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Project descriptions- what has been your experience?

Hello Experts!

I'm doing a bit of research, and wanted to get insight from our community.

For those of you who have hired freelancers to complete projects- what have you learned is necessary to include in your project description/brief? Did you have to learn the hard way?

For those of you who have worked as freelancers- On average, how many questions do you have to ask a client before work can begin? Do you even bid on projects that are poorly defined?

I'm interested to hear your real-world examples! Feel free to shoot me an email if you'd like to contact me directly.

Thank you for your time!

Jaime Lewis
Community Coordinator
jlewis@e-e.com
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Rank: Genius

Expert Comment

SStory2016-06-09 08:50 AMID: 1916855
I agree a lot with Jim Dettman.  I bid way too low on a contract to build a very powerful, dynamic, asp.net, sql server website many years ago. It took me far longer than anticipated, but I ate it.  However, the customer didn't know what she wanted.  There was continual specification creep. I finally said, look, I have given you what you originally asked for, correct?  She said yes. From now own I will charge you $xx/hour.  The site became really complex and powerful and she wanted far more than what she'd specified.

The client many times has now idea how something that works "simply", when well written, can be terribly complex to build.  And then there's "Oh, I forgot to mention I need it to do ....," or the lovely "I just need a 'simple' website built."  [LATER] "But I needed it to email people, validate logins, allows changing forgotten password, notify me of this, notify them of that, allow for a search. Show my products dynamically, etc., etc.

Unless a system analyst has made specs from the client, there is no way you will likely get the true project specs from them.  This leads to frustration from both people. The client will make a lot of assumptions. The developer may also. Having everything spelled out in minute details before beginning, with a clause for what happens when the client wants to deviate from the specs, would be the only way I'd consider bidding on it. But by the hour is generally better for people who just want to make it up as they go.  With my example in point, she'd say, I want it to do x,y,and Z. I'd say x will cost $x.xx, and take x hours to complete, y will cost....etc.  Then she could decide if it was worth the price or not. This worked better for both of us.

One way is to quote the base build with details as to all options then get a list of additional ones, estimate time and cost to complete individual items and let the client decide if they want them that bad. Cost makes them be careful what the ask for while a flat bid will enable them to keep expecting and never care what it takes to accomplish or how long.
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Expert Comment

my first programming project as a professional was a bid.  I was naive and trusting and basically said that I'd build whatever they wanted for a set price. I researched their business and wrote specs, which they liked. I got 1/3 up front, 1/3 halfway through (which happened a couple months after I started) and ... 2 YEARS later, I finally told them it was DONE. Never got the last 1/3 either. I spent almost every business day for several months onsite. Problem was that I am the one who kept telling them what else they could do, so naturally all my suggestions became requirements.  I was eating cabbage and other cheap food -- that was before kids so it was just me who suffered.  I didn't know how to put my foot down and say no more until I hit the 2-year mark.  In the end, neither of us was really happy (well, I was happy to walk away from it -- knowing they had gotten a tremendous deal but they weren't happy with me for stopping). That taught me a valuable lesson -- bids are not a good idea.  Since then, I have done more bid projects and each time it was because I needed funds immediately, but I always lose! the only question is, how much? and how many more months will I work for free while I struggle to get other work that actually pays me.
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Jan Karel Pieterse2016-06-09 09:31 AMID: 1916859
@Jim: Hmm, those are low rates indeed, I'm at the higher end mostly, but I do lessen it when a project is more than just a couple of days. And so far I haven't been out of projects in the last decade.
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Scott Fell, EE MVE2016-06-09 07:59 PMID: 1916890
I will speak to Gigs and Live as I have been hired both ways.

When in Live, I have typically paused the timer at about 4 minutes because the 5 minutes is not enough to figure out what actually has to be done (at least for the Live questions I have been involved in).  When I am able to restate what they actually need, I let them know the timer is starting again.  

