Note: This was written in January 1996
I'll begin with cost as that is most likely your primary question. My
"guestimate" is that the creation of a web site would be absolutely under
$2,000 and probably under $1500.00. You would also have to pay about
$50.00/month to rent virtual server space and $50.00/hour for
maintenance, changes and expansions.
Questions you might have regarding the guestimate:
Q: Why is it a "guestimate"?
A: I am primarily a freelance web-programmer/webmaster and not a
freelance web-site developer. Having only designed one web site in my
career as a freelancer, I have little experience in the marketplace
regarding freelance rates. But I have been around for quite awhile and I
do pay attention.
A full time webmaster could easily run you $40, 000 - $80,000/year, but
for small and mid-sized companies, it does not necessarily make sense to
hire a full time web developer. Instead, one should expect to hire a
freelance web designer to create the initial site and then to maintain it
on a project by project basis.
Obviously, freelance rates are extremeley diverse. You might hire an
undergraduate hobbiest for $10/hour, or an experience multimedia artist
for $200.00/hour. When I say that you should alot between $1,500.00 and
$2,000.00, I am assuming that you will seek out the average range, for it
is unwise to hire the undergrad and unfeasible to hire the professional.
If you want to do further research, I recommend the classified ad section
of Computer World or the USENET Newsgroup comp.infosystems.authoring.html.
Q: What does the $1500.00 buy?
A: The flat fee will purchase some amount of pages that you and your
designer agree upon after you talk about your goals and priorities. I
"imagine" your initial goal will be to get your regular print
advertisement on the web; perhaps some information about your company and
its products, information on how to order, and perhaps some useful
content that you could provide the web community to attract the wandering
However, don't think that it is a matter of scanning your material and
translatting it to hyper-text markup language (HTML). This is why it is
crucial to pay the extra money to get an HTML "Artist". The web is an
entirely new medium, demanding its own unique form of presentation.
In the June 27, 1996 issue of the Wall Street Journal, on Page R27,
Patterman writes, "The biggest mistake people make is that they don't
treat this as a new medium. It would be as if a magazine wenty on cable
TV and just flipped pages."
I cannot agree more. If you do not get the right designer, your page
will flop no matter how much money you sink into it. Thus, for your
$1500.00, you should expect to see a web-based version of your print
material. Do not accept a series of pages mirroring your print
literature, and do not bind your designer by forcing him to stay with the
Q: Why is there $100.00/month charge and what does it buy me?
A: I whole-heartedly advise that you rent space on a "virtual server",
$100.00/month is absolutely the best deal that I have seen as of June
It would be possible for you to create and maintain your own web server
First you would have to buy the hardware and, if you don't use public
domain server software, the sofware too. This could easily cost you over
$5,000 for the server, the telecom extensions and the peripherals.
However, you would also need someone to set up and maintain the site on a
full time basis. This is not a trivial process. Maintaining a web server
involves software and hardware configuration, maintenance, trouble
shooting, and upgrades, security issues, user support and any number of
bagaboos which can pop up and grey your hair.
The only reason that you might want your own server is if 1) you already
have an information systems department and you can roll web services into
thier job requirements, 2) you are planning on making the web your main
outlet and you plan on doing a significant amount of volume or 3) you are
a big enough company with enough capital to throw around.
(BTW, if you do get your own server, I recommend you go with the
traditional UNIX system. Both Mac and PC operating systems have their
own motley of web server software, but from experience, NT and Mac
servers are very limited and clumsy when it comes to CGI and TCP-IP
applications like mail. As a result, few CGI applications are written
native to those platforms. We'll see what the future holds, but for the
time being, UNIX is still the best).
Finally, you would also have to purchase a T-1 or better connection to a
local telecom company that offers digital transmission. Usually, this is
incredibly expensive. In the US, I think it costs over $2,000 per month
to rent such a line, and they are only available in large metropolitan
areas. An ISDN line is also a less expensive option, but you will want
the highest bandwidth you can muster.
In my experience, most companies rent space from an Internet Service
Provider (ISP) who provides a high speed internet connection and alots a
certain amount of disk space for each client. They also provide
administration services for the servers which they host clients on. ISPs
make money by hosting many clients who all share the costs of the
connection and server administration. For a small company, it really
does not make sense to do this by yourself, it is better to spread the
costs with other small companies.
When choosing a service provider, there are a few things that you can use
to discrimiate. Firstly, you should know how many clients they serve and
how many servers they use to host those clients. You do not want to rent
space on a server which is overloaded and which has no backup. You
should ask the ISP what is the average usage of processing power daily
and what means they use to backup data and backup the whole system if
their main system goes down.
