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Upcoming freelancer in web development here. I understand the steps necessary after the contract is signed, which simply includes commencing work and maintaining communication with the client. What I am still not clear on are all the steps between contacting a prospective client, and signing the contract.

Do I gather information from their business and what they want and then run them a quote? What are the steps to take if they are okay with the quote and want to work with me? What is a job proposal and at what point does it come in?

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The shortest I can say is: it depends on the contract :)

Some will include research phase into the contract and will not start research before the contract has been signed.

Others will do this research before the contract is signed, and then gather this costs later in the process.

IMHO I would not do any research longer than 1-2 hours before the contract has been signed.

In technical terms, before the contract you can only make a very high-level and rough estimation on costs. Make a list of milestones with features that belong to that milestone, and tell the client approximate costs.

After the contract has been signed, you make a detailed plan for each milestone which will create your final price.

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When you're just starting out Freelancing, I would highly recommend freelancing sites like Freelancer.com or Elance.com. I know for a fact that on Freelancer.com, they give you tips on what to do when you start freelancing, and would recommend you the steps you should take when starting a job (before all the contract bits).

They also have teams that will assist with dispute management should your work arrangement ever fall through and you need to dispute payment.

If you are just Freelancing on your own, then make sure that you have nutted out their requirements and check whether they require you to sign a NDA before you present them with your own contract. If they do require you to sign an NDA, read through it first and make sure that you clarify any ambiguity!

Some examples of contract templates for freelancers are below if you haven't got one already:

Free Contract Templates

Contract Templates for Designers

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