How to Create Manageable Web Project Cost Estimates

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 book clients without putting yourself at risk? Here are a few tips for creating manageable web project cost estimates.

Learn the Details and Choose a Path

Your first task is to become an avid researcher. This means finding out more than just a rough overview of the project. That’s because 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 look. Ask if any similar websites interest them. Hopefully, they can tell you what they do and don’t like about them. That can help you determine what needs to be done.

Once you have as many details as possible, you can then decide on a path for the project. For example, you may conclude that the site should run on WordPress or another 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 that you’ll bill for in your estimate.

Ask plenty of questions to learn the project requirements.

Determine a Timeline

Next, it’s time to 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, do your best to explain why. Most clients 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.

It’s also worth noting that deadlines tend to change as a project moves forward. For example, some clients may struggle to put content together once they realize how much work is involved. This can lead to delays in getting things done.

Estimates shouldn’t ignore this possibility. One way to acknowledge this is to stipulate that all client-provided project assets need to be provided within a certain timeline to meet any agreed-upon launch date.

A project's timeline should factor into pricing.

Consider the Role of Third Parties

If this is a particularly large project or one that requires skills you don’t possess, 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 how much they will charge for their expertise. This way you’ll be able to accurately charge your client and avoid a situation where you end up losing money.

The timeline is also a factor here. You’ll want to make sure 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 put into place.

Build Flexibility into Your Terms

This may be the hardest part of creating estimates. Flexibility is all about factoring in those unexpected time and technical issues into the cost of a project. After all, it’s rare that a web project will take exactly the amount of time that you anticipate. This is where web professionals often lose out.

Think of your initial estimate as a bit of wishful thinking. You may believe that implementing a new feature will go smoothly or that migrating data from a client’s old Drupal site to WordPress will go off without a hitch. In reality, things don’t always work out this way.

That’s why building in a bit of a “buffer zone” is a worthwhile. The idea is not to overcharge the client but to try and anticipate those little hiccups that happen along the way. Charge for a little more time than you think you’ll need because you most likely will need it.

If you happen to deliver the project with time to spare, you could always throw in something extra to even things out.

Be Detailed in What’s Included

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, during a project, decide to add new bells and whistles. That can completely throw off your profit margin (not to mention your schedule).

Estimates should nip this type of scope creep in the bud. Kindly explain that you’ll be glad to add new feature requests into the mix. However, it will incur an extra cost and take more time.

Projects often evolve after the initial work begins – and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean you should be taken advantage of. Set the ground rules early so that clients understand how any additional work will be handled.

Pay attention to details and ensure clients know what's included in your estimate.

The Bottom Line

There are so many things to think of when creating estimates. It’s easy to make mistakes. I’ve made more than my fair share through the years.

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.

Keeping the full 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.

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