You should also know what kind of internet connection they have and the
percentage of bandwidth typically used during the day by all of their
clients combined. Afterall, it does no good to have a T-1 service
provider if they are already maxed out. You may as well be using a
Of primary importance is that they provide a useful amount of customer
support. If they are too large, you will not get the support you need.
If they are too small, their support may not be worth beans.
Along those lines, you should find a service provider that will support
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) web-based applications, Server Side
Includes (SSI), Java, and other web goodies. Most likely, they will
charge for consulting for the bells and whistles, but so long as they
provide the means, you can do it yourself or hire someone more cheaply.
What is crucial is that their development environment is clear and easy
to understand for freelance programmers you bring in. You may want to
ask the ISP to refer you to one of their clients who uses CGI so that you
can speak first hand with other clints who have had to work through it.
As a side note, CGI development almost requires "Telnet access to your
shell account". Many ISPs only grant ftp access. If this is the case,
don't even bother considering them. You should have ftp AND telnet
access to your site, as well as 50 - 75 megs of disk space and a local
email account to process things like client orders or feedback.
Finally, if you are going to be taking orders on the web, you may be
concerned about what levels of security they offer. A secure server
encrypts data so that credit card information remains confidential
between you and your clients.
You should ask them what type of security they offer and any specifics
that you will need to know when you uitilize security (ie: aliases for
secure paths, changes you might need for your url like http vrs https,
and what directories are secure vrs insecure).
You should also ask what precautions they use to protect data from other
clients on the same system. It does no good to secure yourself against
the greater web only to leave your back wide open from competitors or
hackers on the same server.
Finally, you should try to find a service provider that offers PGP
service, because however secure your web server is, if you email orders
from your web server to your admin, the information is accessible. PGP
is a program which allows you to encrypt mail so that orders are taken
securely and transferred securely. (Most companies fail to take this
into account and for all their gaurantess of security, are totally open).
If the ISP you talk to cannot answer these questions, move on.
There are a host of virtual server service providers that you could
choose from. I recommend you check at the USENET Newsgroup
Q: What is the $50.00/hour for?
A: It should be calculated into your expense that your page will undergo
many changes after it is set up. The technology of the web is changing
at an incredible rate. As time goes on, you will want to add as many
bells and whistles to your site as possible, taking advantage of emerging
technologies like JAVA, or Frames, or VRML. $50.00/hour is the kind've
rate that you can get a grad student for. I think most web-development
companies work for more like $150.00, but if you find "starving students"
you can get quite a discount. Again, I recommend going with the
established multimedia artist rather than the starving student.
Considering how cheap web defvelopment is compared to other forms of
advertising, you can afford to be extravegant and go with the best.
However, as with all else, the starving student may actually be the
CGI programs will be more expensive. For example, if you want to put
your database online or create a groupware aplpication for your
distributors globally, it may run 2,000 - 3,000.00 per project depending
on the complexity. If you want to see examples of CGI applications
available, try /Scripts/ and if you are looking
for freelance CGI consultants, try comp.infosystem.www.authoring.cgi.
Another project which you may want to contract out is that of proactively
adding your web site to search engines. Most engines have "robots" which
seek out the web for new sites which they can index. However, you may
want to actually submit your web site to the search engines to more
quickly get your site indexed.
Along those lines, a good marketing strategy is to proactively seek out
related USENET groups and Listservs on which it is "appropriate" to
advertise, and let the participants know of your existance. It is crucial
that you do not "spam". Internet communities should only be approached
if they are looking for the sort of information you want to provide.
Thus, an internet marketting person, who is savvy with USENET is crucial
for your companies reputation and for the efficient distribution of your
Whatever you hire a freelance consultant for (HTML, CGI, advertising) you
should make sure they know what they are talking about. Ask them what
books they have read or what sites have they designed. If they supply
you with a sample URL, you should check it for errors at Harbinger
Also, ask them for samples of their code. Does it look clear? Do they
code in such a way that others could quickly take from where they left
off? Ask them what "standards" they use to develop. Do they use all
capital letters for commadns and arguments? Do they indent for lists?
No standard is necessarily the best, but some standard is essential.
Your designer must be as anal anal as possible when it comes to following
the same style for every page. If you know nothing of HTML, you can
probably find good samaritans online who will help you critique,
especially if you pay them a small fee.
Q: What else must I provide?
A: It really depends on what goals you have.
The easy answer is that you should provide all of the print media
material that you currently use for advertising. You should also provide
any company graphics/logos/type faces you've had made. These will be
transferred to HTML so that they will be available digitally.
It is best to supply text as plain ascii; perhaps have someone type in
the text to an email. A hardcopy should also be sent so that the
designer can see the original layout. Graphics should be sent digitsally
in a common format like .gif, .jpeg, or .pict.
