Landing a new client is one of the great joys of being a freelance designer. It means finally taking on an exciting paid project and also putting food on the table. That said, figuring out what the new project entails and just how much food will be on your table can be a frustrating mess.
Yes, I’m talking about creating cost estimates for your prospective clients. It’s a vitally important task. On one hand, you’ll want to make sure that the estimate will cover everything the client needs. On the other, you will need to protect yourself against any unforeseen challenges in the project.
So, how do you create an estimate that will satisfy all parties?
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Learn the Details
Your first task is to become more of a research scientist than web professional. This means finding out more than just a rough overview of the project. A small detail can quickly become a big deal when creating a website.
Find out as much as you can regarding what your client’s expectations are for how things should work and behave. Ask if there are any sites out there with similar functionality. They may be able to tell you what they do and don’t like about them. That can help you determine what needs to be done.
Choose a Path
Once you have as many details as possible, you can then decide on a path for the project. For example, you may determine that the site should run on WordPress or some other content management system (CMS).
From there, there may be other plugins or custom development required. And, let’s not forget about hosting requirements. Be sure to include the cost of any software or services in your estimate.
Determine a Timeline
Estimate how long the project will take and if you will be able to meet any deadlines the client has set. If you don’t believe that the client’s timeline is reasonable, explain it to them and have data to back up your claim. Most clients will want the job done right and will understand if that means adjusting the launch date to ensure quality.
The timeline is also crucial in determining the price of a project. If the client needs to have the project delivered in a very short amount of time (relative to its size and scope), then you need to charge accordingly.
If this is a particularly large project or one that requires skills you don’t quite possess, you may need to outsource specific tasks to a trusted vendor.
It is advisable to review the project with vendors to get an idea of how much they will charge for their expertise. This way you’ll be able to charge your client accordingly and avoid a situation where you end up losing money.
This may be the hardest part of creating estimates. When I talk about flexibility, we’re talking about factoring in unexpected time and technical issues into the cost of a project. After all, it’s rare that any type of web project will take exactly the amount of time that you anticipate. This is where we web professionals often lose out.
Think of your initial estimate for putting together a site/design/application as a bit of wishful thinking. Confident as you are, it’s easy to believe that implementing that jQuery script will go smoothly or that importing data from the client’s old Drupal site to WordPress will go off without a hitch.
The reality of my past experiences tells you to think differently.
That’s why building in a bit of a “buffer zone” is a good idea. The idea is not to overcharge the client (good businesspeople don’t do that) but to simply account for those extra hiccups that happen along the way. Charge for a little more time than you think you’ll need, because most likely you will need it.
If you happen to deliver the project with time to spare, you could always throw in something extra features or support to even things out.
Spell it Out
Last but not least, be sure to let the client know exactly what is and isn’t included in your estimate.
We’ve all had clients who, in the middle of a project, decide on adding new bells and whistles that can completely throw off your profit margin (not to mention your timeline).
It’s best to let them know up front that additional items like this are outside of the original scope of the project. Kindly explain that you’ll be glad to add new feature requests into the mix, but it will incur an extra cost.
The Bottom Line
There are just so many things to think of when creating estimates. It’s easy to make mistakes (I’ve made more than my share).
The key is to gather as much information as you possibly can before committing to a price. Then be honest with both the client and yourself regarding what it will take to deliver on the project. Keeping the full requirements of the project in mind will help you provide honest and accurate estimates and ensure you are getting paid exactly what your services are worth