing value unless they earn interest at rates that at least match the rate of inflation. That’s a guar­anteed loss. Investing those savings in your own business may not be safer, but a solid business plan should make money faster than inflation depre­ciates it. Those are the risks you have to balance.
  • It’s not about what savings you can spare, but what your business plan sug­gests you could con­fid­ently invest. Ultimately, your business should pay for your website, not you. Confidence is critical, but won’t be real without a plan. So do your research and plan how to achieve a real­istic turnover.
  • Don’t forget that most business expenses are tax-deductible. So once your income reaches tax thresholds, investing a thousand pounds can reduce your year-end tax bill by a couple of hundred pounds or more. If you expect to exceed the VAT regis­tration threshold, you may be able to claim even more back.
  • If your business plan isn’t based on paying yourself at least Minimum Wage, it’ll cost you far more than the sums we’re talking about here. That money will have to come from some­where – simply loving what you do won’t attract cus­tomers, or pay the bills. That’s why the suc­cessful firms are those that invest in marketing.
  • Whilst more people struggle in a recession, there’s still plenty of money in the economy. It’s just that it’s unevenly dis­tributed, and people will spend it more care­fully on the things they pri­or­itise. You’re com­peting with those other pri­or­ities as well as with other firms in your industry and service area. So make sure you’re tar­geting a market that can afford your products or ser­vices, and that your website copy high­lights why doing so should be a pri­ority for them.
  • Recessions come and go (I’ve already weathered a couple). If your business plan is solid enough to outlast a short-term eco­nomic downturn, starting now should put you in an even stronger pos­ition when con­di­tions improve.

So if you’re a boot­strapped (self-funded) sole trader or another micro­business, my affordable website packages are probably what you need. If you aren’t sure though, we should talk.

Special Cases

Of course, there are excep­tions to any rule, so it’s worth noting a few situ­ations that can make setting a website budget a little more complex:

Bespoke Web Development

If you want to model an unusual business process online (e.g. to provide an unique service), you probably need bespoke web devel­opment. That’s so dif­ferent from web design that you may need a web developer, a web designer and a project manager to help them col­lab­orate. Some of us can do it all, but most web designers aren’t pro­grammers, and only do graphic design.

Importantly though, this level of web pro­gramming usually creates a key business asset that is more than a pro­mo­tional tool. As such, it shouldn’t be limited by mar­keting budgets.

The com­plex­ities of setting a budget for bespoke web devel­opment are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say though, that pro­gramming tends to be far more complex and time-con­suming than web design.

Charities And Non-Profits

If you run a charity or non-profit group, the benefits of pro­fes­sional web design and pro­motion may be sig­ni­ficant, but not fin­ancial. You may also have slightly unusual require­ments (e.g. a mem­bership or com­munity system), but perhaps no clear turnover target. How can you set a real­istic website budget in such cases?

Well, if you don’t expect the site to pay for itself, you’re in the same pos­ition as those setting up a per­sonal site for whom DIY isn’t an option. Except that in this case, cutting costs too much will ser­i­ously undermine your goals. So, it’s better to con­sider how much achieving those goals is worth, rather than how little you can invest in them.

Finally — Don’t Hide Your Website Budget

Once you have a website budget in mind, tell your web designer! You will not get a better deal by being vague or under­stating what you could invest in the right solution.

Think about it. You’re asking an expert to solve a problem for you, but expecting them to guess the most important detail. They may be able to offer several solu­tions in dif­ferent price ranges, and it’s in their interests to see you succeed. So, they’re keen to give you the best solution you can afford.

It’s okay to be unsure. We can discuss that — but we will need to know what price range you’re con­sid­ering before we offer estimates. For instance, my affordable website packages cater to budgets under £2k. However, my pro­fes­sional web design and web devel­opment ser­vices offer more powerful, bespoke solu­tions at a far wider range of prices. There’s  no point dis­cussing the wrong set of options.

So, what do experts do if folks try to hide their website budget? Either:

  • Guess — and risk offering you a solution in the wrong price range
  • Refuse the job — because we can’t provide expert solu­tions to those who won’t trust us with the inform­ation we need

Setting a budget lets designers offer solu­tions that work within it. Still, remember that setting a website budget that’s lower than you could afford is only likely to reduce its per­formance, and the returns on your investment. After all, it’s better to get a 10x return on a four-figure investment than on a three-figure one.

Have you got a web project in mind?

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(Originally pub­lished in September 2021, this post has been updated to reflect common con­cerns about investing during a recession, and increases in the Living Wage)