Early in the development process – sometimes at a first meeting, sometimes during the pitch – a client will want to know how much their site will cost, and how long it will take to develop.

Clients often have very specific ideas of how much each of these values should be. Developers and designers – especially if they are new and hungry for work – will tend to “lowball” their own estimates. Inevitably everyone suffers as a result: the site can’t be delivered as promised, the client is disappointed, and the developer works overtime and is underpaid.

When asked for an off-the-cuff estimate, a good rule of thumb is to take your most liberal guess of the time needed to complete the site and multiply that by two, giving the client the latter figure. That allows you leeway (as sites always take longer to develop than your initial estimate); it also impresses the client if you deliver the site under the initial estimate. With experience, that safety margin may reduce to 1.2 ~ 1.5× the ballpark figure, but it should always be present.

It should be stressed to the client that an off-the-cuff estimate is exactly that; before writing up a contract you should spend more time working out the actual resources required to complete the site, possibly using an estimation service the breaks down the various stages in the process, while continuing to keep a “fudge factor” in place. Avoid being cornered into providing a delivery date for freelance work, as sites usually require input and resources from clients that will often be ignored.

“What rate should I charge?”

As a very rough estimate, full-time students with high grades in my classes are worth $20 — $25 per hour for freelance web development work after their first year, and $30+ after graduation. (Full-time work, with its implied benefits, regular income and hours, is typically a lower figure).

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