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I was referred to a potential client who has a very vast project in his mind. The potential client is sensible enough to understand the some of the technicalities and they even split the whole concept into different phases, where one phase is a pre-requisite for the next. The client has no idea about how to approach.

Each phase is technically feasible and is well within my limits. At the same time, not even one phase is simple. They demand a big deal of brainstorming and finding out a better strategy in approaching their development. Since the phases are inter-connected, the strategy should be valid throughout and not bring any huge re-works.

Not to mention, the cost and time estimations are also to be done for the project - phase wise, considering first phase now.

So to deal with this, I sent out a detailed email explaining the complexity of the phase, what has to be understood and proposed the following. I told I will take time, analyse the phase in detail, come up with questions, bottlenecks and other anticipated problems. Post this, I have asked the client to come in for a meeting to discuss and decide on how to deal with the bottlenecks and problems.

Along with these, I did quote a very rough cost to give them an idea of what to expect, with a strong mention of increase or decrease in cost, based on the discussion and decisions.

The client was pleased with my efforts and dedication. He happily agreed to give all the time required and understood the cost constraints.


So What's The Big Deal

So far so good. But the real issues are as follows:

  1. The scope of the current phase is about n categories having - n elements where each element can have a design (one design or one design for a period of time) with the ability to programmatically create, read, update and delete (CRUD) and send it in all decided ways and all decided means of digital communication. I need to think of a strategy and come up with a generic method that will suit for most (if not all) of the elements, also considering the needs of the next phases in mind.

  2. This demands at-least a week's time ~ close to 50+ hours which is again a mere anticipation. Also, the project/phase isn't of a common need and the efforts it demands for the strategy has a very little scope of being useful in future.

  3. This project is the dream project of the client. He has enquired other considered other freelancers/companies but my approach, communication, workflow etc has impressed him a lot. He mentioned he wants to work with me (and other great words which you don't hear often) and relies on me as of now.
  4. To even estimate a fair time and cost that the phase demands, I need to start working on the strategy, analyse what it demands, find out if it brings in any new needs and dig deep to my best to be sure of what I'm getting into.

Although, there is a fair chance I would get this project, my experience has taught me to not take it for granted until we both sign a contract. Now, I can't afford to put in a week's time (or more) to think of a strategy and not get paid if the project doesn't kick off.

To make it a win-win for both of us, I have decided to ask for - what I have termed as a Project Research Cost to the client. I couldn't decide on a basis to calculate and ask an amount. So, I have decided to ask a small amount that will make me feel secured while doing the needful.


How it's a win-win?

If the client agrees to work with me, I can reduce the amount I took as Project Research Cost from the agreed upon total cost. If, for some reason, the client is not working with me, he would still have a strategy, which he can use, if he wishes to continue developing with someone else. Remember, the strategy is formed based on the client's decisions after a having a good amount of discussion and debate on project's critical elements.

But, I feel strategy makes the whole difference and it's a fool's decision to provide the strategy for the small Project Research Cost. Although the formed strategy may not be reusable as such for me, it still doesn't make it convincing to give away considering the huge time and effort.

So, I'm thinking of proposing to deliver a document which will contain the identified questions, problems, bottlenecks and also a Minutes of Meeting which will have details of what was discussed and what was decided by the client. Just that. The strategy and other worked-upon elements (if any) remains with me.

In my opinion, the client still has valuable document, which to me, is convincing enough to be delivered against the Project Research Cost. I understand the client may not appreciate the value of these documents right away. But, my approach is all about trying to be professional, approach business as business, valuing my efforts, delivering value for value and being careful about not making it easy for my competitor.

What do you think? Do you know of any better approach for my concerns?

I appreciate opinions from anyone and everyone, but I'm looking for, a sort of validation, from a better experienced person.

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I think the technical term for what you're doing is called a, "feasibility study."

And it's not unusual to do this.

Your expertise and analysis is valuable. The client should respect your approach if you have any chance of being seriously considered for the job.

There's certainly value in the document. At the least, if he doesn't use you for the services, you've given him much more in-depth info from which he can generate more detailed RFPs.

Looks right to me!

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Your approach is valid - that's what a lot of consultants do; working under contract to produce a specification for the client. The deliverable is the specification, and then the consultant becomes just one other contractor bidding for the work.

Make sure that you are paid fully for the specification, and assume that you're not going to be the company developing the end system. If you are, that's a bonus.

  • By specification I'm assuming you are asking me to provide the software requirements specification. If so, the requirements are quite clear at this stage, just with the client's brief for this phase. Problem is with their inter-dependency and way of implementation. – Hari Harker Dec 29 '17 at 4:12
  • The problem is, I'm not sure if the client would value the specification for the actual cost it takes to make one. Also, they are more inclined towards the end product. They still understands and respects the process, but that doesn't mean he is ready to pay for all of it. Other providers haven't proposed such an approach. While that's a surprise to me, it also tells about what the client is exposed to right now and where I should stop so I'm not termed as over-doing for a project. – Hari Harker Dec 29 '17 at 4:12

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