I've recently quoted a client on a project for 16 hours of effort. I've told him that I can deliver the work in 3 weeks time.

However, he took the 16 hours of effort literally and expected me to deliver the next day since 16 hours of effort is what I've quoted.

Well, clearly, that 16 hours is just a unit for estimating the amount of effort required and hence the fee, but he couldn't seem to understand how I could charge him 16 hours on one hand and yet require 3 weeks of time to deliver the work.

I've used an hourly rate with this client because I believe he might have additional changes and an hourly rate allows me to justify any extra fees required for those changes.

How should I explain to the client that the 16-hour effort estimation doesn't mean precisely I will spend 16 hours to complete the work?

Or is the client totally right to think that I only need 16 hours for the work when I provide that estimation? If so, how does an hourly rate even work because the cost will surely blow up into a 5-digit figure if I really count every single hour I spent on it.

  • how does an hourly rate even work because the cost will surely blow up into a 5-digit figure if I really count every single hour I spent on it. - OK. You're doing it wrong. Why would you quote 16 hours if it will take you more than 16 hours? When I quote a client a number of hours then that's the estimate of "every single hour" I expect to work on the project to completion.
    – joeqwerty
    Apr 2, 2019 at 2:10
  • @joeqwerty Depending on your rates, counting exactly by the hour will likely end up undercharging or overcharging in some tasks.
    – xenon
    Apr 2, 2019 at 7:18

2 Answers 2


So you told the client it would be 16 hours of effort to complete, and that you need 3 weeks to complete it... What the client hears is "I need 16 hours ... to complete".

This comes down to the client having different expectations than you do. I would counter back with reasons why it's not 16 hours straight:

  • You didn't get into Freelancing to work 16-hour days
  • There is waiting time that he isn't paying for
  • You have other clients with deadlines
  • The cost to have you start right away and blow off other clients while you do so is quite high (it better be!)
  • You need meal breaks and bathroom breaks in those 16 hours, and he would most likely claim to not want to pay for those

In the future, if you end up quoting a price, I would do one of two things:

  1. Tell him that work does not start right away when you have other clients, and you don't spend every waking moment freelancing - you have a life too.
  2. Give him a per-project price that has some padding in it, but do not quote how many active hours you are spending on it.

I think it's fairly simple..

Sorry [client],

It doesn't work that way.

The 16 hours needed to complete your project must be scheduled and coordinated with other ongoing projects. I will need 3 weeks to schedule and complete your project.

If you would prefer next day, or two day, delivery I am happy to revisit pricing and revise with that "rush" status in mind. Costs will be greater.

Thank you.

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