Probably the top question we face in our business is:

“How much will a new website cost me?”


As you might imagine, there isn’t an easy or consistent answer to be had.  The size of the business, the features needed for the website, UX design level, copywriting services, photography, and the complexity of the project all have to factor in.  Two websites that look nearly identical from the outside can take drastically different amounts of time to plan, design, and code.

Of course, “it depends” is a frustrating answer for business owners who are trying to build budgets and make decisions. They want to find a hard number to work with, especially if they might be considering different vendors.  At the same time, we as the web design team want to know how much work will be involved in creating the website before we commit to a fee.  Rushing the process could force us to offer a fee that’s too low for the amount of work required, or worse, quoting a price that’s higher than it needs to be.

After watching business owners and creative professionals struggle with these issues for over two decades, we always use an approach that gives everyone the concrete answers they’re looking for: a Scope Document!

To understand how it works, and why you must have one for your next website, let’s get into the details.

What is a website scope document?

What is a Scope Document?

A scope document simply outlines what are your requirements for your website project, along with any relevant deadlines, deliverables, example websites you like and terms.  In other industries, they might call this a “project outline.”  Whatever term you prefer, it’s a way to put some concrete specifics on paper so they can be listed and evaluated.

At a very basic level, a scope document might include a sitemap for proposed web presence.  That is, it would list out the pages that are needed, and possibly some quick notes or descriptions of the content and required features and functions.  For example, the scope document may note a video clip on the homepage, eCommerce for online purchasing, employment forms or an online calendar to accompany an events tab.

The scope document could also include ongoing plans and services.  For instance, it should state whether web hosting is required or post-launch services like search engine optimization and social media marketing. In this way, something that begins with a simple sketch or list can grow into a bigger and more comprehensive memo.  That’s a good thing, because:

Using a Scope Document Leads to Questions

Using a Scope Document Leads to Questions

Through the years, I’ve found that completing a scope document is never as straightforward as people imagine it will be.  That’s because most business owners are aware they need a great website to succeed in today’s digital world, but they haven’t necessarily put a lot of thought into the details.  That’s why they are frustrated when they can’t get a firm price quote for web design, and why design firms like WebWize are so reluctant to give them a hard number before we have all the facts.

By putting thoughts on a page or screen, clients are forced to think through the end product they would like to see created and launched.  Vague answers give way to more specific and concrete solutions.  Website ingredients like photos and apps start to become tangible.  It gets easier to distinguish what’s necessary from features that are simply interesting.

As this process plays out, a couple of really great things start to happen. First, business owners began to make good decisions by thinking ahead to outcomes they are desiring.  In other words, clients start making plans based on bottom line goals rather than instinctive moves towards the newest or shiniest trends.

Second, business owners get a better sense of where the value in a web design project is.  They begin to understand that design teams can’t provide a quote on broad fees because of the numerous variables involved. Scope documents make it easier for everyone to work together, while also giving clients the opportunity to save money. Creating the scope document, and doing your homework ahead of time, will, in the long run, reduce the design team’s billable time, resulting in reduced project costs.

Scope documents enhance business relationship with web designer

Why Scope Documents are So Valuable

When a web design project has been properly outlined in advance, the relationship the web designer has with the business is immediately improved.  Everyone knows and agrees what the goal is, and the many services required to complete the project.  This preparation helps remove any confusion regarding chargeable services, and the designer doesn’t have to worry as much about possible “project creep,” where a small job turns into a large and unmanageable one.  Both client and design team wants a lasting business relationship.

Another important (and often overlooked) benefit of creating a detailed scope document is that it assigns responsibilities.  If a client states that they are going to provide content for their website, then there isn’t any confusion about who will be handling that particular task. The same goes for other items like photography, videos, and even technical details such as web hosting, email services or domain registration. These all seem like minor afterthoughts when you’re dreaming of the shiny new website, but they can be sticking points with the wrong assumptions by client or designers.

Some business owners assume a web designer would resist this kind of arrangement, but I think the opposite is true. I invite the chance to explain the value of what WebWize is doing for a client, and to have them compare our work to another firm.  I think most of our established colleagues feel the same way, particularly if it means taking some of the confusion and mystery out of the web design process.

Each of these benefits comes down to the same idea, though.  A good scope document fleshes out a business owner’s thought process, makes everyone clear on the parameters they are working with, and allows for much better proposals to be delivered.  It takes project discovery – the most important step in generating a new website – and puts it front and center before any actual work is completed or checks signed.

Website Quotation - Apples to Apples

Have an Apple to Apple bidding process

Additionally, scope documents can be refined before the bidding process. So, even though the client might create the project outline to get a detailed quote from one web designer, they can easily share the updated information with each another. That way, competing bids can be evaluated on an apples-to-apples basis.

A Smarter Way to Quote and Plan Websites

It’s understandable that so many business owners want fast answers when thinking about the costs associated with web design.  And, it’s just as easy to figure out why creative teams rush their proposals to avoid missing out on projects when clients want hard numbers now.

When you take a step back and look at the situation, though, getting to the right number should be a lot more important than arriving at a figure quickly. For that matter, figuring out client needs and expectations should be a bigger priority than getting a proposal out the door.

With that in mind, I encourage business owners everywhere – not to mention my colleagues in the web design industry – to consider using scope documents or project outlines more extensively. Take the time to get to know the person or team you’ll be working with, and to put different thoughts and expectations into writing. It won’t affect the web design proposal process as much as you might think, and the benefits are bigger than you might imagine. Long-term business relationships are economically more important to both parties.


Or Contact WebWize At 713-416-7111

Before making a final decision on a Web Design Company, spend a few minutes on the phone with us.

About Glenn Brooks

Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.