How can we save money on a website? It starts with the business.

A few weeks ago I got an email from a potential client in Seattle, Washington. I think they were in the photography business, and they asked, “Can you send us some links of other sites you’ve done?”

Of course I directed them here, and then the response was, “Thanks, but you don’t really have anything we’re looking for.”

The customer wasn’t looking at our portfolio as “Problems solved for other customers”, or even as “Past work we’ve done”. Instead it was being treated like the cereal aisle at the supermarket. All things considered, we’re probably better off this customer went right on by us.

The portfolio for any designer or developer isn’t going to look like what you want your site to look like. And if they’re worth their salt, everything is going to be consistently different. That’s because everyone has their own unique set of problems that need solved. The bright colors of our site won’t work for a law firm or a wedding venue, but would you decline to hire us because we historically don’t use your favorite colors? Of course not, just like you wouldn’t look at a bunch of cars and decline to buy one because they’ve never sold one with polka dots.

But when it’s not the portfolio of work a customer is after, their attention usually goes toward the budget.

That’s a fine enough deciding factor. For most of us it’s the deciding factor in practically everything. I almost find it offensive when people suggest everyone should be toting around expensive computers, cars, and other gear.

Someone once asked me, “How do we save money for customers?” There’s not some magic secret to it.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario where you run a donut shop and you want a website. Some shops are going to quote $10,000, maybe even more. $20,000 isn’t an unheard of number. These are places where teams of people will descend into your business, they’ll spend a lot of time doing really good research, and they’ll pour over planning documents. You’ll get to work with a bunch of different people who are no doubt talented and skilled in a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of value – and expense — in that.

We’re a small shop, though. We don’t have as many people, so we don’t have a lot of salaries and employee costs to pay for. We don’t work from a central office, opting instead to work from home (that’s where the dog is, and who doesn’t want to work away from a good dog?), so we save a bunch on office space.

We also don’t have as much of an ability to do as much pre-planning and research. Instead we rely on working closely with the client, intuition, a little common sense, and improving things in the long-term. “Well, this wasn’t as good as it could be, but know one knew that at the time,” is a common refrain. You’ll run into that in almost any project, but where larger shops try to whittle that out, we learn by doing.

It’s a stark different in the work styles, and each works for a lot of people a lot of the time and not a lot in other times.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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