Estimated Project Budget
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Money is one of the primary motivations for taking on projects, especially for professional freelancers. This makes the client’s estimated budget an important consideration in determining whether a project is worth pursuing. Using the project budget to evaluate a project’s suitability can be trickier than it seems at first, though. And unfortunately, some sites don’t really provide you with the tools you need to make an accurate assessment.
In its simplest form, the project budget indicates to you what a client is willing to pay for a particular project. Just the actual number gives you important clues about the size of the job. However, by itself, it is not really enough information for determining whether a project is worth bidding on. It also does not tell you how much the client values quality.
For example, suppose a client says he has a writing project he wants done for $200. Is that worth doing or not? There’s no way to know, because you don’t know the details. That $200 could be for work that you could finish in an hour before your morning coffee has kicked in, or it could take a week of solid work.
What really matters is how the project budget compares to the work that the client wants performed—you need to evaluate the budget by comparing it to the project description. Making a full determination of how much to bid on a project is a more complex process that I explore fully in the chapter on writing and pricing proposals. But with a bit of experience you will get good at quickly looking at the estimated budget and the work that the client wants you to do, to get a reasonable idea of whether it is worth your time to explore further.
Of course, I should point out that project budget is not really relevant to jobs that are paid hourly.
Freelance marketplace sites differ greatly in terms of the amount of information they provide to contractors about project budget. This affects your ability to make budget-related decisions about projects—sometimes severely.
The best case is when a site has an estimated budget field that the client is required to fill out. This forces the client to put some thought into how much he or she is really willing to pay for a project. It gives you a specific number you can use to make an assessment about the task under consideration.
Unfortunately, this is not as common as it should be. Competition is fierce among freelancing sites for clients, and many of them try to make it as easy as possible for clients to list projects. Sometimes this includes eliminating anything that might cause a client to hesitate before hitting the “Submit” button—even when that hesitation is important.
These sites have an estimated budget field but don’t require clients to use it. In my experience, only about half of clients will put in an approximate budget if they don’t have to, so you’ll find a lot more projects with no budget listed.
Certain sites lack a specific budget estimate for projects, but require clients to select a range for their project before it is listed. For example, the client may have to select from “Under $500”, “$500 to $1,000”, “$1,000 to $5,000” or “Over $5,000”.
This is better than nothing, but the ranges are often so wide that they don’t really tell you as much as you’d like; they don’t really help you get a handle on what the client is willing to spend. That is especially true of the bottom category, whatever it is. In my experience, a large percentage of projects on a site with an “Under $500” budget range are worth well under $500—often in the $50-$150 area.
Some sites, sadly, don’t provide you with any budget information at all. Clients can only indicate budget by typing something in the project description field, and very few actually will.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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