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The Impossible Question: How Long Does It Take to Build a Website?

Web designers get asked all sorts of questions. We’re queried for advice on aesthetics, marketing, technology – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being an endless fountain of knowledge is just part of the job. 😉

Our answers tend to come from experience (or a quick search). Yet, there is one question that seems nearly impossible to answer. It has confounded even veteran freelance designers who dare to take it on: “How long will it take to build my website?

It’s a perfectly reasonable question. One that should be simple enough to answer. At the same time, it’s loaded with uncertainty.

So much of the design and build processes are up in the air. Therefore, you might even hesitate to provide a guess as to the completion date. Unfortunately, that often clashes with a client’s need to nail down the specifics.

Today, we’ll look at the factors that can impact your project’s launch date. In addition, we’ll provide some tips for determining its length more accurately. Let’s get to work!

The Size and Scope of the Website

It stands to reason that, the larger the project, the more time it will take to complete. And there’s certainly some truth to that theory.

Both the sheer size and scope of a website can greatly impact the timeline. For example, building a site with a massive amount of content could require an equally large amount of work. Even a redesign of a content-heavy site might need a lot of massaging to get just right.

The same goes for functionality. As efficient as features like shopping carts are, they often need at least some level of customization. And if you need to build things from scratch, the time the trial-and-error process takes can be difficult to predict. There tends to be at least some uncertainty when it comes to coding.

The other part of the equation comes down to the available human resources. If you’re working as a solo freelancer, a large project can be a burden. Especially so if you are juggling multiple duties at once.

A website mockup drawing.

Availability of Content and Project Assets

Getting a website up and running is a two-way street. After all, designers and developers can only accomplish so much without a client’s active participation.

One of the major sticking points here tends to be content and other project assets. With some clients, waiting for these items to arrive can be the longest part of the process. It can be frustrating, as the situation can place an indefinite hold on progress.

There are several potential reasons for this type of delay. Sometimes, it’s a matter of an overwhelmed person with many other priorities. That leads them to seemingly disappear – just when it’s time to put the project to bed.

In other instances, it could be a lack of clear direction within the client’s organization. Design politics can lead to a vicious cycle where ideas are continuously debated and tossed aside.

Color swatches.

The Synergy between Client and Designer

There’s something to be said about the relationship between clients and designers. A bad one will undoubtedly lead to an endless stream of revisions and misunderstandings. Yet, a good one can keep a project on the fast track to successful completion.

Developing a solid rapport is important. The ability for both sides to effectively communicate needs and ideas is a key to getting things done.

For example, setting clear expectations makes the job that much easier. When your client knows and understands what you need from them, they are more likely to deliver. Conversely, it’s also great to know what clients expect from us as well.

Being on the same page (or not) with clients has a lot to do with how much time it takes to complete a project. The more synergy you have, the greater the odds of an efficient process. Just something to keep in mind.

Two people looking at a computer screen.

Your Other Commitments

For better or worse, none of us lives in a project bubble. Thus, it’s likely you have more than one website to focus on. This can be a major challenge when it comes to providing an accurate project timeline.

It’s not just a matter of having additional work to do. The other items we mentioned are relevant to all projects. Therefore, you might face a lot of uncertainty with regards to checking each website off of your to-do list.

One typical scenario: you’re waiting for a few clients to send you those missing project assets. And, of course, they all arrive at the same time. This leaves you scrambling to make progress on multiple fronts.

You’re either waiting for work or swamped with it. Sound familiar? Welcome to the rollercoaster that is freelancing!

A messy desk.

Providing a More Accurate Project Timeline

With so many factors at play, it’s no wonder that the simplest question seems impossible to answer. The problem is that difficult as it may be, a fairly accurate answer is still a requirement.

The best way to arrive at an answer is through establishing a great line of communication – right from the very beginning. It starts by taking time to find out all you can about a client’s needs and wants. Try to uncover as much as possible now to avoid surprises later. Spell it all out in your proposal.

Clients also have to be aware of your needs and wants, as well. For instance, they need to know how important their role is in supplying project assets such as content. A severe delay in getting you those items can mean missing a targeted launch date.

There can still be unexpected roadblocks, and that will usually be the case. But there’s a chance to minimize them through early communication.

The next time you’re asked that oh-so-important question, bring up the factors mentioned above. Together, you’ll be able to come up with a solid answer.