Who Do You Recommend to Design a WordPress Website?

Here’s an email I got a few days ago from someone I met at a Meetup about 6 months ago:

Hi Mike,

I have a friend looking for setting up a non-profit website and they want to use WordPress. I was wondering if you’d be able to help with this, or if not if you know of someone you can recommend who does WordPress website design? My friend needs mostly graphics work, but also need help setting up their WordPress site. They already have the logo and the content. Their budget for this is around US$1000.

- Thanks!

Déjà Vu

I get an email similar to the above about once a week on average. It seems I’ve become branded in the eyes of many people in Atlanta as "The WordPress Guy" even though I don’t do what most people think of when they think of "People who do WordPress"; i.e. I don’t design nor do I build WordPress-based websites[1].

<sigh> :)

Pay it Forward

But when someone asks for help I really do want to help.

I’d never fault anyone for not knowing that I’m the wrong person to ask. And I also wouldn’t fault someone who doesn’t know how much it costs to hire a WordPress specialist; if someone is not a immersed in the web world how could they know?

No More 1-off Emails

Still, I’ve written a response to this type of email more times than I care to count. Speaking of, a few days ago a blog post by Eric Mann inspired me to stop replying long form to emails and to start writing blog posts instead.

So here goes.

A Custom Website Design for US$1000?

Let’s talk about that US$1000 budget. In the Atlanta area we have over ten (10) Fortune 500 companies and as a result we probably have over 100 digital agencies, all directly or indirectly serving those large companies as well most of the midsize companies in the area. Good graphic designers are in high demand here, and they are used to being very well paid. I’m not sure, but I expect the same is true in most major US cities as well.

For US$1000 it might be reasonable to expect to three (3) design comps for your future website’s home page. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a quality designer to generate a custom design for an entire site, encode the design into HTML+CSS, convert the code it into a WordPress theme, install WordPress at a hosting company, research, select and then install the various WordPress plugins needed for the features desired, and finally configure everything, all the while taking input from a client who is likely to constantly question aspects of the implementation. All for only US$1000.

And the previous paragraph assumes you can even find someone with the skill to do all those things rather than needing to find a team or to assemble a team of different skills to build the site.

Of course you might get really lucky and find a student from SCAD, Creative Circus, Art Institute, or Portfolio Center who would be willing to build your website for US$1000, assuming your student has already worked extensively with WordPress as a hobby.

So like I said, you might get really lucky…

What Should My Website Cost?

But what price is reasonable to expect?

Those who build WordPress websites know the "How Much?" question can be a landmine. Quoting a price too early can get a WordPress sitebuilder into hot water. I’ve seen WordPress websites cost between free – self-serve at WordPress.com – and US$500k or more. How can a site builder know how to price a website prior to fully understanding its requirements?

Price really depends on both what the client needs as well as what the client wants/expects. And the latter is rarely consistent with the former. For example, does a divorce attorney’s website really need a Flash-based header showing storm clouds, and lightning strikes on hover?!? (yes, that is an actual client request, no demand, that I heard from one of my friends who is a sitebuilder.)

WHICH IS WHY I LOVE this website price calculator:

It was built by Erik Wolf who runs ZeroG Creative. It walks a wannabe website client through a series of questions that help the prospect understand some of the things can affect price and by what magnitude.

Here are some of the questions:

  • "Are you planning on hiring a designer/firm?"
  • "How many people will be involved in the decision-making process?",
  • "Will your website require eCommerce?",
  • "Will your site require social media integration?", and
  • "Will you need a dynamic photo gallery that you can update yourself?".

Depending on the options selected Erik’s price calculator generates prices between US$500 and US$16,500, where for $500 you basically get a site and theme installed, nothing more. And for small business websites I’d say that’s pretty close although frankly I’d expect more like US$1000 and US$25,000.

What About Non-US People?

Note those prices above are for US-based WordPress developers.

And yes, you can pay significantly less to have a WordPress site built by someone outside the USA. But it’s also possible that you will pick the wrong person and that person will either not deliver or will deliver something that doesn’t match your expectation after your entire budget has been spent.

Offshoring can work great for certain type of projects if you have the luxury to pay to try numerous people to find the one that really meets your needs. But if you have only enough budget to try one person, your taking a big risk with your money. And you’ll have no recourse if they fail you.

So caveat emptor if you hire your web developer off Elance.

Agency Projects for Large Companies

By the way, if you are trying to determine the cost of a WordPress website for your Fortune 500 employer expect that your site will cost between US$100k and US$500k.

Why the huge difference in price between small business websites and large business websites? In a word, "Expectations."

More specifically, because of their collective need to see exhaustive design variations, their need to allow your numerous stakeholders to control and approve every detail, their insistence that unrealistic deadlines be met, their expectation that every aspect is perfect upon first preview of features, their desire for constantly scheduling unnecessary and unproductive meetings, and their IT department’s insistence upon using a hosting company that has no expertise in WordPress and no desire to learn it.

But I digress.

But Do You Really Need a Designer?

Considering the budget of US$1000, maybe a "Website Designer for graphics work" is not really what is needed. Maybe what they need is a what I like to call a "Site Builder."

