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Billing for estimates that go nowhere

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Member 4995
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I have a client who regularly requests quotes on a number of sign design projects. Some become paid jobs, but most never end-up going anywhere. These requests can eat up a lot of time discussing possible design options, production issues, measuring, photographing, sourcing print/install quotes, etc. How can I set-up an agreement with my client so that we're compensated for those requests that don't end up becoming billable projects?

We have to invest the time up-front to ensure estimates are accurate should the project proceed, and we build-in our time for estimating in the project management line item so everything works out if the job is a go - but it seems more often than not it's a wild goose chase.

I'm not sure a monthly retainer would work as the requests are sporadic and vary significantly in terms of estimating complexity. Would an agreement to pay a set 'estimating fee' for projects that go nowhere make sense?

Thanks.

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lauriekay
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Hi Blain:

If this is habitual then some sort of fee would definitely be appropriate for estimates that continue to go nowhere. The client may kick and scream, but even a conversation about the proposed fee may help them understand that estimates should only be asked for when they are seriously considering the work.

Additionally, you could try to "ballpark" a figure to your client prior to doing a firm estimate to see if it is even in the range they are considering. You can use your historical data to provide a ballpark if you have executed similar projects in the past.

Another option is to track un-billable estimating time and work a few hours into subsequent estimates to cover some of the lost hours. You can't do this too often since it will inflate estimates but you could recoup some hours as future work is approved and executed.

Hope this helps.

Laurie

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Darlene
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With most of our clients we have an arrangement where we bill them monthly for account management, this includes estimating projects.

To Laurie's point about ball parking, I would ask the client upfront before you invest any time, what their budget is.

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DebB_SW
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We've actually written about this issue. Some members contributed their practices for the article. Here's a link:

https://www.secondwindonline.com/the-estimating-question-to-fee-or-not-to-fee

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Member 4995
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Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Great insight!

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Rusty George
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Or maybe do some soul searching and consider how much time and money might be saved by tactfully firing the client... Easier said that done I know...

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