person sitting at a desk and writing notes about the work process

Is There a Way to Do Better Estimates or Quotes?

two people sitting at a desk and discussing items on a piece of paper

As a freelancer, you can’t just focus on one task of your business. You need to be able to do more than just expertly design a website; you must know how to consult with clients, give them excellent service, bill clients, and manage your time well. Perhaps most importantly, you need to know how to effectively estimate or quote for a new job.

Why Is Effective Quoting Important to My Business?

When you are a freelance designer, time is money. You want to be paid for your expertise as well as the time you spend working on a project for a client. When a potential client sends you an email to inquire about your services, your estimate is important to them as they establish their budget for the project, but an estimate is also important for you.

When you provide an accurate estimate or quote for a project, you are able to ensure both you and the client are on the same page as you move forward together. Effective estimates work hand-in-hand with your contract, laying out what work you will do and how much that will cost.

Ineffective estimates lead to confusion and frustration for the client and for yourself. You can also end up working for free if you aren’t estimating properly.

Evaluate Your Scoping Process

The first step to an effective estimate is to evaluate your scoping process. A scope of work (SOW) lays out the details of a project, giving you and the client a document that keeps you both working toward the same goal. You can provide better estimates for your work by evaluating your scoping process to ensure the completed SOW includes everything you’ll be doing for a project.

A comprehensive scoping process is the foundation to better estimates or project quotes. Is your scoping process as effective as it could be? Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do you have a scope of work template you use to estimate projects so that you don’t forget the large and small details?
  • Do you provide the scope of work template to new clients and ask them to be a part of the scoping process in order to determine what they are looking for?
  • If a client doesn’t want to complete the SOW template, do you charge them for completing it on their behalf?
  • Do you include details in your scoping document to account for overtime charges or extra requests?

Get Down to the Details

Your SOW includes all of the project details, as well as the time you will spend completing the tasks.

The more detailed your scope of work, the better you are able to provide an accurate estimate for service costs to the client.

Remember, no detail is too large or too small. It is best to begin with the big goals and hopes for the project before creating the smaller tasks that will need to be completed to meet those goals. By scoping details, you are able to break down your time spent on each element.

For example, you might need to allocate extra time in order to create a complex contact form for a client. Your scope of work should note this and you can add in additional time to your estimate once you realize that the client wants that complex form.

Stick to the Scope

Finally, your estimates or quotes become more accurate when you stick to your agreed upon scope of work. The more you veer from the tasks outlined on the SOW, the more likely you are to end up working too much on a task without being paid for it.

Providing more accurate estimates to potential clients takes a bit of practice, but your practice cannot begin without a comprehensive scope of work process. It is always worth it in the end to spend the time developing a scope of work template to guide potential clients through the process.

painting of the word no on the wall

How Can I Avoid Scope Creep?

When a client calls to ask you to do one more quick edit to a design after they have already approved it, do you quickly answer ‘okay’? What about if a client calls and asks you to add three new features to a design that you weren’t prepared for? Completing one extra task after another can quickly lead to you spending time on a project without getting compensated for it.

Scope creep is a very real phenomenon even for the most experienced freelancer. Here’s how to stop it.

What Is Scope Creep?

You might call it something different, but scope creep is the general term for when clients start to ask for tasks, revisions, or extras that you did not prepare for or schedule into your calendar. Scope creep happens to the best of us, and it never ends well. Scope creep can lead to you feeling underappreciated and overworked, all without being paid for your extra efforts.

Start with a Strong SOW

Scope creep can’t happen as often if you begin a project with a strong scope of work document, which should be completed during the estimation phase of the project. This document outlines the project details, including how much time each task will likely take. Your SOW works together with your contract so that you can set the boundaries you will need throughout the project timeline.

Your scope of work document should also include details like:

  • How many revisions you will complete for the client
  • How many changes the client can make throughout the project process
  • How many hours you allocate for responding to client emails and phone calls per week

These boundaries are laid out clearly so you and the client know what to expect during the process. You should also include your hourly rate for items completed outside of the SOW so that you can be compensated for your work not included in the agreed-upon scope.