A Site Builder is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, with respect to WordPress. This is someone who can setup a web host, install and configure WordPress, select an off-the-shelf theme and tweak it to incorporate the logo, and finally add and configure various plugins to add functionality such as email signup forms, social media integration and optimization for SEO.

To further illustrate the difference between a Designer and a Site Builder I roughly categorize WordPress skills as one of these where many people having more than one (1), but rarely more than two or three:

  • User/Author (Content writer)
  • Layout/Graphic Designer (Photoshop)
  • HTML Coder (HTML+CSS)
  • Themer (WordPress Themes)
  • Front-End Developer (Javascript/AJAX Developer)
  • Back-End Developer (PHP/MySQL/Plugin Developer) <– This is me
  • and finally Site Builder (Installs/Configures/Adds a Theme and Plugins)

So for a US$1000 budget I think it’s realistic to find a US-based consultant who can deliver a basic website, assuming the client understands the limitations of using off-the-shelf themes and plugins, i.e. but no custom design and custom PHP or Javascript code. It’s a lot like buying a car; you might not like the wood-trim dash but if you chose a model that only comes with a wood-trim dash, that’s what you get.

Other WordPress Specialties?

I tend to want to make my lists exhaustive, so in that vein I might as well list these specialties too, for the record:

  • eCommerce Specialist - Expertise in online retail and payment processing
  • SEO Specialist - Optimizes for search engines
  • Security Specialist - Reviews code for security holes
  • Performance Specialist - Helps developer improve performance
  • Hosting Specialist - Configures servers for high scalability

What are Off-the-Shelf Themes?

Yeah, I threw that bit of jargon in there when I mentioned Off-The-Shelf Themes. If you are not familiar with this term it refers to packages of design and code that you can purchase from 3rd party vendors that, once installed will update the look and feel of your WordPress-based website.

In it’s 10 years WordPress has spawned a large number of commercial theme vendors, more than 100, although the vast majority of themes are probably sold by 10 or fewer vendors.

Look for an Existing Theme.

If you need a website and your budget is small I’d recommend you surf the main theme vendors websites to find a theme you could envision your future site using. If you can find one that meets all your needs, your low budget website might just be able to be reality.

The following list are the theme vendors I know the best, in alpha order (if you are a fan of another theme vendor feel free to list in the comments.):

But Don’t Expect Significant Changes

Please do realize though it is very difficult for a Site Builder, Graphic Designer or even HTML Coder to make more than trivial changes to the look-and-feel of an off-the-shelf theme without a huge expense. Themes can be very complex beasts and it often takes as long for someone to learn how to modify someone else’s theme than it does to create one from scratch.

So please don’t put your Site Builder in the position of having to explain to you why your "simple change" is really a very time-consuming and labor intensive task (that they will have to bill you for, if they will even agree to do it.) Instead, have them explain to you what is easy and what is hard and then only ask them to do the easy (and inexpensive) things. Your willingness to appreciate their efforts will keep them wanting to service you in the future when you need additional support.

Finally, Who Do I Recommend?

So who do I recommend to build your WordPress-based small business website here in Atlanta? Frankly in good faith I can’t recommend anyone. Why? Because I’ve never worked on a team building a small business website before so any recommendations I would make would really just be me telling you who I know.

That said, I can tell you who I know that specializes in building WordPress websites, in the Atlanta area. Here they are, listed in order of how well I know them (note: I believe all of these have minimum fees higher than US$1000):

There are a lot of others I know outside of Atlanta, but most of the requests I get are from people in Atlanta and thus I’m listing those I know who serve my local area.

And yes I know, it’s a potential faux pas for me to create this list as I’ve most certainly forgotten someone; if it was you who I have forgotten please accept my profuse apology and leave a comment with your contact information below.

Friends, Family or DIY?

Finally, if you or your friend cannot find a WordPress specialist to build your website within your budget, maybe you can find a friend or family member who can help? WordPress powers almost 20% of the web so that means you probably already know a friend of a friend at least who has set up their own WordPress website and can help you get your site going. Ask on Facebook, maybe?

If you are a non-profit, as above, maybe you can find someone passionate about your non-profit’s mission who knows how to set up a WordPress site; they might be willing to work for significantly below market rates.

And if all else fails, do it yourself. It really is possible for a reasonably intelligent person with moderate computer skills to install and configure WordPress; it just takes a bit of stick-to-it-iveness and lots of Google searches to figure out how to do it and launch it yourself.

Anyway, hope this helps.

-Mike Schinkel
WordPress Platform Architect

Footnotes:

  1. Instead of designing and building small business websites I architect and build products based on WordPress for software companies and agencies. I call myself a "WordPress Platform Architect." My focus is very narrow and as such I don’t develop the experience needed to build websites for small businesses. I can’t help select a theme and I don’t know which plugins work best. And I’m as far from being a designer as any web person has the potential to be. But if you want to use WordPress to implement a complex site and need a specialist to architect if for your team to then perfect, I’m your guy.

9 comments ↓

#1 John Locke on 01.05.14 at 1:34pm

Great article, Mike. I am a one person studio out of Sacramento, California. I usually help small businesses or startups by analyzing what their needs are, and building a custom WordPress theme for them. I’ve also sent a hand to several web agencies that need a custom built site, or something from Theme Forest reconfigured to their client’s specifications.

The biggest confusion with client shopping for a WordPress website is not understanding what to expect from a designer. As you mentioned, there are various skill sets and specialties within the WordPress community. Clients shopping for design also may not understand the disparity in price between one designer and another. There are lots of variables, such as skill, experience, and expertise.

This article explains a lot, these are a lot of the words I’ve been searching for myself. Have a great Sunday.

#2 mikeschinkel on 01.06.14 at 3:18pm

Hi @John & @azunga,

Thanks for the kudos. We really should thank Eric Mann for inspiring me to write it, otherwise it would have been yet another email sent out that only one other person would see.

BTW @John, how did you find it? I hadn’t publicized it at all, and I have blogged so little here lately that I’d be surprised if anyone was subscribed to my feed.

#3 Kris McInerny on 01.10.14 at 2:29pm

Thanks for mentioning (not recommending) my name, Mike! ;)

I can sympathize with small businesses looking for a website designer / developer / themer / coders, etc. I try to educate my (potential) clients by asking them a lot of the similar questions you mentioned. My 2 cents worth is to also find someone that is active in your community and ask for referrals from people you have in common.

I use LinkedIn a lot for research.
Take care!

#4 Desiree Scales on 01.10.14 at 2:34pm

Mike, thank you so much for the shoutout! I really appreciate it. We love WordPress over here at Bella and so do our customers. It’s easy to use and helps us create sites that are dynamic and easy for clients to manage. Thanks again!

#5 Judi on 01.10.14 at 5:26pm

Mike, Thanks for including me as a “go to” WordPress web designer in Atlanta. Your post was very detailed and as such should give people a lot to think about.

Although I love startups and non-profits, I limit the number of them I can do in a year and consider it charity since they are as much work and sometimes more work than any other site that pays full price. It has to be a labor of love.

On another topic, a good deal of our business lately is redoing sites that were done poorly- in oh so many ways. Businesses are paying lots of money and still ending up with a dysfunctional site. It is so important to know your designer/developer and to get references from people happy with their sites.

“WordPress is easy. . . and so it is really easy to make a bad WordPress site.”

#6 Teresa Rosche Ott on 01.12.14 at 9:53am

Mike, you covered everything I’ve ever said to every person who’s e-mailed or called with unrealistic expectations about website design or building. Please leave this post up forever. I’m sure I will want to use it again. Maybe you should set up affiliate links ;)

I’ve worked on sites for businesses ranging in size from Fortune 500 companies down to small ’solopreneurs.’ Usually it is the real little guys that are most price sensitive, but to paraphrase what Judi said, collectively they waste a lot of money on poorly designed sites. Better to wait, or try DIY for free, or scale back expectations about features.

One thing I started offering recently is a service package to build sites using WordPress.com; one option is priced below $1000. The most expensive .com option is less than $2000. These scaled-back sites would meet the needs of a lot of small local businesses and be portable when there’s future growth, so nothing is wasted. They could of course DIY on this platform, but as Judi points out “it is really easy to make a bad WordPress site.” With Custom CSS I can make .com do a lot more than most people can do on their own, design-wise.

#7 mikeschinkel on 01.12.14 at 11:45am

Hi Teresa,

Thanks for the comment, and yes I will do my best to keep it up “forever”, or at least as long I have the faculties to maintain a blog. :)

Yes, it’s a quandary; the small business people need a great website but they usually don’t have (or are not willing to) spend the money required.

Your WordPress.com angle is really interesting; I like the fact that when a client ask for something out of scope you can literally say “Sorry, it is impossible on WordPress.com to accomplish that!”

But one thing that might make me squeamish about that option for a business sites is that WordPress.com shares categories and tags with other blogs on WordPress.com. Visitors to a site might click a category link and before they know it they’ve left the client’s site and moved on to reading someone’s blog rant.

I guess if their budget is less than US$2000 for custom designed CSS it’s just something they need to realize; you can’t get Prada when your budget is Walmart! But I would want to make it very clear to the client what happens with categories and tags so that don’t get surprised later.

Frankly I’m surprised that Automattic hasn’t launched a more business friendly host on the WordPress.com platform.

Again, thanks for the comment.

-Mike

#8 Ed on 11.21.14 at 5:25am

Hi Mike,

Back in 2010, I had this feeling about Drupal, I thought it was only me. By now in retrospect, reading so many blogs about similair experiences, I feel vindicated.

I actually moved to Joomla using Fabrik which is great. But now looking at Wordpress 3.1 with PODs and CPT, WP Query, is just like what Drupal should have been.

It was actually the Drupal community that slowed down drupal. Too many consulting shops what to earn money from training and consulting instead of selling off the shelf functionality and improving the code base.

cheers
Ed

#9 mikeschinkel on 11.21.14 at 3:13pm

Hi @Ed,

Thanks for comment. I actually thought you were responding to one of my two posts about Drupal; curious have you read them and were you replying in part to them?

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