This is a very challenging aspect of doing freelance work. I've been freelancing for over 10 years now and I can tell you from my own experience and from what everyone else I've known who does this kind of work says... estimating projects and managing time/budget is by far *the* hardest part of the job. Harder than any technical issue you will face.
There is no easy answer to this question, it depends on how much time you have, how much you're charging, what the client's budget is, what the client's expectations in terms of quality are, how long you've been doing this, etc.
I personally try to stay away from charging a flat fee. I do try to stick to my estimates and not charge moe than I originally said I would, but explaining my estimate to the client in terms of hours sends them a message that they are paying for my time... so when the inevitable changes come up in the middle of the project they are not surprised that it will take longer and require more money.
Really, this is the thing you will want to pay attention to more than anything else -- how to manage changes after you've estimated the job. I could go on and on about this topic. I'm sure many books have been written on it as well. Basically, though, it's going to be a learning experience so just pick something and go with it, and then learn from your mistakes so you can do better next time.
It's always different for the individual and what they provide.
If I'm looking to hire a freelancer around the my shop, I'd prefer to
pay you just hourly. There's a lot to do, clients (and my) minds
change a lot, and if you're working for me I'd like you to focus on
work and not have to worry about "getting yours." That being said, I
have a technical background and while I may be frustrated that things
take longer than you say, and I might adjust my plans and thinking of
what you say next time, I'm generally not going to be resentful that 4
hours turned into 6. In my experience most webshops hiring freelancers
are looking for this. It helps keep the business/money issues
consolidated into a few people's hands to manage and ideally most of
the energy around the shop going into development work.
There's lots of ways to determine what your hourly rate should be. The
easiest to compute (but probably least forgiving to you) is to simply
take the base salary you know you need to pay the bills and one day
retire, and compute that out to the number of hours you'll actually be
able to bill in the year. So:
52 weeks - 2 for vacation = 2000 hours. As a freelancer you have
downtime, time making connections, other costs - and you may simply
want more time for vacation, so do yourself a favor and split that in
half. Whatever you want to make in a year, let's say $50,000 is now
divided by 1000. Congrats, you should be billing $50/hr. Of course it
may be wiser for you to think in terms of the value your talents bring
to your local market and network, but the above way to compute your
worth is low risk.
Now in terms of charging clients - I agree with Jordan this is one of
those things that takes learning and finesse and experience. It's not
rocket science however. Your daddy's plumber had this one figured out
ages ago. We typically work on a "not-to-exceed hourly bid." So I'm
gonna tell the client, "look this is what we charge per hour, this is
how many hours it will take to build what we've been discussing, as
long as you don't change/add anything we can call it a round number
fixed bid at that total cost." This sounds a little weird, but it's
actually what any contractor who might work on your home does. As the
home owner with no expertise, I just can't pay the plumber by the hour
with no sense of when the meter will stop running. I need to think of
it as a round number. As the plumber, I need to have an out for cases
where I open up the wall and its an unforeseen disaster someone else
made, or you as the client decide you'd rather have the sink 6 inches
to the right after I've installed it. Either scenario gives me the
chance to come back and say "hey things have changed" and it shouldn't
be a shocker or unfair to anyone.
Right on Franz. The one difference between your daddy's plumber and most programmers/designers is that plumbers generally are learning the trade from someone and working for someone else for a while so they know how things go (both how to do the plumbing *and* how to talk to customers and estimate jobs). Also, plumbing has been around for a looooong time so everyone knows what to expect and the general ways of doing things are established.
The blessing and the curse of doing freelance web work is that it's still relatively uncharted territory... lots of people get into it just on their own, learning on the job, without any kind of training or apprenticeship. And a lot of customers have no clue how much things generally cost.
I think in 50-100 years that programming will look a lot more like plumbing, but right now the better analogy might be "the custom furniture craftsman where every piece is different, but over time you learn which techniques and materials to re-use so you can keep costs consistent".
I see a lot of parallels between clients who are buying websites and
have no idea what they want, how much it will cost, and what will
actually work well for them - and the home owner that is redoing their
bathroom or kitchen with their hard earned money and has zero
experience with construction, architecture or design. Just saying.
