Freelancer tips: estimating

Subject: Freelancer tips: estimating
From: Mark Ace <ace -at- EUROPA -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 10:08:00 PST

>How do you estimate projects?

The process below is what I use when estimating a medium- to large-scale
project. This does not apply to when you are hired as a contractor in an
open-ended contract, and you basically become a temporary on-site employee
for the duration of the contract.

Get as much information as you can about the project. Take some time up
front to ask a lot of questions.

Break down the project into as many distinct tasks as you can envision.
Really brainstorm to come up with all the component parts. For example,
creating a manual may include: interviews, writing (figure at least an hour
per page for new material), screen captures, page layout, submitting review
copies, incorporating comments, etc. Be very detailed.

Then estimate time for each of those tasks, and add up the hours. Often,
you will find that the total looks like a lot of time/money. Don't let that
scare you, because you are not done.

Set the estimate aside for a day, if you have the luxury of time. Then look
at it again and see if you can think of other tasks you didn't think of the
first time. (file format conversions? changing software specs?) Now take
your total and add 15% to account for the unforeseen. This is probably
getting close to an accurate estimate.

Now, in your bid to the prospective client, organize and clean up all that
information and present it with enough detail so that they can see where
that large $ number came from. Include the 15% as a line item - it is a
reasonable approach to doing business.

If you have gathered accurate information about the project at the
beginning, the client should see your estimate as reasonable. If they balk
because it's too high, be careful. You don't want to work for someone who
is not prepared to pay a fair price. If they are an experienced buyer of
contract services, this will be an easier transaction than if they are
doing this for the first time.

Don't work at a loss, or too cheaply. You will not enjoy the work, and your
client will not get your best results.

Mark Ace
Ace Communications, Inc.
(503) 235-2966; fax: 235-3109

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