Yes – you can build a decent Web site for free but once your business reaches a certain level of maturity and visibility free probably won't cut it. Why? You'll want more control over updating the site, more tools and automation features, visual consistency with your other branding materials and customization for the way your business operates.
When you reach this point, it's time to create a bigger budget for your Web site. I've created this breakdown of cost factors that should help you in creating an RFP and gauging the estimates that you receive in response.
What will affect the cost of your Web site?
Number of Pages – Expect to spend $50-$200 per page for your site's construction.
Number of Pages Designed – How many pages actually need their own design? Most (non-shopping) sites use a "Home page" design and maybe an "Internal page" design. The "Internal page" design is used throughout the rest of the pages. But some pages like a photo gallery may need a special design. Expect each additional design to cost 10% of your initial design fee.
Number of Design Mockups – Would you like to have the designer show you three different potential layouts? Or will you start with one and then add others if needed? Additional mockups can cost 25-75 percent of the original design fee.
Template or "From Scratch" Design – Templates have come a long way baby. In the last few years there has been a revolution in the template market and you can actually get a really good full Web site design for less than $100. With the help of a designer you can also do minor (or major) customizations to a template. In fact, many designers will present customized templates as "original" designs so you might be getting this anyway. A "from scratch" design will cost between $1,500 and $5,000.
Flash – Flash is what's used to create sophisticated animations on Web sites. Take a look at tetris.com for a little break and a good example of a full Flash Web site. Flash instantly increases the cost of your site between several hundred to several thousand dollars. Flash templates are also available at 1/10 of that cost – but they'll still need to be customized with your content.
Automation Features – Things like Photo Galleries, Intake Forms, Contact Us forms require programmers. Programmers work hard and they are expensive. Expect these added features to cost a few hundred dollars each if there's a tool that can be bought and customized. Possibly a couple thousand dollars if it has to be created from scratch.
Email Newsletter Tool – The vast majority of Web sites should have a formal mechanism for collecting visitor email addresses that does not involve copying and pasting into Excel (those of you still doing this, you know who you are). Email newsletter tools usually start at $15-$50 per month. You can integrate the code into your site yourself or to have your developer do it expect a few hundred dollars to create a signup page and add signup links throughout your site.
Online Shopping – Adds a whole other level. Typically built using an off-the-shelf shopping cart software, expect the installation and configuration of your store to add $1,500 to $15,000 to the cost of your site. PayPal and the new Google checkout are great alternatives if you have fewer than 20 products to sell. You can set up an account for free, you're only charged when someone makes a purchase and you don't need shopping cart software.
Maintenance Fees – The most popular are hosting (around $5-$20/month) and your domain name ($5-$25/year). If you have an online store you'll also need an SSL certificate ($20-$50/year), and a merchant account and payment gateway ($30-$40/month plus transaction fees). You should also consider budgeting 10-20% of your original Web site budget annually for software upgrades, new features and consulting.
Marketing Costs – These can vary widely depending on your site, industry and budget. For a good budgeting rule of thumb, gauge the percent of your marketing budget to spend online according to the percent of your customers you expect to get online.
Now that you have some figures in mind you should have a sense of what your site should cost and be closer to getting bids from a Web development company. For tips on how to hire a Web site development company check out How to Hire a Web Designer.