Why I Charge the Same for Building Websites Designed by Someone Else


As a web designer, the vast majority of my new projects are original creations. The process goes a little something like this: I create a mockup, make revisions until my client is happy, then move on to building the website (usually with WordPress).

But there are occasions where I receive a mockup from another designer, then build a custom WordPress theme to match. While this makes up a relatively small portion of my business, I generally end up building around a half-dozen sites like this each year.

From a distance, you may look at each of these scenarios and conclude that the latter would cost significantly less than the former. However, that’s not usually the case. In fact, I tend to charge around the same fee, regardless of who created the mockup.

A closer look at the challenges involved will explain why:

A Similar Investment of Time

Everyone has their own unique style and works in the way that suits them. That being said, taking someone else’s vision and making it a reality (err, virtual reality) isn’t easy. Just ask any developer who’s had to take a PSD or Sketch mockup and make a pixel-perfect recreation across browsers and devices.

This is especially challenging when the original designer isn’t a member of your organization. In these cases, there are no established procedures for, say, naming (or even ordering) PSD layers or spacing out design elements to fit within a specific layout system.

The fallout from this is that a great deal of time is spent trying make heads or tails of the document on my screen. If the designer has included notes, that can be a big help. But even then, there are still details to hunt down.

Granted, some designers are more organized than others. The more they implement things such as clear labeling or even a list of fonts, the easier the process of building the website.

Designing something on your own, however, is a smoother ride (at least, it should be). And it seems like any difference in time spent actually doing design work versus deciphering the work of others is negligible.

If the time spent is nearly equal, then the cost should reflect that fact.

Frustrated woman looking at computer screen.

More People to Please

Not only do we face the added complexity of interpreting someone else’s work, there is also an additional layer of scrutiny. In this scenario, we’re not only looking to satisfy the client, but we’re also obligated to do right by the designer, as well.

Depending upon how web-savvy the designer is (and the abilities of the developer), there could be any number of revisions and roadblocks during the build. I often run into issues such as odd positioning of elements or items that would lack compatibility with older browsers. There may also be discrepancies with regards to expected functionality and accessibility.

Even if you get past those detours, you still have a client waiting at the end of the line who has their own list of requirements. As just about any web professional who’s worked with clients can tell you, just because something was approved initially does not mean that there won’t be a big list of changes to contend with.

Working one-on-one with a client can be difficult, but you do stand a better chance of figuring out their needs. The more stakeholders who are involved, the harder it is to get them all happy and on the same page.

People gathered at a desk for a meeting.

It’s More Than Meets the Eye

The bottom line is that, even if the design you’re provided with looks nice, there could still be a number of unexpected hurdles to get over. A significant amount of time can be spent clearing each one. This directly affects the cost.

While some clients may scoff at the pricing, the process of taking someone else’s design and turning it into a fully-functional website is no less of a feat than creating your own design from scratch.

My intent is not to diminish the value of creating that design yourself – there’s immense value in doing so. It takes creativity matched with a keen understanding of best practices.

It’s just that, working with another designer’s creation takes a unique set of talents in its own right. In some ways, I’ve found it to be a more difficult task.

So, if you’re faced with a client who hands you a mockup and expects a deep discount, don’t give in. Explain the challenges involved and the time it takes to do the job right. In the end, you’ll have more than earned your money.

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