How much should a website cost?

By Dane, 5 November, 2021
Monkey thinking
We get real about how much small business in South Africa should expect to pay.

The numbers, straight up

Websites in South Africa can cost anywhere between R2 000 and R2 000 000 (and sometimes even less or more!).

Most website professionals in South Africa make websites for small businesses, they use WordPress, and charge between R10 000 and R20 000.

Ecommerce website prices vary hugely, but are most often between R10 000 and R50 000 for small businesses (revenue less than R1 000 000 per month), and between R25 000 and R2 000 000 for larger businesses.

Do you need to sell products online? Ecommerce

Ecommerce websites - where products can be bought online - are often far more work to set up, so cost a lot more. These often cost anywhere from R10 000 up to several hundred thousand rand in South Africa, depending on which software is used, how many products and categories you have, and how many "integrations" need to be set up, such as for inventory management.

A lot of the work is often in dealing with products, so if you can provide the website professional with very organised product information and photos, you'll save them a lot of work, and perhaps save a lot of money in the process

Who makes the sites?

A note here: When we say "website professionals", we're talking about both freelance website builders, web designers, web developers, as well as all sorts of agencies that offer websites. In fact, it's often the case that agencies that offer websites (such as marketing agencies) don't do the work in-house; they outsource it to freelance web designers / developers. Note that agencies typically have support staff that help increase the quality of their work and customer service, but that increases the costs of the websites they offer.

Fixed total or hourly rate?

Most websites are quoted a fixed amount upfront based on the work that's agreed upon between the client and the web professional. This quoted amount may be flexible (depending on some unknown factors), so it's worth asking what might result in the final total changing.

When the total cost of the website is quoted upfront, it's usually due in two payments; a deposit before work begins, and the remainder when it's complete (but before launch).

Website projects that are more unique may result in the website professional quoting an hourly rate for work to be done, with some kind of estimate of how much time the work might take. This hourly rate in South Africa typically ranges from R300ph to R1000ph, and might be negotiable.

If you are quoted an hourly rate and not a total cost, it’s critical to clarify how the web professional expects to be spending their time. Make sure they don't leave anything out that they might need to do and then charge for, increasing the final cost you pay considerably.

Ideally, projects that will be charged an hourly rate should be done in clear phases, with clear "deliverables" that everyone agrees to. That way, you’ll be able to check and pay each phase once completed to the agreed standard.

Off-the-shelf parts, or custom made?

If the website is going to be built in a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress or Drupal, a fundamental question that you should ask is whether the web professional plans to use an off-the-shelf theme (which may have a once-off cost), or if they're going to create a custom theme. Or they might suggest something in between, finding a good theme and customising its code. Creating a custom theme (or customising one) will cost much more (perhaps even doubling the cost of the website), but can result in a website that you're much happier with for your business.

The same question can also be asked about plugins; does the website professional know how to make custom plugins should the need arise? Sometimes a few lines of code can save money and keep the site much simpler (which is important). A website developer that can create custom plugins will be far more expensive, but likely to be more experienced and capable as well.

Text, photos, and other content

Websites benefit lots from well-written text content, which is what copywriters specialise in. They typically charge an hourly rate (between R200ph and R500ph) or a per-word or per-page rate. If you or your employees aren't professional writers, chances are you won't it'll be worth spending a portion of your website budget on great copywriting. But make sure to keep it short. A single well-written sentence goes a long way!

The same applies to photographers. You might already have photos of your products and services, but look at them closely before deciding they're good enough. If you sell products or services, it's definitely worth hiring a professional photographer for at least half a day. You can use those photos for years in all your marketing! The cost for a half-day can be between R2000 and R20 000, depending on their years of experience.

What are the hidden costs of websites?

That's a really good question, because with any process as complicated as making custom websites, there are inevitably changes that nobody can predict that will affect the price. Some areas to be aware of are:

  • Unplanned rounds of feedback and revision
  • Additional features or sections added to the site
  • Hosting and related technical costs
  • Website software costs, like the theme or plugins
  • Outsourced marketing services like SEO, social media, etc.
  • Outsourced content providers like copywriters and photographers

Ultimately, the website designer / developer / agency should discuss each one with you, and together, you should decide if each of these "costs" should be included in the original quote, or if they should just be added at the end if they happen to be needed.

Hourly rate for additions / changes

If your website project goes out of scope - which means you end up asking for or agreeing on extra features or extra site sections or extra work in general - then the website professional will need to charge for that time, and will usually do it at an hourly rate. The same will apply to any new work you ask them to do after launching the website.

In South Africa, and depending on their skill level and experience, simple website builders (who use WordPress for example) typically charge between R300 per hour and R500 per hour. Website designers (graphic design professionals who specialise in websites) typically charge R400 per hour to R700 per hour. Lastly, website developers (who can write code) typically charge between R400 per hour and R1000 per hour.

Big salary or hours per month

To contextualise these hourly rates, consider that a freelancer can hypothetically do client work for 8 hours per day, but in reality, they need to spend time on admin, marketing, client support, breaks, etc. So a freelancer can typically spend 4 hours per day on hourly rate work, and an average month has around 21 working days, totalling 84 billable hours.

If we consider an experienced and skilled website developer who works at a really large agency or works in-house in a big corporation, they may be paid a salary of R70 000 per month (some get paid even higher). If we divide that salary into the number of hours a freelancer could spend working and charging their hourly rate, that works out to R830 per hour. So if you have a fantastic freelance website developer, if you pay them much less than that, they would just go work at a large company instead.

Bigger-picture costs

Ultimately a website is a tool that you will use to communicate with your customers, your clients - your audience. It should be just one part of your marketing strategy - but a key one of course. So don't spend all your marketing money on your website!

You need to think of a new website like a physical shop down a quiet alleyway. No matter how great it is, if nobody knows it's there, it's a waste of money. So keep aside some of your money (and time and energy!) for telling the world when it's ready.