How to quote a project you’ve never tried before

Deciding to tackle a project you’ve never done before takes guts. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.

Can you do it?

Is this going to be a total disaster?

Are you going to absolutely rock it?

Once you make up your mind to go for it, you’ve got an even bigger challenge: how to quote a project you’ve never done before?

Not only do you need to determine pricing, you also must guesstimate a time frame.

The criteria

When you’re determining your how to quote a project, make sure you keep these three criteria in mind.

  • Be fair to yourself.
  • Be fair to your client.
  • Stay near or within industry pricing standards for the project.

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Do your homework

Find out what you’re getting yourself into, how long it might take, and what others are charging.

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  • Research online
  • Ask a friend or peer
  • Use social media (LinkedIn, Millo Insiders, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Skim tutorials
  • Play around in the framework or software (try a demo or download the free/trial version)
  • Get quotes from your competition
  • Compare this project to other projects you’ve done that have similar elements

By learning more about what you’re getting into from research and experienced peers, you’ll get a feel for both price range and the amount of time you ought to quote.

Plan extra time

Since you’ve never tackled something like this before, it’s best to give yourself extra time to complete the project.

You’ll need extra time to educate yourself and nothing ever goes smoothly the first time you do it anyway.

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My rule of thumb is to double the amount of time I think it’s going to take. (This is yet another reason why it’s important to track your time on projects – you can see how much longer “first time” projects take on average.)

Be honest with your client

Let you client know up front that you’ve never done a project like this before. But don’t forget to be confident and assure them that you have the skills to learn how to do it properly. If you have one, share a similar situation where you excelled.

It’s at this point that you must decide whether or not you’re going to charge your client for part or all of your learning time. If you choose to, be open about how much of the cost is devoted to learning expenses, especially if your education is going to cost you money.

Explore your options

Since this is your first time tackling this type of project, you may consider extra options.

Examples might be:

  • Charging by the hour instead of by the project
  • Finding a good subcontractor in case you’re in over your head
  • Eating some of your hours as learning time (especially if it’s slower going than you expected)
  • Breaking the project into smaller chunks that seem more manageable/quotable

Any advice on how to quote a project you’ve never done before?

Share your tips, success stories, and cautionary tales with us in the comments on this post.

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Millo Articles by April Greer

April is a freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy.
Read more from April.

  1. desmarsol says:

    Good advice. I almost always ‘eat’ some of my hours when I am doing something new. Since I learn so much better in a ‘real-world’ situation I’m willing to let it ‘cost’ me some of my normal profit. I think of it this way… if I were going to take a class I’d likely be paying to do so and in this sort of situation I’m able to do both at once.

  2. Matthew Jeavons says:

    As a previous comment from Maude Lavoie says, Be honest, do your research and if you have any friends that have done work like this before then give them a call for some advice. I always like to add a contingency fee included in my quote, so that if you need help its not coming out of your pocket, you have allowed for a little wobble!

    Another tip is give yourself more time than is needed. If I know I can turn something around in 4 weeks I say 6. that way the client is going to be stoked when you call them to say it’s complete in week 4 or 5.

  3. Bianca Board says:

    Love this April, it’s so right.

    In my own program I always teach designers to break projects down into pieces you can handle. There’s nothing worse than being overwhelmed by the size of a new project… that’s often when that evil monster ‘procrastination’ rears it’s ugly head, shortly followed by the worst monster of all ‘unprofitability’ turns up! 😉

  4. Gdb tips are always good read. Fear of failure is one big problem but that’s the only road to success. Thanks April

  5. Great advice! I definitely needed help from a sub-contractor at one time when the project didn’t go smoothly.


  6. Aaron Payne says:

    Great points! When I’ve done this I usually eat the extra time that it takes me, but that’s just me.

    The one thing I would add is to make sure you try and try again! Don’t be afraid to fail!

    “You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail… if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” Steve Jobs

  7. Maude Lavoie says:

    It happened to me a couple of times before and i’m currently on a project i’ve never done before. I like that, it’s like a BIG challenge and it help you move foward.

    Honesty is your best friend. And your client isn’t dumb, so play fair.
    Learning hours is part of the deal, but it worth SO MUCH the investment!

    Las trick : don’t forget the coffee (for the long nights) and the herbal tea (for the stress).

    1. April Greer says:


      You’re right – honesty is the best policy! (And so is caffeine and stress-relief!)

      Thanks for sharing!

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