Blog / How web agencies can provide accurate estimates (the two phase method)

By Will Hall September 21, 2016

As web agencies, we all start off by estimating entire projects, and then completing them. But as you take on bigger projects, this can become unwieldy as you try and see farther into the future when creating your estimates. 

The two phase method is a simple way to shrink the sales process, reduce overages, and provide more structure to your projects. Using the two-phase method described below, you’ll consider design and planning as Phase 1, complete with its own estimate. Then, after delivering a plan and design to your customer, you’ll provide a separate estimate for Phase 2 – implementation.

Phase 1: Planning and design

Using what you know about the project and the client, estimate a comfortable budget that encompasses the following:

  • Discovery meetings and client interviews
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Industry or competitor research
  • Reports
  • Site map
  • Functionality or workflow descriptions

(Note: You may want to break the following visual design steps into their own phase depending on the scale of the project.)

  • Thumbnails and sketches
  • Wireframes
  • Style guides / UI modules
  • Design mockups

Phase 2: Implementation

After all discovery, planning, and design has been completed, it’s time to create an estimate for the implementation. To help with your estimate, you can use everything you learned and planned in Phase 1. This should provide a pretty clear picture of what you’ll be building.

(Note: We often provide the client a Phase 2 ballpark estimate when we estimate Phase 1, with the caveat that the Phase 2 estimate could change drastically based on the scope decisions made in Phase 1. We do this because clients usually want at least some general idea of what the total project cost will be.)

Why do it this way?

  • Finishing Phase 1 will give you a lot of information to help your estimate for Phase 2.
  • By breaking the project into two phases, you’ll essentially be bidding on two separate, smaller projects.
  • It shortens the sales process. Usually, you end up doing a lot of discovery during the sales process itself. If you’re not careful, you can spend many hours of unbillable time helping a client explore their idea and its requirements. Sometimes the client may even decide not to work with you after a long sales and discovery process, in which case they’ll walk away with lots of information but you won’t have collected any fees for your services.
  • There are many reasons a client may not want or be able to continue the project after Phase 1. If the client walks away after Phase 1, both parties still get something out of the work. The client should receive finished designs or reports that have value in themselves, and presumably, you’ll have collected planning and design fees.
  • Because everything that’s planned out in Phase 1 will be bid on for Phase 2, you and the client will be forced to consider the time and cost impact of every feature you plan for. Unnecessary features will be cut, and newly discovered, critical features will be added.
  • You can potentially collect fees at more points in the project. For example, if you normally collect 50% at the start and 50% at the finish, you can now cut that into 25% slices.
  • It gives the project a natural checkpoint where you and the client can evaluate the work you’ve done together and ensure the process is working well.

Note: This method works best with the waterfall method, where a project is fully planned before being developed. It’s less relevant if you intend to create a prototype and continuously performing rounds of iteration on a real site.

Closing thoughts

We’ve found the two phase method helpful for larger projects, especially those that require a lot of discovery, planning, and design. Breaking a project into two sequential phases, each with their own estimate, is likely to make the sales, planning, and development processes easier and better for both your team and the client.

Will Hall

Web developer

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