A case for affordable web design

How to lower your price without killing yourself, your business, the market or bringing on the ire of other designers

Recently in a Facebook group I belong to, an interesting discussion thread was started by my former creative director. The discussion revolves around a designer’s ad promoting his web design services for a low price of PHP 5,000. That’s USD 113.27 by today’s exchange rate. Not a few members reacted that designers who price their services this low are undermining the market, a fact which I agree to.

Last night I was mulling over this situation. He is not the first case of low-priced designer I have encountered, and definitely he will not be the last. I have also lost potential clients to other designers who undercut my quote. And I fear that designers who offer lower than prevalent rates are no longer confined to just within developing countries like the PHL or IND. I had a prospective client shoot down my proposal saying: I can get that project done for your price in Australia. In Australia! Really.

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The Philippines’ golden age of web design business

Sorry but it’s over.

There was a golden age of web design biz in the Philippines, about ten years ago, when you can design a website and charge as high as PHp 2,500 up for a SINGLE PAGE for your services. But that age is long gone. One reason that fueled such high price was the fact that there were only a handful of web savvy professionals back then. Not even professionals in the real sense–(profession) an occupation requiring special education (especially in the liberal arts or sciences)–since many were not schooled in web design from a college or with a diploma to back the claim as “professional” (I hold a double degree in Med Tech and Fine Arts, weird mix I know). But eventually everyone got wind of this lucrative business, even the schools, and they created IT and multimedia departments to churn out hundreds of designers every year.

Then there is the outsourcing trend. Riding on the wave of ever increasing internet speed, tools were created that finally allowed real time collaboration between clients and suppliers from opposite sides of the globe. It enabled people to work outside traditional venues, and soho/remote working became a possibility. Online services sprang up around this new work paradigm–oDesk, eLance, etc.–and a client can now go online to find a supplier for almost any work required, from anywhere around the globe. He has the power to shop for the lowest price range he can get for a project. Designers everywhere logged on to these services, and there began a race to the lowest hourly rate just to attract clients. I have seen rates as low as USD1/hr, but that designer is in IND, and perhaps USD 1/hr is more than enough to live by in that part of the world.

Which brings us to the present. A saturated market with more designers coming in–not just local but global–more than willing to undercut the others to get a client.

The bad news: Cheap is in

Nowadays, the business news on tv center around the almost daily rise and fall (mostly fall) of US and EU economies. Should Filipino designers be worried? Frankly, I am. Most of my clients are from abroad. And if feedbacks from recent quotes I made for prospective clients are any indication, my current pricing rates seem unsustainable.

But I am not going to lay the blame solely on designers with lower-than-market-average rates. I believe that clients gravitate to them because current economic situation demands it. Everyone is looking for ways to cut overhead cost and stay afloat. Even big companies are cutting costs, so shouldn’t our clients be?

The good news: There is a market for affordable design and services

At least we can rejoice in the fact that the web design industry is not slowing down (at least I don’t think it is, I’m still getting a lot of inquiries just that more clients are turned off by my quotes). It’s just going to the lower price range. Our clients are rushing to the cheapest designers they can find. We can go into denial-mode if we like, but unfortunately that’s where the market is going. So should we join the rush and lower our rates? This is where things get touchy.

IMHO, yes.

But I believe there is a proper way of doing this. And most designers are doing it wrong, mainly because they simply look at the competitors’ pricing then undercut it mindlessly. This is the practice that is undermining the industry. What I am going to present here is what I think to be the proper way of lowering one’s price.

The price i$ right

I am not going to teach you how to arrive at a quote. There are many tutorials for that, and there’s not one standardized way to do it. When I compute the cost of a project, these are the basic variables that I consider:

  1. Design and features;
  2. Hours to be spent;
  3. Extraneous expenses;
  4. The client;
  5. My monthly overhead and how much profit I want to make to live according to my set standards.

Looking at these variables, I know that I can control nos. 1 to 4 to bring my pricing lower without compromising on no. 5 (which should be non-negotiable if you want to maintain a certain standard of living).

