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  • Diana Schneidman

Freelancing and consulting: How long will the project take?

When you estimate the time required to complete a project—especially important when you are proposing a flat fee rather than a per hour rate—it is important to calculate a rate that is fair to both parties.

It is impossible to know in advance exactly how long a project will require. There are two circumstances in which this determination is especially challenging.

The first circumstance is when it is unclear what it will be like to work with this client (or when it seems the road ahead may be rocky).

Some firms have a sole decision maker who can explain very clearly what he wants and doesn’t change his mind along the way. This ideal prospect makes decisions quickly, keeps the work moving along, and pays immediately.

Other situations are more problematic, involving committees contributing to the decision, extended turnaround on their side, conflicting opinions, and other issues that drag out the project and add to the work.

In these two circumstances, it is customary—and highly recommended—to factor in 20% to 50% above the initial calculation to cover the time required. You may also decide to define the first project narrowly so you don’t accept so much risk first time out, and then you have more information with which to price the second phase more skillfully.

Some solopros specify how many rounds of revisions they’ll do. I prefer to require final payment at a specified time other than when—or whether—the client proclaims the project “done.” It may be a week or two after I submit the first draft. I will do unlimited further revisions at no extra charge, but the last check is processed regardless of when they say it is done. It seems to work, with projects completing promptly (or at least that seems to be the case on my end).

Here is why: Since I submit my writing as a Word file, clients have been known to proceed with what they consider to be a draft and never really proclaim it done. Other clients become too busy with other work and therefore never finalize the project at hand. Back when I only submitted a final invoice upon “completion,” I sometimes found it impossible to find out if the work was done.

A second problem in estimating the time required is when initiating what will become recurring work, such as newsletter content for each month’s edition. I keep track of my time but I may charge less than my actual time the first and even second or third time around. I aim for a consistent price, and I recognize that the first time I carry out any assignment, it will take more time than the same thing will ever require again.

The first time is a lot of work, the second gets a little easier, and by the third iteration or so I’ll develop a rhythm that makes everything much easier.

I prefer to determine a fair rate based on how long the project will take when I get accustomed to it, looking upon the inefficiencies at the beginning as a developmental cost I will absorb.

By the way, some solopros add in extra money as a matter of habit. I don’t. If a freelancer or consultant has the courage to quote a flat fee based on his desired hourly rate and then determines how many hours may be required without wimping out and reducing them down to his comfort level, there is no need to add in a windfall. A fair rate will be quite sufficient, thank you.

Originally posted 6-2-14

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