Don’t Ball-park It

In the initial phases of any project, there are some very important steps that need to be taken before an accurate cost estimate can be given. To the experienced designer/developer, this is nothing new, and thus, the following probably isn’t anything earth shattering for you to read. However, for some younger newcomers, this will shed some light on why it is never a good idea to “ball-park” the cost of a project.

When dealing with a new or potential client, cost is often a question right off the bat. They will give you some general needs, like they want to update the look and feel of their current site to make it more current, which is followed promptly by…

So how much is this gonna cost me?

The way a client asks won’t always be as casual or blunt, and depending on the size and internal processes, may be requested in casual conversation at an initial meeting or in writing as a formal proposal. Either way, more often than not the information provided initially is rarely detailed enough to formulate an accurate estimate.

Different Project = Different Requirements

It should come as no surprise that each project is unique. I know: the logo and the content formatting are different… Way to go; you get the basics, but in actuality the full requirements of each project will always be a little different than that of the last. For example, Client A needs a Google Map displayed on their Contact Us page because they have a storefront or office where their customers will come to do business. While that makes perfect sense for Client A, Client B doesn’t have a storefront/office; thus, they need no map. This is a very simple example of a requirement that differs from project to project.

Some other examples of requirements that might be appropriate for one project but not another are:

  • Forms (basic or advanced)
  • Photo Galleries
  • Blogs
  • Comments (should readers be able to comment on blog posts?)
  • Social Media Elements such as Like, +1, or Share this… buttons
  • Event Calendars
  • Advertising
  • Site Analytics (this should be a default for every project regardless of the client asking for it)

These are all part of a project’s requirements and often call for different resources or expertise, whether in the form of a plug-in, time spent formatting/optimizing gallery images, blog set up, custom coding, or even custom application development. Time and resource allocation are essential components that have a direct impact on the cost of any project. That being said, I cannot stress enough the importance of an initial needs assessment, and further, a requirements gathering stage before offering any concrete pricing. This will protect both you and the client in the long run should any new requirements that fall outside of the original needs assessment arise, resulting in additional costs.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, each project is going to have some different requirements unless you plan on specializing in 5-page, cookie cutter, enhanced-brochure web sites. BOOOOORING! The danger in ball-parking the cost of a project without a detailed needs assessment and some basic requirements gathering is being held to the figure you casually threw out there once the project starts. In the long run, that affects your profit.

A basic rule of thumb if you are going to shoot from the hip and ball-park the cost of a project… If the project is simple and you feel comfortable giving a ballpark figure, then by all means do so. If you have any unanswered questions or you are hesitant at all, then ask for more information before providing any pricing. In the long run, this will be beneficial to you and the client.

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