Tick, tock. Why decent proposals take time.

A prospective client called this week, looking for a quote to re-write their website. Could we give them a rough idea over the phone? The answer was “no”. And “yes”. Let me explain.

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Getting an accurate price

The only way to accurately cost a web copywriting job is for us to sit down and define it. That means getting to grips with:

  • Pages in scope – we need to pinpoint these early on
  • Source material – where will this come from? In this case, the source content was being drawn from the existing site
  • Briefing processes – here, we agreed that face-to-face would work best, working through each page in detail
  • Copy outcomes – in this case, a combination of clearer propositions and a more engaging tone of voice
  • Business outcomes – the client wanted to reduce the number of customers falling out of the sign-up process

We look at some other factors too, but these are the main ones. (For more detail, read our guide to how we price your web copywriting project.)

The world of the guesstimate

Accurate scoping takes time. But this client wanted a quick idea of price over the phone. Which is fair enough.

After five minutes of clicking through the 60-or-so page site, I reckoned on a (very) rough price of £4,000-£8,000. The client didn’t sound too horrified. Maybe he just had a good poker voice, if there is such a thing.

Going deeper

After the call, we pulled together a content audit document. We use this to re-draw the sitemap (information architecture), noting which pages we’ll need to work on. We then took the time to read each page.

Yes. You heard right.

Reading the source material is the only way to get a firm grip on content quality and how much surgery we’ll have to do. Then, each page got a ‘time to write’ value in hours. Some pages would only take five minutes – others, the best part of a day.

We then totted up all the hours, and gave the client a cost – one that included an audit and edit of their weighty help section, and one that didn't. We also included a summary of copywriting issues we found during the audit.

All in, it took around half a day to pull together the proposal.

So, how much did it cost?

Altogether, the job came to just over £4,000, including amends and the meaty help section. Removing the help section took the cost to just over £3,000.

Admittedly, we’d given the client a pretty broad ballpark cost over the phone, but it was good that the estimate wasn’t wildly wrong.

Is accurate pricing bad for business?

I sometimes wonder if our detailed approach puts clients off. After all, by going deep, we’ll uncover the true issues and the true costs involved.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but if a competitor just has a quick whizz around the site, there’s a good chance they’ll submit a lower price for the job. What they don’t see, they can’t cost. Then again, by accurately costing the job, we settled on a figure half that of our upper estimate.

In the end, we don’t want to win jobs which end up shackling us to an unrealistic price - either too low or too high. And no matter how appealing a low (but innacurate) price may be to the client, surely it’s in their interests to choose a supplier who's taken time to understand the task and price it realistically.

We’ll see. At the time of writing this post, the client is still pondering which supplier to go for.

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