The hard answer is that you should provide "vision". Web development is
an art. And like any art, the best work is the work that
"fits" intuitively. There is a billion and one ways to present a
company's information, but there may only be one way that corresponds to
the "soul" of the company.
In order for the web designer to really create the site that is right for
you, he/she needs to know the soul of your company. It is helpful for
you to do your best to communicate this soul to the web developer. Why
did you found the company? What are the goals of the company? How does
the company relate to its client, society and world? You should be
prepared to talk wiuth the designer for a good hour if possible.
Such knowledge could help the web developer decide whether your page
should use red text on a black background or earthy colors on a green
background. Perhaps you could imagine what kind've different moods these
two different color schemes would set. Not being a graphic artists
myself, I do not know many of these graphic tricks used to communicate
the soul of a company, a good one would...but it would certainly at least
help me to know.
You should also make time to define your project requirements and the
time limit. It is likely that this will be extremely amorphous at first
since you won't be sure exactly what you want. Thus it is extrea worth
it to discuss this with your designer. Help him/her create a
requirements list and a project lifetime summary. Use your intuition,
leave no room for ongoing projects, define what it is you hope to see and
make your designer spell out exactly how he/she is going to meet those
desires and how long it will take.
Time. Most web sites can be initially built in about one month. Let
this figure guide you but not bind you.
Q: What will the designer do in a month?
A: Some of the work time is spent in digitizing web graphics and in
translating text (informational brouchures, order forms, employee bios,
etc) into Hyper Text Markup Langugae (HTML). This is not a terribly time
intensive process, but it is commonly thought to be. The truth is that
with modern HTML development software and graphics programs like Adobe
Photoshop or Corel Draw, the text and images can be developed very
quickly. A good designer will have an arsenal of tools available to him
or her which can be used to translate mass documents or images to HTML
What really takes the brunt of the time is experimentation and
visualization. As I have said before, web development is an art. It is
an art which takes a great deal of experimentation and on the fly
manipulations of images and text.
It is reasonable for the designer to take a whole week just to "think"
about the site, musing about various ways it might be arranged and
integrated. This time is very important. You will know you have found a
good designer if they take this time. Rushing straight into a project
leads only to sloppy directory structures and a confusing nest of links
with little internal logic or flow.
The next week might be spent converting the text and images you have
Thus, it is reasonable for you to ask for a demo after a couple of
weeks. However, expect the format to change drastically over the
following two weeks. This evolution/fermentation is essential and
important for the birth of your web site, so do not stunt it.
After the site has been competed per the intial requirements, most
changes that you will want will probably take under 5 -40 hours each,
thus, most companies hire freelance consultants or web development
companies on a project by project basis rather than hire a full time staff.
Time will depend on the complexity of the project, but most things can be
done in spurts of 5 hours (usually less), provided that your intial code
is clear and well written. Obviously it is hard to make estimates
without knowing anything about your product, but I think these are good
Q: What should I expect to see by the end of the month?
A: In my opinion, you should have a web site which is globally accessible
24 hours/day which distributes your information in an effective way to
potential clients, partners, and employees.
By "distributing information in an effective way" I mean that...
- your information should be accessible quickly (relative to the slow
speed afforded by current technology). Users should not have to wait an
unbearable amount of time to download the graphics on your page. This is
a benefit of going with a company that specializes in graphic arts for
the web. Graphics and text must be balanced carefully.
- your information should be presented clearly and logically. Users
should be able to get to the information they want quickly and
intuitively. Extracting information should not be chore.
- your information should be presented in a way which entices users to
read more and become involved. Extracting information should, in fact,
be a pleasure. Again, a real web developer will be able to blend
advertising, art, and technology into a "Real" place to visit.
Now, the most difficult questions of all. Why should you have a web site
in the first place! You have already addressed this to a limited degree
because you have come to me for advice. But, you probably have not
really answered the question for yourself, even though you want to move
forward and learn more in the meantime. Let me try to address some of
the questions which may have stumped you.
Q: How do I measure returns on my investment?
A: At this time, there is no dependable, statistical method for gauging
Many sites use "hit counters" that keep track of how many times someone
has accessed your page or "site statistics applications" that generate
reports on who visited, what they saw, etc. Such programs are not
generally considered part of web page development as they require
programing far more complex than HTML.
However, often interesting and sometimes useful, hit counters and site
statistics are not good measures of how profitable your web site is since
they cannot be correlated to sales. For example, there is no way to tell
the difference between someone who accidentally accessed your page, and
someone who became a hundred million dollar client.
Hit counters can be supplemented with other programs like a client
"Guestbook" which might allow clients to leave messages about how useful
they found your site or other information useful for a "qualitative"
analysis of your site's return. Similarly, you could implement a
bulletin board system so that you could maintain an interactive dialogue
with your clients enhancing customer service or technical support.