Practice Saying No

Beyond a strong scoping process, perhaps the biggest thing you can do to stop scope creep from happening often in your business is to practice saying ‘no’. It can be especially difficult for freelancers to tell a client ‘no’; after all, freelancers rely on income from happy clients. However, people-pleasing tendencies can only contribute to scope creep.

Practice saying ‘no’ to requests that are not within the scope of work. You can still complete the tasks requested by the client, but you should be paid for it. Try using phrases like:

  • I’d love to work on this for you, but since the task isn’t in our scope of work, I’ll bill the time hourly. Will that work?
  • I’ve completed the three revisions we agreed to in the scope of work. I can make these extra revisions for you next week when I can schedule it in, but it will be charged at our out of scope fee. Please confirm.

Point Out Final Milestones

You can also avoid scope creep by making it a point to tell clients when they are reaching a certain limit in the scope document or as you submit a final milestone. For example:

  • Just wanted to give you a heads up that this is the third and final revision for this page as per our SOW. Take extra time giving your feedback so that we can get the page just right.
  • I know we have a conference call coming up this week and I’ve already taken three additional calls this week regarding your project. Any call after our conference call on Thursday will be out of scope and billed at an hourly rate.

Remember, scope creep happens to everyone, but you can make solid efforts to make it happen less frequently to you. Establish good boundaries and guidelines in your scoping process, learn to say no, and keep clients on task by pointing out final milestones. You deserve to be paid for your time!

hand holding burning U.S. Dollar bills

I Didn’t Get Paid Because the Client Argued I Didn’t Deliver What They Wanted

disagreement in office meeting with client

You’ve spent countless hours building a website and putting the finishing touches on your design for your client. When you send out your invoice for services, you’re met with an email or phone call from the client saying they are withholding payment because the completed site doesn’t meet their expectations.

It’s perhaps the worst-case scenario for most freelancers, and it’s difficult to see what your options are when you are in a flurry of emotions ranging from anger to self-doubt.

Here’s what you can do now, and what you can do in the future, to make sure you are getting paid for your work, time, and talents.

What to Do Now

If you are in the throws of waiting for payment or discussing payment with a client, you need immediate action items that can help you receive your full payment or a partial payout. Start with your contract.

Evaluate and enforce your contract

If a client is withholding payment, start by re-reading the contract you signed with them. See what guidance is offered in regards to paying for services.

Return to the Scope of Work

After re-reading your contract, return to the client-approved Scope of Work (SOW). Your SOW is helpful because it should have client-approved (or client-written) specs and information for your project.

Follow up with the client

Perhaps the scariest part of your efforts in resolving non-payment issues is to follow up with the client. But before you pick up the phone, ensure:

  • You aren’t angry or frustrated; this can come through your communication and leave the client feeling defensive
  • You have clear examples of how your project met the SOW guidelines

Be prepared with the next steps

When you speak with the client, you need to be prepared with the next steps. Potential next steps are:

  • You talk about how the project met the SOW and your client decides to pay
  • You enlist the guidance of an attorney to get the money you are owed
  • You start a new contract to be paid for your past work as well as any new work you complete to make adjustments to the project (don’t forget to get a new and approved SOW)
  • You walk away

What to Do in the Future

The best way to ensure you are paid for your work is to have policies you keep to make non-payment a non-issue moving forward. Here are the best practices you can put in place today to ensure you are paid for your work, time, and talent.

It starts with the SOW

Most freelancers start with a contract and then continue to create the SOW with the client. This tactic is backward. The key is to begin with a client-approved Scope of Work and use that information to lock in a quote. Then, it’s time to use that information to guide the contract.

The next most important step in ensuring payment is to live by your Scope of Work for each project. Ideally, you will be involved with the SOW process and your client will lay out exactly what they need in each part of the project. Remember, your SOW should also include how many revisions or additions you are willing to make as a part of the design process as well as your rate for any revisions or additions after that set amount.

Write up the contract

Use your SOW.

