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While I was looking for answers to a question that has already been asked here, I stumbled upon this answer. The second "golden rule" suggests:

If it's something that will take more than 1 hour or so, and it's not in the domain "you should know that before you applied to job", then ask a client if he is ready to finance the research time since the product will be of higher quality.

But how does one ask if the client is willing to invest money in something without losing him as a client? Because I think that the client might consider you (the freelancer) as not competent enough and decide to find another freelancer.

Note: I'm not a freelancer. I have no idea how any of that works. This question just popped in my head.

PS: I couldn't find a more suitable tag than .

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That is the key to success in being a freelancer. You have to read the client. And read him quickly and quickly recognize those who are really interested to pursue some idea or those who only waste your time without willing to pay for it.

So what I do: I scan the client during our initial conversation, chat or audio. If he is in rush, does not have time to type or explain, he does not seem interested in pursuing his idea. For those, I go straight in the head telling them that research will take X hours and it will cost Y dollars. As a result, he will get a paper on the research. You can guess, 99% such clients go to another contractor.

For other, I walk on a thin ice. Ask them to describe what they need, and then tell them it will take for example 5 hours for the research. After that I either ask them if he has budget to finance research. I explain to them that I can do a quick research up to 1h, but results would be such that we cannot rely on them entirely. Or if he wants a more quality research, than we can set an hourly arrangement. You see, I always give THEM option to choose which way they will pursue.

Now, if the research will result in your estimation, then so far I have not been able to find a way to be paid for estimation. It happens that estimations that take up to 1h result in job, and those that I do over the weekend and take over 3h usually end up with client not getting back to me again.

NOTE: when I say estimation, I do not refer to detailed estimations. NEVER EVER give detailed estimation for unpaid work. There are many cheap hunters who need estimation and are not willing to pay for it. I refer to 1-2 page excel estimation.

PS. lastly, it also depends how desperate for work you are. if you need work, then obviously you will have to do everything to get the job.

  • I almost always give detailed estimates to my clients before working on a project. These do take significant effort, (usually 2-4 hours), but I've found the effort pays off because a) it shows I'm the expert, in that I now how to get done what they're asking, b) it helps solidify that the client and I are on the same page with the expected tasks, and c) helps the client understand what they will be getting (sometimes these get copy/pasted into a "statement of work" in the contract). Note that I'm usually fairly certain I'll get the work before doing this, but not always. – livingtech Jul 25 '17 at 19:37
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Don't ask; just include it in your budget without specifically itemizing it. If they aren't happy with the total budget, then you can decide if you want to charge less or nothing for that learning period.

  • I routinely roll "time to figure X out" into my estimates. It's not as if you can be expected to know everything! Most tasks require at least a bit of research. If it's a larger task, with significant unknowns, I might call that out, especially because it will impact my estimate. (Usually my estimates are ranges, and these usually have a larger range.) – livingtech Jul 25 '17 at 19:32

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