I am not going to teach you how to present your quote to the client either. Let just jump to the point where he says: it’s too high, I can get my grandson to do that for USD —- (insert some bullshitty price here). If you get this response, just walk away. I’m not kidding. But if you find yourself with a more reasonable client who understands your work but just doesn’t have the budget in this tough economic times, then try these suggestions on where to cut hours and arrive at a lower rate:

Design and features

Does the design require all the bells and whistles? Identify the must-have’s from the nice-to-have’s design features, and try to stick only to the absolute necessities. Same with site functionality. Sometimes, the client is not aware that what he is requesting will take a long time to build without adding much to the website’s usefulness. Communicate this clearly to the client and see if you can get him to take unnecessary embellishments out of the project scope.

Hours spent

Make your development process more efficient. This is a touchy topic to some–and there is also a right and wrong way of doing this, something I will blog about for next time–but I found that using frameworks and even commercial themes significantly decrease dev time. If you are against using frameworks and commercial/free themes, how about starting your own? Maybe you work in a niche market where clients ask for websites with similar layouts and features. Then start a base theme with all the similar layout and features built-in and use this for all your client sites. Offer clients a lower price if they agree on using the base theme with minimal modifications. You can even sell this as a commercial template and earn extra without you doing actual work.

You can also outsource parts of the project to someone with a lower hourly rate than you! Hire the guy who’s advertising his services for PHP 5,000 and let him do the boring, repetitive tasks like adding content to completed pages, etc.

Extraneous expenses

If your client demands face-to-face meeting, tell him you can lower your rate by doing Skype conference instead and save on gas or transportation expenses.

Need stock photos? There are still cheap stock photo sources out there, or look for willing suppliers from flickr. There are still people who will not mind you using their images in a design for free as long as you give them proper credit. Same for other media resources. But whatever you do, don’t steal other people’s work in order to save on expenses.

Your client

Go over your pricing. Maybe you are charging too high for your target market/prospective client. You cannot give the same quote for Aling Nena’s Online Sari-sari Store like you did for SM Supermart. Aling Nena will need a more modest set of features, so trim down your proposal and lower your quote.

Your monthly profit goal

Like I said this should be non-negotiable. After all, you cannot negotiate for a lower condo dues or apartment rent when times are tough. But if you must lower this (maybe you’ve done everything but still you lose out to Mr 5000), then you know where to cut corners: like don’t upgrade that iPhone until gen 10. Stuff like that.

Killing me softly with your price

And then there is Mr 5000. But maybe we are being too harsh on the poor guy. After all, I have not really seen the deliverable included with his price range. I can think of various cases where PHP 5000 is reasonable.

But if, for example, you have gone ahead with the cost-cutting steps I outlined above and somebody else came along and offered to do the same set of features for some ridiculously low price, what should a designer do? Well if your client went along, and the designer did deliver… then god help us all but I guess this industry IS in a downward spiral and will not be sustainable for long. Time to look for a new job.

BUT. The forums are rife with situations like this:

Client X gave his project to designer Y because he offered such a temptingly low price. Designer Y was ok to work with at the start but as the project dragged on he started to get flaky and ultimately disappear and the project not completed.

I can imagine designer Y’s nightmare scenario playing out behind the scenes, unseen by the clients who decide to work with this guy. Designer Y has to pay the rent like the rest of us, so in order to stay afloat he has to take on more projects, double than what the rest of us handles at a given time. Often he delivers sub-standard work. By juggling simultaneous clients, more than he can handle, at some point the balls start to fall. With too many projects going on, he burns out bringing his clients down along with him.

I should know. In a past freelance life I was a Mr 5000.

16 thoughts on “A case for affordable web design

  1. Thanks for this great info dude. I usually googling for usual pricing for web designing or web development.. I used to create simple website myself and I’m new in Web dev. I asked my friend to pay me cheap web design for his website.

  2. I know this is old stuff by I just can’t help myself being offended by the post of that guy from the UK.

    3000-5000 for an ecommerce website?! You’re obviously the one who’s being greedy by low balling designers from our country then charging high on your clients. You get what you paid for, if you’re looking a website that costs 3000 pesos then you’re obviously gonna get an awful designer.