Take it or leave it. I happen to know some very creative plumbers.
No more than 3. One is generally the best. Some people need to make a choice, but typically you're better off figuring out one really good idea that works well for the client and convincing them of such.
That being said, just charge for each direction and leave it up to them.
its always hard coming up with that third idea when you have to do several. Most often its just a throw-away you didn't like, but now the client loves. Uck.
As for how many hours of work you put into it... this completely depends on what the requirements of the site are. Do **NOT** give a price or an estimate without finding out what the job actually entails. If the client doesn't know what they want then **YOU** need to come up with a very specific list of features you will give them. You will definitely forget a lot of things the first time around... make a list of things as you go through this job so that for the next one you won't forget!
I've spent as little as 10 hours and as many as 100 hours on brochure sites... it all depends on how complex it is (how many different pages, how much custom functionality, how often the client changes their mind, etc.).
The long-term answer is "find better clients". If someone thinks $800 is too much for a website, then honestly having a custom-built site is not the right product for them.
Unless you personally are okay making only a few hundred dollars for a website build.
I am making an assumption here, that "building a brochure site" includes everything: consultation, custom design, custom functionality, SEO, content development, deployment/hosting, support. But if you're okay serving a market that only wants to spend a few hundred dollars on a website, you could certainly do this by building very off-the-shelf systems -- basically you're just offering the service to the client of picking out off-the-shelf themes and components and putting them together for them. So show the client the marketplace themes and have them pick one, then tell them what they can get for their budget (based on addons you know exist already in the marketplace).
In fact, Concrete5 might not be the right tool for this job... you might want to check out some of the hosted services that provide a lot more out-of-the-box, such as weebly.com, jimdo.com, squarespace, etc.
I lived in eastern Kentucky for a couple of years in the 90's. It was
hard to sell a website for anything over three figures then, and I
imagine it is still today. If I did business in Lexington I could get
in low thousands, but in Morehead population 10k when college was
in?... not so much.
I was paying my bills living there just fine. I moved for a wide range
or reasons, but finding better clients was pretty low on the list.
I dunno, I just don't think this stuff needs to be over thought. Sure
I get programming is challenging and the web is new. Putting too much
weight on that becomes an excuse for when things go wrong. Take a step
back, treat it as a simple business with some costs, value, and the
need to match supply to demand - and you'll do just fine wherever you
If you're doing local business work, you might consider barter and
shared risk/reward systems too.
So sure, the local coffee shop isn't likely to spend the 5k I want to
build them a little brochureware site. They do however have a lot of
coffee which I'd love to drink. So I'd tell em "look this SHOULD cost
you 5k. How about you give me 1k and free coffee for 3 years,
excluding fancy drinks and bagels and they pay 1-2k instead?" I'd
always keep some cash involved or they're not going to be motivated to
make decisions and do the work they need to for the gig.
The other way is focusing on the marketing side. So the local hot-tub
refurbishor needs people to discover his services. How about we build
you a site at cost and then build some type of coupon system into the
website that people will bring in. We do the SEO too and for every new
customer who finds you through the website we get $50. Or combine the
two, and I get $50 towards that nice CalSpa tub I want.. etc.
Structure these deals right and they will be irresistible to your
These deals can get complicated fast in a few ways.
1) Its hard to control the ongoing work. Your prospects will think of
the website as a one time cost. In reality they are more like places
than things and they need ongoing attention to grow well. How does
this ongoing drain on your time impact your compensation?
2) The client has to feel some pain or the deal's no good. You're
going to have to wake up and work on this project. You'd rather be
doing [blank], I'm sure, so no -it's not awesome that you're "letting"
me build your business a site because I like computers. Shared
risk/reward is just that. You and the client are both sharing some of
the risk (upfront costs) and both sharing some of the reward (the
revenue this website will help their business generate)..
Definitely dangerous territory, but if you get good at this you can
basically wander through life getting "free" everything and you'll
also have an easier time finding new clients because these business
owners will talk.