Everyone talks about budgets… start up costs, ongoing expenses. How many of you actually tried to run your web design business on a budget? Do you know if your web design business is profitable?

I recently finished listening to Profit First, https://profitfirstbook.com. A good audio book. I rather enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I was doing somethings right but I was also not doing a lot of things. Hearing another voice, besides my own, was very helpful to getting my business in budget.

At the same time as listening to the audio book, I had started connecting with more web designers online and having conversations. In these conversations and through other engagements I have asked web designers a lot of questions. One thing is clear, nobody likes making, much less keeping, a budget. Web designers are no exception.

The developers approach to budgeting

A little caveat that I have discovered is that some developers prefer to be minimalist when it comes to developing a website. I find this a hugely debatable approach since more and more of business owners are becoming savvy at doing it themselves. A minimalist approach to development often leaves the business owner with limited capabilities to update their website. If the business owner doesn’t want to edit their website then it really isn’t a problem. Less admin controls equals less to download and thus a faster website. So, there are benefits and disadvantages depending on whether or not the business owner actually wants to edit their own website.

A web designer’s budget can get out of control really quickly if they are not a minimalist developer working for a client who doesn’t want to touch their website. If this describes your situation as a web designer then just understand who your ideal client is and budgeting shouldn’t be a problem.

The web designers approach to budgeting

Budget? right, sorry I got sidetracked but here is how the method of development influences the budget. In the case that the business owner does want to edit the website then more admin controls are needed. Most often time this means a sophisticated theme, a page builder and more plugins. A purchased theme, builder and plugins means more stuff to download thus longer download times which is not good for the end user.

Web designers, are you dealing with a business owner or small business who does want to roll up their sleeves and get gritty with their website and marketing you have a whole new situation on your hands. While a developer could easily develop a plugin to do anything and not worry about having admin controls, that won’t work in this situation. You, the web designer, are forced to find a user friendly plugin to do what the client asks. The next decision is do we get the free one or go all in and purchase a paid version.

Now that the box is open things begin to mushroom. One theme, a page builder and a half dozen paid plugins later your web design budget is toast. In addition to that you need to compare what plugins have unlimited/developer license options as opposed to a single license per website. When you get to that high of a level you may need to provide a custom quote for hosting and managing a website for a business owner.

Themes and plugins are the bulk of the costs when designing and developing with WordPress. The least expensive cost is hosting. It’s so cheap it’s not even worth talking about… so I will skip ahead to Managed WordPress Hosting. This is where things get interesting.

The cost of hosting and management is bundled together but wait! Does it include upgrading all the plugins we purchased? For the most part I am going to say NO. Maybe there are few. So now, how does your web design budget look? There is hosting, management, themes, plugins, and we have not even talked about security, maintenance, nor monitoring.

Budgeting for themes, page builders and plugins

Many web designers purchase themes from theme forest and just forget about upgrading all together. This is most unfortunate because this make the WordPress site more vulnerable to attack and eventually infestation. For the web designers who do purchase upgrades the cost is about $60 every 6 months. This is a lot if you are small web design business. The more affordable route to go is a membership with one of the most popular frameworks. You may get one or more themes with unlimited licensing, making you more money with each install.

Page builders create the real lock-in when it comes to budgeting. By lock-in, I mean whoever works on the website next is locked into whatever is being used, which can really suck if you are a web designer with a specific set of skills. The expense comes when you try to do updates to the website but have no idea how to use the page builder that is there. Your choices are to grin and bear it, using the current builder and cutting your prices or hiring someone who is an expert. The other option is to re-design the site, converting it to your preferred technology by passing the cost onto the business owner.

Let’s talk about budgeting for security. This is much like the developers situation. Web designers using good hosting with SSL and management probably could get away with a free security plugin. On the other hand web designers using cheap hosting might want to purchase a costly monthly service. The middle ground would be a paid plugin on a decent hosting provider with SSL and daily management. Just decide, as a web designer which you have less of… time or money?

How many plugins should you budget for?

What about social, SEO, and Forms? Social media is such a big part of online marketing these days. How could you leave out a social media distribution or share plugin? Sure there are lot of free ones out there but it would be hard to pass up a good social media plugin, paid or not.

Then there is SEO. So many people use the free Yoast plugin but they are trapped by the single “focus” keyword phrase per page. And really, does Google even care about keywords any more? Probably not but optimizing your website is no joke. Either you need the professional plugin or you need a third party service. More for the budget…

Forms! Yes, I said it. How many times have I said it. If you are a super geek/developer then Custom Contact Forms 7, CCF7, is free and perfect for your budget. For the rest of us, who would rather give our clients a little training and send them down the rabbit hole, just kidding, but no it’s true, once you start editing your website then off you go, like a rabbit. Sorry, where was I. Yes, forms, we like Gravity Forms! It’s super powerful. I think you could program it to be a directory system. However, it costs money, better leave quit a lot of room for it in the budget. Business owners can learn to use it because the interface is nice and friendly.

CDN’s are another un-mistakable cost. If you have all this other stuff then you will probably need a CDN to deliver all those theme and plugin files. In addition, this is a monthly subscription. I suppose if you are creative you could charge 3 months ahead of time but your still paying every month. So, this means that you got really work on your budget.

Budgeting for management and monitoring

WordPress management costs are all over the board as well. If you want the best which comes with all the bells and whistles like a nice user interface then you will pay a premium. Again, the developer has the advantage here, if a user interface is not required. Depending on how many websites you manage, you could spend as much or more on management software as you do hosting. YIKES!

The monitoring websites feature is included in some, at least one, management program. However, if you are creating redundancy in your systems, as you should, then an additional website monitor is an extra expense that you really do want to afford.

Budgeting your income?

There is one more approach which puzzles me… the lack of subscription commitment. This is the fear of asking your customers to commit to paying an online subscription. There are two schools of thought here but in the end it doesn’t matter, the business owner will have to pay some fee to keep their website online. Whether it is once a year, quarter or monthly. Whether it is hourly or a flat rate. Sorry, my friends, that is a subscription. Call it whatever you want. If you are tracking your hours, invoicing your time, collecting a check from the mailbox, then doing a mobile deposit for less than $1000 then you have more time than money. Wouldn’t you like to have more money?

Let’s be honest, outsourcing is not a loss of income, just allocation of expenses. I believe this is a general misconception among web designers, thinking that paying money out for services is a loss of income. It is simple math. How much do you pay yourself per hour? How much would you pay to get that same thing done either by hiring a contractor or using software? Which is lesser? If it takes you 5 hours at a normal rate but a developer can do it in 45 min. you are wasting time not money.

Look, I know it seems hard, but it really isn’t. You need to put all your monthly and annual costs on a spreadsheet, do the math and add a mark up. This is like 4th grade math, I know, I have a 4th grader. Once you have this figure out, I know you have the skills to set up a Woocomerce subscription product with like say stripe to process payments. Vwaaala! Your are in business my friend with more money than time.

ok, so maybe this only works for 80% of your customers because let’s face it we all have a heart. I know you do, because I do 🙂 For the non-profits and business that refuse to get a credit card because credit cards are evil, just get a NOWaccount. I would be glad to tell you more about that in a private conversation… just book an appointment.

Web designers, if you read my little rant blog post today, here is the challenge! I have made a sample budget spreadsheet. Download this spreadsheet, fill it out and post your results here. Are you making a profit? If so great. If not how can you make more money? How can you get your time back and focus on what you like to do the most… design websites!!!

Download budget spreadsheet

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