Tara Hall

design. write.

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Jul 06, 2016

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How I create a web content estimate Part 1

Last month, an agency that I’ve worked with previously asked me for an estimate to write web content for a new client of theirs. This estimate was part of a larger proposal to redesign the company website.

In this first article, I share which questions I needed answered from the client to draft my estimate and which resources I used to ensure that I don’t underpay myself. In the next article, I’ll share my estimate and explain the items in it to give you ideas for what to include in similar estimates.

What you need to know from the client

The most obvious thing that you need to know from a client to create an estimate is the scope of work. In my case, I needed to know how many pages—as well as which pages—the client wants written for their new website.

Why does it matter which pages need to be written? Websites generally consist of different page types with varying amounts of content. A sales landing page, for instance, generally has far more content than a contact page. Because of that, I would price a contact page much less than a sales page.

With just those pieces of information—number of pages and page types—you can put together an estimate. However, it’s helpful to know some additional information about the company and the project to give a more accurate estimate.

What’s the company’s budget?

If you have a chance, it’s a good idea to ask for the company’s budget when it comes to the scope of work. Knowing ahead of time whether or not the budget is close to what you would charge for such work may spare you from creating an estimate for a company that can’t afford your services.

Not all companies, however, will tell you their budgets. If that’s the case, then you may want to rely on other indicators.

What’s the timeframe for the project?

In your estimate, you need to take into account when the client expects to receive the final deliverable. A client may provide you with a generous amount of time to complete the work, so much so that you can take on another client or project work.

Or a client may have a deadline so tight that you need to postpone all other clients and projects to complete the work.

In the latter case, I may charge more for my services. While the same amount of time may be required to complete the work, I’m doing it in a tighter timeframe. It may mean not only delaying other client work, but also interfering with my personal time on nights and weekends.

In some other service industries, it’s not unusual for a service provider to charge a rush fee. I think the same fee can apply to writing and design work when you’re given less than the usual amount of time allotted to do the work.

Who will you work with? How will you communicate with them?

I like to know as soon as possible whom I will work with on a project and how they prefer to communicate. Every project has some hidden costs that you want to consider. These two factors can influence those hidden costs.

I prefer a single point of contact on a project. This can be especially important when the client has a team behind the scenes whom you’ll work with. If a client assigns a project manager, then you have fewer expectations to manage and fewer people to communicate with. Let the project manager be responsible for all team communications.

If you don’t have a project manager and if you have to work with two or more team members, then add a project management fee to your estimate. Expect that project management could take 20-25% of the overall project time.

In addition, you want to know how the client wants to communicate throughout the project. Does the client expect weekly in-person meetings or conference calls? If so, then you need to take into account the amount of time you will spend either on the phone or traveling to and from the meeting site in addition to the meeting time.

If a client doesn’t expect to meet with me again after the initial kick-off meeting, then I limit communication to email or an occasional phone call if I need to speak with the client. I try to keep those to a minimum especially if I have quoted a project price rather than an hourly rate.

If a client expects that there will be meetings throughout the project, I either build that time into my estimate by increasing the overall amount for the project work or add a separate line item for meetings in the estimate.

If you bill hourly, then let your client know that they will pay for any meeting, phone call, or email that occupy a certain amount of time. I’ve known freelancers who charge for phone calls and emails that require more than 10 minutes of their time.

Helpful resources for reference

A reliable resource for web content writers and editors is the American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI) website, which publishes a pricing guide for web copywriting services.

If you use this resource, you’ll notice that the price range for services is wide. Under the heading Landing Page Fees by Type, for example, a home page can cost anywhere from $450 to 10 times that at $4,500.

It’s important to know where your skills fall in that range. A seasoned writer with a proven track record can charge the upper end of the range though there may be fewer clients willing to pay the cost. A web copywriter with less than two years experience is likely to charge the lower end of the range.

Another factor to consider is your locale. Rates vary by region. Because I live in the Boston area, I probably charge more for my services than a writer living in Columbia, South Carolina, where the cost of living is much less.

Due to the wide range of fees, I don’t rely solely on the AWAI website to price my services. I also look to what my competitors are charging for similar services. But I don’t limit myself to those in my region. I look at regions where cost of living is close to my own.

As a side note, I never look at a competitor’s site to see if I can underprice them. Doing so not only hurts my business, but it also hurts the web copywriting industry. Underpricing your competitors sends the message that your work is not to be valued.

In the next article, I’ll share the estimate that I provided to the agency and explain why I included certain items in it. In future articles, I’ll also share more about the web writing best practices that I’ve learned throughout the years writing and editing for the web.