Pro Tips for Quoting a Freelance WordPress Website Project
If you’ve recently become a freelance WordPress developer, or you’re setting up your own agency, something you may not have done before is quoting for your work.
Quotes can vary hugely depending on the nature of the client and the project. Sometimes a single page quote is enough with an outline of costs and other times you’ll be expected to produce a detailed pitch.
If you don’t have an efficient system for quoting it can eat up a lot of your time. And if you don’t do it well it can lose you valuable work. In this post, I’ll give you some tips to help you start quoting for projects, with some things to avoid, too.
Setting Your Prices
You can’t submit a quote unless you know what you’re going to be charging for a given project. So the first step is to identify exactly what’s required of you, how long it will take, any extra costs (such as plugin licences, subcontractors, travel costs etc).
You may be able to do this first, or you may find that the process of writing a project proposal helps you identify exactly what’s involved and set your prices accordingly.
My most important piece of advice is to be realistic here.
Don’t assume you can get things done quickly if you haven’t done them before, and don’t cut corners in order to cut costs.
You might think (especially if you’re starting out) that this will make your pricing competitive and get you work, but it could make all the difference between you making a living as a freelancer and your business sinking because you just aren’t charging enough.
Make sure you include:
- Project management time, including meetings with the client
- All of your design / development time
- Cost of any premium plugins you’ll need to buy for the project (including an allowance for those you already have a multiple site licence for)
- Cost of any resources you’ll need to buy or pay for licences for, e.g. stock photography
- Cost of subcontractors if you’ll be hiring them. You should make a profit on subcontractors’ time so charge the client more than you’re paying the subcontractor
- Extra time for any work which you haven’t done before. For example, if the client wants you to customise a third party theme you’ve never worked with before, allow extra time for learning how the theme works
- Cost of server space / hosting / domain registration if required
Once you’ve worked all this out, you’ll arrive at a cost for the project. You may find that the total comes to more than you anticipated. Don’t be tempted to knock a percentage off the cost if this happens. The costs you’ve arrived at are a realistic indicator of what the project should cost the client and that’s what you should quote.
Should You Quote Per Hour or Per Job?
Your estimate of the costs involved will include a breakdown of the amount of time it will take you (and your team, if you have one) to complete the project. This is unlikely to turn out at exactly what you’ve estimated up front, which means the actual hours could go up or down.
The question you then need to ask yourself is who should cover that uncertainty: you, or the client? If it’s the client, then you’ll want to charge per hour. If it’s you, then you charge per project.
There are pros and cons to each approach:
Charging per hour gives you less uncertainty and means you’ll be paid for exactly the hours you work. If the project takes you longer, you’ll be paid more. If it doesn’t take so long, you’ll make less, even though you completed the same work. If you do adopt this approach and the hours you’re working start to deviate from what you’ve quoted, you’ll need to let your client know asap: put in place a system for reporting your time to the client on a regular basis. Which will take time itself!
Charging for the project as a whole gives the client less uncertainty and helps them to budget. But for you, it means that if things take longer, you won’t be paid as much per hour. The flip side of that is if you get it done quicker, you’ll earn more per hour. You also won’t have to provide your clients with reports detailing the hours you or your team have worked.
I tend to use the second approach: charging per project.
I find that clients prefer it and it forces me to make my quotes as accurate as possible. It also rewards efficiency: as someone who works quite fast, I don’t want to be penalised for my own speed if the work I do is of the same quality it would be if I’d worked slower.
When I work with subcontractors I also pay them for the project (within reason): I like to reward more efficient subcontractors by paying them more per hour if they complete the same work in ten hours that a slower person would complete in 15 hours.
But sometimes it will be difficult to know exactly how much work is expected. Your client may be developing a new site with an as yet unspecified number of pages, and they want you to upload the content as they write it. In cases like this, I quote a fixed rate for the basic website design and development and then add a per page rate for extra pages. As the project progresses, I keep a tally of the extra pages added, copying the client in on this, and then add the extra to the bill at the end.
I don’t know about you, but I hate receiving quotes (and invoices) that haven’t been itemised. Over the last year or so I’ve had quite a lot of work done on my house. When contractors gave me quotes for an electrical job, for example, I much preferred those who broke down the quote than those who just gave me a headline figure. This is particularly the case when they have to supply materials as well as labour. I want to see what their time will cost on top of the materials needed, so I can compare like with like. Even if the quote is slightly higher, I’m more inclined to go with the company that’s itemised their quote, because it gives me more trust.
A quote with just a headline figure and no explanation of how it was arrived at feels like that figure’s been plucked out of the air.
Don’t go overboard with itemisation (you have got other work to do, after all), but do itemise the main elements, such as:
- Design work
- Development work
- Project management time
- Software / hosting / any other expenditure arising from the project.
I often divide development work into chunks. For example, I separate out the basic site build from customization of a theme or plugin, adding eCommerce functionality, or SEO.
Providing Alternative Options in Quotes
Sometimes in the early stages of a project, the client doesn’t know exactly what they want yet, or you haven’t worked out the best way to deliver what they need. You might need to buy a premium plugin for their site, or you may need to code one yourself; after seeing the initial mockup of the site, the client may decide to go with one of two or more design options, which have different development implications.
In cases like this, separate out these elements and provide a price for each option. When you reach the stage in the project where the client has to choose an option, remind them of the cost. And if there’s a “nice to have” option they’re not sure is in their budget, separate that out too.
This helps you account for any uncertainty while still making things clear between yourself and your client.
