I subscribe to a number of web development mailing lists, RSS feeds, Twitter streams, and, of course, talk to web development clients all the time. What I have learned, if that’s the term, is that pricing web development projects is way more art than science. There are apples and kumquats. There are formulas and there are “realms”.There are jobs and there are sales pitches.

The bottom line, and that’s what we’re all concerned with, whether client or vendor, is extremely elusive. There are no standards. There are precious few comparables (that’s a real estate term, and even though that market has been around for many decades, the art of comparing one property to another is still very subjective). And those that exist are either secretive in terms of cost, or ridiculous in the eye of the client (either ridiculously high, or once in a while, ridiculously low).

But many organizations hire web developers based on price. And others hire web developers  based on the sales pitch, regardless  of price. In both cases, the client is often at a loss because one company will offer to do whatever they want at a great price. Another company will offer to do whatever they want at a very high price. But what is a low price and what is a high price? How do clients judge? How do you know that the developer is worth the price?

It’s A Crap Shoot

If you are a client looking for a web developer and you don’t have a referral from at least 2 trusted people, then you need to find a  consultant, fast. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot. You are at the whims of your budget, or your emotional reaction to a sales pitch. Neither are realistic paths to a successful site.  I think there is a market for Internet strategists that help plan a web development project for an organization, but does not do the actual work. Since they are not invested in the project and have the client’s best interest at heart they could be more objective in evaluating proposals.

As it is, we seldom even respond to RFPs. They often take a great deal of work, are unrealistic in how the scope and budget are balanced, and often poorly defined. When we have competed for jobs we usually don’t get them. In following up, I learn that most often it’s because our price is too high. But to me, the price I often quote is scarily close to the edge of profitability. On the other hand, I have been learing what a few other developers have charged for failed projects (ones where the client has come to us because what was promised was far less than what was delivered) and I’m shocked to learn what the client was charged.

It’s a funny business.