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$100 Drupal Site Series: Part 1 - Is it Possible?

In late October Gdzine posed the question "$100 CMS web site feasible? What do you think?" on LinkedIn, and the question was also posted on groups.drupal.org. These posts lead to lengthy discussion threads. Some people accused Gdzine of trolling and others claimed that it wasn't possible, but a few of us argued it was possible to build a Drupal site for $100.

Over the next week or so I'll be blogging how I would go about delivering $100 Drupal sites. $100 is in United States Dollars. I won't be providing a complete blueprint, but there should be enough information to help get you started.

I have some experience building large numbers of production sites using Drupal for a small price per site. In 2009 I built, deployed and managed 2086 sites for a European client. For most of this year I have been offering training and consulting around some of the tools and techniques this blog series will cover.

Is it Feasible?

Several companies already offer low cost Drupal site solutions. Acquia's Drupal Gardens is probably the most well known cheap Drupal site building service with its freemium model. Wedful offers a Drupal based site for couples getting married for only 95USD for the first year, then 25USD every following year including hosting. Spoon Media's Pagebuild service offers a customised Drupal platform for 30USD per month. I am sure there are others operating in the same space. wordpress.com offers a similar service using WordPress. I have no idea how financially viable these businesses are, but I think it is safe to assume that they've done some research and planning to get to this point.

These services all rely on making their money on the turnover rather than the margin. Most consultants, myself included, make our money by charging a good hourly rate, but we only get paid for the time we work. These services rely on investing up front then waiting for the long tail revenue. For example if you invest 50,000USD up front into building the service, then you have to sell 500 sites just to break even.

Target Market

In order to make these services viable, you have to target a particular market segment. Customers for a $100 site are likely to be "mum and dad" businesses, they don't have a lot of money to spend and are also unlikely to have a lot knowledge about the web. A lot of the customers are likely to think "the internet" is that blue e on their desktop or facebook. I know of several small businesses who think that Yellow Pages advertising is not giving the return on investment they want, but can't afford 1500-2000USD for a decent quality brochure site. These are the people this service should be seeking to attract.

Why Bother?

Most Drupal developers aspire to work for switched on clients who want high quality sites. Working with well known brands is always a bonus. No one is really going to be interested in hearing about how you built the site for "Joe and Jo's Diner". There is still a lot of problem solving involved in building a service like this, but these problems are very different to those found in large scale site builds. Also many of the people seeking a $100 site are likely to be high needs clients who undervalue the skills involved in building a site.

What's Next?

All posts in this series will be tagged with "100 drupal site". In my next post I will cover what I think you need in terms of infrastructure and resources to make something like this work.

I have proposed a session for DrupalCon Chicago on this topic, please consider voting for it.

Where I live, $100 would

lukus wrote:

Where I live, $100 would equal around 2 hours development work.

I'd imagine providing a site for $100 might be possible. But I don't think it's necessarily desirable, because it sets up the new site owner with unrealistic expectations about what development costs (and is worth).

A site can be a commodity item - if all sites are the same .. introduce any amount of custom work, and that amount will be (should be) exceeded by multiple factors imo.

I could be argued that providing a cheap site gets the client in the door (creating a sales conversion), but I think it creates a lot of people who will have unrealistic expectations about what they'll need to pay to further extend their sites.

I think it's better to educate your clients - tell them how much (money) is realistically needed .. and then be prepared to walk away.

Added Fri, 2010-12-24 11:34

COUGH (distros)

Jeff Eaton wrote:

This dilemma is one of the reasons that I feel the Drupal community's distro ecosystem needs to br shepherded and allowed to flourish: Drupal has evolved into a tool that can do lots of amazing things, but its complexity has also driven the cost-in-time and cost-in-knowledge much higher.

Added Fri, 2010-12-24 12:27

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?...

