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Over the past year, I have gone about streamlining my services and trying to ensure that the descriptions of what I offer are as clear as possible. Not only has this been a useful exercise for me in better understanding exactly what it is that I offer (something I know but rarely write down for others) but it has allowed me to better understand the differences between services. To many, this can be incredibly subtle but when it comes to pricing my services, what may seem like a subtle difference can actually be enormous.

Compare say, a basic WordPress website to a basic WordPress-powered online store and the difference may only seem like the addition of a single WordPress plugin – WooCommerce. The reality is that even just configuring a basic store with its associated settings and adding a few products can take between half-a-day and a full day. Add a more complex store environment with subscriptions and more products and you’re looking at one to two days, and so on.
I’m fairly confident that I have considered this within the pricing structure that I have presented on my site however, I have found that it is sometime difficult to explain the difference between a more basic site (or one that is more easily assembled) and one that costs more because of how it is designed and built.
To clarify, this is not a post designed to justify any level of cost, but one that goes into some detail as to the different types of quality that you might expect from any given level of service. Let’s dive in.

Assemblers

This is someone who takes the constituent ingredients of something and puts them together. This may be in the form of off-the-shelf, pre-manufactured parts, or custom parts but regardless, they are still assembling something that has been designed to be easy to do and faster to put together.

In the case of a basic WordPress website, this will consist of these primary things:

  • Installing WordPress core
  • Installing WordPress plugins
  • Installing a WordPress theme

Additionally, there may also be some custom work required in the form of theme changes or plugin development.

Whilst ‘Assembler’ is not a phrase I see used often within the WordPress space, I feel this is a better description of the kind of work that is required to put together a basic WordPress website.
You can find companies, such as myself, who do some assembly work as part of a larger service offering as well as entire agencies of people who only do assembly work. Either way, this is still building a website and having the professional knowledge and experience of what works and what doesn’t work (i.e. which WordPress plugins can conflict and which ones work harmoniously together) is a valuable service offering for any web design company. I would even argue that providing this service and staying up-to-date with this knowledge can be just as challenging as some other service offerings, such as design or development.
Personally, I have curated my own (manageable) news source of RSS feeds, podcasts, and Twitter accounts that keep me up-to-date with everything that’s going on in the world of WordPress. Running Better Notifications for WordPress and having to provide support for it has also helped greatly in my understanding of harmony in the WordPress plugin eco-system.

I think it probably goes without saying that as all WordPress websites will need to consists of the three primary ingredients above, all people that construct WordPress websites from start-to-finish will be an assembler at their core.
Assembly though, can only get you so far as available plugins and themes are not going to suit everyone and more often than not, something will need to be developed.

Developers

Whilst there will inevitably be overlap in many areas of website design and development, some assemblers will not be able to develop, just the same as some developers will not be able to design. When this happens, and when custom functionality is needed, a developer will be required to code something, possible from scratch, possibly from assembling code to create something new, in order to fit the requirement.

Common areas of development within WordPress are:

  • New custom plugins or themes
  • Fixing old plugins or themes that no longer work
  • Extending plugins or themes, via a custom add-on, extension, or child-theme, or modifying the original

Additionally, this kind of work may require a feature to be designed or re-designed to fit the desired aesthetic.

Development will require additional time and a different level of skillset in order to complete. Costs can vary from one hour for a minor change through to months of work for a bespoke and custom solution.
I’ve often found that development is the service most commonly undertaken after assembling a website as there is almost always something that needs to be customised in some way.

Whilst most initial development is a reaction to functionality, (either missing or in need of tweaking), almost all require design consideration. For smaller changes, this can usually be straight-forward enough for most developers however, larger bodies of development work, such as new plugins or themes, will require a subsequent amount of design, both in terms of look, and usability.
This is not to say that developers are incapable of achieving this. In fact, I love seeing developers becoming more interested in design, and the availability of Twitter’s Bootstrap and Google’s Material Design are two examples that are lowering the barrier of entry for developers to become more connected to the design of the project that they are assembling using these off-the-shelf frameworks. That being said, design is always a requirement and should never be just a consideration for any serious project. To step beyond this hurdle with regards to websites, some kind of hybrid designer/developer is, in my view, the ideal solution.

Designers & Front-end Developers

I officially refer to myself as a Web Designer & Front-end Developer to illustrate that I work on both web design or, more specifically, website design, and front-end development, i.e. the part that the user interacts with. In fact, varying a little from year-to-year, for the days that I invoice, I spend nearly 50% of my time on design projects, and 50% on development. I feel this gives me the advantage of being able to improve my skills and produce work effectively at every stage of a project. It also appeals to both parts of me – I love being creative and watching a colourful design come together and I love the logic that goes into making that design a functional and efficient website. Additionally, I love the thoughtful process that I apply to working out the layout and sitemap of a new project just as much as the creativity I must apply when coming up with a function in code.

Whilst service offerings can exist at any level for any web-focused company, the web designer and front-end developer role can provide a good, all-round approach to constructing websites by:

  • Assembling them using off-the-self components
  • Developing them further or coming up with new solutions
  • Designing them so that they work together and provide a unified experience

This provides great continuity from end-to-end and ensures that aspects of the project aren’t ‘lost in translation’ when handing between different departments or teams. Good communication between teams or even between freelancers working together can of course mitigate this but regardless, working on the entire range of services that you offer is ideal.
It’s also worth noting that if small businesses are regularly outsourcing areas of their service offerings, this may be a red flag as focus, time, and management can cause additional overheads and cost for a project.

Design will inevitably increase the cost of any project due to the time it takes to think up custom solutions however, i’ve never heard anyone say that it hasn’t been completely worth it. This is true even for internal projects that you may not feel require any real design consideration – design can in fact improve the efficiency of those solutions. I’ve worked on several projects where i’ve made it faster and easier for people to use a site resulting in an overall improvement in productivity.

Wrapping Up

It’s worth noting that the majority of my work is actually designing and developing WordPress themes. I assemble WordPress websites using their primary components with the exception of the theme which I design and code from scratch.
Most projects I work on last between 4 and 6 weeks and the costs for these are (hopefully) clearly outlined in my services.

Ultimately, depending on what your company offers or what your company needs, you may only need one of the above levels of service for a project. The important thing is that you understand what the difference is between them, the costs associated with them (whether providing them or purchasing them), and how each one has value.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash