How to Quote Projects for Work You’ve Never Done

Even when we list out our services on our portfolios, you’ll always get quote requests for something you’ve never done before. You can always refuse to do the project or hand these requests off to another freelancer. But, what if you’re actually interested in doing the work?

I was recently contacted about doing some work in Expression Engine. Although I’ve never worked with Expression Engine before, I like to check out other CMS’s to see how they compare to WordPress, so I thought the project could be a fun one. The problem was that I’d never even looked at EE’s code, so how was I supposed to know how long it would take?

There are several ways of dealing with a project you’ve never worked on before. Let’s take a look at how we could approach unknown projects.

First, Decide If You Really Want to Mess With It

Learning new stuff can be fun, but it’s also really time consuming. You need to stop before you do anything and decide if you really want to do it. Is it going to be something you learn just for fun, or is it going to be something you can use all the time and add it to your current list of clients? How big do you think the learning curve is going to be? If it’s a new development language, it’s possible it could take months or even years before you really understand it enough to use for clients. Is your client willing to wait that long?

If you don’t want to do it, that’s ok too. Inform the client it’s not a service you offer and it’s very helpful (and looks good on you) to refer the client to someone who can do it. I’ve actually had clients come back to me for other work after I’ve referred them to someone else. They never come back if I simply tell them I can’t or won’t do it.

Ask Your Friends in Social Media for Help

The first thing I did when I decided to try out the project, was send out a tweet and a FB update, asking if anyone had ever worked with Expression Engine and how difficult was it to code it versus WordPress. I knew that I might get some biased answers back (there really are some weird developers who won’t admit how easy WP is as a CMS), but felt that I could gauge the difficulty of EE on the answers. Luckily, a lot of people work in the CMS and informed me that it was quite easy to learn and work in.

The point of using and have social media is to share expertise and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and send feelers out for potential work. Especially because, if you decide not to work on the project afterwards, it becomes easy to refer the client to someone who can.

Quote for Learning Time

One technique you can use, is to go ahead and price out learning time. I’ve heard of freelancers successfully doing this, but for it to work, you have to be upfront and honest to the client. You can’t just tell the client I can do this site for $xxx,xxx.xx and expect the client not to freak out about the high price. Instead, you should inform the client that you’ve never done this service before, and if they still want to work with you but don’t want to change the service, let them know that $xxx.xx of the quote is for learning the new service.

I’ve been told clients are actually willing to pay for learning, especially if it’s for a freelancer they’ve worked with before and don’t want to go somewhere else. This is another great reason why you should always treat your clients well and make sure you’re the go-to person for them.

Do a Bit of Research

The best way to get a feel for the new service, is to actually do a bit of research on it. Skim through a few books and tutorials. Download the necessary software or framework and poke around in it. This can be as short as five minutes or as long as you want to spend on it, but will allow you to truly see how easy or tough it’s going to be to learn.

Of course, if it requires a paid service (like Expression Engine) you may not have the luxury of  ‘poking around’ and you may have to rely on what others tell you. If the client is truly serious about having you work on this project, you may be able to convince them to pay for the service ahead of time to allow you to look through it.

Quote Normally

Based on the feedback you get from others or the research you’ve done, you may decide to prepare a quote like you normally would for any service. For example, after everyone told me about how easy Expression Engine was, I decided that I would quote it like I would a normal WordPress site. If I went over in hours, I would just go ahead and eat the time and consider it learning and dabbling. It sounded like fun anyways.

Only do this if you’re really interested in the project, if you’re not, you’re going to resent having to work extra hours on it for no pay. If this is the cause, you can tell the client that you believe it would take X amount of hours and cost X, but that since you’ve never done the project before, it could possibly take longer and would cost more. This way, it saves you from having to work a lot more on a project you really aren’t excited about.

How Do You Do It?

How do you quote projects that require unknown services? Please share your tips!

Image by kristiand