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April 1, 2004 10:02 AM

“How much does it cost to set up a web site?”

I love it when somebody calls me and that’s the first question they ask. It takes all the will power I can muster not to respond with, “How much ya got?”

Many people think of web designers as fast food restaurants. They just want to order the combo: a medium web site with a large side of hosting and a small domain name. Something prepackaged, and cheap. And, unfortunately, there are places where that is exactly what they will get.

What we do is more analogous to a car mechanic. You wouldn’t call your mechanic and ask, “How much to fix my car?” and expect a real answer. At the very least, you would need to describe the problem, preferably by trying to imitate the sound your car is making while everyone in the garage listens on the speakerphone and laughs at you. Even better is if you take your car to them and let them do a thorough inspection and tell you what you need.

When you call me, it means you need work done on your business. You either need or want a new web site installed, or there’s a funny noise coming from your current web site. Every business is different—there is no generic web site that will work for every business model. The web site I installed on a 2001 non-profit organization will not fit on a 2004 retail chain. It is hard to diagnose your problem over the phone; It’s much better if you bring your business in and let me take a look at it. Then, I can tell you exactly what you need, and exactly what it will cost.

All of this, of course, assumes you hire an honest web designer, and not someone who’s going to tell you your HTML is out of alignment, and that’s going to cost you extra.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good yet at getting this across to potential clients. Typically, these are small business owners who have very little time and even less money. They know they need a web site, but they don’t really know why because they’ve never really gotten into that whole Internet thing themselves. They want a product, not a service. I do my best to get as much information as I can from them, then I give them a number. Often, that number is higher than if I were given the opportunity to really analyze their needs. That’s because I don’t know what I’m getting into, so I pad. If I refused to give them a quote over the phone, they would just call the next company in the phone book. Of course, they’re going to call the next company anyway, to see if they can get a cheaper price. And they will.

And then they’ll be asked if they want to super size that.

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