Good quoting is about setting realistic budgets and project timelines. Each time you quote, you should be aiming to set achievable client expectations that have each project come in on or very near to budget. Get this wrong and you’ll go over budget, miss your deadline and you’ll be living on Weetbix for years to come.
Here are five things to consider when quoting.
1. Ask the client what their budget is
If you want a house designed and built, you go to your architect with a very definite idea of your budget – design should be the same. Your client is running a business and if they haven’t thought about how your work could improve their business and what they should invest to achieve that outcome, quoting to them is meaningless. Find a way to have an open discussion with them about their budget. This not only shows you are business-minded and thinking in terms of their ‘return on investment’, but gives you an idea of whether the client is going to be realistic. No one wants to work for unrealistic clients with long wish lists but shallow pockets.
2. Overestimate your time
There are two main reasons I encourage designers to overestimate their time.
Firstly, no matter how experienced you are, estimating your time is hard. The objective is to set estimates that allow you to achieve your project on time and on budget. If your estimate is too ambitious and things go wrong, you’ll have an unhappy client. Overestimating not only protects your income but gives you the best chance to create good work. If in doubt, double your time.
Secondly, you are striving to make an income you can live off. It’s important to remember quoting has a big impact on your ability to make money. If you can’t estimate your work wisely, you will go out of business or, at the very least, be overworked and stressed.
3. Create a rate card
Not all tasks are equal. For example, you might bill yourself out at a princely sum for your concept development time, but set basic production work at a more reasonable rate. After all, resizing images for web or colour correcting artwork are simple tasks. Create a rate card based on the different tasks you anticipate doing, based on the skill-level required for each. You can also use different rates for different client types. I charge not-for-profits and charities half that of other businesses. I offer introductory rates to new clients, and mark them clearly on their first invoice.
From a client’s perspective, the rate card is a very important tool. It establishes that your quotes are based on considered business practices and gives an honest overview of the value of different tasks within your business. When a client is clear about the thinking behind your quote, they are more inclined to trust how you value each project. Below is a rate card example (rates shown are for indicative purposes only):
4. Sell your process
Sometimes our brief might sound small to the client, but they can be unaware of the number of steps in a creative process. Because the client equates money to time spent and has an expectation that certain stages involve more attention, it’s a good idea to itemise your quotes. It’s great practice to make notes of the micro steps you complete across a design project to learn about your own process and understand the work involved. Each step or task becomes a line item with a time estimate. Below is a rough example of a basic digital project (time estimates not shown):
5. Look for the exit sign
From time to time, projects and clients get beyond reasonable control. It’s important to have protection in place and recognise the signs. I insist on non-refundable project deposits – by paying the deposit, clients accept me as a supplier and in turn agree to my terms and conditions (which I outline). A project agreement should also be formally signed off by the client. This is an understanding of what is to be delivered and how. With these processes in place, should the client push the project too far beyond the agreed scope, you are protected. You have the option to either tough it out and gain a good folio piece or cut and run. If you secured an initial deposit, then politely and professionally letting go of the client might be your best option. It’s a last resort, but a choice we should always have.
Remember it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. A conservative approach to expenses and outcomes protects your finances and means you are able to deliver what you set out to deliver.
Image by Magdalena Ksiezak