Many freelancers don’t have a standard contract they use when signing new clients. There’s a variety of reasons why freelancers do this, one of which is not investing the money into an attorney fee to write one up. However, a standardized contract is simply a must and definitely worth the investment.

When you write up your contract, mirror the SOW as much as possible. Include references to the SOW throughout, including any revision limit or policy.

man reading contract document on laptop

Change your payment policy

Finally, switch up your invoicing so that you are billing by the month or milestone, and not waiting until the end of the project to make all of your money.

Talk in advance with the client about your expectations

Communication is key, and you should be upfront about your payment policy as well as your revision policy before you begin the process. It’s also helpful to note to the client throughout the design and build process how many revisions they have left before your overtime rate kicks in. This ensures everyone is on the same page throughout the time you work together.

Make Your SOW Better

Getting payment, and decreasing your stress, starts with an effective SOW. Clients generally provide a SOW that they believe covers everything in the project, however, it often misses important details like page function or flow of their page or shop. This is where your expertise comes in; make sure you review a SOW and return it to the client with specific questions that will clarify their expectations.

Once you receive answers back, you can complete the SOW and use it to estimate your price for the project. Keep in mind that everything they want to be done should be included in the SOW. There’s a phrase, “if it’s not in the SOW, it’s not included,” that most freelancers live by. It’s a great way to protect yourself from any disagreements that could happen along the way.

Unfortunately, it only takes one time being burned by a client before you make sweeping changes to your contract, SOW, and other policies. Ideally, you can avoid this situation altogether if you implement best practices now.

Not sure your SOW is effective or comprehensive enough? Learn more about how to build a better one here.

magnifying glass on light blue wallpaper

I Don’t Have Enough Information to Quote for This Job

lady sitting by a laptop and writing notes in her notepad

It’s exciting to meet with new clients and have the opportunity to bid on a project. There’s something about the energy a new client brings that sparks creativity in most freelancers. However, what do you do when you sit down (or stand up) at your desk to prepare the

quote and you realize you don’t have all the information you need to bring a realistic bid to the table?

It’s frustrating, certainly. It’s also more common than you might think and it happens to even the most experienced freelancers.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get the information you need so that you can still get your bid in on time to be considered.

Start with What You Do Have

Before you start emailing the potential client, work on filling in the parts of your scope of work (SOW) that you do have.

As you complete the different sections, keep a running list on the side with information you need to obtain from the client before you can realistically quote for the job.

Remember, many times the client knows what they want the final product to look like, but they do not always tell you the detailed information you need to help gauge the time and resource you will need to devote to the project to get the outcome. This is when it is helpful to involve the client in the SOW process.

Contact the Client

Now that you have the scope of work filled out with the information you do have, it’s time to get the information you don’t have. When possible, schedule a call with the potential client. More often than not, clients can feel overwhelmed with an email that includes a list of complex questions they may not have even thought about yet.

Give it a personal touch and request a phone call. Tell the client you are invested in giving them an accurate quote and you would like to review a few items with them. Then, get on a call to discuss it further.

lady talking to someone over the phone at her workstation at home, and taking notes

No matter how you contact the client, ensure you have a full list of scoping questions they need to answer. If they don’t know how to answer the questions, negotiate a rate where you can complete the scope on their behalf.

What to Include

Building a website is a complex process and while you know this, clients do not always realize it. Before you quote the project, make sure you have a comprehensive list of all of the page requirements and technical specifications the client wants. You don’t want to end up working with the client on the project only to realize they expected different add-ins for pages that will take more of your time than you originally priced out.

It’s all about the details when it comes to compiling an effective SOW. Get the client to take the time to give you the details you need.

Be Wary

You work hard for your clients, and you don’t want to lose money on projects by working with an unresponsive or unrealistic client. If you are struggling to get the information you need from a potential client, take time to do a gut-check and determine if this is a client that you would want to work with in the first place.

Be wary of clients who appear to be:

  • Unresponsive
  • Unrealistic
  • Unhelpful
  • Overly demanding
  • Unclear about the project’s vision and unwilling to be led to a solution

If a client won’t pay for the scoping process or cannot provide a completed SOW themselves, it’s a red flag and can often mean it is time to walk away. In cases like this, you can end up saving money to bow out of the proposal and choose not to bid on the project at all.