  3. It’s sad that the local market is way too harsh with prices so we have no choice but really try to get paid in dollars. With so many designers and Worpdress developers out there, it helps to specialize in a certain fields like, oh let’s say PHP, Ruby or Python.

    Outsourcing is one of those that has a few great effects for freelancers and start-ups as well. By getting “outsourced”, you open yourself up to clients that can be around for a long time, giving you a constant flow of incoming projects.

    You’ll realize it was worth it to lower the price the first time and show them how well your work with them and with the project. The time will come when they will just settle for you instead of searching for others with lower rates because you’re easy to work with and they’re sure of your output already. By then you can set yourself up to gradual increase of rates.

    You just have to work hard the first time and try to sacrifice a little. It’s better than being turned down the first time by a potentially great client with several projects at hand.

    I think a faster turn around time for each project will really help if the its price is low. It should be easy for basic websites with very common features and with our years of experience working with websites, I assume we are well-versed with it by now that we can do it faster. A simple WordPress project (conversion, development, everything except design) can be done in a week or less depending on the actual design.

  4. Hi epicpotato. First of all, thanks for letting me know I’m on page 1 of Google for “cheap web design in Manila”. That can’t be a bad thing, right? It’s still a referral!

    Second, there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Times are tough and every penny counts.

    Third, there is a third option for you and other designers will hate me for saying this, but why not buy a commercial WordPress theme?

    My opinion is, if you are starting a small business and hard-up on cash, I don’t find it practical to spend too much on an all-original designed website, with a theme built from scratch. If you’re a big company, with plenty of capital to spend, and very particular about your brand image, then go ahead and hire an expensive kick-ass designer to make you a website like no other. If you’re not, then maybe that money can be put to other use. Like buying painting materials. In the future, when your business has flourished and you have the extra cash, then perhaps you can again consider having an original website made just for you.

    There are a lot of excellently designed WordPress themes that can be bought for less that USD100. I know some are just around USD35. They have features built-in that, if you were to ask a web designer to make something similar from the ground up, would easily cost you no less than USD1000.

    And if you are concerned that your website will look like somebody else’s, the better themes have options that allow you to customize fonts, colors, background images, layout. etc. And really, with so many commercial themes being created every month, and each theme being customized by the owner, what are the chances that your site will look exactly like the other guy’s?

    Here are some of the links I gave to people who had same problem as yours. And yes these are affiliate links. If I cannot earn from making you an original site, then I will make do with small commissions via referral links ;-)

    http://url.designhubph.com/themeforest
    http://url.designhubph.com/elegantthemes
    http://url.designhubph.com/wpzoom
    http://url.designhubph.com/templatic
    http://url.designhubph.com/woothemes
    http://url.designhubph.com/bizzthemes

    I have also used some of these themes myself for personal projects and also for other clients who needed cheap and quick websites.

    If you do buy one of those themes and need help setting them up or modifying them a little, let me know. Maybe we can work something out that won’t cost you too much.

    Thanks for reading my blog.

  5. This is absolutely enlightening! I was googling “cheap web design in Manila” and came by your site! As someone who is looking for a Mr. 5000 i feel embarrassed that i can’t shell out more for their work. As an artist myself (in the more traditional sense, FA like you) i should know how it feels to have my work undervalued.

    I guess it’s either i save up or learn CSS myself! :)

  6. Hi Jasper,

    I can relate to your post. Im from the UK but i live in the Philippines. Im an internet entreprenuer. I have had at least 10 sites made using web designers, some for myself, some for clients. I used odesk a few times, i can definately relate to getting high priced qoutes from designers in India and Philippines. Infact the Philippines is awful right now for web design, i live here in manila and yet i have never had a website constructed by a Filipino, infact me and my girlfriend talk about this alot whenever we are launching a new online venture how siyang it is that some filipinos have a serious misplaced pride. They see american or european prices and think they deserve the same, but its simply not true. Cost of living in Europe and USA is about 5-10 times higher than the Philippines, so the designers in Europe naturally are more expensive. I can relate to that Australian guy you mentioned too, damn i hate it when designers in the Philippines qoute the same as western prices, thats just pure greed! I hung up immediately last time i heard that because it just means they either think im stupid or their greedy. Onto the next designer who done the job for 20% of the price.

