Are you shopping for a $500 Mercedes Benz?

If you are, then you probably have some idea of what to expect from it: in poor condition, both mechanically and aesthetically, and needing a ton of work to be running in any sort of reliable fashion. Everyone knows, you get what you pay for. For some reason, however, that concept seems to go right out the window when some people shop for design and development services, which are every bit as nuanced and complex as an automobile. They wouldn’t act offended when the Mercedes dealership tells them the S class they’re looking for is $75,000, yet DO act offended when they realize you won’t work for minimum wage to create a Mercedes Benz quality web presence. This concept is explored to hilarious effect in this video:

It’s clear when contrasted to EVERY other industry that this attitude makes no sense at all, and yet no one would have made that video if it didn’t happen all the time. So, why do people feel that it’s OK to treat designer/developers as if their work has little value?

Antoine Reid writes in his blog that he thinks the reason is that no one really gets what we do:

“As I look at all the ridiculous Craigslist job postings in the art/media/design section something’s become very clear to me: most people have no respect for designers or the creative types anymore. That’s the only way I can rationalize why a professional would think a designer or creative, especially one with a degree, is deserving of $9 or $10 an hour with no benefits, no vacation time and yet a ton of responsibilities and duties.

I came to another realization recently: perhaps designers and creative types are at the bottom of the totem pole because no one really gets what we do. People equate design and art with fun and leisure while a job dealing with accounting, finances or working heavy machinery is “real” work. Really, while it’d be ideal to design a PR campaign educating the general masses what a graphic designer does and why a designer or creative type shouldn’t be treated like a fast food service, face it, that’d take more time and patience than any of us have to offer.”

Given the level of education I generally need to provide my clients when creating a dynamic, SEO friendly, social media integrated web presence, I think he’s probably right. Towards that end, let me provide a break down of what exactly goes into just one web development package (averages, based on the last five years of development clients):

Interface design – 40 hours:
Although in some of my projects, I have full design control, and can get this phase of development completed faster, as a rule, I’ll have about 24-25 hours in on the design before you see it the first time. Then, depending on the number of revisions or additions you want, I’ll generally spend another 15-18 hours implementing them, longer if it’s something out of scope of your original design concept (i.e. “I want the home page to be a flash movie that then transitions into the main site.” Oh, by the way, please don’t ask for this. The average user on the web hates it).

Writing the code – 40 hours:
Now that we’ve nailed down how it looks, I have to make that concept live. No matter what underlying CMS or code library I may be using, I can assure you they don’t come out of the box with the functions and layout you’ve asked for. I’ll be writing custom CSS (styling code), XHTML (layout code), and PHP (function and data code) to actually bring your design concept to life, and make sure that it works in all modern web browsers, mobile devices, and Internet Explorer.

SEO – 20 hours:
Yeah, you hear that phrase all the time, and depending on your level of web savvy, you may think it means making sure you have keywords, or creating backlinks, but my SEO services include making sure you have ALL of the necessary meta tags (did you know that your meta description field is what sets the paragraph that appears when someone shares your link on Facebook?), editing your copy to be keyword heavy while remaining organic, and drilling you on the core qualities Google is looking for when determining placement: Relevance, Comprehensiveness, and Freshness.

Training – 10 hours:
Unlike the $500 specials on Craigslist, I don’t just slap up a prepackaged system and leave you to fend for yourself. I want every one of my clients to be success stories in my portfolio. Because of that, I spend a healthy amount of time training you on how to run your system, whether it’s an eCommerce front requiring product management, or a CMS requiring content management. You’re going to be well trained in all the aspects of updating your content or products, and best practices in using social media to spread your message.

Support – 20 hours:
I speak with every confidence that my clients will back me up when I say that before we ever even get into support agreements, I’m already eminently accessible to them via email or IM, and that I’m quick to jump on any bugs, security issues, or fixing the content that didn’t come out quite right when updating the site. While the amount of time that an IM session or phone call with a client may be something they take for granted, that’s time that I’m concentrating on their issues as opposed to working on new development. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no complaint to my observation; this is WHY I’m their web guy! However, you wouldn’t call your lawyer without expecting to be charged for the time, and you wouldn’t call your mechanic expecting an explanation of how to fix the issue yourself without incurring billable time, so discounting the support time I spend with my clients doesn’t make sense.

There you have it: a rough breakdown of my hours on a single project client. So, when someone suggests I build them a $500 website, they’re asking me to either work for $3.85 an hour, or to give them what you might expect from a $500 Mercedes Benz. Neither is something I’m willing to do, which is why I don’t take those clients.

If you’ve been bargain shopping for a web developer, I hope you now have a better feel for why they looked at you like that when they heard your budget. If you’re just now beginning your search for web services, and have had some sticker shock, hopefully this will help make clear what all exactly is included in the proposals you’re getting. Oh, and might I recommend this guy?