Estimating writing time?

Subject: Estimating writing time?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 08:23:27 -0400

Lori Salmonsen is <<...submitting a proposal for writing
content for two marketing brochures... Can anyone offer an
estimate for how long it takes to write content for a marketing
brochure? I think it will be a two-sided glossy flyer.>>

There's no way to estimate timing from the information
you've provided, and in any event, such estimates would be
_our_ times, not yours. That being said, a few thoughts on
how you can come up with a personalized estimate that will
work for you:

"I think it will be 2 pages" is always a danger signal. Make
sure you understand _precisely_ what you're getting into
before you even begin thinking about coming up with an
estimate. You'll need to know page length (and word length,
since the two interact), whether or not you can use color (and
other budgetary aspects), and the complete list of messages
that your client wants you to communicate. Will you be doing
graphics, layout, and production, or just generating text?
"Writing content" usually includes much more than just the
words.

Once you've got the list of messages, you need to do a reality
check: Are the messages correct and useful? (You may not be
able to talk marketing out of their pet messages, but
sometimes your "outsider's" input can point out problems
they're blind to.) Do you understand each message well
enough to write about it? (If not, you'll have to add time for
research.) Will they give you access to experts who can
provide details on each message? (If not, how are you going
to create information you don't know anything about? Add
more research time!) Do you understand enough about the
market, the product, and the product's competitors to be able
to "position" the product with respect to those factors? (If not,
add still more research time.)

Try writing sample text to support one message; I prefer to
pick the most difficult message, because any estimates based
on that message should be overestimates. Come up with an
estimate of how long it will take to do a draft, then pad it
liberally (based on your knowledge of how fast _you_ move
from draft to final version). Multiply by the number of
messages. This is your _starting_ point for an estimate, not a
final estimate.

Do you understand the review process imposed by your
client? If you don't, you need more research to pin down just
what hoops they'll make you jump through. If a single
person, with the reputation for being easy to persuade, does
the entire approval, you don't need to pad the times much, if
at all. If the draft will be reviewed by a committee, with
separate technical and marketing reviews, you can expect
multiple revisions of your draft, with frustrating delays. In
particular, you may have to arbitrate between marketing and
technical reviewers, since they often have dramatically
different views of reality. Allow time for negotiations and
compromise. I've seen suggestions that after you've come up
with your best scientific estimate, you should double that time
to allow for "life happens" moments; although those
statements were tongue in cheek, there's also considerable
justice to them.

Finally, put this all down in writing and get it approved in
writing by someone with authority to approve the contract;
that may not be the person who asked you to submit a
proposal, though it usually is. Include a clause that any
deviations from the written agreement will be billed at a rate
of $x/hour. Then be prepared to renegotiate on the fly when
things change, since they commonly do.


--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.


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