I'm a freelance web developer in the evenings and my framework of choice is Wordpress.org. Wordpress and its community plugins are updated frequently. Wordpress is also a highly targeted framework for hackers since it powers so many sites. I'm sure this question could be applied to other frameworks as well like Drupal, Joomla, etc.

What I'm wondering is what other web developers charge monthly to maintain their websites. By maintain I mean, keep plugins and core up to date, and run backups on theme files and the database. For those that do this, what is a reasonable rate to charge for this kind of monthly upkeep?

My clients are mostly small businesses (such as local restaurants, bars, farms, etc)

  • 1
    Who and where are your clients? Narrowing down your market will likely get your more useful answers. – JRobert Sep 23 '13 at 21:02
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Okay, after reading all the answers and comments here, I would like to add a few additional points to my answer.

First off, as freelancers we normally trade our time for money. So it seems natural to base the price of a monthly service off of how much time it takes us to do it. And that might be fine if you're just getting started, but like Joe (OP) said, how should you charge for something that took you time to setup, but doesn't take any time to continue running, like a cron job?

I think the answer (as hinted at in the comments of some of the other answers), is to look at the value you're providing. Or another way of looking at it: what does the client miss out on if they don't buy your service?

  • Their site could go down for 24 hours? A week? Forever?
  • Total data loss/have to start over from scratch
  • Missing out on sales and leads
  • Taking time out of their busy schedules to futz around with WordPress

There are plenty more, that's just scratching the surface.

What's not on the list? "Joe must be at his keyboard at least x hours per month"

They could care less about the mechanism of how the benefits are delivered, all that matters is whether they get the benefits.

Okay so what should you charge? That depends on two factors:

  1. Your absolute minimum should be based on how much time you think it will take you per month.
  2. Beyond that, think about how much value your clients are getting from their website in the first place, and what kind of price they would tolerate. For example, a local quilting club website probably wouldn't pay much, while a t-shirt printing company that primarily sells product through their website would pay quite a bit to make sure their business remained open and profitable.

What I charge and offer in my maintenance service: $150/month for the following:

  • Smart updates...the whole backup, test, launch (or restore) routine
  • Malware monitoring, protection, and cleanup
  • Uptime monitoring
  • Daily offsite backups

I chose $150/month because I figured maybe once per year each client would need some extra attention to resolve a plugin conflict, crash, or something similar. So the months where everything went smoothly would help subsidize the one problem per year, and they don't get stuck with a $1000 repair bill.

The last 3 components of my service are mostly automated, but help to round it out and make it look more enticing.

  • Hi Chris, welcome to Freelancing.SE! I removed the first link, as it was too "spammy" for the SE network. I also read your blog post, and it has some good information. Can you incorporate that information into your answer? It makes the answer stand out more, and gives more information to the reader. You can still link to your blog as the "original source" though and get traffic. – Canadian Luke May 7 '14 at 20:36
  • No problem. It wasn't my intention to be spammy ;) – Chris Fletcher May 8 '14 at 11:16
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    The in-depth blog post link no longer seems to be valid. It would be great to get that updated. – Jahmic Jan 12 '17 at 7:27

The most experienced web developers will sell you a fixed-price package where they will list what you get for a certain value. They have a lot of experience and they can go with a fixed price without being risk of loss.

But even then, that calculated price is usually based on estimated work hours spent on the tasks listed in the offer. So hourly price is always the basis, and you should start with it.

Since you have some experience, track how much time you need for frequent tasks and you will have your price in a minute.

Determining hourly price is a different story and there are multiple approaches to it.

