Web development projects can get expensive. There’s a lot at work behind a website. Hamsters on wheels, gnomes keeping the coal fires burning, which create steam, which turn the turbines…you get the idea.
But if you arm yourself with the right information, and take the right approach, you could stand to trim your costs down significantly.
Before you pick a developer and sign on the dotted line (right beneath the small print about your first born and burning in the fires of hell and all that) you’ll want to consider the factors that will contribute to the overall cost of your project and beyond.
There’s more to consider than the up-front price you’ve been quoted. Here are 7 ways to save:
1) Find a developer with chops and plenty of experience
Seriously. If all you care about is that it “looks pretty” and is cheap, you’ll get what you pay for.
Invariably when we take on a new client and set out to make a “quick change” or two I find myself cursing the soul of the original developer. I never had a tremendous sense of pride in my own XHTML/CSS code until I got a load of some of the bloated crap people have the nerve to pass off as code.
Here’s the deal: bloated and otherwise crummy code means it’ll take your next developer two or three times as long as it should to make updates. Not to mention it’s less search engine friendly.
So while you thought you were saving money going with the “cheap guy” you’ll end up paying the next guy for thrice as many hours as you should to swap out an image. Savings = gone.
2) Use Open Source platforms
This site runs on WordPress. We like it, because it’s easy to work with – and it’s open source (read: free). Adding a page or post doesn’t take any coding. After coding all day for clients it’s nice to use a system that allows us to focus on content.
The Thesis theme makes WordPress better – we paid for that, but $87 is well worth it for the advantages Thesis gives you.
When you’re talking about a framework that is supported by a large community of developers it’s tough to beat the free price point. Combined with the fact that it’s pretty quick/painless (read: cheap) to get up and running on an open source platform there aren’t too many better ways to go – especially when your website doesn’t require advanced or custom functionality.
Research open source platforms that make sense for your project – then let your prospective developers know you’d like to consider this route.
3) Do your homework
You don’t need to become a developer overnight, but learning a thing or two about the ins and outs of quality development will help you make informed decisions.
Some things you should know about your next developer:
- Do they have a strong command of CSS-driven design? CSS makes your site more lightweight (faster loading times) and far easier to update down the line.
- Will they use comments in their code? This also saves time/money on updates and upgrades down the line.
- How many projects like yours have they handled so far? If you’re their first eCommerce project, for example, you might want to look elsewhere.
At some point you’ve got make your decision, but picking up some of the basics beforehand won’t hurt.
4) Get (and stay) involved
Probably the worst thing that can happen to a development project is the client falling out of contact. For whatever reason the website takes a back seat to other business issues. The developer can’t get in touch, and after a while they give up and stop calling.
It’s not your developer’s responsibility to send hired goons to your office to force your hand on those design approvals.
In fact, some web development contracts stipulate that after X number of months of unresponsiveness on your part the project will be closed and your deposit forfeited.
You initiated your project for a reason. Chances are your existing website (if you have one) isn’t quite cutting it for your business. You might not think it’s priority numero uno, but we’ve seen development projects boost our clients’ online sales by 40% almost overnight.
In other words, letting a development project drag is probably costing you business in the mean time.
Your website is truly at the core of your marketing plan – don’t let it fall by the wayside.
5) Don’t get Flash-happy
I’ll probably catch some flack on this one, but so be it.
Flash is expensive. I don’t mean Rolls Royce expensive, but all else being equal it’ll cost you more to build a Flash-driven site than one driven by straight HTML.
Combine the higher development costs with the fact that Flash is not generally SEO-friendly, and you may find yourself in need of a complete site overhaul not long after the first version goes live – at least if you have any interest in getting search engine traffic.
Flash-based websites also almost always take a lot longer to update (read: more expensive). Keep this in mind before you get all googley-eyed at the moving pictures.
6) Get your own hosting
There are plenty of developers out there who offer a “one stop shop” for your website. That means they’ll build it, host it, maintain it, setup your email and provide support on all of the above as needed.
Problem is, that usually comes at a price – a serious mark-up on resold hosting.
The developer’s argument is usually, “sure, we mark the hosting up, but we’re adding our layer of support as part of the package.”
Guess what that means.
It means when you call because your email is down your developer won’t know why, and they’ll have to tell you they’re “checking on it” while they hang up and quickly call the actual hosting company support line. Then, when they get an answer, they’ll call you back and relay the info.
Sound stupid? That’s because it is. Think you’re better off working directly with the hosting company? Now you’re thinking.
Note: some developers run their own powerful in-house servers – in which case the above doesn’t really apply. At all.
7) For that matter, register your own domain too
We’ve heard more than one nightmare story about less-than-honest developers who were “nice enough” to register their clients’ domains for them – then, when the client decided to go elsewhere, the developers refused to give up the domains. The problem: the developers registered the domains in their own name. The clients were stuck.
Breaking up is rough – but that doesn’t mean your ex gets to keep your underpants.
In one case a client was extorted out of $50k to buy their own domain back from the original developer. They were in deep with advertising and couldn’t afford to switch domains.
I’m sure there are legal ramifications of this, and if they took it to court I expect the client would’ve been awarded the domain in the end. But court cases are expensive.
I certainly don’t want to paint with a broad and ugly brush and scare the hell out of anybody. The vast majority of developers are truly out for their clients’ best interests. But why invite headaches down the road? It’s easy enough to register your own domain.
These are just some of the ways you can save costs on your next development project. Fellow developers: feel free to chime in with your thoughts (and disagreements) below.