Heather Finley is an independent writer in business for more than 20 years. Online at HeatherFinley.com, Heather is a freelance B2B writer working in manufacturing, technology, government and education, among other areas.
Next week she will appear as one of our expert panellists at PWAC Toronto Chapter’s “How to Break Into B2B Copywriting” seminar on November 20. She generously provided this preview post on a topic important to writers both experienced and new.
Estimating CAN Be Pain-free!
By Heather Finley
Writing estimates for freelance clients can be challenging. Go too high and you might not get the job; go too low and you could lose the client if the bill is higher than your estimate. Past invoices for similar projects are a starting point, but they don’t tell you anything about client culture and working style, both of which can affect your ability to deliver quality work at a fair rate.
Track your details
Start by keeping timesheets. I use them for every job, even if they’re flat-rate or per-word. And while I’m tracking my time, I also include notes about the type of project, the client and anything else that seems relevant. Sometimes I go into deeper detail, such as listing the reasons why a 10-minute client call expanded to an hour – for example, the client added work that wasn’t part of the original scope.
Why keep timesheets? Why keep these notes? First, because I may need to explain to a client how my time was used. But more importantly, the sheets give me valuable feedback on my efficiency and the variables that can affect it. For example, looking at the sheet for a two-page case study, I can learn:
- How long it takes to write a two-page case study
- What it’s like to work for that client – for example, the work they hire me for may change after we start
- How the company responds to requests
- Questions I could ask before writing my next quote, such as whether they have a project brief or need help establishing the scope
Knowing these things, my next case study estimate will be more accurate.
Now that you’re tracking your time and how you use it, consolidate that accumulated knowledge to speed up your quote-building. You can do this by creating an estimate template and embedding the information. A few years ago, I started using my timesheets to build one for myself that saves me a ton of time. My template starts with a letterhead-formatted layout that includes standard information such as my address, my HST number. It also includes space for the client’s name, the company’s name and other business details. Below that, there are rows describing different projects and my quotes for each of them. The rows also include comments for the client that can affect the price, such as, “By supplying me with a clear project brief, the billable hours may be lower.”
I never delete estimates from the original template, which makes that section more valuable with every addition. But after I’ve added a new estimate row (or multiple rows, if the estimate has multiple components), I save the template with all of the old and new rows, and then re-save it under the project name. In the new file, I delete the rows I don’t need, total it, fill in the customer information and create a PDF that I can send to my client. When the client opens it, they see a professionally formatted estimate on my business letterhead.
This process has been a game-changer for me – I can often get an estimate out in minutes. And from the client’s point of view, I’ve just demonstrated my experience and professionalism with a fast, clear and targeted quote to meet their needs.
Organize, organize, organize
If I’ve learned one thing about freelancing, it’s that simply being organized makes a difference to clients – and to my own satisfaction. Clients like prompt, efficient and accurate work, and timesheets and an estimate template can help deliver that while reducing some of my own non-billable time.
Get more advice from Heather Finley and fellow panellists Derek Little and Rachel Foster on Monday, Nov. 20 at 7:00 pm. Register online at https://pwactorontonov202017.brownpapertickets.com/