How to quote a design project – and win the account

design-quote-win-account-graphic-design-blender

Quoting a project isn’t easy – and quoting it well is even tougher.

Part estimation, part research, and part historical evidence, a good design quote creates a fair proposal for both the designer and the client where each feels he will receive as much as he will give. (Cue butterflies, rainbows, and birds chirping.)

Easier said than done. (Cue giant sledgehammer.)

Regardless of how much you charge or whether you quote by the hour or by the project, today let’s examine what information we need to quote a design project, and how we as designers can improve our quoting skills.

Project Requirements

Obviously it’s hard to quote a project when you don’t know what the project entails.

Ask as many questions as you can. You need to know about the audience, the intended uses, the type of output, the client’s budget, their expectations, what the client does/does not like in design, fonts, colors, logos, existing branding, etc.

As Preston so wisely put it: “you need a box.

Design Hours Needed

If you don’t know how long the project will take, it’s extremely difficult to quote a price.

This is where keeping a time sheet comes in VERY handy – after a few similar projects, you can start to gauge how long the average website, poster, or logo takes you…and therefore how much to charge.

If you’re quoting something you’ve never done before, you’ll have to do some guesswork. How long do you think the project will take, both initial design and throughout the proofing process? Add 2 hours (more if it’s a big project) – you’ll inevitably run into something you didn’t initially think of and be glad you have a cushion.

DON’T FORGET YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT TIME! I’ve never worked on a project that didn’t include at least 1 hour of project management: emailing proofs, setting up the file structure, talking with the client, saving different file formats, etc. Usually it’s more like 1.5 to 2 hours.

This time isn’t free – you get a bill when you call your lawyer or accountant with a question, don’t you? So whether you build this into your hourly rate or add an hour or two to the project price estimation, make sure you account for it!

Payment Preferences

Most designers require an initial deposit (myself included); make sure you stipulate that work will not begin until you receive it. You’d be surprised how quickly that check arrives in your mailbox!

Add the clause “non-refundable.” A client shouldn’t ask for money back if they bow out of a project.

Overall Time Frame

When does your client need the finished project? Is it part of a larger marketing scheme launching on a specific date? Is time of the essence? (I think there’s a joke here somewhere about yesterday!)

Many designers charge extra for a rush project, especially if the rush is going to require work hours above and beyond their normal schedule or result in a renegotiated deadline for another project.

Talking about the time frame with your client also allows you to remind them that all work stops if they should fail to respond with meaningful input or necessary information.

Did I miss anything? A good quote shouldn’t cheat either your client or yourself. Be realistic about your price and your time, and always remember to under-promise and over-deliver.

Have any helpful tips you use to quote your projects? Share your thoughts in the comments on this post!

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Comments

  1. says

    Good read. I myself require a initial non-refundable down payment (aka Kill Fee) on my projects. I make sure I specify that in my contracts.

    It seems to me that charging hourly and per project are essentially one in the same. You are guessing how many hours that the design process would take and just give them the total for that project. I guess I should figure out how much I charge per hour. My only thing is, I don’t want to overchrage nor do I want to undercharge.

    • says

      Hi Brandon,

      Glad you liked it.

      Essentially, yes, charging hourly or per project is calculated the same way. The differences come in how you present your price to the client and how you charge for revisions…whether they’re part of the package deal or cost per hour, and within these two scopes there are quite a few options as well.

      The short answer of how much to charge is how much you need to live + how much profit you’d like / how many hours you’d like to work, with the caveat that people have to be willing to pay that amount! Really, the answer is different for everyone – someone living in downtown NYC needs to make a lot more just to survive than someone in, say, Puerto Rico or even Bismarck, ND. Heck, two people living in the same city will have different needs based on their personal lives, living style, etc.

      Don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses…set a rate you’re comfortable with to start, and tweak as necessary. If you have a lot of work coming in, you can raise your rates as you’re in high demand. If you’re struggling to get work, maybe your rates are too high (but don’t sell yourself short, either).

      Good luck!

    • rhgd says

      Nobody wants to overcharge or undercharge and, sometimes, it is hard to read the client’s expectations or experience with buying creative services. If they have little experience doing that be prepared to do a lot of explaining and / or babysitting in regard to that assignment. That is good practice with the occasional client, but quickly becomes weary if that’s all you’re doing. Best of luck.

