First Post: Questions about web design/maintenance pricing for offline clients

13 replies
Hi, this is my first post here on the Forum, but I have been reading the forums for a while now. There are so many helpful people here and I am sorry for leaving some out, but here are a few I would like to thank that have made several posts about topics that I have been trying to learn: Jason Kanigan, Claude Whitacre, Bob Ross, s62731, tigerbait, iAmNameLess, kenmichaels, ewenmack, shadow92, and the list goes on.

I am a web designer and have been building websites for clients for a little over 7 years. I have been focusing on low budget projects as it has helped me get sales easily and build up my client base and portfolio. My average website package price has been $250 - $350 and I have not been charging monthly fees like maintenance. I have opened an office in town and joined my local chamber of commerce.

I want to start focusing more on recurring revenue. I am raising my price on a basic ten page mobile responsive website(template based but I have a lot of very nice templates) package to around $400 - $500(with e-commerce) and I plan to give six months of hosting and maintenance for free with that and then start charging a recurring monthly hosting/maintenance fee of around $30 per month. This doesn't include monthly SEO work/backlinking, it is just hosting and updates to existing pages when they need text/images swapped out as well as monthly database backups, quarterly file server backups, quarterly plugin/wp updates, etc.

Is that a fair price or is $30 too low? What do you other web designers charge for monthly maintenance and what services do you provide for that fee? Anyone else that is charging clients an ongoing monthly hosting/maintenance fee, do you specify how much updates time they get each month, or do you just do whatever updates they have? If the latter, do you have problems with clients wanting you to do more updates than the monthly charge justifies? I was thinking of saying the $30 per month includes up to 30 minutes of free updates per month, but I don't want clients that don't end up using the free updates time coming back later and saying they never used the free time and want to cancel, etc.

I know my pricing is low, but these projects only take me a few hours and I figure if I can add in the monthly maintenance, $400 or $500(with e-commerce) would be profitable enough. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again!
#design #maintenance #monthly #post #pricing #questions #services #web #website
  • Profile picture of the author kemdev
    Most people you talk to will expect a monthly "maintenance" fee.

    They don't know what "maintenance" really means or that a website doesn't need the "maintenance" they're referring to, but it my experience almost everyone expects the fee to be there.

    I used to tell people, there's no such thing as website maintenance. Not in the terms they're thinking. Sure you can add content. You can maintain their emails and domains and everything. You can make sure everything is working. But when most people pay a monthly "maintenance" fee it's really just an inflated and made up cost. No maintenance is done.

    And they would say, "But I really need someone to maintain my website..." And I would lose sales because they expected to pay and receive that service. Now everything I do comes with a minimum $99/month maintenance fee. There's no yearly server/domain charges or anything else, it's all just balled into that monthly fee. And I make more money.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make is that people expect that fee to be there, and (at least in my experience) are kinda weirded out when it's not there. So don't feel bad about charging for it. You could actually charge more than what you are - that goes for the monthly fee and the websites themselves.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    Charge more--the rates are so low people are going to wonder about quality.

    Remember, it's not what you think is "a lot of money" that is important (although it certainly dictates your actions); it's what your prospect believes. And as you see there is often a big mismatch.

    The more you charge, the more you can help your client. If all you're doing is scraping by, you can't do much extra to help them out, can you?

    Monthly retainers are exactly that, whether they use the time or not.
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  • Profile picture of the author G9M Blake
    Do you have to have a certain amount of posts to "Thank" someone for their reply? I do not see an option. Anyway, thank you to both of you for your replies.

    kemdev - I used to tell clients the same thing about maintenance. I wondered why so many new potential clients would ask about that. They were expecting it, like you both say, and I have just felt bad about charging them for something like that. But like you say, they are expecting it anyway, and I will add value for the cost, do monthly backups, wp and plugin updates, updates to text/images if needed, etc.

    Jason Kanigan - I am coming around to this kind of thinking too. I have been charging too low a price and maybe some potential clients have decided not to buy because of the low price, thinking it meant the product was not of a good quality. What you said about me thinking it seems like a lot of money to charge is exactly my hesitation. I know how much time actually goes into it and have been selling for such low prices for so long, it is hard to think I can charge more and still get clients. The key will be to add value too so I feel better about it, so I am not only charging more, but providing more service.

