In many of the freelancer's sites, they ask you a quotation for a bid that you need to provide just to "enter the pipeline".

But at the same time, you get little or no details on the task at hand, making it highly risky.

How do you manage that ? How binding is the initial quotation ?


Typical project description: "we have an OCR application that we need solved urgently".

6 Answers 6


Don't provide anything.

Avoid these clients. Seriously, don't even consider working for clients such as this. If the client can not take the time to at least attempt to describe their issue as thoroughly as possible, especially in a written description, then they will not take the time to interact with you appropriately.

A lack of any detail shows a clear apathy towards both the project and the worker. And that will ultimately translate to you tracking them down to get input, direction, and possibly payment. In addition to repeated reworking of things you've already completed because the client failed to describe things correctly to begin with.

If you are at all interested in pleasing, seamless, beneficial client arrangements, simply do not quote/bid/estimate on a project with little or no description. The absolutely most you should do is ask for "more detailed information" before providing anything yourself.

Vested clients want to eliminate as much guesswork as possible. It's understandable if they just do not posses the knowledge to describe an issue correctly or accurately. However, I have yet to run into a client that can't describe the problem they are experiencing.

  • Mh, it seems that this is the rule rather than the exception. There must be something I am missing. Jul 4, 2016 at 18:05
  • 2
    Then it's a bad "site", full of bad clients.
    – Scott
    Jul 4, 2016 at 19:00
  • It's the same on UpWork and Guru. Jul 4, 2016 at 20:50
  • 1
    Well I don't use middleman sites.... too full of bad clients.
    – Scott
    Jul 4, 2016 at 21:01
  • @HarryCover, you aren't missing anything. In my experience, most clients on the big freelancer sites are bad clients.
    – Apfelsaft
    Jul 5, 2016 at 21:03

DISCLAIMER: I don't use Freelance Websites to find work.

You should know your skill, and what you can easily do, and what might take you longer. Quote on this, giving a range. If you know that a project takes a minimum of 2 hours, you quote that as the lowest possible. Then, figure out how long a project with vague details can take, and use that as a ball park figure (i.e. 8 hours, possibly more if there are significant issues).

When I give quotes in person, the client will get a ball-park figure, and that's what we work on. Once I have more information, I let them know I can give them a much better estimate. If they demand a price right now, and they want a final figure, walk away. This client will likely do lots of on the project, which will annoy you and make you hate your job.

Regular projects will have hiccups; the best projects have only minor hiccups. I have yet to have a single project (when I was a sub-contractor, when I was a freelancer, when I was an employee, and even when I hired people) where there were no hiccups whatsoever. They aren't usually show-stoppers, but they may add a bit of time from what the "quoter" thought it would be. Almost always it was within range of the quote anyways.

Once you go through the quote process, if you run into anything that could delay the project, or cost the client more money to fix, then you need to communicate that as soon as humanly possible to the client, so they are prepared. Regardless of if you think you're the boss, you're not the one paying for the project (hopefully), so approval is required.

In essence (I see I'm drifting), give a range, with the disclaimer that it could be more, it could be less, but that you need more information. Before you talk to the client, ensure you have a written list of questions to ask, and take notes.

  • The question is about having to quote before information is available, as required to engage the submission procedure. Dec 3, 2015 at 20:41
  • Ooops, I edited your post by mistake, sorry. I can't completely remove it as edit additions only are allowed. Dec 4, 2015 at 8:54

In short, you can't! In reality, you have to as the client is requesting it.

So how to cross the gap and give them the range?

If they ask for "some app" and "how much it costs", just skip those jobs. The price can vary from $50 to $5M.

If they state "I want app similar to XYZ app and how much it will cost", then you have some grounds to make an estimation. Review that app and try to figure our the minimum price and full price. Then you can tell them "for minimum features including A, B, C,... the project should cost around $$$ and it will take XXX days. For complete clone of that app, costs should be around $$$ and it will take XXX days".

Don't forget to tell them that you will need to provide more detailed and final estimation, but you will need to talk to the client to disclose more details.