  2. rhgd says

    Some good points, some tried-and-true wishful thinking that’s been blogged about over and over again. In the end, only experience with many different types of clients will prepare you best for quoting jobs. You need that collected history behind you to help read the situation and learn what questions to ask. Sometimes all the experience in the world won’t help if a client has a fixed price in mind. In that case, be flexible. Try to redefine the scope of the project to fit the fee. In some cases you can keep your “too high” fee if you present options for deposits or offer payment terms. This just happened to me on a book cover design assignment. Client thought my carefully researched estimate too high and countered with a lower number (almost 50% lower!). I scaled down the project to only one concept, but kept the deposit at 50% the total fee. Production of the final file was kept as a separate charge. I made less money than usual, but still made a profit. That is a bit of an extreme example, but one that designers are going to face while the economy is still on oxygen. Best of luck to all.

    • says

      Rhgd,

      I agree that experience is one of the best preparations for quoting well, but when you’re just starting out you have to rely on other methods until you gain some.

      I also employ the scale down strategy when clients need to bring the price down.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. says

    One technique I have found that works well is to give them a “rough” quote for the project, letting them know that this is what I think the project will cost based on experience. Then, I charge the job by the hour. If I come in under, all the better for the client. If I come in over, I am sure I communicate the extra time to the client as it is happening. Regardless, all my statements come with breakouts of how the time was spent so that client knows where their money has gone.

    • says

      Morgan,

      Great idea to break out your time so the client is sure to understand your work and pricing. I like your hybrid per project/by the hour solution!

  4. says

    I find it to be part experience part psychology and part ESP.

    When I speak with a potential client I try to figure out where they really are with their finances. Do they understand the real costs of good design work or are they looking for something fast and cheap. If they are the former and they seem relatively sane – I use my usual formula of estimated hours plus about 10-15% to cover unexpected time and fees. If they are of the cheap and quick variety I sometimes have to pass on the project entirely because inevitably, they will expect a high level of service even though I’ve outlined specifically what their limited quote would cover.

    The great thing about a first payment is that it will let you know how serious people are. There are a million people out there who want design work for their companies that they’ve been in start-up mode with for several years…

    Experience will help you “read” good and bad clients and trust your “spidey sense” and intuition to avoid people who’ll be real trouble.

    • says

      Carol,

      You make great points about how to read clients – some you can just tell are going to be more trouble than they’re worth, or you get that gut feeling where you think to yourself, “if it’s this much work to get the client…I can only imagine what they’re projects will be like!”

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mario says

    Great post. When you say “all work stops if they should fail to respond with meaningful input or necessary information”, what do you recommend if the client delays providing their content for too long or generally tries to delay the end of the project (final payment) indefinitely?

    • says

      Mario,

      Sticky situation you’ve proposed here. If the project seems to halt, I wait about a month (emailing about once per week attempting to continue the project) and then bill them for the time I’ve put into it above and beyond the deposit.

      This is good new content for my contract! “Final payment is due in full upon completion of the project, or payment is due as billed after one month of client inactivity/non-responsiveness to the project.”

      Thanks, Mario!

  6. says

    Thanks again for a well timed, enjoyable to read, post.

    A colleague and I were just discussing contracts and what to include/leave out. Had never thought of stipulating that the deposit be non-refundable. Makes sense though, even if they end up not liking the work, you’ve still worked. Fortunately, I’ve never had this happen…. doesn’t mean I can’t be prepared for it.

    Thanks again April!

    Kindly,
    Tamian
    Graphic Designer
    Beyond Design International

    • says

      Tamian,

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the comment! I’ve never had a client ask for their deposit back, but I want to cover my bases.

      I’ve only had one project (and I was a subcontractor for another design group) where the client walked away from the project, and it was a weird situation. I sent proofs consistently and got positive feedback, and then when it was done they said they didn’t like it and were going elsewhere. We were so confused, and we concluded that a new decision-maker came into the approval process at the very end.

      I didn’t ask the design group for a deposit, and I should have. Learned my lesson! We both got nothing for about 10 hours of my time, and I was very upset. Now they require a deposit and pay me mine up front, so I suppose that’s the silver lining!

