I’ve stumbled upon a lot of upsetting Twitter conversations lately. I know these people aren’t TRYING to be upsetting, but it has that effect on designers and developers who make a living from their business.
Some people think you should only pay $50 for a custom blog design.
Before I dig into this, let me clarify one thing, when I say custom blog design I mean it.
- I don’t mean custom graphics installed on the Twenty Fifteen theme.
- I don’t mean a pre-made child theme that has a custom header banner.
- I don’t mean tweaking some CSS on an existing theme.
I mean a completely unique design built on 100% custom code.
With that out of the way…
Are designers overcharging for their services?
Those Twitter conversations I was talking about—they were people claiming that designers overcharge. They laughed at the several-hundred-dollar price tags (never mind the ones in the thousands) and said designers should only be charging $50. They said designer prices were too expensive and inflated, and people shouldn’t be paying a lot of money.
Let’s think about that for a minute…
Complete blog designs (design + code) take anywhere from 5-20 hours to complete, and that often spans over 1-6 weeks depending on back and forth emails and response times. For the sake of this discussion, let’s just say a design takes 10 hours on average.
Now, someone can go to work at McDonald’s for 10 hours and get paid minimum wage. In California, that means they’d earn $90.
And yet, a DESIGNER is expected to spend 10 hours creating a 100% custom theme and only get paid $50? That’s $5 per hour! Let’s say their expenses are $1,000 per month (which is honestly quite low), they’d have to do over 20 full blog designs per month in order to just pay their bills! And once you factor in taxes, they’re actually not making enough to even do that…
Making a WordPress theme is HARD.
Anyone can flip a burger (barring people with disabilities, etc.), that’s why you usually get paid minimum wage for doing it. Not everyone can be a designer/developer.
Being designer takes a combination of talent and learned skill. It takes a lot of experience, an eye for detail, a good sense of typography and spacing.. and so much more!
The less you pay, the more corners get cut.
Like with most things, you get what you pay for.
I’ve seen a lot of custom WordPress themes that don’t abide by even the most basic WordPress coding standards. My guess, these themes are the ones being sold for $50. It’s not necessarily that these developers are cutting corners on purpose (though that may sometimes be the case). I think more often than not it comes down to a lack of experience.
The less you pay, the more likely you’re hiring someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. They don’t complete a project with confidence; they just hack bits and pieces together until it seems to work.
“Why don’t my widgets look right?”
This is a really common one. People often fill out a support ticket on my site complaining that their Ultimate Book Blogger widgets don’t look like the demo site. Their images aren’t being resized properly!
Guess what the problem is.
In this instance, the theme isn’t coding their widgets properly. They don’t include the widget class name when registering the widget area (this is in the
'before_widget' parameter. By not including this, plugins cannot style their own sidebar widgets at all, so any custom CSS being included by that plugin won’t work.
“Why is it so hard to read on my phone?”
If you’re paying $50 for a custom theme, odds are it’s not going to be responsive. Responsive design is more important than ever now, and not just because of people reading on mobiles. Even Google is taking responsiveness into account when ranking websites.
“Does this come with SEO?”
When I code my themes, I do so with SEO in mind. I make sure to use
<h1> tags in the right places,
<article> tags in other places, and even integrate Schema.org markup when necessary. All of these things help optimize your site for search engines, and thus help you rank better.
The less you pay, the more corners will be cut. Your developer could be skipping this step entirely if they’re only getting paid pennies. I mean, for a $50 theme, why even bother? Especially if they think their client won’t even notice the difference.
“How do I change something?”
Even if you’re not a coder, there may come a time when you want to edit or change something in your theme. Maybe you want to tweak the CSS, which is usually easy enough because at least you can override styles with
!important. But what if you want to edit a template? How do you know which bit of code does what?
A good developer will document all of his/her code. They’ll use comments to describe what a file is, what a function is doing, and generally just what’s going on in the code.
But most of those cheap developers don’t do this for a few reasons:
- Commenting takes time, and since they’re only being paid $50, why bother?
- They don’t actually know what most of those things are doing! They may know that they need to use the
wp_head()function, but they don’t know why, so they can’t leave comments.
- They didn’t write most of the code themselves, so they don’t even know what it’s doing. The copied bits and pieces from tutorials and templates, but they don’t fully understand them.
Different prices for different values.
If you’re paying $50 for custom work, you should expect to hire someone inexperienced. And if you are a hobbyist, you might be okay with that. But you should anticipate a lower quality of work. You’re hiring someone who’s “just learning” or “just doing this for fun” or “doesn’t have much experience”.
If you’re paying hundreds of dollars for custom work, you should expect to hire an expert. You’re hiring someone who “has a lot of experience” or “has been around the block” or “knows exactly what they’re doing” or “is an expert in the field”.
These are two completely different price points for two different levels of services.
It’s not fair to say that designers and developers are overcharging or “inflating their value”. Any time someone is doing something that you can’t (or don’t want to) do, it’s valuable. And with more experience comes even more value.
“But there NEEDS to be an affordable option!”
One of the biggest arguments I’ve seen is that hobbyists can’t afford to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on custom work, so there “needs” to be an affordable option to accommodate them. Well, I agree, but I think that’s what pre-made themes are for.
This isn’t something we’re entitled to.
We shouldn’t feel ENTITLED to custom work. I’d love to build my own house, but it takes a lot of money, so that’s not in the cards for me. I know that building your own house (or even just owning a house) is a luxury that not everyone gets. It’s something that you earn because you save up for it. A LOT.
Custom themes are the same way. There doesn’t NEED to be an affordable custom theme option just because you can’t afford it or don’t want to spend $900 on it. The designer shouldn’t be put in a position where he/she can’t pay their bills, just so you can have more money left at the end of the month to pay yours.
Doing custom work for ANYTHING takes time, effort, and expertise. And if you have 10 years of experience doing ANYTHING, you shouldn’t be getting paid minimum wage.
You can pay for someone to “learn as they go” or you can pay for someone who already knows what they’re doing.
The average hourly wage for a designer/developer seems to be between $50 and $200 based on my research. So if you want a theme that someone spent an hour putting together, go ahead and pay $50 for it. Just know what you’re getting. Know that the person has less experience. Know that they may be a teenager doing this in their free time.
It’s true that everyone has to start somewhere and there is a learning process. That’s why it’s okay that there are teenage designers or people who are just starting out. It just means that their design skills may not be as refined, and their code may not always work properly.
Just because someone charges hundreds or thousands of dollars doesn’t mean they’re inflating their value. It means that they have a lot of experience and they’re going to do their job REALLY well.
How can a cheap design cost you more money?
My post is largely focused on the development side of making a theme, because that’s mostly what I do these days. But my designer friend Anna Moore has a fantastic post on her blog today detailing exactly how a $50 website costs more than a $900 website.