At Shoap Technical Services, we take pride in our ability to offer our clients fixed-priced bids for technical documentation and training. We feel that this is an advantage to our clients because everyone likes to know how much a project is going to cost before they start. And we feel confidant that we can correctly estimate a project because 1) we’ve done so many technical writing and training projects over the past 25 years and 2) we’ve learned how to break down a project into small enough parts so we can assign numbers (time) to each part to determine a total cost. What we like to say is, “If we can put our arms around the project, we can successfully bid it.” While we have, at times, missed our estimates and had to finish a project at a loss, most of the time we’re pretty accurate. That makes our clients happy because they know from the outset what they’re going to have to pay and it allows us to make enough money to stay in business.
Unfortunately, there are times when we can’t put our arms around a project. We recently met with a company that helps businesses build mobile websites. Our contact at this mobile website company had compiled some information about how his company implemented its technology which he would give to his prospective companies. He wasn’t happy with the document because it didn’t do a very good job of explaining what his technology did or how he implemented it. He wanted us to review the document and make some recommendations on how to improve it. We don’t usually charge to prepare a proposal (though wouldn’t that be nice) but after reviewing the material we concluded that we didn’t even know enough to figure out how to improve it. We proposed that we spend a day or so with the technical people at his company so we could figure out exactly what would make sense in terms of creating the type of documents he needed. The deliverable for this consulting would be a report detailing the type of documentation the company needed and a fixed-price proposal for preparing this documentation. We simply priced this first phase for a couple of days of straight consulting. That seemed only fair.
We have approached projects like this in the past where we get paid to figure out what the client really needs. In almost all cases, the companies have then engaged us to complete the project. And these projects have been successful: for the client, there is a clearly defined deliverable with an accurate cost estimate; for us, there’s a measure of comfort that we can complete the project in the time allotted. That makes for good business.