    I think I will try it out with a regular price of $500 for the intro package, $650 for e-commerce(when I do sales I could offer $100 off either of these prices for the length of the sale), and then include three months of free hosting and maintenance with that and after the three months charge $49 per month(think that may be too much? - Maybe $39?) for hosting, maintenance, backups, and updates. Do you think the three months of free is good or do you think six months may be better? Or do you suggest starting the monthly fee the month after the website goes live? I am wondering if I wait three or six months, would they be more likely to not want to pay a monthly fee then or if it would be easier if it starts right away.

    I called around to get pricing from my competition in town and the local bigger towns nearby, out of around 10 companies I checked with, all but one was $1200 - several thousand for a similar package and monthly hosting/maintenance ranged from $40 - $100+. The one company that was under 1k, their websites did not look to be near the quality of my websites. One reason I am keeping my prices so much lower is because I want to start doing some cold calling to local business owners and I want my price to be low enough that it is an easy decision, like they had been holding off on getting a new design because they thought it was 1k+, and my call comes at a good time with the cost not keeping them from buying now.

    Thanks again to you both for your reply and I welcome anyone else to offer any advice or comments.
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  • Profile picture of the author jimbo13
    Don't go crazy on prices but here is some food for thought.

    There is a pub not too far from me that has a sign outside saying it is for sale. The brewery have also added the information that they will be spending £300,000 re-jigging it.

    There is a legal firm that always take out 4 full page Ads in the paper every week and that is costing them £75,000 per year which they quite easily recover.

    A friend of mine has this mobility business (scooters, stairlifts and other ghastly products one would not wish to own) and he spends £50,000 a year on marketing which is only 5% of gross revenue.

    In addition he only has one large window that he pays a window cleaner £10 a week to clean that takes all of 5 minutes inside and out. That is £500 a year ($750)

    These are not big businesses (pub, small office, medium size shop) and this is not a large town.

    Can you see why $500 and $49 a month would not 'feel' right?

    It almost seems safer to do nothing than to go with something that 'feels' like it could bugger things up.

    Different economies will have different thresholds and I don't know yours, but stroll around and see if any small shops are being renovated or having windows cleaned and think what they may be paying for their 'window dressing' and think what type of window to the world you can realistically offer.

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  • Profile picture of the author christinehopkin
    A wide range of resources is available now a days in market. If you want to run your online business smooth then I can recommend you some useful resources. One of them is VirtueNetz and they are offering different silver and gold packages now a days. It will be helpful for you.

    Research Executive at VirtueNetz

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  • Profile picture of the author iAmNameLess
    You HAVE to raise your prices. Maybe your current prices are okay for an at home freelancer, but since you moved into an office, joined your local chamber, you have the opportunity to become the local go to guy.

    Most companies, especially that are involved in local networking and the local community, they are expecting higher prices. They have already paid higher prices.

    500-600 is too low as well.

    I would switch up the pricing to be around $700-800 for your basic 10 page site. I've charged much more, but try out that price point and see how it works for you.

    As for hosting/maintenance... people seem pretty willing to pay $300-400/year. If you're not sure about that, start doing a flat fee of $200/year.

    This is especially useful if you have people that are hesitant to pay 100% up front. You can tell them you don't split payments up, but you will let them pay the hosting/maintenance fee once the site is up and live. I don't really know why that works, since the down payment is so much more, but it does.

    I guess it gives them a sense of control over the situation.

    You have an office... you probably have commercial internet, commercial rates for electricity... businesses pay a lot of money for "commercial" rates. Businesses pay at least $1,000 for their phone systems in many cases. My power bill was an easy 1K/mo.

    Raise your prices, and be confident about it! They would still be getting an awesome deal.
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  • Profile picture of the author G9M Blake
    jimbo13 - You are absolutely right. Businesses are spending quite a bit and probably expect a quality website to not be cheap. Thanks for the advice.

    iAmNameLess - You make some great points. They are already used to paying a higher rate for quality work, and keeping my prices so low may make them suspect my work is not professional. I will definitely look at raising my prices a few hundred dollars and see if I still get sales.

