Once upon a time, websites were the domain of big business.  They cost thousands – tens of thousands – and were the creations of clever little coders who could manipulate the strange languages of the internet.  They were beyond the understanding – and budget – of most small businesses. But now, with the creation of a range of content management systems and off-the-shelf products, small business websites are not only achievable, but are actually expected by our customers and potential customers.

While social media offers other avenues to get in touch with, and in front of, our audience, we’ve all heard the warning that you “shouldn’t build your house on rented land”.  So a website is often one of the first investments a small business will make.

So just how big is that investment?

How much does a small business website cost?

Website costs vary depending on the size, complexity and functionality you want for the site. If you create the website yourself on a content management platform such as WordPress or Joomla, the dollar costs can be relatively low (though the resource costs – your own time and energy – can be quite high. Remember, there is no such thing as “free marketing”).

Once you start adding e-commerce, online booking systems, integration with other software and complex galleries, the costs can creep up.

Below I have listed a range of the basic costs associated with developing and creating your website.

DOMAIN REGISTRATION

Your domain name is the “address” that your website holds on the internet.  It is an annual cost paid to a Domain Registrar.  Costs can vary, however an available .com domain is usually available for around $10-$15 per year, while an available .com.au domain is usually between $24 and $30 a year.  But note that .com.au domains are purchased for a minimum of 2 years at a time.

These costs are an ongoing cost – they need to be paid before the domain registration period runs out – and so should be considered in your budget each year.

When mentioning those prices I talk about “available” domains – those that no-one else has registered yet.  However if you want a specific domain that is no longer available, you can negotiate buying that domain from the person holding the registration.  Keep in mind that these costs can run to the thousands and tens of thousands, depending on the perceived value of the domain name. This is why we recommend that before you name your business, you do a thorough search of the domain names you’re wanting to make sure they’re available.

And another recommendation is to get your hands on a range of domain names relating to your chosen domain.  Where possible, buy the .com, .com.au, .net and any other pertinent variation to make sure that someone else doesn’t sneak in behind you and piggyback your brand.  The potential for lost business and confused customers is significant if your website is yourdomain.com.au, and someone else buys and sets up yourdomain.com.  For the sake of a few extra dollars at the beginning, it will save you a lot of heartache later.

WEB HOSTING

If your domain name is the “address”, web hosting is the “land” or space that your website occupies on the web.  Again, web hosting costs can vary based on the bandwidth, allocated disk space, whether you’re on a shared or dedicated server, and other factors.  From approx $180-$200/year for a basic business package on a shared server, web hosting costs can go up to from $150/month and higher for dedicated server space.

When choosing your web hosting package, consider the size, traffic and security needs of your website. And keep in mind that as the size and popularity of your site grows, your hosting costs may increase.  As with the domain registration, the web hosting is an ongoing cost (usually monthly or annually) and needs to be incorporated into your budget on an ongoing basis.

WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

This is where the costs start to vary DRASTICALLY.  Free website builders such as Weebly and Wix can have you online quickly and relatively inexpensively – but their functionality is often limited and the truly “free” versions are often branded with advertising.  With your website acting as the public face of your brand, make sure that it does your brand justice.  Saving a few dollars on your website might lead to a weakening of your brand.

Premium versions of these DIY website builders also provide you options.  But when budgeting for your website, always factor in the “cost” of your time. If you are having to spend hours searching how to adjust aspects of your website, this is taking you away from the core business of running your business. So while it doesn’t cost you cash, it does cost both yourself and your business in some way.

On the other end of the scale is a fully customised website built by a web developer.  Only a customised website can provide you the bespoke functionality and set up of your website – and they are often seen as more secure than the popular content management systems.  But they cost big bucks.  A skilled developer is spending significant time developing a custom site, and it will cost.

Many small businesses use a content management system with premium or customised themes to build their website.  Options such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal provide open-source software that can be tweaked and customised to suit your branding and technical requirements.

WordPress powers around 25% of the world’s websites, among them CNN, TED, The New Yorker, Time Inc, and Beyonce.   It is by far the most popular content management system.

While it is free to use these content management systems, you will face some development costs if you are using a web designer to set up, configure or customise your website.  The level of these costs is dependent on the amount of customisation and coding required.

PREMIUM THEMES / PLUGINS

There are a number of free themes available, however the use of a content management system such as WordPress opens up a whole industry of Premium Themes and plugins that let you customise and expand your website to meet all your technical and branding needs.

Premium themes can range from $49 to $99 and above, however if you find a theme that is well suited to your brand and requires little customisation, it can be well worth the cost.

Free and premium plugins can take your basic WordPress website and add in an online shop, online booking system, gallery or other functionality.  Plugins can also help you create great forms or automate backups of your website. Most of the premium plugins have an annual license fee, which needs to be renewed to keep receiving updates and support.

COPYWRITING / CONTENT DEVELOPMENT

Once the scaffolding of your website is erected, you need to fill it with compelling, relevant, effective content that convert visitors into customers.  While it may seem simple to throw together the text yourself, consider whether you have the skills, and most importantly the TIME, to do your content development justice. So many websites let themselves down with overly technical, function-focussed content – rather than offering customer-focused copy that answers their biggest questions and offers solutions to their challenges. So again, analyse the cost of your own time spent in copywriting versus paying a professional to craft content that works.

IMAGES / GRAPHICS

Often a forgotten cost of website development, when developing your brief and budget remember to include a cost for the graphics and images you use.  This can come in the form of graphic designer fees to develop specific graphics and elements, a photographer to shoot proprietary images, or the cost of stock photography.  Do not fall into the trap of using images you find on Google Images without understanding the copyright and license restrictions that accompany that image.  You could find yourself at best needing to find new images, or at worst on the receiving end of a fine for breach of copyright.

SEO / SEM

While this isn’t technically part of the website creation process, if ranking on Google and other search engines is fundamental to the success of your website, you may also need to factor in costs of getting an expert to look after the ongoing Search Engine Optimisation or Search Engine Marketing on your behalf.

So before you get started on the creation of your website, do some preparatory work in determining your exact needs and likely expenses.  Ask yourself:

  1. Can I get my domain name, and which variations should I register?  What will be the cost?
  2. Which web hosting package will be best for my business?  What is the cost?
  3. What are the likely web design fees? (Whether configuring and customising a content management system based website, or custom building your website?)  (Power Tip: Make sure you provide a very detailed brief of your requirements to your web designer at the quote stage, so they can give you an accurate quote).
  4. Will I be using Premium Themes / Plugins, and what are those costs upfront and on an ongoing basis?
  5. Will I develop the content myself or use a Copywriter?
  6. What images do I want to incorporate into the website and what budget should I set aside?

And the biggest question – what is the value of my time in comparison to using the skills and expertise of professionals?  If cashflow is tight, you may consider the use of your own time as the best investment.  But if you need to concentrate on building and developing your business, hiring skilled professionals could actually save you time and money.