The Dilemma of Estimates

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What do clients want from us, or from any digital agency that they are looking to hire? In making estimates, CommonPlaces strives to be transparent, honest, and professional; but this often means that we won’t be the lowest bidder. While we have to assume the best case scenario based on the information provided, experience tells us that there are always unknowns.Estimates

Let’s assume that a company approaches us with a request for an ecommerce site. They want to sell a catalogue of music, for example. Great. We can establish an online site setup with Big Commerce for $5K, and they’re good to go. Handshakes all around for a job well done, thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.

Not so fast. Are they shipped via CD, or do they need Digital Downloads? Do we need to be concerned with DRM (Digital Rights Management)? They also offer music classes, and concerts. Should we assume that they need the ability to sell tickets online, and memberships? If we do, then the cost estimate could increase tenfold. In other words, do we estimate for what they asked, or for what we believe that they will need?

The process of bidding

This is the dilemma. If we estimate for what is expected, then we run the serious risk of pricing ourselves out of the opportunity. If we estimate for what was requested, our partnership could go south in a hurry. The obvious solution is to acquaint yourself fully with the client, taking the time to understand fully what the goals and needs are. But, who has that kind of time to dig deep into what is only the potential for a relationship, when there are existing clients with real needs which must be met?

Most of the time, clients approach us with the need to accomplish X. We are asked to provide an estimate solely predicated on achieving X. More time needs to be spent on understanding what X is built on, but that isn’t the concern of the client. Since everybody claims to be the best at what they do, and they all claim to follow the best practices, for the client it all comes down to the price. Make it do X for less than the other guy, and the job is yours. When the winning bidder fails to provide what the client really needs, they often turn to the company that lost the bid to pick up the pieces. By then, though, time and expenses are spiraling out of control.

These potential customers are traversing a difficult terrain. They aren’t experts in Web design and development, otherwise they wouldn’t need us. So, how do they know what information to provide in order to get the most reliable estimate?

Know the team

It isn’t enough to check out the portfolio of the company who is bidding. You may see that they have built beautiful sites in the past, but who will be working on your site? Are they part of a team which works in a collaborative work environment, solving issues together; or is it a virtual team with some junior level guy in his home office trying to figure everything out on his own? Understanding how that team is composed, how they work together, and who is responsible for seeing that the job is done properly is crucial information.

Get references. Only someone who has worked with a particular agency in the past can tell you about the most valued element of any business partnership ‘- trust. When a client knows that you have their back, and that the work that you’ll perform on their behalf is well worth the dollars paid out, then the project is on solid foundation.

Trust has to apply to the bidding process as well. Typically, we recommend applying a 20% buffer to most projects because Murphy’s Law tells us that there are bound to be difficulties, and we hope that the client agrees. It could lose us the opportunity, but we believe that it is the most prudent approach. Until you step into somebody’s garden, you don’t know where the weeds are.

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