When a potential client wants an estimate for a project, can I charge for the time spent creating the estimate, and if so, how much? I am especially interested in situations where a client has a complex project and wants a detailed estimate. I want to avoid spending hours on a proposal only to have the client disappear after it’s been submitted. How do you handle these situations and what would you advise?
I know first hand how frustrating it can be to spend a lot of time and effort researching and creating the perfect estimate, only to have the client change their mind and go with someone else or not go through with the project (or disappear altogether). I doubt there is a web designer (or entrepreneur for that matter) who has not had to deal with this at some point in their career.
The short answer is NO, you should not charge for providing an estimate.
Here are a few guidelines I follow to help minimize the “disappearing client” scenario.
1. There is a cost to acquire a new client. Client acquisition includes time spent developing and submitting the proposal along with time in meetings and calls with the client. Your goal should be to make this process as effective and efficient as possible.
2 .For small projects, I spend up to three hours on client acquisition, and for larger projects it is up to six hours. (these numbers are approximate – not hard and fast rules).
3. For very large projects ($10,000 and above) I will bill the client for my time when detailed documentation is required or prototyping is needed before signing the contract. I bill at my current hourly rate, then offer a significant discount. In these situations, the research required or documentation needed goes above and beyond what is considered a standard estimate.
At the end of the day, the goal is to get hired by the client and build a long term working relationship. Requiring money for a quote up front, when none of your competitors are doing so, will most likely send the potential customer to another designer. However, you also don’t want to spend hours and hours on developing estimates that ultimately lead no where. During your discussions with the client, ask questions to get a clear understanding of what information is needed to make a purchasing decision, and then work towards that goal.
With time and practice, you start to intuitively learn who is serious about working with you and who is wasting your time.