Budgeting for your CMS or Web Project

I don’t think I’ll get too many arguments if I make this statement:

Content Management Systems (CMS) are a vital tool for creating and maintaining a modern web site.

However, CMS’s vary in price from free to $100k+ and there are widely differing opinions about what a CMS should cost.  I’m probably not going to change any minds on this and I’m not terribly interested in trying.  However, I would like to better frame this conversation.

Why is your CMS so expensive?

Well, at least he is honestI work for Telerik and we have a CMS called Sitefinity.  This is a proprietary CMS that ranges in price from $499 – $7,999+.  Keep reading though.  I’m not here to sell you anything and if you think open-source is the way to go, have at it.  In the past I’ve been on both sides of the open-source debate; today I’m simply busy and only want to get work done faster (best tool for the job).

Nevertheless, I’ve had the “your software is too expensive” conversation more times than I would like.  I’ve also needed to answer people who ask “Why on earth would anyone buy a CMS?“.  Here is my best attempt at an answer…

Should a plow horse expect to be fed?

Open Source Plow HorseI know, I know…we’re a few generations removed from people with direct experience working with plow horses.  A plow horse is a beast of burden that helped farmers (prior to machines) till soil and generally be more productive.  In return, the farmer invested a small portion of their return back into the plow horse (via food).

Consider that the CMS is our modern day plow horse; it’s a tool that (hopefully) helps us produce more value from our websites.  How much value?  To answer that question you need to determine how much revenue you derive from your website.  Do you sell products?  Do you generate business leads?  Do you take donations?  Do you offer support?  All of these activities have a measurable business value that can be associated with the website.  For a given year, what is that value?

Let’s assume that number is as little as $100K.  It doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine many organizations could associate $100K+ of annual value with their websites.  It’s also reasonable to expect that some percentage of that revenue should be re-invested to evolve and maintain the website.  In other words, take a small fraction of your return and feed your plow horse.

If an organization realizes $100K of annual revenue from their website and re-invests only 6% back into their website, that becomes $6K.    Does that feel unreasonable?  We’re talking about a single-digit percentage investment to maintain a tool that  helps us be more productive.

Penny-wise & pound-foolish

Penny wise, Pound foolishIf you can accept the premise I’ve outlined above, then it simply becomes a process of discovering where you can get the most bang from your buck.  The cost of a CMS becomes negligible (even unimportant) IF it empowers you to be more productive.  By contrast, pinching pennies during CMS selection could leave you perpetually handicapped;  ultimately causing you to sacrifice lots of revenue due to missed opportunities.

Against this backdrop, I could make a case for our own CMS.  Hell, I might even be right if the use-cases we target align with your own needs.  It’s also possible that an open-source solution might be a better fit.  Either way, the price isn’t what’s important.  What’s important is choosing a CMS that helps you be productive.  In summary, choose wisely, and the CMS will pay for itself.

Update:  After writing this I realized I failed to mention the full ecosystem of implementors and analysts that exist around CMS deployments.  Everything I’ve written is equally applicable to them.  These people, through their expertise, can provide equal amounts of value for organizations wishing to maximize the returns from their website.