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WHY? – A Few Thoughts on Free Estimates
Some web developers offer free estimates as a matter of policy included us for now. I believe that this can be problematic, especially for very small companies, and so recommend giving it due consideration before publishing that offer.
The reasoning is simple: estimating well takes time, and not every estimate will net you a contract. Depending upon your market and the tone you set with your business, you may get a lot of “shoppers”. Shoppers are looking to get estimates from several companies and compare them, and you may very well be only a pawn in their process of finding the supposedly “best deal” – or worse still, in driving the price down with someone who they’ve already decided to work with.
If this turns out to be the case, it’s not the end of the world, of course – but how many times a month do you want to spend several hours (or more) working for someone for no pay? Of course, that decision has to be up to you.
In my business, we provide an estimate for free if we think that an accurate specification can be determined and written up within a couple of hours. If we feel that it’s a complex enough project that it will take us 5-10 hours or more of meeting, talking, researching, and writing and re-writing the specifications, we charge for that time. We tell the client that we’ll be spending valuable consulting time with them, determining their needs, and that we’ll produce a detailed specification document and cost estimate. This information is obviously of value whether or not they decide to work with us. If they do decide to work with us, the cost of the specification-development phase is applied to the total cost of the project. Either way, their money is well-spent.
After all, developing a web site is not the same as painting the living room or fixing a leaky faucet. Free estimates and convenient price-shopping may be commonplace in a lot of industries, but they aren’t necessarily appropriate for complex creative and technical work.
But whether or not you’re being paid for your time, the process should be the same.
– By Patty Ayers