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Well ... it depends

A perennial question: how much does a charity website cost? More than you think? Less than you think? I don’t know the answer … how much money do you have? So, perhaps a better way into the conversation around budget and investment is to understand where your money goes.

I know how it goes … you know you need a new website. You’ve discussed with the marketing team, the head of comms, and you need to have a meeting with your trustees. They’re going to ask how much it’s going to cost. And you don’t know the answer.

So, you say you’ll get three quotes from three different agencies and go from there. Except the quotes come in and you don’t know whether you’re having the wool pulled over your eyes or not. Can it really be done for £5,000 as one agency says? And how has another agency taken the same brief and come back with a £20,000 estimate. Ugh.

The truth is – both could be true. Your website could be built for £5,000 or £20,000. What matters of course is whether it serves the goals of your organisation and the people you wish to engage with the site. What might be helpful then is a little look at where the money goes – it can help you decide how much to value the different elements and to better frame internal conversations.

So … the main elements you’re paying for in a web project:

We need to understand the problem. We may first need to help you with best articulating the problem. The problem you may think you have (e.g. traffic), might not be the problem you actually have (which could be conversion), and might not be the first thing that needs tackling (which could be user journey). So, discovery. We’ll figure all of this out – how to frame your project, what tools we might use to help solve it with you.

Let’s allocate 10% of the overall budget for discovery.

We strongly recommend against writing your own copy. In fact, it can be a deal breaker for us. Even if you have specific copy writing ability in-house, we recommend using an external provider for this. They will be able to see more clearly the best way of framing your non-profit in terms of how your supporters see you. A lot of organisations counter with: “we’re the only ones who understand our charity, we need to be the ones writing it”. I understand. It’s your job to help the copywriter see the uniqueness of your business. It’s not your job to educate your customers to the depth of knowledge that you already have.

We’ll give copywriting 25% of our budget. I know, sounds like a lot right? But you want people to read what’s on your site and you want it to be engaging. So.

Project Management
I can’t stress this enough … project management is crucial to the smooth running of a web project. An individual who can coordinate all the moving parts (the client, the copy writing, the photography, the designer, the developer … ) is worth their weight in gold, both to the agency and the client. The only way an in-depth project stays on time and on budget is with a good project manager managing it.

I want to give more, but aware that these have to add up to 100, we should give Project Management 20% of the budget.

… okay, over half of our web design & development project budget has been allocated and we have neither designed nor developed. But they are the two main elements left …

Web design
Within design we’re including UI design – the development of a wireframing set up that details the user interface, as well as the UX design – the ‘pretty stuff’ which translates the interface into an attractive design that works well across multiple devices. This is the sexy stuff that a client desperately wants to get to – but can’t until they’ve gone through the labour intensive processes of discovery and copy writing. But it’s the good stuff – the fun stuff for me personally – and when the project really starts to take on a tangible form for the client.

We’re going to give design 20% of the budget.

Web deveopment
Turning those lovely looking designs into fully functioning websites is where we bring in developers. Whether they’re building in WordPress, CraftCMS or Statamic … they’re doing the heavy work of making the designs as resource efficient as possible. Making sure that all the processes are optimised, that the code is SEO friendly, that front end interactions work perfectly on top of backend architecture. It’s the guts of the project – often the part with the least client visibility, but clearly integral to the projects success.

We’re going to also give development 20% of the budget.

Eagle eyed readers will notice that we’re just 5% under and we haven’t covered handover yet … we could allocate just 5% on handover and training – so, maybe £750 for a day of training and a video library. However it’s delivered, it’s essential (to us and the client) that the website is understood and maintainable post-development. Handover and training sees to that.

And then … here’s the thing: this will change as the budget increases. The figures above work well (for us) on a £15,000 project where the breakdown would run as follows:

  • £1500 for discovery
  • £3750 for copywriting
  • £3000 for project management
  • £3000 for web design
  • £3000 for web development
  • £750 for QA & handover

It’s worth noting that I spoke with developers, designers, project managers and copywriters for this post and each of them made compelling cases for receiving a higher percentage of the budget.

What I’ve left out
… photography, I think is the main one. We’re assuming here that the client has a library of imagery we can use. Also, we’re not looking at branding here – so logos, fonts, colour choices etc. have all been made already.

As the budget goes up, you might want to invest more in the user interface / user experience, and so the web design budget goes up. I really wanted to include more for QA & handover, so if there was more in the budget, that’s an area I think would benefit from spending more on. Likewise discovery … the old adage that if I had 8 hours to chop down a tree I’d spend 6 of them sharpening my axe … discovery & project preparation is the sharpening of the axe.

Similarly, if the budget goes down – areas like project management & copywriting might feel the pinch first. Certainly when I worked on smaller budget projects, those were elements that got sacrificed … the client wrote their own copy, and project management just rubbed along … it wasn’t ideal, but we got there and everyone got paid.

So … theses are not hard / fast guidelines, but good starting points that have reflected our projects over the past year or so.