If this is prying, feel free to not answer, but this thread got me curious as to what sort of business model people use for building and maintaining websites for their clients?
I know that many people use a traditional model where they charge a set fee to build the website, and then charge for updates, maintenance, additional features, etc, based on the amount of time it takes. So a typical example might be to charge someone $2500 to build them the website, and then say $100 an hour for updates, maintenance, etc. Many people would bill in 1/2 or even 1/4 hour increments, so a simple photo change might cost $25.00, but adding an entirely new page with a photo gallery might be $400.
Obviously, for clients who do a lot of updates, their bills add up fast, and they can be lucrative clients. But then you also get the people who you build a website for, and then you never hear from them again.
I went in a totally different direction when I started my website business. I decided to not charge people to build their websites. Instead, I sell them a “website subscription” (similar to Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, etc…,) where they don’t have to pay anything (or maybe a small startup fee on very complex jobs) and are able to get a totally custom (no templates) website put up online in about a month with no money down. They don’t have to do any work, or know anything about web design. I do everything, soup to nuts, from editing their photos, to logo design, to setting up their Google Analytics and web console. I’ll even do Google Ad campaigns or Facebook Ad campaigns. In some cases I even help them set up their social media accounts, claim and setup their Google “My Business” listing, etc… (of course a lot of these perks cost extra money.)
They sign a 12 month legal agreement to pay a certain amount each month. Then, after 12 months, they are free to stay with me on a month-to-month basis, or they can quit. For that amount, I build their website, I do all the on-page SEO, I provide them with a free email (additional email accounts are extra,) and they get a secure contact form. All the maintenance and updates are included.
Depending on the particular plan they choose, determines how much time they get each month for updates and maintenance. But, they never get actual ownership of their website unless they pay an additional fee up front. So when a client leaves me, they don’t get to take their website (although they can certainly take any content they have provided.) But I retain ownership of the actual HTML, CSS and JS files (just like the big companies like Wix, Squarespace, etc…) They can always steal the site (though most usually don’t have the skills to do this) but it has happened 2 or 3 times over the past 11 years. Sometimes, they will have another web developer try and copy the design, or the general look and feel, and they change the wording and images just enough to make it not be outright theft, but they rarely get as good a product as they get with me. I generally adhere to the “under sell and over deliver” ethos.
So as an example, I may have a client who I will sell a website to for $200 a month, and it costs them nothing up front, and nothing down the road. They don’t start paying until their site is approved and live. If they want a page of text updated, or an event calendar, or photos changed, or new videos added, it’s included as part of their monthly fee. So in essence, I am their CMS. Unless they go over the amount of time they get each month, they are billed nothing extra. Most clients (I’d say 70%) do not do more than 5-6 updates a year. Some do none. Others do 3-4 every month.
So with my system, there are a number of advantages (and some disadvantages.) The most obvious advantage is I have a rough idea of how much money will be coming in each month. Even when I don’t sell a new website for 3-4 months, I still have an income. Sometimes it can get lean, and other times there’s a surplus, but I’ve found it’s a lot less stressful than the constant ups and downs of never knowing when you’re going to get a new client, or if an existing client is going to need an update done this month.
The downsides are attrition. For instance, I lost five clients in the first 3 months after COVID hit last year. This was (very) distressing, but not absolutely devastating. It didn’t bankrupt me. So like any web developer, I am constantly looking to sell and build new websites, because I’m constantly losing clients. Companies go out of business. Some clients just decide they’d rather try using a competitor, or they have someone whisper in their ear that this stuff is easy, and they can do it themselves. A small number have even ripped me off (had me build their website and then just never paid their contract.) 75% of the websites I have built I no longer do business with the clients. They are either gone, out of business, switch to a different developer, do the site themselves, or ripped me off.
It’s a different approach that I think most freelance web developers don’t consider, but it has a lot of benefits (and some detriments.)
So how do the rest of you run your web development businesses?