Why You Should Pay as Much as Possible for Your Website

Posted on Monday, September 19, 2011

Phil LockwoodBy Phil Lockwood (Distill Agency)

Everyone loves a good deal. Groupon, Black Friday, yard sales and a flatlined housing market. But when is a great price not a good deal? When you're paying for a service that has yet to be performed.

When you buy a new iPhone, you know exactly what you'll be getting. So why not pay $99 for it instead of paying $599? It's the same phone either way, right? While this argument works for consumer products, it doesn't hold true for many services. And if you're not careful about your frugality, you may find that your bottom-dollar negotiations do more harm than good.

Let's take your website as an illustration. I (and my agencies, more specifically) have designed and developed hundreds of them over the past 15 years. Our budgets for these projects have ranged from a few hundred dollars each to annual retainers exceeding $1 million each. And can you guess which clients got the most attention, the most creativity and the most bang for their buck? You guessed it -- the ones who didn't beat us up on price.

Einstein Bros' budget allowed us to focus on the details of extending their stores' feel to their website.

This concept certainly isn't limited to web design, though there are certain services where it may not apply. Tooth whitening, sprinkler blow-outs and drywall repair, for example, are likely to have the same result whether you pay full price or half price. The difference comes from the creativity and discretion inherent in the delivery of some services and not others. With web design/development, for example, the work doesn't start until the price has been established. And that price sets the tone for the execution of the service.

When I write a proposal for a new website for a prospect, I offer a fair price and a quality solution. I know how much effort is required to fulfill the project well and I price accordingly. If the prospect pushes back on that price, I begin suggesting ways to remove features and complexity from the project scope to reduce the cost. Often, this solves the problem. Occasionally, though, a prospect wants to keep all the features but pay less for them. This is where things get risky for both parties.

First, remember that agencies have limited manpower. While adding designers/developers is always an option, it typically doesn't (and shouldn't) happen quickly enough to affect pending, tight-timeline projects. So, the question for the agency basically becomes, "should we push other, full-price, work so that we can do this work for a lower hourly rate?" Aside from friends/family projects and charity work, the answer is typically "no."

If the agency does decide to take the work, for whatever reason, the price paid by the client will become a factor throughout every step of delivery. Few other services involve as many decision points, where a feature can be designed myriad ways and those decisions can result in a feature that is somewhere between acceptable and awesome. 

  • Should we use standard web-safe fonts or enhance the design with embedded fonts?
  • Should we use standard content management features for this section of the site or build a custom, user-friendly feature for the client?
  • Should the "Contact Us" page have a phone number to call or can we include an interactive lead form that builds the client's marketing database and gives visitors a 24x7 method for reaching out?
  • Should we simply include a link to the Facebook fan page or integrate social widgets throughout the site to maximize viral visibility?

Designers, developers and agency teams are universally conditioned to base most of those decisions on the project budget. If the client paid full price, the tendency will be to complete the feature the best way possible. If the budget was negotiated to a minimum level, the tendency will be to complete the task as cheaply as possible -- typically omitting desirable  aspects.

Designers and developers get a lot of satisfaction from delivering superior solutions, but rarely at the expense of their paychecks. This isn't a matter of integrity -- I'm not suggesting for a second that I would ever deliver less than what I promise. What I'm saying is that good designers/developers like projects with fair budgets because it allows them to go above and beyond without worrying about paying the bills.

If you think you've found a designer/developer who is really good, but who works for a lower fee because they have a lighter workload, you may be disappointed with the results they generate (there's probably a reason they don't have much work). If you use your wife's nephew because he'll do it for free, you may find yourself in the same situation as many of the clients who have come to me with a story of how they tried exactly the same thing (such projects never turn out well). 

Instead of trying to negotiate a junior pay rate with a senior consultant, revisit your project wish-list and remove the items that aren't essential to the success of the website. I've seen wish-lists where 80% of the time necessary covers features that will generate 5% of the return-on-investment. Focus. Keep it simple. Build the essentials and let their success fund future enhancements.

At the end of the day, the lessons we've learned from other industries apply to website design and development:

  • You'll get what you pay for.


Phil has started, run and/or sold over 10 companies during his career. The most notable of the successes include his digital advertising agencies, which have made over $20 million, won countless industry awards and served as springboards for hundreds of employees' careers. In 2001, he founded Creation Chamber, which grew to 25 employees. In 2007, he acquired a competing agency and formed Xylem CCI, which became the largest independent web development agency in the front range and served major international brands. In 2009, Phil sold Xylem CCI and formed Distill (www.distillagency.com), a boutique consultancy providing online marketing strategy and development solutions for a select group of clients. Phil can be reached at:

Phil LockwoodEmail: phil [at] distillagency [dot] com
Phone: 303-475-4970
Twitter: philliplockwood / distillagency
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/plockwood
Skype: lockwoodphil

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