Paysite Power: What's the Bottom Line to Build a Site?

There’s rarely any shortage of ideas.

I once had a brilliant one sure to make millions; the result of being bitched at 500 times for leaving the bathroom sink a mess — a disposable shaving splash guard. A prototype made out of a trash bag quickly proved that putting it on and disposing of it took more time than wiping the sink. Now I spend approximately five seconds wiping the sink. Problem solved.

To give you a fair metric, with my level of experience as site builder, if I was working full time all by myself it would take me somewhere between two to three months working 40 hour weeks dedicated to building a site with 200-300 updates to result in a site on par with the best performing online.

I gave up long before the execution stage. Not all things are so simple. When it comes to paysites, every one fulfills a need. Fetish sites, niche sites, bizarre sites, pop culture based sites and interactive sites are the current rage, and we’re seeing an upswing in the industry that’s positively affecting new site building in a major way. Few people struggle with ideas; they struggle with execution.

Once you have a bunch of great content, then what? Two of the most common questions I’m asked are how much does it cost and how long does it take to build a paysite?

That depends on what kind of site you want to build, how big your team is and how fast you work.

Most site ventures I see are DIY projects run by one person or with a partner be it a formal partner, a friend or a spouse and most projects lack the luxury of a massive team of people or a large budget.

How much it costs varies, but not as widely as how long it takes.

It would be nice if there was a concrete answer. Asking how much it costs is like calling a realtor and asking how much a house costs or walking into a car dealership and asking how much a car costs. It all depends on what you’re looking for and web sites are no different.

So … How Much Does It Cost?

The biggest cost factor is content. Beyond that, the main barrier to entry aside from time and know-how is the high risk fee required by Visa and MasterCard totaling $1,000. Outside of that, the truth is that I’ve seen many people start rock-solid paysites for well under $500 up front. Most people, however, overlook the value of time. You don’t always need to spend a lot of money but for a quality site you always need to put in a good amount of time and as the age-old expression says, “time is money.”

The better question to ponder is, “What’s your budget?” Similar to a car or home buyer, a site owner/builder dictates a lot of the cost based on what they want and what they can afford.

Coming up with a budget is fairly easy. Stay by figuring out how much you can comfortably spend up front as well as monthly over the first 6-12 months assuming it takes that long to see a return (return meaning profit, not just breaking even each month). The less you can do yourself, the more you’ll need to spend for services. If you can afford to spend (and risk) $10,000 up front and spend $500/month you can afford to do a lot less and have others do a lot more.

With the exception of a couple vendors I recommend for things like social media or SEO who are very hands on and are more costly due to a heavier time investment, most can work to accommodate any reasonable budget. In the case of things like hosting and design, most of the larger, more reputable providers have services that allow someone to grow into larger packages as they grow.

We’ve made a push over the last couple years with Elevated X as well to create starter options someone can use for a while and seamlessly upgrade to pro-level solutions to coincide with similar moves being made by complementary adult vendors like hosts and designers.

Where Do The Site Building Costs Come From?

1) Website software

Content management system (CMS) software is the framework of the site and can simply control the content and automate building of the pages or go well beyond that and provide streaming video capability, functionality like search, interaction, free or limited trial areas, social media, mobile optimized versions and more. Costs vary widely from next to nothing for something you’ll soon outgrow to a couple hundred per month for a high-level solution. People often complain about the cost but overall this is one of the cheaper components, especially considering the time saving automation tools and money making features some systems deliver.

2) Website hosting

Web hosting can range from virtual hosting plans to dedicated servers and content delivery networks (CDN) and price can easily range hundreds per month. How much drive space is needed for content storage to start and how quickly will that be outgrown will determine starting costs. Virtual hosting starts for as little as a few dollars per month for a small amount of space and dedicated fully managed servers from good sources start around $100 a month. Hosting is often one of the biggest operating costs as a site grows.

3) Design

This can be one of the greatest areas of spending but doesn’t always need to be. Determine whether the site needs a purely custom design or if replacing an existing CMS template with a customized theme will suffice. Doing the latter will mean the difference between a couple hundred or up to a few thousand dollars in cost.

4) Affiliate software

Most new sites can rely on a billing company provided program like that offered by CCBill and forego the expense of a separate dedicated affiliate system software program like NATS. If not, the monthly cost can start at $150 per month plus a setup fee — not including any work involved for customized setup or management.

5) Security software

Some CMS systems have a basic security layer built-in but many site owners opt for something more robust in the form of a site security script like ProxyPass, which runs $50 per month.

What’s The Best Way To Control Spending?

I’m in favor of a conservative approach to site building anytime budget becomes an issue. There’s nothing wrong with starting a site with a simple design and using a cheap hosting source like GoDaddy and upgrading once the venture proves fruitful.

Some things are easy to change. Hosting and billing are often easier to change than a CMS program or a design that will require heavy development coding to re-implement with another CMS.

When evaluating, look for options you can grow into. If you can use a CMS vendor who offers a startup version with a seamless upgrade path, it’s safer than choosing a basic one and expecting to morph it to fit your needs as you grow. It’s also safer to go with a Web host who offers smaller packages but with an easy upgrade path to dedicated servers and things like content delivery networks (CDN) should you need it down the road.

Conversely, if money is no object, let it rip and get the best of everything right from the start.

If you’re like most people, you’re looking for middle ground. This means starting with virtual hosting, having a reliable designer create a nice header graphic and a simple but elegant color and style theme instead of a custom design and starting with one biller and using their provided affiliate setup. It also means doing most of the work yourself.

If you can afford to, it’s helpful to consult a copy specialist and a social media expert and pay a reasonable fee for an hour of advice and suggestions you can do yourself and then add your content and do all the data-entry yourself. Upgrading designs and hiring SEO and social media professionals later when you can justify the spending is a great long term plan. This keeps you in the realm of $500 (minus high risk fees) with the end result being a site capable of closing sales.

So … How Long Does It Take?

Opinions on this differ based on who you talk to. You may see CMS vendor or designers’ sites that promise you’ll have a site online in a couple of days. The sites they showcase usually look like they were built in a couple of days.

To give you a fair metric, with my level of experience as site builder, if I was working full time all by myself it would take me somewhere between two to three months working 40 hour weeks dedicated to building a site with 200-300 updates to result in a site on par with the best performing online. This is without cutting corners, selecting images carefully, writing thoughtful sales copy, update titles, descriptions, taking SEO into account, and so on.

The word “solid” is subjective but I rarely see a solid looking site built on Elevated X or any platform in less than one to two months and often several months is a more reasonable time frame depending on how much content a site has.

If you need site building tips or referrals to qualified adult industry professionals who can help you get started on a budget, don’t hesitate to reach out to me anytime at aj@elevatedx. com.

AJ Hall is a 15-year adult industry veteran and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and written for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won the 2012, 2014 and 2015 XBIZ Award for Software Company of the Year.