Providing an estimate or proposal for a website can be rather daunting. How do you avoid over-estimating and scaring away your client? Or, under-estimating and having to eat your profits? What information do you provide and what do you leave out?
This post covers what I have found to be most effective for building the ever so daunting web design and/or development “project estimate”.
Set yourself up for success
It helps to have as much information about the project as possible – which can seem like pulling teeth. However, both you and your client want as few surprises as possible through a project, and this will help. Asking the right questions before starting an estimate can reveal some important truths. You might find out that you and the client aren’t on the same page with the services you provide. Maybe the client has no idea what they want! Or, maybe you’re a great fit and this is going to be a fun project.
Use the right tools
First and foremost, use a spreadsheet. I use Google Sheets because I prefer to keep my information organized, calculate totals and share it with co-workers and/or the client with live editing capabilities. Also, I’m a sucker for lists, organization and working smart.
Break it down
Using your spreadsheet, break down the site by page and section. In my Google Sheet, I like to create the following columns: “Page”, “Section”, “Time Estimate” and “Notes” (optional). Let’s say you are planning to design or develop a site with a “Home” page, and 5 sub-pages. In the first column (Page), type “Home”, in the “Section” column, list out every section that will be on the Home page (i.e. feature area, intro, testimonials, etc.) and in the next column, assign each section a “time estimate”. Next, list out all sections on the first sub-page and so on and so-forth until you’ve covered every aspect of the site.
Breaking down each piece of each page allows you to provide a much more realistic and accurate estimate as opposed to trying to estimate the site as a whole. Don’t forget the global sections such as Navigation and Footer along with the time it will take you for testing and client edits (if you allow any).
Everyone works differently, but this is my approach and what I have found that works best for me. In my experience, clients appreciate seeing where an estimate comes from instead of thinking you just pulled a number out of thin air. Your estimate might seem outrageous if they don’t get to see where it all comes from. Some may disagree with this method and argue that you should play your cards close to your chest. Depending on the circumstances, that may be the way to go. As a general rule of thumb, if you are building an estimate and you haven’t been hired yet, be sure to protect your ideas! You have to find a balance between showing them why they should hire you while still protecting your intellectual property.