How Do I Know If A Project Is Worth My Time?
Two years deep into my business and fresh out of grad school at the age of 24, I’m trying to figure out which projects are actually worth the time to develop. Of course when you’re just starting out every project seems lucrative but as time goes on and it starts to cost you, one must figure out a system that produces the highest return compared to the time spent on a project. Obviously you forecast the time needed for the project and include some padding in there to troubleshoot and do other things you don’t take notice to right away.
My partners and I find ourselves rethinking our pricing system every time we get a new project. Do we charge more? Can we charge more? Should we charge more? Is it fair to charge more? Those are the questions we keep firing back at each other on a monthly basis. Of course our customers are getting superb quality, custom solutions but as your building a business you have to 1) keep track of your time on a project, and 2) analyze that time and see what you actually made per hour. Then that leads to this question- Was the project worth it? You need to work the kinks out of your system early on so when it comes time to employ people as well as sign new clients you tell them this is how it works- and have the confidence you will be highly profitable throughout.
So all this thinking lead me to do some research on what makes a project worth your time. Here’s what I took notice to:
1) Tell the client to have documents prepared for the first meeting. You have no idea how annoying it is when the client comes to you and says “I want an app or a website for my company.” and provides nothing to help you paint a picture. In my head I say “Great, another client who doesn’t give a shit.” The projects that turn out the best are the clients who are proactive in the development phase and provide content for you. You can usually make the assumption that if they come prepared they are serious about the project and that only help you as the developer.
Tip: Lean towards clients who come prepared and have drafted out some requirements for the project.
2) How bad do they need it? It’s always wise to ask the potential client on a timeframe they need this finished by. If it’s within a month you can usually add a rushed delivery charge of about 15-25% extra. This usually means some overtime hours have to be put in to complete it for them.
Also, something else to find out is if the project you are developing an integral part of a product/ business launch?
Tip: Try to take on projects that the client has an absolute need for.
3) Try to deal exclusively with the decision maker(s). There’s nothing worse then trying to contact a client about an important part of the project and you get the secretary who doesn’t know anything about it. Upon project development, make sure you have the names, numbers and emails of the key stakeholders in the project to ask them questions along the way- “How does this look?” Would you prefer a darker blue or light blue here?”. Their decisions will influence, shape, and help the development process all together.
Tip: Try to take on projects where you deal with people that steer the project towards their vision.
4) Budgeting & Pricing. What’s more important than forecasting the costs of every facet of your project. Many prospects have a skewed view on numbers given to them for projects in the technology industry.
Always have a rough estimate in your head when talking to the client. Shoot for a higher number so when a final price is given they aren’t surprised and turned off. Also you have to know what your competitors are charging for similar services. This will allow you to dictate client decisions for a long time.
If you’re someone who has to bid on projects several times a month, you pretty much have a system that you go through- or you should at least. It’s always wise to keep crunching numbers in your head sporadically and writing down key components of the project that make the price fluctuate. So when that question comes, “So how much are we looking at?” You recite to them, “Well with this X feature along with the integration of this Y feature- you’re looking at a rough estimate of $xx,xxx.
Tip: Use rough (but precise) estimates to measure a clients interest. Gauge their reaction, and finish off with “Let us know when you’re ready to take the next steps.” If it’s crazy project, don’t shy away from telling them, “We will get back to you later on today with an estimate after assessing the requirements of the project.”
5) The process and timeframe. If you can get a timeframe when the client needs the project done by then it’s most likely the project will happen. If they don’t have a time fame, it usually won’t ever get off the ground.
Tip: Realize the accuracy of your estimate and your stellar track record will not always win the project if their timeframes or processes are obstructed by roadblocks. Try to lean toward projects that have the necessary funding, an immediate need and the attention of decision makers.
6) How to earn the business. Asking about the client’s selection criteria make sense. If they haven’t already done so, they need to think about these things now and you need to know the rules of the game. Their processes and criteria may even play into the overall desirability of the project.
Make sure to follow up if you have’t heard from them in a few days. Even if you don’t get the project it’s always good to know why you didn’t.
Tip: Understanding what is required to land the project reveals a lot about what it might be like to actually have it. Were the preliminary meetings pleasant? And do you even want to work within the structure and environment the client creates?
7) Pay Up. Your time and expertise has value. A project, depending on its overall cost should be broken up into increments where the client has to pay X amount before moving on to the next phase. This will prevent you from getting burned. Make sure you share this with the client upon agreement or if they ask along the way. Tell them you require X amount down, then the project will be billed out in increments to ensure both parties are being taken care of.
Rule: Initial project analysis, documentation drafting and identifying deliverables take considerable time and effort. Describe the process to the client and don’t be afraid to ask for payment for these services.
This article was based off Mashable’s “7 Ways to Know if a development project is worth your time”.