When it comes to pricing a service, website design and development is one of the trickiest (in my opinion) services to estimate. There are a few reasons why this is the case, which we will get into a little later, but for Website Designers and Website Developers who make their living building websites for clients it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you properly estimate your website design jobs. If you don’t, you will be eating costs left and right, which will end up totally destroying your profit margin.
Over the next 1700 words or so I am going to do my best to provide you with a little insight into how to properly estimate your next website design project. Throughout the article we will discuss things like, what causes website projects to exceed the scope of work, tips for avoiding scope creep, creating a list of initial questions, using Skype to have face-to-face meetings with clients, and setting client expectations.
Why Do My Website Projects Keep Losing Money?
One of the most frustrating things that almost all Website Designers and Developers go through when it comes to building websites for clients is scope creep. Scope creep is inevitable, even when you take the time to properly set customer expectations. Scope creep isn’t as bad to deal with when you’re getting paid for it. It becomes almost unbearable to deal with when you’re not. Scope creep rears it’s ugly head in two different phases of the website development process, during development and once the website is launched through death by one-thousand “change requests”. Hopefully after you finish reading this article you will be much better prepared to deal with scope creep, and be able to properly estimate future website development projects. For now, let’s go over some of the main causes of scope creep for website development projects:
- Clients who pay to have a website built are usually not very knowledgeable in the area of website design and development. When someone doesn’t understand what it takes to build a website, they will never be able to truly grasp why tasks costs a certain amount and why it takes a certain amount of time to complete them.
- Client Reviews. Clients usually end up submitting many more rounds of changes than scoped for. Not only that, but unless you explain it to them, many clients will send changes through “piecemeal”, meaning one change at a time. Obviously Website Designers and Developers cannot be efficient when they get daily emails asking for changes.
- “Oh that’s cool, can we add that to my website”? It’s inevitable, throughout the website build clients will see features that they love from other websites, features that they don’t full understand what it takes to build them, and features that certainly are not covered in the original scope of work.
- Once the website launches customers don’t realize how much maintenance is needed to keep a website running smoothly and keeping things fresh. During the website proposal process many customers are hesitant to include website maintenance fees in the budget. Then once the website launches they ask for numerous one-off changes and expect you to do complete them free of charge.
Now there are certainly more reasons for scope creep, but in my experience the list above hits on some of the big ones. Now that we understand how scope creep happens, we are better prepared to minimize our exposure to it through educating the client up front.
Tips on Creating Better Estimates for Website Design Projects
I’m sure that all of the Website Designers and Website Developers reading this are smiling as I think what we have detailed above has probably affected each of you at one point or another. That said, WE CAN GET A HANDLE ON IT! Below are a few tips that I recommend you consider adding to your arsenal when it comes to managing your client’s expectations and estimating your future website development work. If you follow the tips below I think you will have much more success than before.
- Website Planning – If you have been reading my articles than you know I’m all about planning. I always say, “spend two-thirds of your time planning and one-third executing”. Those who take time to plan for anything they want to accomplish are more likely to achieve it. Think through what your customer is asking you, put together a few ideas, and get buy-in before you start the build.
- Create an initial list of questions that you can ask your client during the initial kick-off meeting. You might even consider sending it to your client in advance of the meeting, having her fill it in, and then use it to guide your conversation.
- Face-to-Face Meetings – If you don’t live near your client, Skype is a great tool to use. Having a face-to-face conversation with a client will do wonders in regards to them understanding what you’re saying and everyone getting on the same page.
- Set Expectations – It is imperative that you are very open and honest with your client and you take time to continually set expectations, especially up front. By doing this you can always refer back to “that conversation we had” where you explained to them how things work. Getting them on board by giving them all of the options, letting them know if they choose A these are some of the challenges, if they choose B those are some of the challenges. This way they have all of the information and THEY can make the call.
- Website Planning Spec – Create a Website Planning Spec that lays out the entire website prior to the build. Get your customers to sign off on this “blueprint” before you develop anything. Then use it as your guide. This will minimize the constant changes and gives you ammunition to go back to explain what they agreed to, what they are now asking, and why it’s going to take more time and more money to complete.
Create a List of Initial Questions for Website Planning
As part of the website planning process that I referred to in the section above, creating a list of initial questions that you can ask your client would be hugely beneficial for properly scoping your website projects. What’s nice about creating a list like this is that you create it once and then use it over and over. You may need to tweak the questions here and there based on the client and what you know they are looking for, but the majority of the questions will be the same across all clients. In order to come up with your initial list of questions, think through the most crucial elements of any website development project. What information do you need to know up front in order to properly spec out the job? Once you’ve done that you can start putting keys to the keyboard and type up your list. Here are a few questions I usually use which should help you get started:
- What is your goal for the website (ie. Drive awareness, sell products and services, etc.)?
- What do you see as your “core” web pages?
- Are there any websites out there that you like and you want to pull in features from or that I can use as a guide when developing your website architecture and design?
- What’s your timeline for this project?
- Do you need us to provide hosting for your website?
- Do you have a URL that you’ve purchased already or do you need us to purchase it? What do you want it to be?
- Should we include search engine optimization in our project budget?
- Do you have an IT person who is going to handle day-to-day maintenance once the website is live or should we include that service in our proposal?
Use Skype for Your Client Meetings
As part of the tips section above I recommend that you have at least the initial client meetings in person. That said, if you do not live in the same geographic area as your clients, that poses a problem. The solution? Skype. Get your clients on Skype. I’ve had clients who barely know how to use email who I’ve had successfully install and use Skype. Skype is an amazing tool for business and especially when dealing with website development projects. It will make the client more at ease with the process when they can see you when you are speaking with them. You have to remember that someone who hires you for a website development job probably doesn’t know much about website development, thus they are naturally uncomfortable. This can lead them to challenge things like budget because they don’t full understand what goes into website development. By you taking time to Skype with them and have a face-to-face conversation you can build a level of trust in them with you. This makes things a whole lot easier moving forward.
Set Customer Expectations with Your Initial Website Proposal
Too many times website developers put together an initial website proposal and they don’t take time to properly set customer expectations. It normally goes a lot like this, create the proposal, email it to the client, and ask if they have questions. This naturally leads to a lot of confusion on the part of the client because if they don’t know a lot about website development to begin with, they may not know how to truly understand your proposal. I recommend that you set up a time to meet them in person or Skype with them before you even send them the proposal. Once it’s on the books, go ahead and send it to them a day or two in advance. This way they can read through it and come prepared to ask you questions at the meeting. At that point you can walk them through it, answer their questions, and set expectations. The biggest key is to explain to them how website development projects normally go. Don’t be afraid to explain “scope creep” to them. By you giving them an understanding how what’s involved in website development, where the hang ups are, what customers typically don’t understand they will feel much more comfortable when dealing with things like budget. Explain to them that this proposal is an initial starting point and as long as nothing changes in their requirements, this is what you will stick to. Also explain to them that normally as the process goes along clients ask for things that aren’t in the original budget, which creates the need to either extend the timeline or the budget, or both. Let them know that whenever they ask for something that’s out of scope you will be sure to let them know, offer up solutions to either stay in scope while still achieving their request, or moving forward without implementing their request because of the costs/time involved. Either way, explain that you will have a discussion with them. Most clients are very receptive to this.
How Will You Estimate Your Next Website Development Project
Hopefully after reading this you have a much better idea on how to prevent scope creep and better estimate your future website design projects. Does anyone have any other tips for how to better estimate website design projects? If so, feel free to leave your comments below.