    Everyone is saying the same thing, that my prices are too low, so I must really need to raise them. I have had others tell me that over the years, but I kept thinking that if i raised my prices too much I would be competing with bigger firms that spend way more on advertising than I would want to. I see now from the things you have mentioned and what others have said, that I just need to stop thinking like that. I have been running the business for years without spending money on advertising. I got a lot of clients through Craigslist, my lower prices work well there, but with prices that low if I ever want this to be a big business, I would have to sell a ton of websites to keep it going. I would rather add value, spend more time on each project, and not have to sell 20 websites every week to get on the track I want to be on. With a higher price point, I can sell 3 or 4 websites a week and still do quite well, especially when the monthly recurring revenue kicks in.

    I want to grow the business quite large by expanding my services and charging a fair price for quality work. I have managed a large call center before(well large to me, around 60+ operators), setting appointments, but it was for a completely different industry and was inbound. I am going to work on getting an employee hired to do cold calling using a quick transfer script, and if I can make their work profitable, I will likely hire more. I want to try out the 9x12 system that Bob Ross gave such great info on here on the forum a few years ago. I also am going to develop some lead gen properties online in my free time between other work and get them to where they are producing a good recurring income too. I hope by offering a lot more services, I won't have to rely on only one area, such as web design sales, like I have been.

    Thanks again to everyone for the great advice and helpful information.
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  • Profile picture of the author chaotic squid
    Damn your prices are low as hell. You must have to be doing a website every 2 days or so with those prices to stay afloat. How are you able to pump out sites so fast? Most small business owners don't have content together, demand multiple revisions (especially the cheap ones), can sometimes takes days to reply to emails/calls.

    What's your process for getting sites done so fast?

    Also, some input about offering monthly maintenance plans. IMO I think you shot yourself in the foot by offering such low web design costs. Your clients are most likely extremely budget conscious so they're probably not going to respond well to a monthly maintenance fee unless you can really sell them on the benefits.

    You're going to get a ton of business owners asking why they should pay you $30 or $50 a month when they can get managed web hosting for only $5 a month. Also $50 a month is $600 per year. So how the hell are you going to sell them on a $600 a year maintenance plan when you just built them an entire website for half that cost.

    That's like me selling you a $20,000 brand new car and then telling you that it's going to cost you $40,000 a year in maintenance costs.

    I don't know if this is going to work out in your favor, and even $30/$50 per month for general website maintenance is on the lower side. Every time something goes wrong on a client's site they're going to be calling you. What happens if a site you manage gets hacked? What if the client tries to make a change and crashes the entire site? If you're doing WordPress sites then you have theme updates, plugins (with the occasional code conflict), WordPress core updates, and all that other fun stuff that can break at any time.

    If you do decide to host and maintain client's site. Make sure you don't cheap out on the hosting. Getting more expensive but higher quality managed VPS hosting will probably help you save a lot of time and headaches.
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  • Profile picture of the author G9M Blake
    chaotic squid - Thank you for the comments and advice. To minimize my admin time needed for a website project, in the quote and before I send first payment request, I detail out the process and exactly what is included for that price. The lower cost websites were completely template based and they have to provide the content to me in an organized format, and they have up to one hour of available revisions. So, by detailing that out in the quote at the beginning, it helps keep the amount of admin time needed to a minimum and allows me to get most of the work done quite quickly. I am very friendly and helpful with clients and get great reviews. Regarding the pricing comments you mentioned, you are right, like many others here, that I need to raise my prices so I can charge monthly fees that are accepted by the clients. I will be raising my prices but also providing more value. If a website gets hacked, I have the backups to restore it and restoring a backup takes minutes. Most of the websites I build are for small business clients, this isn't enterprise level stuff. These are smaller law firms, landscapers, painters, restaurants, etc. so they really are not that needy and are pretty easy to work with. They are probably used to paying $1,000 - $2,000+ for the websites and are very thankful to me for the work I do for them at a much lower cost.

    Regardless of how high I raise the price, I will still keep it fair and very competitive, but also be profitable enough to keep it worth it for me. I really want to get more into lead generation properties anyway, as I feel that my area is perfect for this. I am in a smaller but not tiny city without much competition and am fairly competent I can rank niche websites quite well. Lots of expansion plans for the near future, I am thankful to this forum for helping me learn more of the business side aspects as sales and marketing have long been an area that I need help in. I even went to a couple sales classes that were being offered by my local small business center, but most of the stuff they teach is B2C. I have long thought I could sell a B2C product/service much easier than B2B. B2B is something I need to learn more about, and this forum is great for that. Thanks again everyone for the advice.
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  • Profile picture of the author seodecompiler
    I think you need to raise the price. And anyway, how many hours would you put in a month for each website maintenance? How much is your hour rate?