The Bottom Line

You can’t estimate realistic costs for a project without a detailed scope of work. Your client should come to you with enough information to complete a detailed SOW, or they should pay you for your time to complete one on their behalf.

several folded dollar bills lying on a green surface

How Do I Stop Losing Money on the Work I Do?

young lady sitting by her laptop with her head in her hands, stressed out

It’s a freelancer’s nightmare scenario: losing money on a job. Unfortunately, it happens more frequently than you might think. As a freelancer, you have to learn hard lessons as you build your business. However, you shouldn’t have to continue losing money on jobs you work hard to get. Here’s how to make sure you are getting paid for your work by being organized upfront.

Why Are You Losing Money?

If you are like most freelancers, you might not realize you are losing money on a specific client or job until you are frustrated and at your wit’s end. These feelings of stress often accompany all the extra work you are putting into a job, meaning you are working on a project for more hours than you anticipated.

As a freelancer, you already know that time = money, so why are you allowing clients to increase your time commitment to their project?

Determining why you are losing money and working more hours on a specific project is the first step in remedying the problem. Common culprits can include:

  • A client that is asking for one more edit, one more revision, or one more draft
  • Experiencing “scope creep”, or clients who are asking for tasks outside of the scope of work
  • Not effectively using a creative brief

Defining Your Boundaries

Most freelancers, especially those first starting out, struggle with setting boundaries. Without boundaries to work between clients can end up taking more of your time and talents than you originally projected, causing you to lose money. Protect your time by defining boundaries with a robust conversation with clients before you sign a contract and enter into the project long-term.

How can you lay out the scope of work as well as get the client to agree to the final outcome? A creative brief.

More About Creative Briefs

A creative brief is an excellent way to keep everyone on the same page and you can use a similar brief template each time you begin a new project for a client. You may have heard it referred to as a Scope of Works, which is a term most commonly used for technical projects, including building websites. Most agencies and businesses now use the term “creative brief” more often than Scope, as it is an overarching term for all types of freelance projects.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you have one.

Your creative brief is a way to keep everyone on the same page. It allows you to develop a plan and allocate your time and resources toward that plan, giving you and the client boundaries to work within.

Clients can have input on the creative brief as well, but once it is approved, stick to it.

Things to Include in Your Creative Brief

Creative briefs will look different from project to project, freelancer to freelancer. However, you can build your brief basics by including any of these:

  • General outline of the project, including audience persona
  • How this project fits in with a short or long-term goal of the company
  • Timeline estimates and hard deadlines
  • What work is included for each of the steps of the project
  • How many hours of work you will work on the project per week
  • Your hourly rate, as well as your rate for hours worked after your allotted time for the project
  • Billing for phone calls, video chats, emails, etc. with the client about the project
  • Additional resources needed, and who is responsible for picking up that cost (stock photo acquisition, hosting services, etc.)

You might also consider adding parameters to the creative brief that help you maintain work-life balance or other clients on your busy freelance calendar:

  • Hours when you are available to reply to phone calls, emails, etc.
  • Specific days of the week when you will focus solely on the project

white and yellow paint lines on the road

Remember, the creative brief is meant to make expectations and boundaries clear, making estimating a project cost and making the project work as effectively as possible.

How a Creative Brief Stops Scope Creep

A creative brief can decrease or eliminate all the “extras” clients can sometimes request during a contract. In turn, you can focus on the task at hand without wasting your time and resources accommodating any extra requests that were not a part of your original creative brief plan.

Even better, in the long run, a creative brief forces you and the client to think long-term about the project. This discussion upfront can lead to a more organized process, leaving you able to schedule your time realistically on your client calendar and judging whether you can pick up a few more side projects over the next few months or not.

Stop losing money. Stop stressing out and working too many hours as you do one more “extra” task per a client’s request. There’s another way to navigate your freelancing business, and it begins with a creative brief.

Learn more freelancing secrets and best practices that I’ve earned over my career here.