Forced to Define the Business
The real cost of web copy is driven by the amount of change and activity in a business. A new business will find the real cost of web copy is in the discoveries and meetings.
These “moments-of-growth” drive additions and revisions to the copy. A new business is often overly optimistic starting with a big and growing business plan. The new services or products seem hard to contain. The business wants the website to promote it’s services to as many people as possible, especially when the new business is evolving.
Changes Tempted by Functionality
Owners can use the process of creating the website (or print materials) can help focus the business plan. The website is the moment of truth where a business owner needs to summarize their products and services. As people (contractor or employees) work on the website, new opinions are injected. These opinions sometimes challenge the business plan.
For example, the web designer and the administrative assistant see that the template allows for a store. The owner is presented with the opportunity to product-ize their services and sell the services online. In essence, this is a change to the business plan driven by web functionality. Is an online store an opportunity — or a diversion?
Time to Evolve
New businesses are going to evolve the business through the website across two dimensions of time:
- Duration of time – the start date and true end date
- Working hours – the actual hours spent on the copy
The real cost of web copy is caused because new businesses cannot accurately estimate the density of the work with stops and starts. Stopping can be good for creativity, but look like a delay and a cost to the web project.
- Business takes priority before the website is launched
- People take holidays or personal leave
- Work is stopped to change the business plan
- People join or leave the business (or website design)
Cost of Evolving a Business
Sep 2015 (Start)
. Proposed a 5-page starter site map and drafted 4 web pages
Oct 2015 (+1 month)
. Asked to hold as client needed to service a large project
Nov 2015 (+2 months)
. Office manager hired to organise web designer
Jan 2016 (+4 months)
. Office manager rewrote copy to match large October project
Feb 2016 (+5 months)
. Office manager left company, new web design contractor hired
Mar 2016 (+6 months)
. The business plan and services changed
. Reassigned to edit current copy & copy did not match current business
Apr 2016 (+7 months)
. Tense conversation with owner leading to new site map to match current business
. Took over coordination of web designer allowing business to service another large project
May 2016 (+8 months)
. Delivered fresh copy to match current business, rather than edit existing copy
. Loaded copy and images into website alongside web designer
. Site goes live (finish)
Copy as an Expense
I cannot capture all of the costs of the first version, the new staff member, and the rewriting of the final web copy. But, I can summarize the real cost of web copy. Here are the actual costs for my flat-rate (writing) and my hourly (editing and meetings) work on a real web project. The cost of editing and meetings became a bigger part of the project as it progressed.
The point of showing the time and cost of writing copy — is to set your expectation that creating the website is a time-intensive process. In the middle, I took over coordinating the web designer, the graphic artist, and the set up of the email accounts. The client was out earning revenue. In the final month, we had a flurry of (good) new content. Right before the go-live date, I set up the social media accounts and social media sharing tools.
Be prepared to increase the time to cover staff changes. Think about how you will balance time demands from paying customers and your web work. Understand that the process of creating your website and working with others will change over time.
Can a Website Go Faster?
A website can be developed faster if you have previous experience or when you are migrating an existing business. If you are in the process of a business innovation or applying novel technology to your existing business you will need time (usually several months) to explore, edit, and change.
The fastest that I’ve taken a website from start to finish is 2 weeks. The website was 10 pages for a construction company. The work was to simplify and rewrite the existing topics, add biographies for the owners and load the pages into a template. The owners were keeping the business model the same and no online functions (no stores, no databases) were needed on their website.
Start Small for Speed
I recommend starting a new website with 5 pages. Add the additional pages and functions in phases after the core site is live. The steps in taking the most basic pages live (the About, Services or Products, and Home pages) is the most conservative way to build a website.
After the main website is live, most businesses find minor edits that they want to make based on feedback from colleagues. Using the input from outsiders is easier to do before the other functions are introduced into the website. Contrast editing a few pages of text to having to edit hundreds of items in an online store after you clarify your tag line!
Agencies Don't Prevent Delays
Using an agency does not shorten the duration of time from start to finish with your web design, copy, and coding.
A business should choose to use an agency when their company is mature enough that branding (not immediate income) is the priority. In my opinion, a business needs to be ready to spend $10,000 to $15,000 to start with an agency. Agencies don’t just do websites. The website is only a small part of a good agency’s services.
An agency works your overall business identity. The real work of an agency is creating the strategy for your brand. They define and plan where your business fits in your market, and how to place your business into your market (print, web, video, ads). The agency may even recommend changes to your signage, uniforms, and interiors (really!). A proper agency has a regular team (employees and contractors) for photography, graphics, web design, ads, analytics, print, signage, video, social media, and the list goes on. Some agencies will handle public relations, too.
Working with an agency is easier after your business has matured. Similar delays will happen when working with an agency. You will get busy with a client and want to delay an expensive exercise (like video production) until your people have the time to participate. And there may be some delays due to staff changes. But more so, you and your agency will take what you discover and work it across multiple “channels” such as public relations and print.
Efficiency through Preparation
Businesses can get a faster, more useful, and cost-controlled website by limiting the size of the website.
Speaking just for the copy, start with no more than 3 products or services, a home page, an about page and a contact page. Create focus and a small scope to prevent cost blowouts. Having a small first phase saves you from solving multiple problems at once.
Accept that the process of creating the website helps evolve the business. Choose your designer, coder, and writer and trust them to do the right work. Be prepared that their estimates are usually based on a best-case scenario and not all costs can be forecasted. Work the lessons you learn from their questions and recommendations back into your business plan. For example, note the time it would take your business to train a new employee to resize photos and update the blog.
Don’t “cause costs.” Be careful not to overmanage or limit their work before the work is complete as this can cause delays (including de-motivation and resistance to future updates). Since most websites have a 3-to-5-year lifespan, find peace of mind in the opportunity to grow and change the first launch of the website in the future. Don’t fret over the first 5 pages being perfect on the first day.
Time as a Cost and a Risk
Factor your unbillable costs into your decisions. Will the time you spend writing the copy yourself or editing the website prevent you from selling and servicing clients? Look at risks. Will the delays cause the copywriter (and contractors or employees) to leave the project because they need to earn income?
Be willing to accept good-copy, even when the message doesn’t explain the details of the business. Taking the site live sooner, and smaller will save you money and get you earning money sooner. In fact, leave some of the detail out. A less-detailed site is less likely to contain fossils of old business offerings that you forgot to edit out. As your business earns money, refine and add detail to fit the services and products your customers are asking for and paying for.