This post is about business, so… you know, caveat emptor.

Probably the single most common thing I do in business is write estimates. If people are even vaguely interested in a project, I can tell them about how much it would cost to have me do the work. No charge for the estimate. And certainly they don’t all lead to paying work. But very few paying jobs proceed without them. The latest one — written today — was around number 550. That’s more than 1 a week, since I went into business for myself.

I dislike writing them. Or at least find it to be difficult, tedious work. I think people look at it as something you can just plug a few numbers into, and then send out. But those numbers don’t just come out of thin air. I have to understand the project. I have to wrap my head around every possible aspect of the project, and be able to approximate how much time and resources will be required for those steps. And if I’m working on 5 or 6 projects on any given day, (and I am), it takes a feat of concentration to be able to push it all aside mentally and focus enough to build this whole project in my mind.

So lets say I’m stupid enough to try. I’ve built myself a kind of formula, to make the calculations a bit simpler. I broke down the average job into phases.

  1. Research
  2. Cleanup
  3. Populate (optional)
  4. 1st Author Alterations
  5. 2nd Author Alterations
  6. Meetings (optional)
  7. Rush (optional)

And for web sites, you can add:

  • Code Sample Page
  • Template

Research is the time I spend coming up with ideas. Looking through samples. Finding inspiration. Making sketches.

Cleanup involves taking all those sketches and ideas, and putting them into clean, digital proofs, so they client can look them over and start making choices. Usually after this stage, we have a design direction.

Populate comes into play for long pieces… books, reports, websites. My initial mockups only have a couple sample pages or spreads. So if it’s a long piece… then once a design direction is chosen, I apply to the remainder of the content.

1st and 2nd Author Alterations are the comprehensive sets of fine-detail edits that the client wants to make to the project. They go through and review the whole piece, collect every edit they want, and send it to me. I encourage/restrict my clients to use this “set of edits” method, rather than sending them over piecemeal. Piecemeal edits are a pain in the ass. Either you’re constantly jumping between jobs to make a repeated small edits, or you’re forced to collect and collate all the edits yourself, which can be difficult if they start overlapping. So my estimates include 2 ’rounds’ of edits. Anything significant beyond that gets billed hourly in addition.

On websites, once the design is set, I have to code a sample page with the design. This gives my the basis for the website and lets me work out any programming or interface bugs.(And occasionally to make sure I can actually accomplish some new, ambitious design element). Then I take and merge that sample page into the templates for whatever CMS I’m using.

And if I it appears as if I will have to spend a significant amount of time interacting with client… repeated meetings, or tutorial sessions for a new website, or such, I will add on some small amount of time for ‘Meetings’.

For everything listed so far, I figure out what number of hours, or percentage thereof, I will need.

Occasionally a project is a rush. Well… every project is rushed. But there’s a scale of rushes. Do you need this for your conference in a couple weeks. No problem. Do you need this add in 2 hours? Rush. And the rush is a percentage markup. Usually around 20%, although that can vary based on severity.

So total up the hours. Apply any rush markup. And then multiply by my hourly rate.

To further make my life easier, I have a spreadsheet. It includes the above calculations, already set up, for a variety of job types. So I already have a tri-fold brochure on there. And a 12 page report. And a logo. And a 10 page website. And…

And don’t forget to add in costs. Stock Imagery. Printing. Hosting. Special software. Programmers. Photographers. Copywriters. Editors…