Several times each week, we receive sales inquiries — usually in email — posing a question like:
“How much does a website like ____________ cost?”
The blank is typically filled with the likes of eBay.com, Etsy.com, Airbnb.com, Guru.com or Facebook.com. There are more possibilities, but you probably get the gist of the question.
And sadly, the question, in and of itself, immediately disqualifies the inquiry as a potential project for our firm for several reasons. Here’s why:
Not A Simple Number
A website like Facebook or eBay does not just cost money. It costs innumerable hours, innumerable ideas, innumerable internal and external discussions and can cost friendships. Quantifying those costs, as if it were a bag of Skittles or a new car, is an impossible task and one that cannot be tackled in a simple response.
It’s not known how many 3 a.m. French fries Mark Zuckerberg ate during the initial development of Facebook or the number of times that Jeff Bezos slept in the sleeping bag in his office at Amazon.com, but there was a driving force that led these web innovators into doing something special, something extraordinary and sometime passionate. Sending a one-sentence email to a web developer is far from extraordinary.
It Isn’t Music
I’ve heard people say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in reality who really wants to be labeled an imitation. And why, as a web development firm, would we want to work on a project where our client is merely aiming to imitate the success of others.
Singer and songwriter Billie Holiday said:
“You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”
Without exception, the inquiries that come to us about copying another’s website have something in common. The common component should come as no surprise — they’re expecting the website to grow by end-user involvement, not their involvement. They see the vast income that is earned by ads being served and end users buying stuff on these websites.
These inquiries never ask, “How much does NYTimes.com cost to build?” And that’s because a website like the New York Times would require passionate work. The our inquirer is not looking for work, he is looking for riches.
Show Us You’re Serious
We’re professionals. We do this for a living. We’re passionate about what we do. When you inquire about a project with just a simple “How much is X?” question, it discounts the time, energy and labor that goes into producing quality, unique work.
Would you get a response from Brad Pitt if you emailed him asking how much it costs to be a Hollywood star? Or would you email the Louvre’s Jean-Luc Martinez asking how much would it would cost to make the Venus de Milo? I’m not saying the our websites — or any website, for that matter — can be compared to a Greek masterpiece, but a serious level of skill, determination and effort goes into becoming a success. Rather than dash a quick email with less characters than a tweet to a web developer, the inspired entrepreneur should put together — at a bare minimum — an executive summary of your proposed website. Better yet, consider creating a functional spec document that details every nuance of your project. Leave no detail to misinterpretation. And if you cannot put together your own written plan, you can hire someone to help you put it together and there are guides online to assist you.
The next time you see someone else’s successful website, try asking the following questions:
What makes this successful website so successful?
How will your website better?
Are you ready to lose sleep, money and friends over your website?
If your answers to these questions are not compelling — both to you and to your end-users — stop and reevaluate your business concept.
More Than Meets The Eye
Website development costs are just one of the expenses in your website success plan. Great websites have fantastic marketing plans behind it. Expedia spends $800,000,000.00 on advertising their site each year and Amazon spends nearly twice that amount. Count on spending far more than your website’s development costs if you plan to engage the public.
If you plan on deploying Google AdWords, engaging customers on social media platforms or sending out email newsletter campaigns, you’ll want to figure in those expenses in as well.
In short, the costs of building a website may be the smallest figure in your calculation to become a success online.
In conclusion, you’ll want to prepare yourself before contacting a web developer. By putting together a functional specifications document or a winning business plan, you’ll show your developer that you’re serious, you’re professional and you’ve thought the whole project through from start to finish.