What you should really be asking is "how much should MY website cost?". A subtle difference but an important one all the same. You see there are hundreds of variables involved in designing and developing any website, so to get an honest, accurate answer you will need to narrow these down. Don't worry, it's easier than you think.
In this article we will give you a starting point - pracitcal advice to help you put together a brief yet informative document that you can send to prospective suppliers so they can give you an accurate price for your new website or web application. Skip to the the end to download & amend the sample document for your own purposes.
The Business Case
Probably the most imporant part of any brief is your reason for commissioning a website in the first place. If you don't have this clear in your own head then it will be impossible for a design company to suggest a solution, let alone a price.
Like with most things it's best to be specific. Don't just say "to make more money" - you might want to sell your products online or communicate more effectively with your existing customers. Whatever it is, put this at the beginning of the document. Imagine you are trying to convince your boss to free up the budget for a new website, what would you say if you only had 10 seconds to say it? Keep it brief and to the point, it sets the tone for the rest of the document.
Tell us about your company. What do you do and how do you do it? This information helps to set the scene and gives an idea of how you work and what approach might be best suited to your business. You probably won't have time to meet with every supplier (more on that later) so if you can give them an idea of who you are as a company in this document it's a big help.
Believe it or not but designers love constraints. I don't mean working while shackled to the desk but pre-defined paramaters that they should work within. Constraints help to give focus and boundaries - in an online environment where anything is possible, constraints help to narrow the field down.
One of the most common constraints is time. If possible, make it clear when the project should be completed by. Please don't say ASAP. Every time someone says ASAP a kitten cries. You want to realistically inform potential suppliers so you can get the best possible response to your enquiry. If you have a tradeshow later in the year, use that as your time constraint, if you have an ad campaign running around a particular season then mention that. Remember that this might not necesarily be set in stone but it will allow a company to think about what is achievable within a certain period. This all contributes to you getting an accurate estimation of cost for your site.
Focus On The Problem, Not The Solution
You know your own organisation inside and out so you are well placed to give an insight what you are trying to achieve. This is an opportunity to expand on your business case in more detail. With this in mind, try and resist the temptation to write "we need a website with 8 pages, image slideshow, shopping cart and YouTube". Let the web design company suggest the solution to your problem, after all they have more experience in this area so should be able to make recommendations that you wouldn't have thought of. This will also help you to differntiate between quotes that may be similar in price.
Include details of the contact at your business who can answer any questions arising from the brief. No matter how hard you try there will no doubt be some follow up questions from suppliers. This is a good thing - it all contributes to giving a more complete picture of what you need and what you are trying to achieve.
It's up to you how you want to field these questions - in person might be most beneficial but it's also the most time consuming. Emails are quick but it's difficult for you to get a feel for how you would work with a company. We would recommend a simple phone call. Quick, personal and informative.
You can download a starter brief here. Remember that this is just enough to help you on your way - amend it and add to it as you see fit.