Working with a customer to estimate a project - from building a house to writing a book - is almost never a Disneyland experience. Estimating a website project usually falls into that category as well. One main reason is the presence of three interdependent factors that influence the outcome of the project: time, quality and cost. Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two, you can never have all three.
In the past couple of weeks I've been fortunate enough to have some promising leads for freelance work. I've also encountered a couple of situations where the above principle has been put to the test.
Some potential clients think their project falls into the "good and fast" category, but when supplied with a corresponding bid, they are silent. Others just think all websites should be cheap. One thing that makes me cringe when I hear it is, "What kind of website would you build for $500?"
My answer: I wouldn't.
I don't say that to be arrogant or "above it all". I just appreciate both the level of experience, talent and effort involved in building a quality website. I also realize the value that a good website adds to an organization's reputation and bottom line. Not only would I not build a website for $500, I wouldn't build a $500 website.
Nobody, if they're honest with themselves, really wants a $500 website. What they're saying is they want a really good website, but they want it cheap. They want to pay very little for a very valuable asset (if it's used properly).
Most would think it ridiculous to call up a life insurance company and ask how much life insurance could they get for $5 a month. Nor would anyone ask an architect to design and build them a house for $5,000. They wouldn't ask because they know that it wouldn't be that simple. They know that there would be many factors involved in determining the cost, quality and timeline.
Building a website is no different. Although troubling, I'm not the first one to witness this first hand, nor will I be the last. As designers and developers of websites, should we complain? Well, we could, but that probably wouldn't help. Instead we should probably use situations like this to educate our [potential] clients. We'll be better off for it and more importantly, so will our clients.
My recent encounters did not lead to actual freelance work, but what I received will be much more valuable in the long term. I had the opportunity to talk to clients about what goes into building a quality website, why web standards are important and why building a $500 website is not a good business decision. Conversations like that are priceless in terms of gaining experience, respect and hopefully, in the end, more projects.