Not long ago, I published a post that discussed the minimum level of information needed to provide the “ballpark quote” so many potential clients would like to see before diving too deep into their software idea.
While that’s a valid article, I wanted to make it clear that a ballpark quote isn’t my preferred method of quoting a custom software project. Really, any time money is discussed, my preference is clear communication based on known facts. It lessens the possibility of misunderstandings and disappointments, and focuses the attention of developer and client both on the most important factor in the project: the quality of the end product.
For illustrative purposes, we’ll assume a client is requesting a quote on developing a new website. So, to go beyond the ballpark figures and provide a truly comprehensive quote on a custom website development project, here’s a list of the questions I need answered:
- What is the purpose of the website (from a business perspective)?
- What value does the website create and what problem does it solve?
- Is this a replacement for an older system or a brand new project
- What is your role in the company and within this project?
- Do you have preferences on the technologies that are used?
- Who is the target audience or user community? Is this for internal use only?
- What can a user do on the website?
- Is there a workflow? Have you outlined this?
- What are the various options the system will have?
- What colors or logos do you have in mind?
- Show me some sites on the internet that have the type of feel you are looking for. What specifically do you like about them?
- Give me some adjectives to describe the personality of the site (and your business)? Things like cutting edge, conservative, bold, eloquent, friendly, comfortable, cozy, etc.
- Does the site need to integrate with any services online (quickbooks, authorize.net)? What are they?
- What specifically can an administrator of your site do?
- Are there any other user types (and what can they do)?
- How secure does the information on the site need to be?
- Does the site have eCommerce capabilities?
- How many products and product options do you need?
- What features are needed (things like wholesale pricing, coupons, split shipping, split billing, product reviews, inventory, etc.)?
- What do you feel is the most difficult part of the project?
- Who are your competitors?
- What do they do well and poorly?
- How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors (so we can help enhance this)?
- What features could you hold off on in order for us to go live with your project more affordably and more quickly?
- What features do you foresee adding over time?
- Do you have a specific budget and timeline in mind?
As you can see, this list represents a lot of information. In fact, I’ll often ask prospective clients to sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement before we even provide a quote because I want them to be comfortable with providing everything we need.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Our obtaining all of these details gives us the very best opportunity to supply an accurate quote that’s unlikely to need adjustment down the road (as long as the answers to these questions don’t change.)
- The fact that the client can provide all of these answers means they’ve given enough forethought to the project themselves, and are therefore in a better position to partner with us to bring it to life. It shows a level of commitment some “tire-kickers” just don’t have.
- The time and discussion necessary to obtain and analyze all this information also provides us and the client the opportunity to “try each other out” to make sure we’re a good fit to jump into a long term project together.
Of course, the list of questions that need to be answered needs to be customized to each unique project request, but you likely get the basic idea: we need a lot of specific information in order to provide a comprehensive quote on a custom software development project.
But, really, investing the time and thought needed to answer those questions should be a welcome opportunity for the client as well, since it usually serves to help them flesh out a concept they may otherwise have neglected.