KillerSites Blog

Estimating the time it takes to build a website

May 5, 2008

One question that is put to me from time to time is:

“… how can you budget the amount of time it will take to build a website?”

This can be a tricky thing because there are so many factors involved:

  • How fast do you work?
  • Is your client going to be really picky and ask for many revisions?
  • Are you likely to come across time consuming bugs?

Ultimately, you will have to learn how fast it takes YOU … to build a website.

This comes with practice but there are few things that can make your web design budgets more accurate and that can also help you to control the time you spend building a web site.

Begin timing yourself

Start making time estimates for each website, and then track the actual time it takes you to complete a project. Soon, you will start getting better at making estimates. Be sure to track particular parts of the web design process:

  • Time dealing with the client. Phone calls, meetings, writing out contracts etc…
  • Time it takes to create the basic look of the site.
  • Time it takes to build out the actual pages – after you’ve established the look.
  • Time it takes to add in any special functionality. Example: add a blog, shopping cart etc…

Controlling the time by controlling your clients

Often times, how well you manage your clients, will figure into how accurate your budgets are. If you let them, most clients will have you running in circles, as they constantly ask for changes and additions to the website – at no extra cost of course!

… This is all too common and will eat away at your profit and sanity. You must learn to manage your clients. I would suggest the following:

  • Set up a maximum of 3 revisions on a fixed price quote. If your client insist on a fixed price for a job (most do), then you must set limits on how many times you will change things for them.
  • When a client says ‘yes’ to some piece of work, have then sign off on it.
  • Before you start the web design work, be sure you detail in the contract, exactly what you are providing. Count pages, functionality etc.

Complexity in the project can be time traps

In a nutshell: as a project becomes more complex in terms of the functionality (complicated CMS updates, custom e-commerce work etc) you should factor in that you will have a much greater chance of running into unforeseen bugs.

… If you are doing something you have not done before, or you are integrating a complex component, you should make your best time estimate, and then multiply it by 2.4.

The 2.4 rule of time estimation

This is an engineering rule that I picked up from an uncle of mine who ran huge government projects. Based on his 25 years experience, he found that the best budgets had to be multiplied by 2.4 to get a truly accurate assessment.

Big projects are harder to estimate than little ones, nonetheless, when it comes to unknowns, this multiplier is a nice way to protect yourself.


Stefan Mischook