  • While it is true there are many ways to calculate the price per hour, we also have other questions relating to how to calculate that price that may be of interest – Canadian Luke Sep 24 '13 at 14:37
  • You are right. I thought of recommending him to read other questions but since he's new here, I thought I could give him a summed answer. – Peter MV Sep 24 '13 at 17:58
  • I know, but gotta advertise them, right? :o) – Canadian Luke Sep 24 '13 at 18:18
  • Your answer makes sense but hourly isn't really a good way to measure the value for part of what I'm offering. I'm essentially offering 2 things (updates and backups). I could use your hourly advice for updates, but for the monthly backups of the site/database its a cron job (scheduled server task) which, other than the time I spent writing the script, doesn't take me any time. I still believe it has value though and I'm not sure how to charge for it. – Joe Fitzsimmons Sep 25 '13 at 18:43
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    I would ask how much value does your service provide? Just because you wrote the cron job once doesn't mean there is no value offered to the client. Your script saves you and your client time by performing tasks that may have required manual intervention previously. So, determine your value and then have that talk with the client. You will find out if they think there is value when they agree to pay (or don't) for your maintenance package. – Brad Ullery Sep 25 '13 at 20:24

I'm a strong proponent of hourly billing, as that's what I'm selling (my time).

In your case, adding a retainer may be a good way to keep your clients comfortable with the arrangement (getting generally the same bill each month), while protecting against a major time loss for you.

Take what you think you'll spend (or have found already that you spend) per site to do this maintenance each month. Maybe it's generally an hour, or maybe it's ten. Package that time as a maintenance retainer - with the hours included. If you ever go over those hours, you start billing hourly.

To the client, you're saying that to monitor the status of their site, apply patches, etc - they need to buy a minimum of hours monthly.

If it only takes an hour - you may want to make that retainer for two, if it's not worth the trouble just for an hour a month. If it takes ten, then maybe you want to adjust to retainer fee so the rate is a little less than your normal hourly - as they're constantly buying a chunk of time every month, and some months may not use it all.

[Note: While I don't maintain sites like this, I have some long time clients where I still manage their networks. It's a similar situation, and this is the approach I use.]

  • Most clients would not accept retainer contractor for site maintenance. Most of them prefer fixed prices as they somehow think the maintenance price should be fixed one. That is why I suggested him to calculate time spent on most usual tasks, and propose a fixed price. – Peter MV Sep 24 '13 at 17:59
  • @PeterMV Most doesn't mean all - and the benefit of being a freelancer is I get to try and attract the clients that do understand the value I provide. Most clients wouldn't pay my rate either - but I don't want to work for most clients, I want to work for the clients that value my product. And the retainer (with included hours as I explained) is essentially fixed, just with protection when there's significant maintenance. Or - to look at it differently - makes it easy to let the client have you do more than just maintenance. – Tim Lytle Sep 24 '13 at 18:40
  • You're absolutely right but not many people can afford to work only with those who can afford them. Especially if you start working. Also being retained for X number of work hours is not same as telling the client "I will do it for $$$". IMHO. – Peter MV Sep 24 '13 at 19:23
  • Consider something like a scheduled server task for backing up data. That doesn't take any of my hours to complete but has significant value. How would you charge for that using your retainer? – Joe Fitzsimmons Sep 25 '13 at 18:46
  • @JoeFitzsimmons If it's the kind of retainer I describe (basically a monthly minimum of hours, then hourly billing starts in the rare case it exceeds that), it only matters if the time included is exceeded (if it's automated, it won't). – Tim Lytle Sep 26 '13 at 1:58

It depends on the client.

I charge most clients an hourly rate for this type of work. It often takes a few months before a whole hour is accumulated for a particular website and client. I have an arrangement with clients that anything less than an hour is held over to the next month as it's not worth raising an invoice for less than an hour.

A new client recently put me on a retainer for an hour a month to do this type of work for them as this helps them budget appropriately for this type of work.

When sensible precautions are taken (e.g. see https://stackoverflow.com/a/19139389/1983389), Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal etc are generally quite secure systems and you could charge a monthly fee to guarantee the security of the website. This could include restoring the website as part of the service if it becomes compromised. This gives clients peace of mind and is a service worth paying for.

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