Towards an optimal method of quoting

I’m now in my 10th year of freelancing (good grief!) but one of the things I still find bloody difficult is the whole quoting / time / cost equation.

I often still (like a twat) am tempted to quote for the “perfect job”, that elusive one in which:

  • The client loves your first designs
  • They provide neat, well-structured, source files
  • Nothing goes wrong in the production phase
  • The few changes there are get approved first time
  • They don’t constantly call you asking you why their email doesn’t work, or how do they view an .swf file, or how to tie their shoelaces
  • The job finishes quickly and on time

(Obviously the joke being that this job just doesn’t exist!)

So after getting stung a few times recently with jobs that have gone horribly over, I’m compiling a kind of master list of things to work-in / consider whilst building the quote:


The end result is that I’ll have a proper framework with which to help estimate the real time for a job and most importantly feel confident, not bad, for charging for it. As well the client can be sure of knowing in advance how much things are and not get any nasty shocks when I say “Well, the thing is, it’s going to be £2000 more for this thing I didn’t realise / forgot / hoped wouldn’t come up, but it has”.

Obviously it will be different depending on who provides the job (I’m learning to spot problem clients earlier now), and what the industry is so it’s not a “one size fits all” solution, but will attempt to cover as many bases as possible.

So, I’d like to invite people to pitch in now with their thoughts reply with a list of things that have affected you over the years, and any techniques you now use, and in conjunction with all my other designer pals, I will try to consolidate everyone’s input, and will be able to offer something back when done.

Looking forward to your comments,

1 Comment

  1. Gee Clarkin

    Well I can tell you fella that in the 8 years motion graphics freelance and over a year running a company the issues you describe below are just the same today as they were at the beginning !!

    Quoting for a job is never an easy thing – the best thing we do is try and find out what budget a client has and work within that budget and agree with them at the beginning that if we do any extras it’ll cost them a daily rate of x

    Hope that helps chap!


  2. Bryn Bache

    I agree with Gee on this it’s always been a problem and it is difficult to see a way round it as there is no one concept of “The Client” that can always be used as a model.

    However, what may be a possibility is the establishment of a Fair Trading alliance. Whereby we set up a collaborative committee where all freelancers quote using a set of agreed guidelines that are made publicly available to potential clients. I’m not saying price fixing exactly, more a methodology fixing set of guidelines. has some quite good guidelines for producing quotes and it’s well worth reading even if you don’t necessarily agree with it all.

    Another consideration is when and when not to introduce the client to the notion of a retainer of some form. There are various retainer models that could be used when it is fairly obvious that the client is going to need repeat work.

    Some examples:

    • Fixed Monthly Fee: Fixed monthly hours with a discount on extra hours.
    • Preferred suppliership: Nominal fixed monthly fee that grants a heavy discount on all hours bought. Essentially a subscription to a particular rate card. And a promise that the retaining client gets preference over your time above any of your other clients.

    One thing that I’ve always struggled with when quoting is that in most cases the cost of the build is defined by the nature of the design. This makes it really difficult to give a comprehensive quote of design and build upfront. If you provide 3 different options for design then the build costs could vary as much. The best solution to this in my mind is to separate these phases as two distinct orders. So you produce the design for the design fee and this would usually include a variety of routes/options. An estimate for build goes with each of these options but is only an estimate. When given multiple design options most clients tend to treat it as a buffet and choose a bit from each option annoyingly. But as a result a final Build quote can only be accurately provided once the design spec is finalized.

    This method also allows the client to process a series of smaller invoices that may not require as much internal approval as one big fat one at the end of a project. It also gives them the option to buy design and source their own build if they wish but maintains a relationship with the designer still.

    Another option is packaging. Where we find ourselves creating similar functionality in sites then we may have built ourselves a functional base site that can essentially be re-skinned for the client. In this case the client isn’t buying build they are licensing the use of your content platform and the bespoke part they pay for is the design. If they then require functionality beyond the base then these are charged as add-ons. This is a common structure for people who build using opensource or homemade CMS based sites.

    In general I think that designers often make the mistake of seeing themselves and their services as something different than hiring a plumber or a landscape gardener etc. (guilty here). I think it’s important to think about how you would expect to buy these services if you were the client. What would you want to see broken down in the quote etc. The other thing to always make clear to the client is whether they are buying a product or a service. Services on a running clock can tend to scare clients as they can’t perceive the boundaries to costs. Upfront quotes for service can lead to the designer to get screwed by the client in order to keep them happy. The benefit of selling our services as product rather than service means that the client has clearly boundaries of what they are paying for and how much. Then if they want to let the scope creep they can be easily made aware of the incremental costs.

    The hardest bit in all of this though is placing value on design. In the client’s mind they can look at the work of two designers and ask why are you charging £400 a day and you only £200 a day when your work seems of a par to me. This is where added value comes in, and not in terms of how many years experience etc. as unless that blatantly manifests itself in the clients’ perception of your solution then it’s bullshit to them. If you are charging yourself out at the higher end then you may need to illustrate that you work quicker due to experience so that implications of change orders are dealt with more efficiently thus reduceing the required num of days etc.

