Estimating: The Secret to Pricing Web Design

What’s the most important part of pricing web design? It’s being able to accurately estimate projects of course! Sure there are several other important factors when attempting to give a price for web design work. But make no mistake, estimating is the key.

First you’ll need to figure out your hourly rate. Once you have a handle on that, you’ll want to spend some time learning how to estimate.

Why Pricing Web Design is Hard

Pricing web design and development work is hard, especially when you’re new. Talk to enough web design companies and you’ll see all sorts of crazy pricing schemes. Some price by the page, others by the project type, and some even try to “feel out” clients for the right price.

So why are there so many different methods of pricing web design? Some web design shops are just trying to sucker clients. Others just don’t know where to start. The problem is that no one teaches this stuff. You’re not going to learn it in school and asking someone for advice will probably yield you vague instructions on how to price web design work. So most people struggle through their first projects until they find a method that works for them.

What These Pricing Methods Have in Common

What do pricing by the page, project type or project size have in common? They all use the same basic formula to figure out how much a project will cost. Even if they’re not aware of it, they’re using a formula. It’s time and money based and it goes like this: What’s the least amount of money I’ll take for X amount of project time?

Now let’s look at the right way to calculate the price for a web design project:

Total Project Cost = (Hourly Rate * Estimated Hours) * Contingency

Is this similar to the previous “calculation”? Absolutely, it uses the same components: time and money. The difference is that one is much more accurate than the other.

Estimating the Easy Way

Earlier I stated that estimating was the secret to pricing web design. Looking at the earlier calculation you can see why: If you don’t know how long something will take to build, you have no hope of accurately calculating a price.

So what’s the best way to estimate a web design project? There are lots of different methods to estimate projects. There are books devoted to the subject. But you’re in the web design business, not the estimating business. So you’ll want to use a method that’s simple yet accurate.

Say you’re building a content management system with the following tasks:

  1. Build page admin area (create, update, delete pages)
  2. Build contact us form
  3. Design look and feel of application

You’d want to take each of these tasks and break them down into tasks that would take 4 to 8 hours each.

Improved Task List:

  1. Create admin login (8 hours)
  2. Create admin password retreive (4 hours)
  3. (Admin) Create site page list with options for editing pages (4 hours)
  4. Build new page form (8 hours)
  5. Design admin mockups (4 hours)

You get the idea. You want to break down tasks into smaller bits because it’s much easier to figure out how long they’ll take. You’ll end up with a more accurate estimate and less chance that you’ll leave out stuff.

That’s it, that’s all there is to it. Break tasks down into subtasks for accurate estimates. Pricing web design is easy once you’ve done that. Remember, if you’re having trouble figuring out how long something will take, chances are it’s too large of a task — try breaking it down into smaller subtasks.

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