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 is all about and how much food will be on your table can be a frustrating mess.
Yes, I’m talking about creating cost estimates for your potential clients. It is a very important task. On one hand, you’ll want to make sure the estimate covers everything the client needs. On the other hand, you will have to protect yourself against any unexpected challenges in the project.
So how do you book clients without putting yourself at risk? Here are some tips for creating manageable web project cost estimates.
Learn the Details and Choose a Path
Your first task is to be an enthusiastic researcher. This means finding out more than a rough overview of the project. That’s because a small detail can quickly become a big part when creating a website.
Find out as much as you can about what your clients’ expectations are of how things should work and look. Ask if any such websites are interested. Hopefully they will be able to tell you what they do and don’t like about them. That can help you decide what needs to be done.
Once you have as much data as possible, you can decide on a path for the project. For example, you may conclude that the site should be running on WordPress or another content management system (CMS).
From there, other plugins or custom development may be required. And, let’s not forget about hosting requirements. Make sure your estimate includes the cost of any software or services you will be billing for.
Set a Timeline
Next, it’s time to estimate how long the project will take and whether you’ll be able to meet any deadlines set by the client. If you don’t believe the client’s timeline is reasonable, do your best to explain why. Most clients want the job done right and will understand if that means adjusting the shipping date to ensure quality.
The timeline is also critical in determining the price of a project. If the client needs to deliver the project in a very short amount of time (compared to its size and scope), then you need to charge accordingly.
It is also worth noting that deadlines change as a project progresses. For example, some clients may find it difficult to put content together when they realize the amount of work involved. This may lead to delays in getting things done.
Estimates should not ignore this possibility. One way to acknowledge this is to mandate that all project assets to be supplied to a client must be delivered within a certain timeline to meet any agreed launch date.
Consider a Third Party Role
If this is a very large project or one that requires skills that you don’t have, you may need to outsource specific tasks to a third-party contractor.
Take time to review the project with any contractors to get an idea of what they will charge for their expertise. This way you will be able to charge your client an accurate fee and avoid a situation where you lose money.
The timeline is also a factor here. You will want to ensure that all parties can complete their tasks within the specified dates. Otherwise, you and your client could be left waiting for that final piece to be implemented.
Build Flexibility into Your Terms
This is perhaps the hardest part of creating estimates. Flexibility is about factoring in the cost of a project for those unexpected time and technical issues. After all, a web project rarely takes exactly the amount of time you expect. This is where web professionals often miss out.
Think of your initial estimate as a bit of wishful thinking. You might think that implementing a new feature will go smoothly or that data will migrate from an old Drupal client site to WordPress with ease. In reality, things don’t always work out like this.
That’s why it’s worth building in a lot of “buffer zones”. The idea is not to overcharge the client but to try to anticipate the little hiccups that will happen along the way. Charge for a little more time than you think you’ll probably need will need it
If you happen to deliver the project with spare time, you could always throw in something extra to get things done.
Be Detailed in What’s Included
Last but not least, be sure to let the client know exactly what is and is not included in your estimate.
We’ve all had clients who, during a project, decide to add new bells and whistles. That can completely eat away at your profit margin (not to mention your schedule).
Estimates of this kind of scope should nip scope creep in the bud. Kindly explain that you will be happy to add new feature requests to the mix. However, it will incur additional cost and take more time.
Projects often evolve after the initial work begins – and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean it should be taken advantage of. Set the ground rules early so clients understand how any additional work will be handled.
The Bottom Line
There are so many things to think about when creating estimates. It is easy to make mistakes. I’ve done more than my fair share over the years.
The key is to gather as much information as possible before committing to a price. Then be honest with the client and yourself about what will be delivered.
Keeping the overall requirements of the project in mind will help you provide honest and accurate estimates. The result is that you are getting paid exactly what your services are worth.