Price Fixing in Web Development

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.

Hosting Woes

The other day we had a couple servers made inaccessible for over 9 hours. It was a disaster. The servers themselves were fine, but the data center where they live had a power outage. From what little information I have gathered, the power outage caused networking and router failures, so that even when power was restored either through back up or primary source repair, the server bank where we had a couple servers remained off line.

To compound matters the company that supplies these servers were not reachable by phone (constant busy signal) so I couldn’t even communicate with them to learn what had happened and get an ETA on return of service that I  could pass on to my customers who called and emailed me throughout the day and evening. Needless to say, I lost a lot of sleep that night. I have still to get a full accounting or reassurance from the server provider that they have things under control. I have been with them for years and have had very good service, excellent response time if a server does go down, and generally good conmmunication. But this incident has caused me to rethink the who relationship. Moving servers is a real PITA. But I have done it several times in the past due to poor service so I am considering doing it again. In any service business, communication is vital. When that breaks down, trust is lost.

In order to improve communication with our own clients, I am working on a couple things. The first is a new blog hosted at where I can post information about our hosting service.  Even if all our servers go dark the blog will not. Of course there is no guarantee won’t go down. Anything can happen.

Update: I have heard from the owner of my supplier at the data center. It seems some of the communication failure was on my end. My Gmail account coincidental to this incident decided to send all their messages to me to the spam folder. What? And Gmail is supposed to be so reliable. Although their own mail server was down for quite a while as well. Anyway, here is some of what he said:

As you are aware there was a major power outage yesterday at the data center we are located in. Even though our data center has a back-up battery system and back-up generators, there was apparently a failed capacitor bank that prevented either the batteries or the generators from helping. We will be learning more about what happened tomorrow when the data center owners provide us with an RFO or Reason For Outage document.

I am assured they are taking steps to this won’t happen again.