My physiotherapist wants to build a website for her business. We talked about this while she dug her elbows into my forearm, persuading me to swap my mouse to my other hand.

My instant response, whenever somebody starts a conversation like this is to ask them why they want a website. At least that’s what it used to be. Apparently it’s bad business to tell people they don’t need what it is you’re selling. I held off for as long as I could. The conversation went something like this:

“How much would you charge for a basic website?”
“For a website with original graphic design using a content management system you’re looking at a minimum of a few thousand dollars. It varies depending on what functionality you want on the site.”
“OK. I called up this place that advertises on the radio. You know, ‘quick and simple websites from $495′?”
“I can’t say I’ve heard the ad.”
“Well, it got really weird. They kept calling me and now they keep emailing me. I don’t really want to use them now. They’re too much like stalkers.”

We’ve all heard about how, when something sounds like too much of a bargain to be true, it probably is. This was definitely the case with “quick and simple websites from $495″. It turned out that for $495 you could have 3 pages. Extra pages cost more money and then there were the ongoing costs of hosting, a monthly cost of licensing their CMS and who knows what other hidden costs.

Let’s go back one step. They were charging per page. I remember people charging per page back in 1997, when sites were static. In fact, charging per page implies that they’re not using a CMS. So why then are they charging for CMS licensing?

So I told her what I thought she needed. She’s a physiotherapist and her business relies on her expertise in the area. A blog about physiotherapy, new techniques, stretching the right way, and avoiding injury could really help build her profile as an expert in the area.

“But a blog is a lot of work,” I told her. “Not keeping it up-to-date can do as much damage to your reputation as maintaining the blog will improve it.”

She already works long hours and I knew she didn’t want more work. So finally I asked her what she thinks she can get from a website. I pointed out to her that her business is already at capacity. Not a single slot is left vacant all week.

It turns out that an organisation for a new technique she’s been accredited with wants to put a link to her website on their website. That’s all. In fact, that’s enough. The website could help her expand her business using this new technique.

It reminded me why I ask the question of potentially new clients. It means we’re going to build the right website for them if they actually need something built. If a client actually has a need for a new website then we can work towards that need. It helps us advise them on content, style and structure. These are all services that “quick and simple websites from $495″ won’t provide.

The problem, though, is that businesses like those that advertise web production services at prices that seem too good to be true create an expectation in the market-place. They prey on those who don’t know enough about what they’re purchasing, lock them into systems where they end up paying more over time without ever actually giving them value for money.

About Josh Kinal

Josh makes things on the web easy to use and understand. Sounds simple, but it’s not. His understanding of developing engaging content comes from many years of writing for print and radio. You might have heard him on Boxcutters, his popular weekly podcast about TV or years of appearing on Triple J, Radio National and 3RRR. He also holds a science degree and in 2012 was one of Australia’s few panelists at SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas