How much should this project cost? This is almost funny.

Last week I put a project out to bid on It’s a pretty straightforward project: my client wants to clean up and enhance a Zen Cart site.

I’ve looked at the CMS and figured it was maybe 20 hours of work. I solicited bids only from companies with experience in Zen Cart and I provided each company that expressed interest a very detailed list of what needed to be done.

I got bids in almost immediately. I had to stop and scratch my head. They ranged from $450 to $3,600. That’s right, the same project.

I sent back questions to two of the companies that had the highest bids. I was genuinely curious. What was it about the project that they thought would require an investment of $3,600?

From the first company, I received an estimate of the time that would be involved with specific line items. So, they really think that it would take:

  • 12 hours to set up the Zen Cart site for a company based in Massachusetts. I’m sorry, but having looked at the Admin panel, I know that it’s a question of changing one setting. Actual time? 15 minutes to find the right setting and click on the right box.
  • 20 hours to test the site in multiple browser/operating system configurations. Really? We’re talking about a site that’s got fewer than 10 pages. Maybe they know about more configurations than I do!
  • 8 hours to test that the shopping cart functionality works. I guess that’s not included in the above mentioned 20 hours of browser testing! Let’s see, I tried it myself. In less than half an hour I found out that the cart does work. Phew, saved myself 7.5 hours!
  • 12 hours to resize two images on two pages. Are they planning to redraw them? Heck, we paid less than that for the designer to create the images!
  • 16 hours to complete text edits on the FAQ page. That’s about 25-cents per word. Most writers don’t make that much.

Okay, you get the picture now. The bid was so over the top that it was funny. Except that it isn’t. In my mind it’s a case of a company that is trying to take advantage of what they perceive to be a client’s ignorance. Pricing on this level is extortion.

The second company in this price range said only that it was expensive because the request was “so detailed.” They immediately offered to cut their price in half, but only if I awarded the bid to them that day. Sorry, I don’t work with suppliers that try to gouge me the first time.

In the end, we did most of the work internally. We did find a few programmers who provided honest bids but I’m sorry to say that out of the 16 companies that sent me proposals, they were in the small minority. We are going to start working with one soon and hope that he is as good as his references state.

Bottom line? As a client or agency understanding the scope of the project and it’s worth is essential. There are plenty of people waiting in line to take your money who hope you just don’t know the right sum to pay.

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