I need a haircut. Badly. I have this bad habit of waiting too long to get a haircut, and when I finally do I always get berated by my hairdresser for waiting too long. Yesterday I turned to everyone’s favourite nonsense distribution engine Twitter to voice my fury that my hairdresser – the only person in Canada who can make sense of my blonde viking locks – is on vacation until next Tuesday by pondering the consequences of taking matters (or in this case scissors) into my own hands to solve my mulleted predicament.

Of course anyone who has endeavoured to cut their own hair knows that unless it’s very long or very short, such an attempt usually leads to immediate toque wearing followed by a visit to a laughing hairdresser. And rightly so. Though most human beings can figure out how to use a pair of scissors, it requires skill, training, and experience to make a mane of hair look half decent.

You Get What You Pay For

Why am I talking about hair? Because every day I sit at the other end of this conversation. Only instead of hair, the topic is websites. As a web designer, developer and teacher, I encounter small and large businesses, individuals, and organizations who make valiant efforts to give their web presence a proverbial self-inflicted haircut – usually with results ranging from sub-optimal to disastrous. But though these people would likely never even consider cutting their own hair, or getting the kid down the street to cut their hair for $1.50, they are more than willing to try their hands at web design and development, or even worse, hand the task over to someone on Craigslist offering web design and SEO services at $600 per site.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to place blame on those who wade into these waters before learning how to swim. The fault lies squarely at the hands of us – the web literati. For years we have been preaching about the simplicity of the web and created applications that make it easier for the layman to create their own websites and web solutions.

I am afraid we have done you a bear’s favour.

The Age-Old Equation

Ask yourself these two key questions: How much is my time worth? And what is it I do? Depending on your line of work, your hourly wage could range from $15 to $150 per hour. What if I told you the average website, designed and built by a professional with the proper skill set and training, would take no less than 100 hours to complete and more often than not many more. And that assumes the designer and developer have all assets ready and all the necessary tools at their disposal. Tally that up and even at $15/hour you are looking at a $1500 investment. Minimum. And you’d be hard pressed to find a designer / developer worth their salt charging that hourly wage.

If you are not a web developer and you were to do this, and do it right, it would take you substantially more than 100 hours. You’d have to train yourself, read all the reference material, get the assets, the skills, the tools, the know how etc. In other words, doing it yourself will likely cost you far more than hiring a professional. And that’s assuming you do it all correctly – which I’m sad to say is very unlikely.

Web design and development, though it appears to be as easy as riding a bicycle with training wheels, is an expert profession much like legal practice, cabinet making, and yes, hairdressing. And for the same reasons, it is unwise to represent yourself in court, build your own house, or cut your own hair, it is unwise to take on the task of web design and development on your own unless you plan on becoming a web designer or developer.

The Water Sheds Both Ways

If, on the other hand, you are already or plan to become a web designer and developer, I urge you to reverse this equation. Just like I see too many individuals and companies buy sub-standard product at cheap prices because they don’t see or understand the value in web development, I also see droves of web designers and developers who are not aware of their own worth and therefore don’t charge a reasonable fee for their services. When I started out in this business, I counted among these self-flagellating underpaid masses. Because web design and development is an expert profession, and because it takes a substantial investment of time, effort, and money to get to a professional level, your fees should reflect this fact.

How much do you pay for a good haircut? If you’re a man, probably $25 – $50. If you’re a woman, easily $75 to $150. And that’s for about 1 hour of work. I’ve seen self-employed web designers and developers offering web design “packages” that basically pay them $2 or $3 per hour. That’s well below minimum wage and in no way fair to the person doing the work or the person paying for it.

On the face of it, an investment of $3000, $5000 or $10,000 may seem steep for some pixels on a screen, but once you take a peek behind the curtain and see what it takes and what happens when it’s not done properly, you’ll see it is a small price to pay.

It all boils down to a simple question: What’s it worth to you?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is an author with online video training library where he teaches web design, development and WordPress. He is also the owner and web head at Pink & Yellow Media and blogs at Design is Philosophy.