Why a website can cost £500 or £50,000, depending on your budget

15 May 2019

When it comes to quoting for digital work in particular, there isn’t really a set price list – nothing really exists (there are no real hardware, equipment or materials costs) and so the cost of everything is purely down to what your chosen supplier decides something they do is worth.

And yet when a client lists a budget, it’s usually the case the quotes received will be at or around the upper end of that budget. Two near identical projects could have vastly different budgets allocated to them, but the same supplier will bid for them both, and quote differently to suit.

How can they do this? Are they ripping off the client with the bigger budget? Or are they simply giving a poorer quality product to the project with less to spend?

I’m sure that there are suppliers out there who will either inflate their prices, or cut corners, to suit…but it’s not necessarily the case all the time, and it’s certainly not why agencies are so keen to know what you have to spend.

The simple fact is, it’s entirely possible to deliver a high quality, perfectly suitable digital product at many price points, all without reducing quality or skimming off the top.

How, you might ask? Well it’s kind of hard to explain – because digital output doesn’t really ‘exist’ – it’s not made out of physical materials and you can’t touch it – it’s much harder to assign ‘cost’ to it; things are worth what they say they’re worth, and you’re just going to have to believe us. In that regard, it’s always been difficult to explain to clients why something can cost basically whatever they need it to, and it’s been something I’ve cast my mind to pinning down whenever I realise I’m about to have the ‘budget conversation’ with someone again.

I think – finally – I might have something that we can all understand: Roast Dinners.

Let’s say instead of a new website, you’re looking for a Roast Dinner with all the trimmings. Your criteria are fairly standard: you want the ability to pick the specific quantities of each item of your dinner (that would be the design and functionality of your website, specific to you); and of course it has to be tasty!

There’s many, many ways to fulfil this brief, all of them with their own costs:


Option 1 – Frozen Ingredients

Pop along to Iceland and you’ll be able to get frozen roasties, yorkshire puddings, a lovely frozen Three Bird roast, all the veggies you want and maybe even some pigs in blankets. Combine with a tub of that posh Bisto, and you’ll have a full roast dinner for a few pounds per head, cooked in no time at all.

Option 2 – Go out to a Toby Cavery

Of course, other carveries do exist, but they all basically do the same – meat and sides, cooked at scale to keep the costs down, delivering you a great plate of food at a reasonable price.

The quality of the produce will likely be noticeably better than your frozen option, with fresh-cooked meats and veggies and gravy that were prepared from scratch, not a packet, but you’ll pay a bit more for the privilege – somewhere between £8 – £12 per head depending on your extras (pigs in blankets!).

Option 3 – Something ‘Gastro’

Be it a gastro pub or restaurant, when you want to step up your roast dinner game, you can’t go far wrong with a plate of food from somewhere a bit more ‘to order’ than a carvery. Sure, these days you’re more likely to have it served on a plank than a plate, but pretentiousness aside, you’ll be in for a better spread, with better cuts of meat, roasties that have been roasted in goose fat rather than olive oil, and veggies served in butter instead of ‘spread’.

You’ll notice the difference in both the quality AND the price you pay – upwards of £20 per person.

Option 4 – A personal chef

For those who require the absolute best roast dinner experience, you’ll be looking to hire a chef to come to your home, bring the ingredients with them, and cook your dinner for you, right in your own kitchen. This is where you get complete say over what you eat, and how it’s prepared, and because the ingredients are brought in especially to match your requirements, you should expect an extremely tasty dining experience.

You’ll pay for the privilege, of course – the very best ingredients come at a premium, and a personal chef will run you a tidy sum too. Let’s assume you have a reasonable amount of guests dining with you, and you’ll probably be paying around £50 per head.


And now to the point!

The ‘quality’ of each of the above options, and how they stack up against each other, is plain to see – you would expect that the personal chef experience would be far better than the Iceland special, and that’s obviously why it costs more, right?

Correct! But that’s not really the point.

Whilst, side by side, they don’t really compare…they all still fit the brief. Each of them deliver a roast dinner that you’d be perfectly happy to eat, and you still get a website dinner that’s constructed to your requirements – you get to pick your sides and quantities; there are no pre-packed dinners here.

Option 1 isn’t cutting corners, and Option 4 isn’t unnecessarily inflating costs; they’re both just delivering according to budget.

Digital projects are exactly the same – tell me (or anyone quoting you) that you have £2,500 to spend, and I’ll find a solution that works for you; tell me you have £25,000, and I’ll spend much more of it. Fundamentally, you’ll still get a website that meets your requirements, but it’s the extras that make it more special that will cost you more.

And what are those extras, exactly? What is a digital supplier’s personal chef or serving plank? Well, that’s for them to tell you – often it will be a better, less ‘off the shelf’ technical platform. Maybe your HTML will be written from scratch rather than using a framework. It could be more time in testing; sometimes it will be more support staff to deal with daily management.

For the projects I work on, it tends to be how we prioritise the functionality we deliver to make sure we spend the most time (and money) on the really important stuff, and go ‘off the shelf’ for the easy stuff.

What’s important to remember is that it’s not really that the smaller budgets are subject to a reduction in quality, or that the bigger spends are met with the same product and an extra zero on the invoice.


So what about Option 5 – Cooking it myself from great ingredients?

“I could do that myself for a quarter of the price!”. Absolutely, and I personally often include some ‘do it yourself’ guideline pricing and recommendations when putting quotes together, for exactly this reason – if you’re willing to cook your own roast dinner, it’s entirely possible to buy the ingredients yourself and save on the cost of the personal chef.

Just remember that you’re not a chef, there’s only so much Jamie Oliver can teach you on YouTube, and instead of enjoying a few glasses of wine with your friends whilst the chef does their thing in your kitchen, they’ll be getting sozzled without you whilst you baste your meat for a few hours on your own.