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I am a web developer, just starting out as a freelancer.

I have had a few people contact me through my website asking for a quote on how much a project will cost. In order to achieve a cost, I must spend time and effort gathering as much information as possible: drawing out workflows, developing initial sitemaps, etc. I don't know how long a project will take until I have done this, and all of this takes time.

The problem is, I work full time -- so the only time I have is evenings and weekend. By that point, the client has lost interest, and all my efforts go unpaid.

My question is: How am I supposed to put a quote together on such little information without spending so much time researching, gathering data and working everything out?

The client wants a quote within 5 hours, but I need 10 hours to work on it.

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I suggest two options:

1) You could create a questionnaire for potential clients that gathers a lot of information that you know you will need on most web sites. Yes, you may need more details, but you could try to gather the first round of information without investing a lot of time in the effort. (Your questionnaire could ask about if the site needs an e-commerce component, if you will need to gather contact information, etc., for example.)

2) I recommend you sell a design product to prospects. Here's how I'd pitch it: A good website requires a lot of thought go into the project. What do you need, who is your audience, etc. I will work with you to develop this information, put together sitemaps, workflows, etc. For this effort, I will charge you $X. Once this is done, I will provide you a bid for development of the website. I hope you use me for the site development too, but you can also take this (the workflows, sitemaps, etc.) and get pitches from other web developers.

The advantage to this second option is that you can charge something for the work you will be doing to actual develop the site, so it gets you to the quote process sooner. And you get away from tire kickers who are asking for a quote but don't want to invest any time in the effort.

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As someone who has worked as a freelancer while working full time, I've come to know that I just simply can't move as quickly as someone who works full time as a freelancer and who has no other work obligations. As a result, when someone claims they need something in a shorter time period than what I can possibly meet, then this is a red flag that this isn't the client for me.

If a client is giving unrealistic expectations during the estimate period, there's a strong likelihood the client will have these same unrealistic expectations once they're actually paying you money.

I generally spend a couple days putting together an estimate for something that may take a few weeks to a couple months. When I've taken shortcuts in this area I've found that I went over my budget and had to eat some of the cost. So it's important to take a reasonable amount of time to estimate the project. The bigger and more complex the project, the longer the estimate may take.

Lastly, I've found that breaking up the project into several, paid deliverables can help speed up the estimate process by focusing only on one part at a time. For instance, if you take a 6 month project and break it up into 6 parts, you could give an estimate on the first deliverable. This of course depends on the client and whether or not they're willing to break things up, so be sure to talk with them about this first.

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    What you say is very true @jmort253 - client behaviour during the bidding phase is a good indication of things to come. On the other hand, from a client perspective, they do not care what your other commitments are - when you are working for them, they want you working for them 100% – Andrew Jun 27 '13 at 5:57
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    Good point, @Andrew, so essentially this process helps weed out incompatible business relationships on both ends, whether it be the client or freelancer perceiving it as not being a good fit. It's definitely good to set expectations early on both ends. – jmort253 Jun 27 '13 at 5:59
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    Agreed... it is better to not "win" an unmanageable client, than have to deal with impossible expectations. Bad clients are as bad as (or maybe even worse than) bad suppliers ;-) – Andrew Jun 27 '13 at 6:02
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When you can't estimate the time you will be working on a project, try to agree on a price per hour, and give the client a rough estimate of the time you'll need.

When a client wants something in 5 hours, and you need 10 hours, tell him. He can either choose to wait 5 more hours, or to go with someone else. There's nothing to do about this on short-term. On long-term, you can develop your skills to save time later on.

How am I supposed to put a quote together on such little information without spending so much time researching, gathering data and working everything out?

If you have too little information, you can do two things or a combination of both:

  • Ask for more information
  • Give a very rough estimate with upper and lower boundaries

You will have to invest some time in making up the quote. When that takes too much time and you don't get the job, that's your risk being a freelancer.

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