I found that to not be a good policy. The hourly rate is a bit low and the Client does not appreciate the time you are taking to figure out their actual need and that should really be paid for.  The reason I did that is I wanted to make sure the client would get something tangible.   The last Live I participated in, I didn't pause the timer and the Client to did not proceed to pay.

I have just been hired for my first Gig project where the stated budget was $2,000.  Before excepting a project like this, I am cautious to ask and answer enough questions to make sure we both have a good understanding.    To get there, we had some discussion in the Gig, some discussion via EE private message as well as email and phone.  When we both felt comfortable, I updated my bid with some bullet points for the Client to accept.  

Because this Gig was for both consulting/mentoring as well as completing some tasks, we mutually agreed that our conversation via PM, Email and phone was part of the mentoring process.

For what it's worth, the Client in this case is not a regular EE member and probably will not be.  He used the feature in Gigs to ask a specific Expert to look at the Gig. I was invited because he did a search for his project and questions I participated were in the search.  He reviewed my answers on the subject and based on the way I answered in my topics wanted to include me.    The Client told me the type of explanation I used in our pre-Gig communication was as he expected from my questions.  The take away is EE brought me a client and my resume is my EE history.

On the other side, I felt comfortable with the Client based on the way he responded to my questions.  In my final bid that was accepted, I did include a maximum number or hours I was willing to include along with my bullet points.

To answer your question,"how many questions do you have to ask a client before work can begin?" In this case there was a lot of correspondence. Part of the reason was the original Gig requested something based on misinformation and it took some time to show a better and more economical way to get a similar result.

Where EE could be a very good value for dealing with new clients is moderating for final payment if the need arose. Because our Topic Advisors and Moderators are Experts that work with this kind of thing on a regular basis, I would feel more comfortable if they were used as mediators as part of the package.
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Eric AKA Netminder2016-06-09 09:07 PMID: 1916891
About 14 years ago, I left the employ of a company for which I had done most of what development they did -- the website, the DB interfaces of various kinds (it's how I found EE, which is downright scary). A couple of years after I left, I was doing contract work -- most of it researching and writing, but some web dev and DB work as well -- when they called and asked if I could do a little project (three or four hours worth of work). I gave them the rate I was giving everyone else, but gave them a "good guy" discount, if only because they had treated me exceptionally well.

They started sending me the same project every couple of months, but it started getting complex, and I just added hours when it was necessary -- and then they needed some pretty special web dev done, and wanted a contract. So... I gave them one. My bid was fair, I got the gig, did the work and while there were the inevitable scope changes and such, none of it made that big a difference. Why? Because when I got the spec for the job, I figured out how long I thought it should take, and then I doubled it, and then I added ten per cent (ref: Jim Dettman's comment about most of the work coming after the job is "mostly done").

Nobody complained (found out later that I wasn't the low bid, but the difference was about a benjamin, and the decision-makers all knew I'd deliver), but when they reworked the every-other-month project to be bigger and more complicated, and cut it down to quarterly, they didn't want a contract -- they wanted me to do straight T&M. It's now about ten years later, and they still send it (and occasionally, some other stuff), and not once has anyone questioned an invoice -- including the last one, which didn't have the discount because they waited until the last minute to get it to me.

I don't mind contracts particularly -- but when someone brings it up, I give them MY contract. Most of the time, they either accept it, or they become a lot more interested in doing it the way I prefer.
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CaptainCyril2016-06-09 11:47 PMID: 1916901
I build market research, statistical tools that provide advanced analytics dashboards and automated reporting in Excel, Word and PowerPoint. My clients tell me everything they need in less than an hour. In most cases half an hour. They rely on me to figure out the rest since I have 16+ experience in the field.

I tend to build the tools in such a way that I either make a lot of money out of it from one client or sell it to many clients at once at a much lower rate.

However, we are heading to times when we should come up with an innovative idea and not rely on others what they tell us, specially in our field: Market Research, Data Mining, Social Media, Media Ratings, ...

Hope this is helpful.
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