Why I Can’t Build a Website for £500

This never ceases to amaze me. I had a project enquiry come in yesterday, the client initially asked for a ‘Web 2.0 website built in flash”… to which I had to explain that those two words don’t really belong in the same sentence. Maybe this was a warning sign however, I forwarded my website worksheet to try and gauge a little better just what exactly they were after …. sent in two seconds and no harm done.

I get the worksheet back and they do have a great idea of what they are looking for, a site identical in functionality to a well known CBBC website. They have thought about colours, brand awareness, the actual users of the website, everything. It was one of the most detailed design briefs I had seen in a long time. I skip to the part where I always ask about budget, curious as to how much they have put aside considering all other aspects of the site have been well thought through, only to see…

Ballpark around £500

My reaction is always split down the middle when I see ridiculous web budgets. I normally start off annoyed and then come round to the fact that it’s just down to the client being misguided by someone or something or having no knowledge of the web industry whatsoever. This is normally when I respond with a very diplomatic email and this one was no different, here’s an outline of what I said.

Thank you for the prompt reply with the Website Worksheet. I have had a good read through and I totally understand what you are looking to achieve.

However, the budget you have set for the site is unfortunately not enough to build a site of this calibre. I do understand it’s hard when you are not in the field to know how to gauge a budget correctly, it’s my job to try and give a little insight into budgets and why, in this particular case, you will struggle.

The xxxxxxx website you are comparing your new site to, is large. I know you will be starting off small and building up to a large website, but the infrastructure still needs to be in place to enable you to add news items and video every day and gradually build up the content.

I then went on to explain the process of web design in brief, how we start off on paper or wire framing, then turn our hand to design then eventually the development side. How we have to inevitably go back and forth on the design until sign off and then deal with stumbling blocks with cross browser compatibility and so on.

I estimated the site would take 4 weeks solid work with 2 people working on the site. I then explained the following:

£500 over 4 weeks divided by 2 people works out at £1.56 per hour – I’m not showing you those sums to be patronising at all, please don’t think that, but I’m just merely trying to point out why it would have to be increased considerably before we could look to producing the site for you.

I don’t need to go any further into details, the client can work out for themselves that £1.56 an hour is below minimum wage and that our profession is highly skilled, therefore it would take a lot more than £1.56 to even get us to our desks.

I then signed off the email with the following:

I know you said £500 as a ballpark, I’m just trying to give you an idea of what a professional web design firm would charge you to get the standard that I know you want to achieve.

Inevitably, I never hear from the clients again, or if I do, it’s for them to say they “don’t have the budget” to use me. I still feel like it’s my job to try and explain why I wouldn’t be able to help them rather than just sounding cocky or not responding at all. I feel like the only way we can stop this from happening is to break down exactly why their budget is insufficient rather than leaving them in the dark about it – for the sake of the client and the next designer they approach.

NB. I have just received a very appreciative email from the client in question thanking me for my helpful breakdown and that explaining to them in basic terms was exactly what they needed. They have been able to increase the budget to a reasonable amount, possibly still not enough however it’s a good step in the right direction.

  • Excellent article Sarah. @gracesmith tweeted the link a few days ago.

    If you look on places like Elance you will see plenty of people/companies bidding seemingly very low bids on web site projects. As someone has mentioned above, they want a web site “just like” E-bay/Facebook/Elance for less than $500.

    What is your Website Worksheet?? Is this a quick form you send to potential clients asking them sorts of things like what “look and feel” they want, sites they link, features (as well as asking them things like budget).

  • Jon

    From my experience if someone tells you their budget is £500 and you agree to do the job, they try and get you to customise it even more.

    Then when it comes to paying, they say something like
    “While we were waiting for our website to be completed we lost lots of business, so we are only prepared to pay £100. We feel that all you did was design one page and simply modify it for all the other eight pages.”

  • I’m not surprised with that kind of proposal.

    I’m doing iPhone development and it’s the same story. People think that because they would sell an app for $0.99, it would cost them $500 to make it.

    When I say they would have to multiply that budget by at least 20, they start to freak out and I never hear of them again.

