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Common pitfalls for project quotes

Project quotes are easy to improve

I can’t count the amount of project quotes I put together. I would be at total loss if I tried to count them all. I never hear back from most receivers of the quotes. That’s normal though. I chat with younger people in the industry about their quotes and how they get put into tough positions by their clients and wanted to share two areas that people can easily improve on. The improvements are relatively easy and are often just oversights or lack of communication.

Account for professional time

“Computer time” was more valuable than “operator time” when computers were just being introduced in the middle of the century. Companies didn’t care if it took someone 1 hour or 10 hours to prep the computer to run a batch job because the computer was more important. This strange idea continues to make appearance in many quotes as the duality between hard costs and soft costs.

Clients will accept all kinds of hard costs. They’ll approve projector rentals for a single night will be in the 6-figures, but will turn around and demand clarity on a variety of 4 or 5-figure soft costs like project co-ordination, charges for design revisions, being billed for travel days, etc. The demands of clarity have led to a negative connotation attached to these elements and a lot of young people just getting in the industry don’t want to rock the boat on their first jobs.

Rock the boat and hold your ground. Don’t forget you’re in a new and growing industry and that you’re a specialist in a niche. You need a Wordpress site put together? You can throw a stone in any direction and hit a Wordpress developer. You need to projection map a building with generative content reacting to sensors? The talent pool immediately is smaller to pull from.You should cherish your time and be compensated for any use of it. Things you should start including in your quotes:

  • Regular meetings (like a weekly 1-hour review meting)
  • Days you spend traveling to and from the job (if you have to show up the day before the job starts then bill that travel day at a reduced rate)
  • Co-ordinating vendors and suppliers (everything from getting quotes to managing load-in times of hardware or delivery of products, just cause you’re not doing it doesn’t mean it didn’t take you time to sort out)
  • Design revisions (you may want to include 1-3 in your price and make it clear that additional revisions are billed)
  • Project discovery (if you need a few days to work through existing code or review documents and plans before you can get started)
  • Documentation (creating handoff documents is time consuming)
  • Training time (training people to operate your work once you’re done working on the project)

Every and all of these elements have bit me in the ass at some point or another. I have examples of each and every one of those elements taking way more time that I had accounted for. For example, a weekly 2-hour review meeting will quickly amount to 1 working day a month you spend on the phone. You don’t need to give away 1 working day a month just cause it feels weird to bill for meetings.

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Avoid cherry picking

End clients are not really aware of the finicky nature of solutions or the complexity behind them. They can be see quotes as a bunch of line items that can be tweaked, removed, or increased independently at will.

A good example (and regular occurrence) is having clients ask if doubling the amount of screens or projectors is equivalent to just doubling the single line item cost of the screes/projectors. It might sound reasonable for them, but the infrastructure around them such as cabling, extenders, switchers/matrices/splitters, software, and computer hardware can be put into flux by the change of a single line item.

Cherry picking is that act of trying to pick and change certain elements of a quote for some reason and hoping the rest stays static. This will generally be an attempt to lower the cost of the project.

“This one line item is expensive, can we remove it or make it cheaper?” Maybe but it may be at the expense of another line item (like installation time) being increased.

One of my personal favourites is questioning the validity of a line item based on a understanding “I don’t know what this one is, it doesn’t sound like we need it?” I won’t even get into that one…

Present your quotes as a holistic thing. Be open to making revisions and changes to line items as needed but make it clear that all the elements work together and that items can’t be cherry picked without consideration for the whole solution. A little bit of explanation on the complexity of the solution can go a long way in preventing cherry picking