Back when I was working for small web shops we'd quote 4-6 weeks to take a site from concept to launch.
I know that the real answer is, as always, "it depends". But I also know that we have general rules-of-thumb to fall back on. 😉
So, if a prospective client -- say a small local business -- were to ask "how long does a website take to build", what would your response be?
I will give a time estimate after having the initial fact-finding conversation that will allow me to write a proposal. But no time commitment without knowing the scope of the project.
I have built sites in a weekend, and I have done projects that took over a year because I was waiting for content. For example, I started a site in Feb 2015 and I am still waiting for the photos needed to finish it. I've been paid for the work to date, so it doesn't bother me that the site is not done. Well, it doesn't bother me MUCH.
Personally, I am always happy to discover that the client has a hard deadline (such as an upcoming presentation, or an award, or some news coverage...) because then they will be motivated to get it done. Without a deadline, it's much harder to push them.
I would say that 90% of the projects I do COULD be done in a couple of weeks, if only the clients had already done their homework, gathered materials, etc. But that's not usually the case.
I'm with @webdiva on this one. The number of hours at the keyboard means little compared to the amount of time on the phone and in email collaboration gathering images, copy etc.
I've knocked out a completely organic five page business card website in 10 straight hours of coding for a client that had been through the process several times and had everything ready in a zip file along with a .pdf from the designer and all the supporting images. I had another project that started out as one thing, pivoted and repivoted over the course of two years. A lot of that two years was just "let's live with it for a minute and see" time.
One of the biggest reasons I make estimates rather than proposals is that an idea that is taking shape often spurs creativity. With a proposal, that's scope creep. With an estimate, it's a conversation and a new deadline.
Of course there is no answer but you can usually counter that question with "When do you need your project to be completed?" As @webdiva pointed out a client with a deadline is motivated. I usually scope out based on hours in my project proposals so it makes the projects seem long but I can get a 80 hour project done in a weekend easily.
roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head