  • Nicely done – this is nice to read, and refreshing 🙂

    I always treat my clients with respect and never penalise/berate them if they are ill-informed – it is, in fact, my responsibility as an advocate for my industry to educate them – and in a professional and polite manner.

    It upsets me that so many agencies/freelancer will rudely palm off the client onto the next agency/freelancer without giving the client a real understanding of the problem that exists with their expectations.

  • £500 is not a bad price to knock up a wordpress blog using a free template – take the job – if not i will do it…

  • @Spenny I don’t think this article was aimed towards those developing a wordpress blog with a free template.

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing. I might have added what would be achievable with the £500 budget, although they might put them off.

  • Fantastic article. Very well thought out and concise. Thanks

  • Pricing is probably one of the most difficult things for freelancers. I applaud your practical and clear demonstration of why £500 was not enough. What did they think you’d do, think, design and create something in two days, without input from anyone else? Like magic.

    I’m a firm believer in the motto that if you undervalue your own services, then so will everyone else. It’s something freelancers and even small businesses need to remember when we quote for every job.

    Thank you for the post.

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  • A really great read. Thanks for sharing. I’ve experienced my fair share of these sorts of requests as well. Well done for taking the time to respond so eloquently and informatively to the client and really help them to understand the real costs of web design and development. Educating clients is one of the most important hats we can wear as designers and business owners, whether that is educating them on accessibility and web standards, or simply, as in this case, the real costs and time needed to produce a quality website.

  • alex

    i’m one of the guilty ones. i don’t charge a lot, firstly because i’m a student / one man band, however the work i do is high quality.

    my figures change as of now. thanks for the sums!

  • A well written article Sarah! Whilst I may not be directly in the industry, I do deal with a number of clients who are and it’s always the same story. Clients want the earth for paying very little. What they’ve not thought through is the value of the site in their marketing strategy for the business. How serious can they be about their business if they are only willing to spend £500 on one of their primary marketing tools?

    A lot of the problem seems to be that, to the untrained eye, sites can look as good as each other. The untrained don’t realise the “workings” behind the site as you can’t touch, feel or smell them. A lot of agencies tend to just brush these types of clients off without explaining the error of their ways (so to speak). The approach you used here is refreshing to see

  • I get these people calling me sometimes. I laugh and tell them exactly what $500 will get them and try to make them feel silly for saying “I only have $500.” Getting someone to step up and make the big investment after saying “I only have $500” gives you a real boost in sales confidence.

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  • Hi Sarah, i’ve just read your post and i couldn’t agree more. I’d just talking with some partners about this abuse. The most incredible thing isn’t the amount that the clients offer (cause they dont necessarily have to know how much pay, but they shouldn’t be that cheap either), the unbelievable thing is that a lot of self-proclaimed “web designers” makes a bid almost miserable. Then our bids looks higher, inflated, so we’re out.
    Even though the money exchange benefits me (I’m from Argentina by the way), there’s no reasons to devaluate our jobs. Do not work for cent per hour for no reason.

    Nice post. greetings from Argentina.

    PS: Sorry for my poor english.

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  • An excellent article that I suspect rang bells with a lot of professional web development companies.

    We were recently asked to design a site to compete with Monster.com – for £5,000. Suffice to say the budget was our first issue and this was politely explained to the client (in a manner not a million miles away from the author of this article).

    Then we encountered problem number two – the budget might be flexible…because they didn’t actually have £5,000 at all. They had nothing. Nor had they applied for funding. They were hoping they could pay for the website monthly – based on it’s success. That is, if it bumped Monster.com off the top they’d pay a set amount every month. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t.

    I do wonder who got them in the end….lol

    Someone will have taken it on. That’s the problem – too many people do. They take on jobs because they get desperate and they discount the value of the profession and you get more and more people thinking they can get X for Y – and then they all wonder why their projects fail miserably and tell everyone what a dodgy world web design is.

    Stick to your guns. Charge what your time, energy and skills are truly worth. Don’t destroy the market in which we operate – because thats what desperation does.

    • Melissa

      Wonderful article and wonderful reply.