Unexpected Extra Costs
In many projects, there are surprises. The client’s requirements might change, the process of developing the site might lead to the identification of a different way of doing things (or something extra), or the client might spot something they want to add to the brief.
In your quotes, make it very, very clear how these will be charged. In other words, state that if it’s not in the project brief, it’s not covered by the quote. Put in writing how you will deal with extras – will you push them back to after project completion, or will you slot them in at extra cost? – and what they will cost. In my quotes, I give an hourly rate (yes, I know!) for extras, which are added during the course of the project. If the extra item is significant and/or isn’t tackled until after the end of the project, I’ll provide a separate quote for that, using the same principles as for my original quote.
This will help you avoid project creep, where the client expects you to do more without paying you for it. Don’t do that!
Project Briefs and Proposals
If you’re providing a quote for a small project or an established client, then a one-page outline of costs may be enough to get you the work. But for a new client or a larger project, you’ll need to provide a project proposal. And even for a small project, providing a project brief at the quoting stage (before the contract stage, which comes later) will help clarify exactly what it is you’re quoting for.
My most basic project briefs are a one or two-page document outlining what’s required with rough timescales. I will then use this to inform the project plan at a later stage, and to give my team (if I’m working with one) an outline of what’s expected of them.
But some clients will expect more.
Project proposals can be a contentious subject: some clients have very specific requirements for them, and I know people who put days’ of work into preparing a proposal. If the project is a large one or the client is one you’ll have a long term relationship with if you get the contract, then by all means go to this sort of effort. But if all the client wants is a single website rebuild (and the website isn’t a vast one), then be wary of spending too much time on the proposal. After all, if you don’t get the work, then it’s time you’re not paid for.
Over the years I’ve developed a template for project proposals. This includes:
- A top level overview of the project
- Rationale behind the project and its main objectives (from the client’s pint of view: this is important and you should always find it out early on)
- Details of the work to be undertaken, split into appropriate sections (for example design, development, site maintenance, hosting, SEO etc.)
- Recommendations and proposals, which will be incorporated into each of the sections. This is where you show that you’ve understood the project objectives and can deliver solutions to the problems the client has, as well as demonstrating your expertise. These don’t have to be limited to what the client has specifically asked for: sometimes I’ll add UX or accessibility recommendations that address problems the client hasn’t even thought of
- Other services you offer. The client may be looking for someone to do other work for them outside this project. In my experience, clients like to hire the same contractor for as much work as possible, rather than spreading the work out, as it cements relationships and makes things simpler for them
- Information about your or your company. Include information about your areas of expertise, your experience in relevant areas, and other projects you’ve worked on
- Portfolio. Pick some relevant projects you’ve completed that you’re proud of, and showcase them. About three is generally enough: don’t go overboard
- Project costs. The best bit comes last!
My portfolio template includes more information than I’m likely to need to give one client, so when I’m preparing a proposal I’ll cut out the bits I don’t need. The portfolio section, for example, has about half a dozen items: I cherry pick the most relevant ones for this project.
If the client has their own template, you may be able to copy items from your own: but check through it afterwards to make sure it reads well and meets their requirements.
Resist the temptation to make your project proposal extremely long.
Way back before I set up my web design agency, I was a project manager in a government agency. I spent a lot of time procuring the services of contractors and reading through proposals and bids. Some of them were over a hundred pages long. y the end of them I’d forgotten what they were trying to say.
In fact, I instigated a rule with my tenders that proposals should be no more than 40 pages long and warned applicants that I’d stop reading at page 40. As most proposals had prices on the last page, this could be a problem!
I know what I did was unusual, but think of the people reading maybe dozens of proposals before providing reams and reams of information. Condense it and make sure you give them the most important information that will encourage them to pick you.
What Not to Include in a Proposal
I’ve talked about what it’s a good idea to include in your quotes and proposals, but it’s also important to know what you should miss out.
Some clients are cheeky and will ask for items in your proposal that are really spec work. A few years back I bid on a large project to redesign a site for a medium-sized company. They asked all agencies bidding to provide a draft design for their homepage, and I (foolishly) did this. It took a lot of work and expense, as I paid one of my subcontractors to work on it with me. I didn’t get the job, and when the site was eventually launched the design wasn’t dissimilar to the one I’d provided.
I have no way of knowing if they used any of my design ideas, as I don’t know what the successful bidder put in their proposal, but it did make me realise that I’d effectively done design work for free. Design is part of the job of creating a website and you should only do it once you’ve got the contract and you’re being paid, in my opinion. So if you are required to provide information about a design, don’t do a full mockup: provide a rough wireframe maybe, or list some design proposals instead.
Another thing to avoid is putting together a full project plan as part of the proposal. Not only is this spec work, but it’s also likely to be a waste of time. It’s impossible to know exactly how timescales will pan out until you start work, and have met the key players in the project. The project plan will depend on the availability not just of yourself but of the client’s staff, and it’s something you’ll need to work closely with them to produce. Giving a rough overview of timescales is helpful, but don’t go into detail.
So, avoid adding anything to your proposal that’s spec work – don’t provide detailed design mockups and don’t create a project plan.
Great Quotes Will Get You Great Work
Preparing quotes is an important task for any freelancer or agency. Providing potential clients with an accurate quote that puts you in the best light possible and demonstrates an understanding of their needs will help you win more work. Not only that, it will help you manage expectations during the project, it’ll ensure you earn what you deserve and it will help cement trust between you and your clients.
How do you quote projects? Do you have any tips for quoting WordPress projects? If you have any questions about quoting, let us know in the comments below.