      Thanks for participating in our discussion!

  7. Tisha says

    I’m just now starting to freelance after working in an agency for several years. I don’t have a contract put together yet and I’m not sure exactly what to include. Anyone have a suggestion on what all to include/language, where to find one with good bones to build from or (if not too much to ask?) want to share theirs? I also have the same questions about printing for clients. I just did a 3k job for a new client without contract or deposit. Dumb I know, but I wasn’t sure what to do and didn’t have time to write up a contract. Does anyone carry insurance for stuff like this? I’m scared I’m going to find out the hard way someday and get stuck with a huge bill! Thanks!

    • says

      Tisha,

      Contract is a must!!! Here is a GDB post about what to include in your contract: http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/common-designer-client-mistakes-part-1-no-contract. There are tons of posts related to your design contract here in the GDB archives, though – so sift through them with a search and get to creating yours!

      Notes about my contract: I like to KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Mine are 1-2 pages in length and spell out all the things in the article above. I won’t start a project without a signature or confirmation email (something in writing always) and 1/2 up front for new clients. Some repeat clients who have earned my trust and pay promptly get leniency here.

      The vast majority of designers get 1/2 or 1/3 (for big projects) up front. As for printing, I set up the print vendor and have the printing paid for directly by the client. That way I can’t get stuck with the printing costs. This also helps in that all proofs get viewed and approved by the client and the product goes directly to them once the printing is complete.

      Good luck and congratulations on a $3K project as a new freelancer! Very nice way to kick off the business!

  8. Terence says

    Hi GDB and all his followers :) My Name is Terence and i’ve recently find out about this website, with all its very helpful tips for freelancers.
    i’m full-time employed as graphic Designer and lately have decided launch myself in freelancing. Well i’m quite experienced do know my job, but nope it hasn’t been easier for me to deal with clients nor to quote them :(…
    hope any of you could perhaps assist.

  9. says

    Hello all, just reading this has given me much to chew on.
    I’m very new to the business, having just started in July. Projects are starting to come in and I’m getting a little frazzled. I’ve only quoted once before (as an interior painter) and quoted WAY under what it should have been. ($800 for a 3 bedroom home – *facepalm*) Needless to say I’m not comfortable with it. So now as word is spreading and offers are coming in for my services, I need to quickly put together a contract and a quoting system with no real experience. My work speaks for itself, I just wish I could.

    Thank you for this blog.

    • says

      Hi Joe, and welcome to GDB!

      We all struggle with quoting, pricing, etc, and we’ve all seriously underbid a project and cursed ourselves as we watched our profits plummet.

      One trick is to get your client to reveal their budget first, then determine what services you can offer for their range.

      Thanks for joining us! Poke around the archives and you’ll find some other great articles about pricing your projects.

  10. says

    hey April!
    Thank you for the post!!
    Did not quite really clear me.. you could have included a sample quote too..
    but.. it’s better than nothing, :)

  11. Kieanna M says

    Hi April!

    I cam across your site via a google search on “requesting a deposit on an hourly rate”. Is this feasible? I am new to the freelance industry. I have an hourly rate set, however, I’m unsure of how to go about requesting the initial downpayment. Any ideas?

    • says

      Kieanna,

      As a freelancer, it’s much more likely for clients to see the project to completion if they’ve put money on it already.

      So let’s say you quote a project at $40/hr. You have to have some idea of how long it’s going to take – few clients are willing to accept a pitch like “I dunno – $40/hr until I finish it.” So let’s say you think the project will take 6 hours to complete. 6 x $40/hr = $240. On small projects (less than $1500), I always charge 1/2 up front (1/3 for larger projects). So you’d charge $120 up front to your client, and they’d pay the remainder when the work is done.

  12. says

    I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering issues with your blog. It appears like some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them too? This might be a issue with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before.
    Kudos

  13. says

    I usually charge an hourly rate. I was more interested in knowing how do ask for money upfront and how do you get people to sign a contract when you can’t meet them in person. Over e-mail?

    • says

      Sonya,

      Yes, the vast majority of my business is conducted through email. I wrap up our initial conversation with discussing when they can expect my quote/contract and that once we sign the contract and I get their deposit (also in the contract), I can begin working on their project.

      Great question!

      April

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