[consulting] General consultant's vent

Brian Vuyk brian at brianvuyk.com
Thu Aug 6 13:34:36 UTC 2009

Domenic Santangelo wrote:
> Why is this so different from what we do? The OP mentioned not billing 
> for time investigating. I've seen it done that way in a bunch of 
> shops, where they just chalk it up to the "cost of sale". Maybe I'm 
> just stupid and nobody else works like this, but I know that I've 
> spent a _lot_ of time estimating something out (sometimes as much as 
> 20% of the estimate!) and not billing for it. That doesn't seem right 
> to me. How do you guys handle the OP's situation from a billing 
> standpoint?
> -Dom
While I agree with you, I made a point of trying this for about two 
months. I would explain to the client that creating a proper set of 
specifications and design documents would likely take several hours to 
several days of consulting time depending on the scope of the project. 
However, I explained that it was necessary to generate proper 
specifications and design documents prior to quoting a large job in 
order that both parties understood and agreed what elements were and 
were not covered under the quote, and to prevent scope creep in the future.

None of the clients who I attempted this with hired me. However, I did 
have two come back to me weeks later with design documents, one of which 
had the header from another well-known Drupal shop. I knew the shop 
owner, so I mentioned it to him, and he told me that the design 
documents were created as part of a quote.

Unfortunately, if you are not dealing with a large corporate or 
institutional client, the client likely holds an expectation that you, 
as the developer, are going to provide a free quote regardless of how 
vague an idea the client approaches you with. This is bolstered by the 
fact that a lot of shops do this - I did as well when I was taking new 

I agree with you in principal. If the client doesn't approach us with 
fully drawn up specification and design documents, they should expect to 
pay consulting time to get their project refined and firmed up. 
Historically, probably 10-15% or more of my hours were tied up in this 
aspect of business. However, as long as so many developers are willing 
to do this for free, it can't easily be stopped. Small shops, like mine, 
can't give up a competitive edge like that, and charging a client 
several days labour that another shop would give for free just doesn't work.


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