And don't forget a golden rule: The more time a client spends on describing a project, the more serious he is. Don't bid for projects with lost or lazy clients.

  • Mh, this virtually means skip all jobs. There must be something I am missing otherwise no-one would do business on these sites. Dec 4, 2015 at 8:48
  • I do not share the same opinion. I'd say half jobs are well and other half is crap. When there is few info about the job, you then try to find if the client had referenced some other app so you can compare. In the end, if you see that this is a good client, then message him and ask for more info to make an estimation. All good clients will reply if they find you suitable.
    – Peter MV
    Dec 4, 2015 at 9:33
  • 1
    Also, with a bunch of jobs created every day, you only need 1-2 good jobs to apply daily in a quality manner. Bulk applications are useless.
    – Peter MV
    Dec 4, 2015 at 9:34
  • In many cases, you can't talk to the client before quoting. Dec 4, 2015 at 9:37
  • No I meant, ask him in your bid. Send bid with your regular hourly price or $1 if the project is fixed price.
    – Peter MV
    Dec 4, 2015 at 10:37

One thing you can do is be very specific yourself regarding what you understand their request to be and exactly what you will deliver when you provide a quote. So the client says "I want an app that does xyz, how much will this cost" You can say "I will provide you with an app that: - is compatible on these operating swystems - contains feature a - contains feature b - contains feature c

for ____ price.

I think some requests are vague because the client is lazy or trying to get something for nothing. But I also think a lot of clients don't know what they want/need. They have a general idea but aren't technical enough to give good details initially. This could turn into a great client. Or a major nightmare.

Either way, once you get going, they are going to realize all kinds of other things they want the software to do that they did not know enough to ask for originally. If you have a detailed quote of your own to point to, they will understand that is not included in your original price.

Based on my experience with prior projects I can often anticipate what will go wrong or what other things the client is not realizing they will want. So another thing I do with my existing clients is sometimes say:

Included: Feature a Feature b Feature c

Not included: Feature x Feature y Feature z

OR - maybe more appealing is to offer two or three prices. The "basic" version with features a,b, and c will cost $x, and the comprehensive version with features x, y, and z will cost Y.

You might also factor "x hours of change requests" into your proposal. Or specify testing and troubleshooting as an extra, separate fee, so they don't hold you hostage for a year over a $50 project!


RULE OF THUMB: Don't Waste your Time

Harry, I don't recommend wasting time on jobs with short descriptions like those in your question. I've only ever turned 2 or 3 into clients (and I've been working on Elance/Upwork for 2.5 years now). I do make a few exceptions, however.


I make exceptions on occasion as I know that clients are sometimes just busy, and perhaps they're not expecting much from a post on a job platform. These jobs are frequently passed over by good freelancers as a general rule, so competition is low if you can demonstrate expertise AND the client is actively seeking help. How can you tell if it might be worth a quick contact?

Usually you can see details about the client's history along with their job posts. I look for the following:

  • Previous projects (pretty much absolutely required for the post to mean anything)
  • Decent hourly rate on hourly projects or a history of reasonable pay for fixed-price projects
  • Skill tags on the post that match my expertise or show the client to lack knowledge about what he needs (tagging iOS and .NET on a mobile app job, for instance)
  • Good reputation (4 stars or more)

If the job post seems to have enough factors in its favor, then here's how I typically approach the first contact. I start with a friendly greeting, ask them a question about their project that highlights the fact that I understand what they might be looking for, reference a couple of past projects that were similar/qualify me to do a good job for them, and close asking for a quick 5-10 minute call to discuss their needs. I usually aim for less than 3 paragraphs, and I don't invest significant time in working up any kind of a quote. If a number is required, I'll quote my hourly rate or their project's budget (sometimes I'll put the cost of estimating the project instead, or my weekly rate).

I hope that helps! If you have any questions, I'd be happy to help you out since I've completed more than 15 projects successfully on job platforms in the last couple of years and it's currently the source of 80% of my work.


I have solved this very simply: if I don't have enough information, I enter an obviously dummy bid, explaining that I can't quote without this and that complementary information.

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