Jedihe wrote:

The problem you are describing is exactly the one that has had my mind busy for quite some time now; I've been trying to catch with lots of innovations in the Drupal ecosystem that could make cheap-yet-good sites possible and scalable (as a business, I mean), things like features, profiler, drush make and Aegir are definitely the kind of tools needed for the job.

You've won a subscriber to your RSS, I'll be seeing how much of my ideas on how to solve this are the same or, at least, alike to yours.

Added Fri, 2010-12-24 13:54

Drupal might be overkill for

tomosaigon wrote:

Drupal might be overkill for a majority of the mom-and-pop static brochure sites, but maybe there are niches which require some basic common features. The wedding niche is a good example.

Added Fri, 2010-12-24 18:21

COUGH (distros) +1

Guy Saban wrote:

I second Jeff Eaton. Drupal needs a flourishing distro ecosystem. Programmers use design patterns to get work done efficiently. Similarly Drupal needs Distro's that are targeted to known a very popular website functionality/configurations that can be modified slightly to a customized need.

All the best.

Added Fri, 2010-12-24 21:41

$100 site is easy

Peter wrote:

Doing a $100 site is really not all the difficult. Use Aegir, your own install profile, and pre-built themes and your good to go.

But I would never do one for that. I would say that almost ANY mom and pop shop can afford to pay $300 for a site, so don't sell for less than that.

The only reason I would do a $100 site, is if I got them to do some marketing with us also. Thats where the money is anyways, web development for me is mostly just a gateway to getting them some real business. A website alone does nothing for a business after-all.

Added Tue, 2010-12-28 02:10

Poor concept

Drupal Developer wrote:

Building $100 individual Drupal sites is probably the worst business plan a developer could take on.

The whole premise of this series is seriously flawed. Time is money and Drupal development work is worth $100+ per hour in the U.S. market. Can you build a website and train a client in under one hour? Please consider renaming these horribly misleading posts.

Every website I have built is a major undertaking. I've built basic brochure Drupal sites for family and I've always had to deal with hosting, DNS, email, Drupal training, adding extra features, learning new modules, bug fixes, more training, more tweaks, etc.

Added Tue, 2010-12-28 08:33


Anderson Vargas wrote:


Added Tue, 2011-01-04 08:19

Only problem I see is the customer (unfortunately)

KFagan wrote:

Most of my paid development work has been in the area of small companies looking to get on the web/improve outdated sites that just didn't function. I love the idea, especially because I often do small updates for free which keeps them around and telling others who need work, but I've started to work out what it would cost to do the conversion of some to Drupal. With installation profiles, running multiple sites from one drupal core and shared modules, themes & DB if hosting these sites its just a matter of making customers understand what they gain by going this route instead of using a large company like 1 and 1 using their website builder.

There are huge advantages though including so many different being able to create setups for any industry of business type, not just editing static pages from the web but using a true content management system AND most of all for those customers that understand they may need this one day Drupal is not a proprietary system so they can take their files and db elsewhere if required.

My business model would be to initially invest heavy in time/personnel resources dedicated to developing a work flow to get the correct installation profile and design into each customers hands and time/money invested in a marketing campaign that has a proven track record pitching tech to the target audience (probably the people who do ads for "go to my pc" or something similar that drives IT admins crazy. When you add in the residual income possible for hosting the sites it can be lucrative (which you pretty much have to offer based on the idea of what it takes to explain how to get a hosting company and all the work afterwords). Could even pair up with a larger company to work with their hosting, get some kind of affiliate deal and avoid an even larger invested in the beginning

Added Wed, 2011-01-05 09:02

Most of the commenters here are idiots

f0ru0l0rd wrote:

The problem that I am hearing from all of these people isn't IF it can be done, but that they don't WANT it to be done. Heck, I can make a million for FREE if I really wanted to. That's not the point. You all WANT to be paid. But it is a free market. If I want to charge 2 cents an hour, I CAN. So is it do-able? YES. Do you like it? No. Is it beneficial or helpful, no. BUT it can be done. In essence: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK!


Added Sat, 2011-12-10 05:58