    When i get a qoute from the UK for 50,000 pesos for 1 high end ecommerce website, im expecting it to cost about 10,000 pesos in the Philippines because i know it would take 7-10 days to complete the website and western people usually would check daily salaries in the country they are going to hire a freelancer and then estimate the time it takes to make the website IF YOU ARE SKILLED, which you should be if your selling services, in the Philippines an employed designer would be earning 500-1000 pesos per day x a 7 day project, should be charging 3500-7000. Most designers usually already have frames for templates for the websites too. it often cost MORE in the Philippines than the UK prices!!! Which is crazy and like usual its such a waste because the Philippines has so much potential if some of the designers here stopped being greedy. But it might be because uk/usa designers are more experienced better educated in computer skills so can do the work faster? I can now get ecommerce sites in the UK for about 20,000 pesos! That would be like the Philippines charging about 3000 – 5000 pesos for a fully functioning ecommerce website.

    Also, THE ONLY REASON WESTERNERS outsource is simply MONEY, it needs to be alot cheaper in the Philippines than the western countries. Remember web design is no longer a rare skill, nowadays its a overcrowded industry. This industry wont die, its only going to get bigger, and for those designers who are able to make a name for themselves by creating high quality budget websites will be the ones with constant work. An indian guy i hired 6 months, he was great, since then ive recommended him to people in the uk in my business circle about 10 times, and hes got 5 new contracts just from my recommendations just because he worked hard, fast and cheap. Fast meaning he will be building your site all day, NOT half the day learning how to do it and the other half trying to build it.

    My suspicion of overcharging in the Philippines is possibly due to lower computer skills here? Meaning maybe it takes designers here twice as long to do the same projects as indians who are highly trained in all IT skills. People are not willing to pay for a designers incompitance.

    I really hope designers in the Philippines start being competitive with their pricing. Filipinos are missing out on so much business because most are just not competitive in pricing even though this country has such a low cost of living. e.g. personally, i spend only 40,000 pesos per month living in manila. I actually landed on this blog because im looking for philippine webdesigners for several projects in the UK because im always trying to put the Philippines first, but guess what? I cant find any that dont charge crazy prices. I even offered designers here a business opportunity to be partners in several projects in the UK which we hope to sell off in 2-3 years to investors in London because i have investors and hedge fund contacts of people who pay alot of money for clever internet businesses. I told several designers here they would provide the webdesign, we would provide all costs, e.g. online marketing cost and running costs which is considerably expensive. Imagine that, ownership of a company just for building a website, still, they said no they want cash. I couldn’t believe how short sighted their response was.

    Anyway i wanted to write this so that more designers in the Philippines can understand what we (western market) are looking for when we outsource. If you ever want to talk about pricing you can drop me an email at [email protected]

    It was interesting reading your post. Thanks.

  7. Though i’m into graphic design, this is just inspiring. i’m having this dilemma on how to price this certain client coz ive been working probono for 3 years now. this helped a lot jasper. thank you. :)

  8. Hi Anne. Indeed, it’s survival of the fittest. Like I said in my comment to Edmark, we need to learn to adapt to changing situations in our work field. I guess it is not only true to web design but to any line of work, especially in these uncertain economic times.

    Thanks for commenting and have a great day too.

  9. Hi Anne. Indeed, it’s survival of the fittest. Like I said in my comment to Edmark, we need to learn to adapt to changing situations in our work field. I guess it is not only true to web design but to any line of work, especially in these uncertain economic times.

    Thanks for commenting and have a great day too.

  10. Hi Edmark. I remember a time when one could charge a high price for logo design. Now you can have one for just USD10 from places like prizes.org, and since the job is presented as a contest you even get to choose from several options. I guess it’s the same with web design. With the rise of commercial wp themes that are (I grudgingly admit) excellently designed and with theme option panels offering a variety of features from sliders to social networking, it is hard to compete. We need to learn to adapt to the current situation because they are not gonna go away. I’m adapting by learning to use commercial themes and especially frameworks to create new sites for clients. It’s not a bad thing, if anything I find I finish websites faster with frameworks/commercial themes. I may be charging lower fees now, but I can turn around a project much faster than before so I guess it cancels out.

  11. Hi Edmark. I remember a time when one could charge a high price for logo design. Now you can have one for just USD10 from places like prizes.org, and since the job is presented as a contest you even get to choose from several options. I guess it’s the same with web design. With the rise of commercial wp themes that are (I grudgingly admit) excellently designed and with theme option panels offering a variety of features from sliders to social networking, it is hard to compete. We need to learn to adapt to the current situation because they are not gonna go away. I’m adapting by learning to use commercial themes and especially frameworks to create new sites for clients. It’s not a bad thing, if anything I find I finish websites faster with frameworks/commercial themes. I may be charging lower fees now, but I can turn around a project much faster than before so I guess it cancels out.

  12. I totally agree with you on this, I’m a web designer as well, just starting out to establish my own outsourcing company for web design. I’m currently looking for clients to be part of my portfolio and I was forced to lower my desired rate to as low as 10%! Why? I dunno about these folks on free listing sites charging as low as 5k for a wordpress powered site. They make it sound so easy and based on the results they produced, the process may seem so. It lacks complexity, you can even find the theme they used on free wordpress theme sites. No revisions whatsoever!

    But I’m still optimistic. If you can deliver results nobody else can create for the price they offer, then you’re still on the right track. I guess you just have to know the market you are targeting, and make extra efforts to convince them and deliver results before they see the other ridiculous offers. Only then would the client be satisfied with what they have, and appreciate the amount of work involved in producing a great product.

    I must say I’m a fan of your work. Making the most of what wordpress can offer and making it your own kinda blown my mind a little bit. :)

  13. I totally agree with you on this, I’m a web designer as well, just starting out to establish my own outsourcing company for web design. I’m currently looking for clients to be part of my portfolio and I was forced to lower my desired rate to as low as 10%! Why? I dunno about these folks on free listing sites charging as low as 5k for a wordpress powered site. They make it sound so easy and based on the results they produced, the process may seem so. It lacks complexity, you can even find the theme they used on free wordpress theme sites. No revisions whatsoever!

    But I’m still optimistic. If you can deliver results nobody else can create for the price they offer, then you’re still on the right track. I guess you just have to know the market you are targeting, and make extra efforts to convince them and deliver results before they see the other ridiculous offers. Only then would the client be satisfied with what they have, and appreciate the amount of work involved in producing a great product.

    I must say I’m a fan of your work. Making the most of what wordpress can offer and making it your own kinda blown my mind a little bit. :)

  14. Hi,

    This is very true. I am not a web developer whatsoever, but i know quite a few people in this industry. It is really sad to say that this is what’s happening now. Lucky are the very few who manages to close good deals. But for those who has to make both ends meet, needs to work more than what is ideal and desirable for a lower price offer. The amount of work done is no longer relative/equal to the monetary reward, thus undermining the capacities and capabilities of the people involved in this profession. But hey, survival of the fittest. If you can find workarounds, then you are a step ahead of the pack.

    Have a great day!

    -Anne :)

  15. Hi,

    This is very true. I am not a web developer whatsoever, but i know quite a few people in this industry. It is really sad to say that this is what’s happening now. Lucky are the very few who manages to close good deals. But for those who has to make both ends meet, needs to work more than what is ideal and desirable for a lower price offer. The amount of work done is no longer relative/equal to the monetary reward, thus undermining the capacities and capabilities of the people involved in this profession. But hey, survival of the fittest. If you can find workarounds, then you are a step ahead of the pack.

    Have a great day!

    -Anne :)

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