Estimated Project Budget
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Filtering Based on Budget
In my list of tips for optimizing the pre-bid process, I discussed the value of “eye-filtering” job search listings to exclude those that are not worth considering. Budget is one of the most important ways to do this. You should decide on a minimum dollar value below which you will not consider doing a project at all, and then use that as a “showstopper” if you find a project where the client wants the work done for below that level.
Again, the best way to do this is while sifting through project summaries, but some sites don’t show budget values in search results. Even when that field is provided, sometimes clients don’t use it properly, instead putting the budget in the project description, for example. So be prepared to remove a project from contention even if you already tried to avoid it based on its summary information.
The exact dollar figure you use depends entirely on the particulars of your situation: the type of work you do, how much you typically charge per hour, and so forth. Someone just starting out might be willing to do a project for, say, $20, whereas an experienced freelancer could consider that a waste of time. It is also wise to adapt the filtering level based on your current status, increasing it when you are very busy and lowering it a bit during idle times when you need more work.
If a project doesn’t have an estimated budget field with a reasonable number shown, you will often be left in the dark. Sometimes clients will volunteer budget information in the project description, as I mentioned earlier, but this is not common.
One option is to ask the client what his or her budget is for the job. Be prepared, however, that this often will not bear fruit; in my experience, the client will respond with an actual budget figure only about a third of the time. I think one reason is that some clients don’t indicate a budget because they really haven’t thought the issue through—they can’t tell you because they don’t really know. Another is that clients may view requests for budget as a “fishing expedition" by a freelancer, and may think they’ll be more likely to get lower bids by not tipping their hands.
For these reasons, I generally avoid asking clients about budget if one has not been indicated. One situation where I sometimes do it is if the project description indicates a complex job that it will take a significant amount of effort even to fully understand before bidding. It’s a waste of time for both myself and the client to engage in a lengthy dialog about a project if we have very different ideas about what it will cost to get done, so I may ask the client for a general idea of what he or she is looking to spend. Even here, though, I often am ignored.
Remember that a budget is a guideline, not a guarantee that a project will go for a particular amount of money. Many clients put in a budget only because they feel they need to enter something. They often don’t feel very confident about what they are budgeting.
Also, consider that if you go to a store thinking you’ll need to spend $200 on a piece of merchandise, it’s not like you won’t gladly walk out with a $125 item if you can find one you feel meets your needs. Similarly, even if a client is prepared to pay a certain amount of money, he or she will be quite happy to pay less if that can be done without risking the quality or timely completion of the work. Use budget as a general indicator of what a job is worth, but never forget that you’re still in a competitive bidding environment.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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