    First decide exactly how many hours you will dedicate each month on an individual website, then multiply per your hour rate, then come up with a fair price. And remember, while having low price will attract some customers, too low price will scare off others, because they will think since you are cheap, you cannot be too good either. If funny, but companies with cash will be put off by cheap products.
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  • Profile picture of the author G9M Blake
    seodecompiler - Thanks for your reply. My plan was to do something like $39 a month with up to one hour of updates included for that price. I am definitely starting to understand what everyone is saying about the price being too low, that potential clients may think that the price being that low means the quality won't be good. I have great references I can provide as my clients love the work I do for them. I have some clients that get so much business through the website I built for them that they have to refer them to other providers. So the quality of the website is very good, I just figured in the past that a lower price would be more appealing as I didn't want to spend a lot on advertising to compete with the big firms. But now that I have a strong portfolio and plenty of references, I want to start raising the prices.
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  • Profile picture of the author JoeStalin
    G9M Blake, I am in the same shoes as you are - running my own 1 person web design operation and now trying to figure out how to make it into a repeatable, profitable business. Your thread is eye opening.

    The $1000-$2000 rates that your small business clients are used to paying are the norm (actually quite low end in the US, anyway) for small business projects.

    You said that your sites pull results for your clients. Therefore (in my view) you are ripping yourself off by being so far beneath the average cost of such projects.

    I would consider $500 a valid website price point for any of the following: An offshore developer, who will most likely do a lousy job on the site because they will not be familiar with the norms of US business writing or marketing - I've seen such sites - everything they incorporate tends to be a visual cliche; or, a very cheap designer who knows they're not very good; or, an excellent web designer with a track record who offers a micro-site (single page or otherwise limited content site) for under $1000.

    I join the others here in observing that your current price sends a message that you're highly inexperienced or otherwise not very good. Which is definitely not the case. I also agree with the comments that you're probably not even *seeing* higher paying clients because they don't believe you'll be worth talking with. Price sets perception.

    Another factor to consider is - what do you put into your websites in terms of features and effort and marketing guidance? Do you help with their message, headlines, page structure? That kind of thing is unavoidable with most very small businesses AND at those rates you're getting clients who won't pay for another freelancer to help with copy. Do you perform any SEO research or implementation? That's time consuming. What about design tweaking with CSS or JS?

    If you do ALL of that for $500ish, you REALLY need to raise your prices.

    As far as the maintenance plans go... a WordPress site always needs periodic inspections and updates to cope with plugin updates. If the site contains any dynamic content like comments or e-commerce activity, you'll want to do a periodic backup beyond what the web host offers. These things probably all take you very little time, BUT the end user/client has no clue how to perform these tasks nor that they're even necessary. The key benefit for the client is that if their site gets hacked, you have a backup you pull out of your pocket that you made within the last week or so, and you can restore their site and have them running again within an hour.

    I have one client with a simple Wordpress site... I've been charging him $250/yr for hosting+site maintenance yearly domain renewal. That breaks down to, what, $22/month or so?

    The more complex the site and the more maintenance duties you have, the higher the monthly rate should be. $30-40/mo for a simple marketing site with no e-commerce sounds about right but I bet you could charge a lot more and get it. $100/mo and up for an e-commerce site, which would buy more frequent backups, as well as "banking" an hour of technical support every month up to some limit, for performing any required technical task as necessary.

    Lastly, I think you're a bit tied in knots with the concept of "fairness", as though you're negotiating for a wage. No living rate for freelancing EVER feels fair to any client, especially in the SMB space. In a way clients are all whiny candy asses. They all bleat how unfair that your (often low) rate is to them. You have to learn to weather that resistance.

    I assume you have dozens of sites under your belt. So you have an awesome track record. You should at least double or triple your rates on both web design and site maintenance.
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  • Profile picture of the author theseomaster
    I actually started out in the web design industry and stayed in it for a few years. Honestly I think that $30 is quite low, although the work is minimal, your client doesnt know that. I say price for value, what I mean by that is what is your maintenance gonna be worth value wise to your client? More than $30 I'm sure....

    I am a client getting machine lets team up:

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