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Comparing Quotes for a Custom Website

I have received many emails from prospective clients responding to my quotes for their projects posted on CraigsList and other job boards. In most cases, the sheer volume of responses to their post is completely overwhelming, and without much knowledge of software development, many customers have no idea how to compare quotes that may range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars for the same described work.

Many customers come to me telling me they received very low offers to build their site with WordPress.

While WordPress is very popular, and I've built hundreds of sites with WordPress, I don't find WordPress to have a very robust framework beyond blog/news sites.

When it comes to building our custom functionality, or integrating multiple plugins with each other, there are more scalable options with more robust MVC structures and APIs. MVC stands for "Model-View-Controller" and describes the way code should be arranged within the file structure of a website: a well-defined standard makes it easy to work with other developer's code - for example, to make theirs work with yours or to customize existing code.

The general complaint about WordPress is that the plugins don't work well together, and the site becomes bogged down quickly as complex features are added. In many ways, plugins are sort of just 'bolted-on' in WordPress, rather than integrated within a more specifically articulated framework.

More suitable alternatives include Drupal and Joomla - and if you really want to build something custom/advanced/expensive - consider Laravel or Ruby. Drupal and Joomla are both open-source CMS platforms, like WordPress, but with better core structures for custom functionality.

When comparing bids, you should recognize whether a developer is recommending using an off-the-shelf platform or if they are proposing a custom built solution

Obviously, off-the-shelf platforms are cheaper to use

The downsides to this approach are primarily

A) You kind of have to live with what comes 'out-of-the-box', as customizations can be costly and if done incorrectly, will make it impossible to update your system.

B) Your company's primary Intellectual Property is based on a platform than any competitor can simply purchase and deploy to replicate your system.

--> If you're looking to create something NEW in the internet or mobile market, you should NOT be using WordPress or off-the-shelf technologies.
IF you just want to test your ideas, or do not have anything unique about your product, then using off-the-shelf code is a quick, inexpensive approach to getting a product to market.

Key Factors that Influence the Cost of a Website:

  1. Features/Functionality: The more features and functionality you include in your site, the more expensive it will be to develop.
  2. Design: Custom logos/icons/images/graphics will quickly drive up the cost of a site, and are generally not necessary for initial planning and development.
  3. Size of Firm: Hiring a one-person designer/developer is generally cheaper than hiring a small company. Hiring a small company is generally cheaper than hiring an agency. Hiring a single person is very risky and generally limits the talent applied to your project.

Rough Breakdown on Website Development Cost:

For $1000 or less:

  • Try to do as much as you can by yourself - there are one-click installations of WordPress and Joomla on most hosting platforms.
    And the Support staff at hosting providers like BlueHost.com and LiquidWeb.com will help you through most of this stuff if you get stuck.
    Tons of online tutorials can guide you through the process if you're willing to take the time and learn it (it's not coding).
  • Buy a premium theme for your chosen platform and figure out how to install it or pay someone $20 to handle this task.
  • Install an auction plugin/extension and configure it to suit your needs.
  • Save your money for having someone clean up your frontpage and address any critical issues you can't resolve on your own.
  • For $1000 - 5,000:

    • Hire someone to design a WordPress or Joomla frontpage for you, install your auction platform, and make a few minor customizations to it to suit your needs
    • Focus your remaining budget on making the site look good, and marketing it to customers.

    For $5,000-50,000

    • In this range you're going to want to consider building your own plugin or component - you'll have total control over the features and functionality you build, and perhaps more importantly, your company will own proprietary Intellectual Property.
    • This is the process I recommend for anyone with a sufficient budget who wants to develop a platform they can expand and maintain at a reasonable cost. It allows us to create a platform suited to your unique business model, and bring your service to market.
    • I start these projects with full blueprints that demonstrate the functionality of the app, and then I work with my team of developers to build out the component, usually with Joomla or Drupal. I tend to prefer Joomla, since it provides a substantial framework and solid API for building most apps.
    • This is far from a VC-funded budget for building an enterprise level solution. You can easily spend $100,000s hiring developers on salary, but this is a much more cost-effective way to build your site.

    For $50,000+

    • Now you might start to consider using RubyonRails or Laravel (there are other's too, but these are currently very popular amongst popular startups).
    • You may have to scale down some of your features set, since you're gonna have to write much more of the code base yourself from scratch, and there is far less available code.
    • This approach is generally more suitable for projects with sufficient funding, proven concepts, and dedicated in-house developers.

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