How much to quote for your first web design project

By Jeremy Johnson | Founder & Designer | Rocketspark

Before I started Rocketspark.com with Lee, Richard and Grant back in 2009, I was a freelance graphic designer, and I did a range of project types from logo design to brochures, wedding videos to business cards—and eventually websites.

Test runs for the win

The first few websites I designed were free for not-for-profits. Other than a few basic papers at university I wasn’t trained as a web designer and really had no idea what I was doing so was learning on the job. This was a good way to build up my experience without having to pretend to a paying client that I knew what I was doing.

How to price for your first web design projects

For my first two paid website design projects, I charged NZ$600 each. I was improving my skills and knowledge but was still very much a beginner. Within a year of those first two sites I was charging $2000-5000 per site, depending on the requirements. I worked with developers for the bits I couldn't do myself. The key point though is that those first two free sites and then the next two low budget quotes created a runway to launch my web design business. If I'd started at NZ$2000 or $5000 it would have taken me a lot longer to try and convince my first real business client to take a chance on me.

With experience comes quality, higher demand and increased value for the customer

In 2018, at Rocketspark we stopped designing websites for clients in-house, instead referring web design leads to our network of expert design partners who design websites for their clients using Rocketspark. By this stage our web design packages had increased in price by 330%. The quality of website design and overall customer experience that we were producing in 2018 was far superior to what we produced in 2009 and so our pricing increased to reflect that value.

You win some, you lose some—but try lose less

Sometimes starting at too low a price can result in clients taking up more of your time than anticipated, stretching your quote terms and conditions to the limit.
For example, initially I was only taking a small deposit for a website design project, and my terms and conditions weren't thorough enough to protect me from having to spend a disproportionate amount of time on that one client’s website.
In the 10-15 years following, we gradually improved the robustness of our quote terms and conditions to protect us from these sorts of scenarios and you can view an example of our quote terms here.

A few key things I learnt about quoting for website design:

  • Separate out the line items on the quote and put the client in control of opting in and out of extras such as content writing and SEO. Even though we were clear that content wasn't included it was amazing how many people would come back to us part way through and expect us to do the content.
  • Have a backstop for those clients that want endless rounds of revisions. We specified two rounds of revisions and then an hourly rate for extras. For most clients we never charged for extra revisions unless it was getting ridiculous and we'd provide a warning when it was heading that way.
  • If you do a great job your client base will naturally grow through word of mouth. Once we established a good reputation we felt more confident in ourselves to be firm when clients started to take advantage of our goodwill. We used a tool called Quotient which is a great tool for quoting.

What is the current going rate for small business web design?

For a typical informational small business website, Rocketspark design partners seem to be charging between NZ$1000 and NZ$4000, with the majority in the NZ$2000-NZ$3000 range (not including content writing, digital marketing, logo design or print design work) — with ecommerce websites NZ$1000-2000 higher due to the increased amount of work and knowledge involved.

This is a reflection on the market demand from small businesses. Most start-ups or small businesses can't afford $5-10k website design and coming in under that is the sweet spot for Rocketspark design partners—attracting people who don't want to design their own website but can't afford a traditional design agency.

Price relative to your experience level

With a Rocketspark design partner you’re able to get a beautiful website designed on the Rocketspark platform for an initial setup NZ$1,000 - $3,500 by a designer who has designed dozens of websites previously. 

With your first ever website design project, it’s okay to start small with your pricing in order to secure your first few clients.  This will help you build up a portfolio of examples and these examples will be hugely helpful in getting you future website design projects—but only if they look great.

How much time should you spend on a website design project?

Divide your quote by your usual design hourly rate to work out how many hours you’ve allowed yourself to work on the project.  Then make sure you keep track of the time you spend on every project (and each aspect of the project) using a tool like GetHarvest.com, you’ll soon see how much more time you’ve spent on a project than you quoted for, helping you to learn how much you should be charging for future projects.

Bundle your services to increase your profitability

Another area of appeal for small businesses is the one-stop-shop aspect of working with a graphic designer to do their logo, business cards, brochures, letterheads and website, for example. So consider doing bundled discounts if a customer utilizes more of your services on offer. It’s more efficient for you to do more work for one client rather than sending quotes, having meetings and getting declines or objections from more clients in order to generate the same amount of revenue.

How can I pick up my first website client if I’ve never done a website before?

If you haven’t designed a website before, you might not feel confident to advertise website design as a service on your website or pitch that service to your print design clients. However, many small businesses are always on the lookout for ways to save on business expenses, especially if they’re a new business—so why not offer heavily discounted website design pricing to a friendly client and be up front with them about your limited experience.  It may be that this client was considering the DIY website builder approach and even spending NZ$500 with a graphic designer will lift the look and feel of their website.

Soak up as much free education as you can

While you don’t have to deal with printers, designing a website isn’t as simple as designing for print and there are more considerations to take into account than just how something looks or readability (although this is key for a great first impression).  You have to think about the user journey through multiple pages of the website, what outcome are you wanting from your visitors and then optimising your website to show up in search engines like Google (SEO - search engine optimisation).

Rocketspark has a huge amount of free educational help guides and blog posts as well as an eBook that will help you get up to speed on some of these important topics.  The Rocketspark team is also available to help you upskill in these areas and give you confidence as you navigate your first web design projects for your clients.

Give it a go

The key to starting out in web design is giving it a go and doing a great job of the design—and not putting pressure on yourself to price the same as the best in the industry while you’re learning the ropes. There are many small businesses who can’t afford to pay a huge amount for a website, so will be eager to work with you even though you’re less experienced.

If your client is delighted with their website design and your service—and the website is working for them, you’ll have that valuable example to add to your portfolio, making it so much easier to sell your next website.

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Image featuring websites by partners lwcreative.co.nz and designerbloom.net

Image featuring websites by partners lwcreative.co.nz and designerbloom.net