Taking care of a website is highly skilled, specialized work. So is running an online business.
If you’re finding this post, you probably know me as a web developer, web designer, webmaster, or otherwise. I am those things by training. I spent the past 12 years honing the skill of building, maintaining, optimizing and promoting websites that make money for the businesses and people they represent. And as of June 2021, I am retired from that effort, forever. It’s bittersweet. I’m exiting this field to teach yoga and healing, and here’s why:
I love code, I love nothing more than taking a design and translating it into HTML and CSS to bring it to life online. I love solving WordPress problems, discovering new plugins, and customizing them to suit the specific needs of the site they’re in use on. But it has been a largely thankless pursuit. In my decade-plus as a freelance web developer, my rate ranged from $80/hour up to $120/hour. And I never made a profit. I never got rich. My family did not enjoy the largesse of these relatively high hourly rates for the highly skilled labor that I was providing to support other businesses.
Instead, I defended myself more times than not. I received pushback on pricing, I listened to business owners tell me they couldn’t afford the rates I was asking, and I was asked to halve my quotes more times than I can count. I was sued in small claims court, I was slandered in online business forums, and I had to pay out of pocket to retain legal counsel and send cease and desist letters to site owners who felt I owed them more than they paid for or contracted to receive. I worked nights, weekends, and nap times, paid through the nose for childcare, and dropped my children off to be watched by others so I could work on websites that, in many cases, represented the virtual storefronts of countless brands and businesses. My client list includes over 140 names and URLs, and I can count on my fingers the number of projects that ended happily and where I am still on good terms with the business owner.
What went wrong, you might be asking?
The answer: The public’s understanding of and appreciation for how the web actually works.
As I shut up shop in the spring of 2021, most of my calls with clients were to give out referrals to other providers who might be able to help them after I’m “gone.” And I was scraping the bottom of the bucket to find people willing to accept the referrals- I don’t have a lot of developers in my rolodex to refer my clients to, or those who will accept their sites. I know my clients’ budgets, and the good developers I know are outside it.
I recently spoke to the owner of a hugely successful web-based business that has been dormant during Covid due to the delivery method of their services. The site receives thousands of hits per month even after more than a year of not being able to provide services. When in operation, the site is the nexus of the business, the main source of all new customers and a central tool to communicate with existing customers. It has, in past years, provided a livable profit level for its owners, who were able to employ dozens of workers from the business it generated. And yet, this business owner is paying just $7 a month to keep the site live on the web, and doesn’t want to pay a developer on a monthly basis to maintain it and be on call should the site get hacked or crash.
Paying for web support should be a basic line item in a web-based business. And yes, it should cost more than $100/month.
To me, this defies logic. Paying for web support should be a basic line item in a web-based business. And yes, it should cost more than $100/month. If your livelihood depends on the health of your web code, do not house it at a budget host that only wants $7 a month to keep it safe. Do not balk at $30/month for managed hosting and tech support, daily backups and one-click restores. These types of web support services will be worth their weight in gold should something happen to your website. If your business will crash without your website, then you should expect to support that site so that it doesn’t crash. And have highly skilled humans on hand to help you do so, who are appropriately compensated for their knowledge and time.
Making money on the web costs money.
If you want to make money online, and you can’t build and support your own website (like I do this site), then be sure to factor in these costs:
- Website hosting: $30/month
This figure assumes all-inclusive web hosting with tech support and daily backups. Yes, you can get hosting for less, but you will pay extra for site backups, SSL security certificates, and the help of a developer to implement and manage all those ad-hoc services. And if your hosting doesn’t include 24/7 tech support, you’ll also want a developer on-hand to help you if/when something goes wrong. A good US-based developer will run you $100/hour.
- Web support: $250/month and up
Want someone else to update your site’s software, make sure it stays secure and high-performing, and answer your calls or emails if something goes wrong on the site? Expect to pay at least $250/month. Sound like a lot? Think of it like your storefront’s insurance policy. With a web developer on retainer and compensated fairly on a monthly basis, your business has someone who knows the code and services in place and who’s ready to respond in the event of a crash or hack. If you’re not spending regularly for web support, you’ll be up a creek if your site goes down, and it will cost you much more than this to get a qualified coder to jump in and restore your site.
- Initial site setup: $6000 and up
There’s a lot that goes into setting up a brand new website. There are also a lot of platforms that make it easy to do it yourself. If you don’t have the time, willingness, or aptitude to do your own website, you will want to pay someone qualified to do it for you. For an average 5-7 page website with blog and eCommerce, expect to spend at least $6000 and 6 weeks of development time. This figure excludes the design of the site and branding, which would run approximately the same.
Can’t afford these costs for web support?
Then you can’t afford to have a solid website that works to help you make money online. If you’re just starting out or have a hobby-level business that you’re self-funding, use a template on a site builder service like Wix or Squarespace, and dig into some good tutorials on how to DIY your site. Plenty of platforms are designed to be accessible to DIY website owners.
Do not try to hire a professional web developer on the cheap. You will only wind up with headaches – or worse. Don’t try to find a developer off-shore or abroad who is willing to work for lower rates than the US standard. That game has its own risks and drawbacks, too. Developers and designers who are not being paid their worth will disappear, ghost you, or worse – take your site’s code and assets and re-use it on other sites.
When it comes to web support, you get what you pay for. And if you refuse to pay for changes on a site you’ve hired someone to build, or push back when your developer tells you extra time is needed at additional cost, your website will not thrive, and you will wind up frustrated and failing at your efforts. Web work is detailed and difficult – there’s a reason why you want to hire a professional, so take my advice, and compensate them accordingly. Because, in the end, if they’re not earning money, they’re not going to continue to provide the service. And if your business relies on your website, you need that service to keep making money.
I don’t build websites any more, and I won’t support any website other than my own, because I have met these pitfalls personally, and lost too much time, money and tears in the process. Many of my past clients were good people with good intentions, but unfortunately a bad conception of what goes into a website’s success in selling online. If you’ve made it this far in my explanation, you probably have seen this happen in your work life, too. Be a part of changing the situation by educating your friends and fellow business owners with what you’ve learned and experienced.
The web isn’t free, and building a successful website is like designing a storefront. It takes skill, time, and experience, all of which come with costs.
So pay for your web support. If you do, it will pay you back.