    Ok I’ve exhausted myself now and still don’t think I’m any closer to the answer but maybe some of this food for thought.

    (oh and don’t forget that there are great docs on the design council site that can be stolen to help justify your costs to clients).

  3. Kay Tsang

    Hi Dave,

    Excellent idea. I like your diagram. Here are my guidelines.

    A client will always want to make at least 3-4 changes to everything you show them, bearing that in mind add a further 35%-50% to the estimated time, it will always take longer than you think.

    Ask lots of question to define clearly and concisely the objectives of the clients needs, which is not necessarily their wants.

    Have the brief, objectives and terms clearly outlined in a written document and what will be delivered at different stages of the project.

    Gauge how easy going or difficult a client/job will be, usually the bigger the company the more people are involved in the decision making process.

    Get consolidated feedback from one person so you don’t get comments in dribs and drabs. Limit rounds of revisions.

    Breakdown stages of the project and invoice after each stage. Do not continue with the next stage until payment has been received. Or else the client has no incentive to pay you!

    Clearly state what changes are included in the quote. How many rounds of revisions are included. Are they minor or major ones you may have to charge extra for major changes which are outside of the original scope of the project.

    Renegotiate at this point for more cash to cover the extra work.

    Sometimes the client doesn’t really understand the process and what the technical limitations are, so it’s important to make sure that they understand what they are asking for especially when it comes to making lots of changes.

    Above all… have fun, keep your cool and professionalism at all times. Make the most out of a difficult situation.

    Take care,


  4. Zac Thorne

    Hi Dave,

    Ok i’m afraid i’ve gone down the road of quoting for the perfect job.

    Recently I quoted for a charity rebrand where I estimated the time for the logo to be x amount – this was 4 concepts and 1 concept to be carried across into the final design. All was well until they kept changing their mind (as clients do). When they were satisified with the logo they said “now we just need to show it to the board’!!

    As you can tell the amount of extra time I have had to put into the project is ridiculous. Once they showed the board they chose one of the designs and they got back to me the next day saying the design was too similar to another charity logo!

    So i’m still re-working the logo and the client is getting more and more frustrated. But i’ve stated that anything that goes over the given timescale is chargeable x per hour. If they had told me upfront that the design had to go through the board then I would have factored more time in….it’s probably my fault for not asking!

    Here is a list of things that I have learnt from larger design projects:

    1. Create a document with given timescales and an initial fixed value. Break the project up into smaller chunks. i.e. Concept Stage, Implementation and Programming
    2. Charge the client 50% upfront and 50% on completion of the project OR into 3 stages and everything has to be signed off and invoiced at each stage
    3. Create a T&Cs document for both parties to sign this includes cancellation and termination of project.
    4. Regularly update the client with how much extra work you’re carrying out and cost so they don’t get a shock at the end of the project

    I’ve also said to clients that within the quote x amount of days for changes. The ’rounds of changes’ has never really worked for me, my clients find this too restricting.

    I have a client who is spot on with organising everything from the start. Word documents, images in alphabetical order etc etc. so I quote her less because the project is quicker to finish. With some clients you just know that the project is going to take longer because they are wishy washy, they faff about and they keep changing their mind.

    The worst one for me is text changes and typos. I get so frustrated with really small changes which end up taking forever. It’s really difficult to know exactly how much time to factor within the quote for these kind of things because these small changes end up being time consuming.

    Unforseen – extra meetings. Sometimes I put in the quote ‘meetings not included’ within the quote so they are charged separately, I add travel on to this as well.

    I think that’s all for now,


  5. Dom Northam

    Hi DJ

    Well done to you for tackling this one, is the hardest part of this design lark for sure

    After reading everyones comments here I am glad I choose to avoid print and web design. Animation is easier as you dont have to quantify exact details to your client, you dont usually have to work with complicated file structures as you would with someone’s company branding/website.

    To be quick, I just spend as much time as possible in a one to one basis trying to uncover the clients aspirations for the product, I then give them some reality of costs using other projects they will know as case studies. After this they usually understand cost vs ‘quality’. If they understand these factors its easy to manage the project from then in.

    I think having T&C’s are important in quotes but mainly to protect you from a muppet client. If you have ‘managed’ the client well you shouldn’t need T&C’s too much.

    I am trying to build a business that services clients’ long term needs, that way I avoid pissing matches with details/arguments as we build a relationship of trust with clients who then get out of the loop THUS saving eveyone money.. i hope


  6. Mathew Wilson

    Hi Dave.

    Loads of thoughts on this subject.

    Will write them up for you when I have a sec.

    Good instigation.

    In the meantime, we generally find that no matter how hard we try's_Law is always right…



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