Hopefully, at very least, your email communications with your clients
Another measure of your site's return might be found in the number of
other pages which refer to yours (such as search engines). If you are
listed everywhere, your site and your company's name will have higher
visibility. But again, this is not very quantitative.
Faced with this situation, most companies have looked for other
justifications for having a web site for not everything a company does is
statistically correlated to profits.
The most common justification for developing a company web site is that
of advertising. In traditional advertising a company assumes that its
opportunity costs are greater than its advertising costs. For one,
advertising will bring in customers that would otherwise never have known
of the company's existance.
Just the high profile of your name caused by advertising can increase
profits. Clients may buy your product just because they recognize your
Advertising has a defensive nature too. If your competitors are
advertising, you may need to advertise yourself just so that they do
not become the "standard" in the eyes of the market.
Though the web is new, don't expect your competitors to be sitting on
their hands much longer. Everyone will be colonizing the web in the next
ten years at a break neck pace, attempting to set up their shop
before others steal the best "real estate". Even if a web site was
run at a loss, if the other companies do it, you might have to bite the
bullet, just to keep the battlegorund in stalemate.
Advertising has an even more important role for small and mid-sized
companies who cannot compete with the economies of scales of largeer
companies and who must reach out to niche markets unaddressed by the
larger companies. It is crucial that you communicate with these niche
markets. Unfortunately, traditionally, advertising to niche markets
has been difficult. Mass advertising via mailings, TV, or radio is
expensive because most of the people who you advertise to are not even
closely related to your niche market. Targetting advertisment is
Advertising on the web, however, has some advantages over traditional
Advertising on the web allows smaller companies to
more efficiently extract profits from the global market. What was
once monetarily infeasible (worldwide advertising) is not commonplace.
For a one time setup fee ($1500.00) you have a worldwide accessible
add permanently. Further, because of the nature of the web, those
that are interested in your niche will come to you rather than you having
to find them. As you discovered on the search engines, it is very easy
for cliennts to find the information they want. If you come up in the
searches, they will find you too. Smaller companies can thus extract
profits from niche markets unaddressed by the larger companies.
Obviously, this means that you are going to have to learn how to
maximize this ability. Thus, the decision to move wuickly into the new
technology is a good one because you will need a large amount of
"organizationl learning" when it comes to figuring out how to evolve
your comany in the new global economy. All companies will be forced to
change, and those which set themselves up to learn early will fare the
best in the long run.
Related to that is the fact that by creating a web page, your company
will present an image of cutting edge technological stregth. Yet this is
another reason to do it well the first time, you don't want to look
like a loser company, you want to come out strong and interactive,
never showing weakness, insecurity, or naivite.
Q: What are the benefits of the web besides as a more efficient medium
A: Eventually, a web site can allow clients to buy directly from you.
Bypassing distribution channels, this can greatly reduce your costs such
that you can lower your prices and more effectively compete with the
larger companies. Many companies are utilizing online warehouses or
shopping carts which allow clients to actually browse the companies
product offerings and order them while online.
It also provides a medium to enhance the relationship between you and
your clients who can easily, and at no cost contact you electronically
for product information and post-purchase support. The company Saturn
has put a great deal of effort for example, into building client groups
and creating an image of a "Saturn community".
Once you have created your public face, you can move to enhance your
inner workings. An internet web site can easily evolve into an internal
"intranet". Such an intranet could be used to manage inventory or
facilitate internal communications between R&D, manufacturing,
management, and distribution with such groupware applications as a
database, calendar, real time chat, or a bulletin board system.
Q: How many people will "actually" be able to see my web page?
A: Well, internet sales are still farily concentrated in the US because
that is where the internet is most well developed and because internet
technoogies are still biased towards the English language. This
audience will also typically be upper middle class. male, and college
educated. Thus, if your products are geared for another niche, you
should not be expecting much for another two or three years.
I say two or three yars because that seems to be a comon estimate
regarding when the internet will infect the Asian and European markets.
Many companies, I studied Thailand at GW, are investing huge amounts of
money into information/telecommunications infrastructure, and because
such development takes a fraction of the time it takes to develop older
infrastructures like roads or railways, the information revolution looms
right around the corner. You do not have as much time as it seems to
prepare for the revolution. Countries like China, Thailand and
Singapore are going straight into fibre optic, bypassing twisted pair
technology altogether. Thus, when they get online, they will be doing so
with the latest and best technology and will be able to take full
advantage of web-based technology immediately.
Thus, "getting your feet wet "has a very serious side to it. You won't
have long to wade because the flood is coming.