  • wonderful article, with some great tips. Thanks

  • I enjoyed reading your article and it struck a lot of chords with me. I find that, in my area of the country, if you quote a ‘reasonable’ amount you get the sucking through the teeth and shaking of the head 🙂

    I don’t think people do realise just what it takes to build a website and therefore do not appreciate the hours a good designer is going to put into it.

    I must admit that I don’t charge phenomenal fees, but then I am aiming at start-ups and SMEs with low budgets so what I offer them is reasonable for my fee. Simple websites that create an effective web presence without breaking the budget. Of course, if they want more then their budget wil have to reflect that.

  • There is one simple reason for why this happens – saturation. The web industry is saturated by freelancers and agencies, but also tainted by, and this is not a racial slur, foreigners bidding ridiculously low costs on massive projects on sites like elance.

    this coupled with the fact that web design is not considered a “real” job and the fundamental lack of understanding on the clients part, the general consensus is that clients can budget their work at VASTLY less than what is actually required to do the job.

  • The problem is there will be bedroom hacks or noobs who will take this on for £500. i probably would have 8 years ago. But you always get what you pay for so. if its a real complicated one the developer either wont be able to make it or bail out when they realise the scale of the project. Next comes the dreaded “we’ll cut you in on the business” conversation. Which normally means can you spend 4months knocking your pipe out for my weak business idea. I just work with software houses these days, its soooo much more straight forward.

  • Great post, I think most professional web designers can relate to this post.
    I completely agree with you about explaining the process and what’s involved.

    Quite often the potential client is unaware of what’s involved in creating a website and if you can explain it to them then they have the opportunity to increase their budget or discuss a more affordable downsized version of the site.

  • i actually got a nice site build for $130. thealchemistlab.com I really wish the designer charged more. he did an excellent job. like excellent. but he didnt want more than that.

  • It’s kind of relief reading your post. I’ve always thought things like these can happen only here in Italy…but (unfortunately) you proved me wrong.

  • If I had a pound for every time I heard “Budget upto £500.00” lol! Its part of the process educating clients on the values of our profession, but you do get “the head in the sand” types! lol!

  • Srah, this is a great post. Love your way of thinking and writing. I would love to see more posts, of any nature 🙂

  • My experience is that people underestimate webdesign/-development a lot. When I tell them it’ll be around € 500 for a flash website ( which is cheap ). They usually look at me in disbelief, thinking I must be feeling way to good about myself. It’s because I’m a student and I need those small assignments to build my portfolio. Whenever I get a new assignment, money is definitely the hardest thing to think about. If I charge to high, they’ll just go away, if I charge to low, I feel like a poor underpayed Indian 🙁

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  • Nowadays, you must be super creative to have a good business idea that works.,`:

  • I find that when people tell me a low budget, it is extremely hard to get them to increase it as they don’t understand the work that is involved and it becomes tricky to explain it to them as most people are techy-phobs! and do not understand IT things and are unwilling to listen. £500 for what they wanted is a joke tho!


  • Nice post, It’s always good to know that it’s not just me that gets these types of inquires. All web professionals face the same challenges, this type of thing seems to be just a part of our industry.

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  • James

    One of the frustrations of selling web design services is educating clients about price, content, seo, etc, it’s a relief to know I am not the only one who gets annoyed by this. Sharing this on my blog sites, website design essex, thanks 🙂

    • Good, fast, cheap — pick any two.

      I usually tell my potential clients the above quote I saw on the wall of a constrcution company. Illicits a chuckle and then I go on to explain very simalar to what you do.

      I also get clients who tell me if I give them a deal, they will refer others to me. I ask them why would I want clients who all expect me to do it on the cheap when I have clients who appreciate the work I do and actually pay me bonuses over and above my regualr rate.

      I do not consider myself a designer, but a developer and work with a number rof designers from around North America. When you value your own time and efforts, your clients will too. I also tell my clients, that once we go live, changes that take me less than 15 minutes are free, otherwise billed to the next 1/2 hour.

      I also cull the bottom 20% of my client base every year. I found the bottom 20% of clients cause 80% of your headaches.

      • +1. Cheap jobs = expensive clients!

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