In low budget web development it is often requested that a worker give a solid quote for a job. While this is common at the bottom of the web development spectrum, it is not done anywhere else and is a bad idea for a number of reasons. This article outlines why solid quotes are a bad idea for both the client and the worker. This specifically relates to programming, I donít know enough of other areas of freelancing to speak on them. Essentially the idea here is that you posses a special talent and your time is special and valuable. As such it only makes sense to charge for what you are giving them; your time.
Quotes offer no flexibility:
When a quote is made it is for what is described and that alone. The problem is that there is no such thing as an all-inclusive project outline; the client will always leave out some that that he thinks is implied. Unfortunately it will become a problem if the unmentioned feature takes more than a few minutes; the coder canít work for nothing and the client does not want to pay more for the work being done. This can end a project and put both parties in a very bad situation.
Despite what they say, many clients want you on like a staff programmer during the project. What I mean by that is they may want you to do various other things that may not even relate directly to what you quoted for. Charging by the hour, however, offers unlimited flexibility. Opposed to being hired for an inflexible piece of work, you are being compensated for your time. If the same situation happens, it will be less problematic because it was known from the start that the coder would be charging for hours worked, not for the project itself.
Quotes remove value from your time:
When you price by the project you are selling a product, not your time. For reasons that will be further elaborated below, this gives the client a pattern of thought that says other services should be free because they paid a lot of money for this. Charging by the hour removes this, they paid you for X hours of your time and any more will be more hours.
On the other side of this if the project takes less time than the quote I will still charge the full quote. This is because I was not compensated for my time; I was compensated for the project. If being paid by the hour I will send an invoice for exactly the amount of hours done because that is what I am being compensated for. While I do not cut corners, others may. If a worker knows he is going to get X amount of money no matter when he finished he may build to a lower standard or even outsource the work and profit off the difference. When compensated by the hour there is no reason to skim on quality to finish faster.
On the side of website design, clients may want revisions because they paid for a design opposed to your time. Easily he most common complaint I hear from designers is that client expect seemingly unlimited revisions for free. This is not because clients don't care about you, it is because they don't associate the price with your time. Charge by the hour and they will think twice before demanding another revision because they know what more of your time means.
Quotes offer no support
Generally when a client gets a site deployed there will be minor problems down the line. The client generally will expect you to go back and fix it (even if it was not your fault). This is something you cannot do for free since it is more time that you are not getting paid for. This again causes problems.
When you charge by the hour it is known that if you come back to fix stuff you will still be compensated for your time. This will be less problematic and ends better for both of you.
Quotes give clients the wrong attitude:
When someone is paying you a flat fee for a service they see it as a product from the store. This is problematic because you are not selling a product, you are providing a service. When a client pays a quoted price they always have an ďI paid good money for this, it better work the way I want!Ē attitude. This becomes problematic with either of the above points. If they thought a feature was implied, they will still want it at the same price because they do not relate the time spent to the price paid. I always tell my clients that even the slightest change will alter the price, but they either donít listen or donít care because this has come up on almost all of the projects I have quoted on.
What clients need to understand is that programming cannot be quoted; it simply is too dynamic to give a solid price at the beginning of a project. There are always unforeseen factors. Programming is very different from other fields in it being very hard to predict. This is because most programming jobs require working with other peopleís code, they also generally include an element of learning on the programmers part. No one can say with complete accuracy how long it will take them to solve a problem.
Things a lot of clients say against hourly rates (I have gotten every one of these personally)
Q: I cant be there to watch you so I don't know that youíll report your hours honestly?
A: If you think I am going to defraud you it is probably best not to hire me at all. How do know Iím not gonna just lie on the quote?
Q: How do I know this wont end up costing way more than what we are looking at now?
A: I estimate fairly well and my estimates are generally at the higher end of my guess. Its never happened yet and if it did it would be better to go over budget than to see what another programmer might do when the situation turns unprofitable.
Q: $X is a lot of money per hour
A: Even if I was making a quote it would be a little higher than what my estimate is.
Q: My higher-ups insist on a solid price
A: Thanks for your interest but Iím going to pass on this one.
The reason I would walk away then and there is because this indicates that the companyís higher-ups are tight wadded and are more likely to play games when it comes time to pay you at the end of the project.
Is it ever a good idea to quote?
Iím inclined to say no, but there are a few tasks that I would still quote for. The only things that I would give a solid quote for are menial tasks that Iíve done a number of times before. Things like image uploads that consist of code I already have lying around. This is really the extent of it, any task that requires me to go even a little out of my comfort zone would be done by the hour with an estimate.