The other day, while I was out with friends, one leaned over and told me "I really need to rebuild my site because it looks old and s****y. How much will it cost me?". He then looked at me, waiting for an answer. I told him "$10,000". He laughed at me and he replied: "That can't be possible, it's just a small website, with 4 or 5 pages... C'mon!". "Well, if that's the case, then it's probably half that price", I said. Again, he looked at me. This time somewhat pissed, and said: "It's 5 pages only! I have already all the photos and text. I just need to freshen it up a bit!" After Taking my last sip of beer, I smiled at him and replied: "Well, now we're getting somewhere..."

I made up these numbers because I wanted to stir up my buddy and make him realize that by adding more details to his request he was able to narrow down the scope of what he was asking.

It's hard to know how much a new website is going to cost up front. How much is a new car? What about a new house? You can't know a precise price until you start defying more precisely what is that you want. When you ask for a car price, do you picture a sports car? When you ask for house price, are you referring to a Penthouse? If you don't share criteria with the realtor or the car dealer you're talking to, they will hardly get you a price back.

The very same story occurs with websites and, more generally, with any development project.

Yet you need a new WordPress website and, before doing any further analysis and talk about business goals, you'd like to have a price range to understand if that's something feasible for your business.

You need to get a ballpark estimate, a rough or approximate picture of how much that project is going to cost you. That's what you need right now. But how can you get a ballpark estimate for a WordPress website?

Let's dive in!

If you need a ballpark estimate on a project, you have to provide details

For a developer, estimating what your new WordPress website will cost you up front and with little to none details can be pretty darn tricky. And, honestly, if you get a developer telling you a price before having asked several questions to you, well they're just not professional.

In fact, it's hard for a developer to give you a number on how much a website can cost because the end price accounts for a number of factors like the nature of the website that you want to have, the number and types of features that you need to put up, how fast you need it, just to name a few.

That's why having a developer asking you questions about your project is the very first step and the right "framework" through which you can get your (desired) ballpark estimate.

The more details, the more precise your estimate will be

Creating a WordPress website often means hiring a professional developer that will need to collect more details around what you want to achieve and where you're starting from. That's achievable only through proactive communication and especially by answering relevant questions that they will surely come at you. It is key to be prepared because your answers will ascertain project success, and costs eventually that will be incurred during the whole process. WordPress developer and Codeable expert Josh Morley explains:

Answering the question such as 'How much will you charge me for a new WordPress website' is similar to answering to 'How long is a piece of string?'. So it's usually a matter of starting from the beginning and asking the client: 'What do you want the site to do? Is it a simple information-based site with just a couple of pages and a contact form? Is it an eCommerce store? Is it a membership site? Do you see it having a lot of custom functionality added to it? And so on.

When you're not technically savvy, I found these following questions to be helpful when it comes to providing details and answers related to features and/or custom functionality, which usually is the hardest part:

  • Is your desired feature shown on the live demo page of your pre-built theme? Can you replicate it?
  • What's an actual website that has that feature you'd like to have on your website?

And a couple more to ask directly to your developer:

  • I'd like to have that feature from this example website. Would that require custom code?
  • I have this X feature already in my theme but I need it to make Y. Would that require custom code?

Provide details on your current content assets to forecast those needed for the new website

If your goal is to get a ballpark estimate for your new WordPress website, you can't leave out contents assets from the equation. How much you already have at disposal and to what extent you'll need your developer to modify it will affect the end price. As Josh highlights, this important aspect should be addressed before enabling the developer to create the rough estimate:

One important thing I'd need to understand is how many assets does the client currently have vs how many does the client need the developer to provide? And there would also be a question of content, for example, old websites which were built years ago normally have little content and poor quality images but now using a pre-built theme There is lots more room for more text content and high-quality images. You may need more content added to the site to really give it the full impact. So I would expect a client, unless it was talked about previously, to provide images of their business and their products, and contents for the pages as well.

In a dream scenario, your current content assets would perfectly "fit in" but it's almost never the case because the new website, no matter if originated from a pre-built theme or a custom one, will usually introduce new elements and/or pages that your current website doesn't have. That means you'll need to take into account whether those "missing pieces" will be part of the developer's job or your own.

The two approaches to website building: pre-built themes vs custom themes

The urge to launch your new website, available budget, requested functionality, availability of content assets, and project requirements are those factors that can directly influence the estimate a developer might provide you. That's when working with a pre-built theme vs developing a custom one comes into the game. Josh further elaborates:

Depending on your requests, budget, and timeframe, we can approach your website development in two ways. The first one would be to use a pre-built theme and show you what we can achieve with it. These are the kind of styles we can replicate, we can add your branding, your colors, etc. This will give you a great looking website that will reflect your brand but it will be created on a pre-existing framework and can cause issues if you need something outside the purpose it was built for. The second way would be to create a custom WordPress website, unique for your business. Obviously, this one is going to take longer, it's going to cost more but it would be unique to what you want and serve your business needs more effectively.

There are pros and cons to both these website development approaches.

In short, theme-based websites allow limited room for customizations to the overall layout and are faster to build and relatively cheaper but usually, they're going to be more rigid with less leg room for huge changes but they're a lot quicker to develop.

On the other hand, fully-custom WordPress websites are usually purpose-built websites, meaning they've been designed around your own specific requests and needs. And that's something that will directly have an impact on your bottom line and future maintenance. Obviously, these types of websites take longer to be developed and cost more money because they provide you with custom solutions to your specific needs.

Wrapping up

As the client, you have to play an active role while requesting a ballpark estimate for your WordPress website or project. The reason behind that is simple: you should be open to answering questions up front because without your answers a developer won't be able to generate any kind of estimate and you won't be able to get your desired ballpark estimate. Actually, if a developer is capable of sharing a costs figure with no additional information, it means you got a copy-pasted answer.

And that brings up another key question you'll need to find an answer to: would you be willing to settle your business for a copy-pasted type of work? If your answer is "Hell, no!", now you're getting somewhere.

This blog post features Josh Morley who is the founder of MarketingTheChange, a small digital agency that use its profits to support charities, non-profits and unfunded startups. He’s been designing & marketing websites for the past 4 years, with a focus on WordPress webdesign, online marketing and SEO, PPC, keyword research, link-building and lead acquisition for local business.