As a self-employeed web developer, I also have to do all my own estimates on projects. This has taught me something crucial. I’ve been pretty bad at it.

In the past I’d put down things like ’10 hours for featur XX’ without actually having a break down of what feature XX looked like. This is totally my own fault and I’ve paid for it big time when XX takes way longer than I anticipated.

Unfortunately my clients have also paid for it when they’ve had a grumpy developer who doesn’t want to work on a money loosing project. Deadlines get pushed out and we both end up disliking each other.

Now if I think that a feature is going to take more than 5 hours, I better have a break down for the exact steps it takes to accomplish it. The problem with this is, it takes a long time to do an estimate where you break down each feature in to it’s parts.

Unlike a full time employee, I don’t get paid for my time to figure out how much a project will cost. In fact, I may not even get the work. Not getting the work means I’ve wasted whole days on a proper estimate with no return. Yes my fees for the projects I do get should make up for this, but it still sucks to look at a report of the day and realize that you earned nothing.

This has got me thinking of charging for estimates. Now any charge would be credited if I get the project so if you choose me you really didn’t spend any extra money. Of course I can’t charge a whole billable day for a single estimate but a $75 fee maybe?

The second benefit of this is that when a client asks about the cost, I’ve got a hugely detailed break down for the steps it takes. One client can actually build WordPress themes but is a bit out of their depth when it comes to custom plugins and the WordPress admin. When she asks about a cost I can pull up my notes and sketch out the feature on a somewhat technical level.

How detailed do you get when sketching out an estimate? Ae you charging for estimates or have you tried it?