When you approach a web development team with a project you will probably be asked to pay an exploratory fee. Although this is common practice for large companies, many freelancers and small companies skip the exploratory phase of the project and give you a quick and dirty quote.
Why would I pay for a quote when the next guy would give me one for free? you are probably asking.
You’re right to ask, because the question gives us room to explain just how important the exploratory phase is to your project.
What is the Exploratory Phase?
Picture your website as your mouth, and your developers as your dentist. When you suffer from a toothache, you call your dentist and make an appointment, and you are lucky enough that your dentist can see you right away. You sit in the chair, but your dentist doesn’t start drilling immediately. Instead, they start a diagnostic phase. They will ask you questions, take x-rays, and poke around a bit.
At the end of the appointment, your dentist will give you a diagnosis and several different treatment options. Both you and your dentist will know whether you have to begin treatment immediately, and will have a thorough understanding of how involved your treatment will be. However, at that point you are still free to take your x-rays and your dentist’s diagnosis, and get a second opinion at another dental practice.
The exploratory phase in the virtual realm is similar to the one in your dentist’s office. You will leave with an in-depth analysis of your website and you can take your time deciding if you would like to continue working with that company or take their diagnosis to another development team. Either way, there are three benefits you will get from the paid exploratory phase.
An Exact Quote
If a dentist does not bother to take x-rays, they might think that your tooth has minor surface decay, when in reality you need a full root canal treatment. If they begin drilling immediately, you are stuck with either getting an inefficient filling at the price they quoted, or possibly paying much more than you expected for an extensive treatment.
Similarly, a developer who does not charge for an exploratory phase, but immediately begins, ‘treating,’ your site, will likely find that the project is more labor intensive than they estimated. Developers tend to deal with this in one of two ways. Either they overestimate all of their projects, or they apply quick fixes to complex problems that you will have to eventually pay to have fixed again. Either way, it is better for you and the developer to know exactly how much work needs to be done before committing to any labor.
Efficient Work Phase
A good dentist does not rely solely on x-rays and a physical examination to treat your toothache. Instead they ask you plenty of questions and learn your history as well as your attitude towards various treatments. This allows them to offer a treatment plan that is tailored to you. For instance, if you have a filling that needs to be replaced in the tooth next to the one your dentist is currently working on, you can tell your dentist you would like them both completed while you are under anesthesia. Or perhaps they can offer you teeth whitening with your cleaning.
Your web developer also learns your desires and preferences during the exploratory phase. You build a relationship with your developer that allows him or her to act more independently during the work phase and offer you custom solutions to increase the overall efficiency of your site. Best of all, since your developer knows exactly what you want done, they can work quickly, minimizing the time before your site is running just the way you want.
Lower Overall Cost
Even though cost isn’t everything, you may wonder if the exploratory fee is a worthwhile investment, considering there are many freelancers who don’t charge it. In reality, the cost of the exploratory fee is made up in two ways.
First, a developer charging a fair fee for project exploration is able to keep their overall rates low. Imagine our dentist once again. You have never heard of a dentist that doesn’t charge for an examination, and there is a good reason. If your dentist examined one new patient each workday for free, they would lose 5 hours of paid work each week. To make up for this, they would have to charge slightly higher rates for all of their treatments. This is not a problem if every person they examine decides to get treated by them. However, if some patients get examined by them and then decide to go to another dentist for treatment, they have to examine more patients, for free, in order to find paying customers. This results in their rates getting constantly higher, and the cost of examinations being paid by those seeking treatments. By charging a minimal fee for examinations, the dentist is able to keep the price of their more in-depth treatments fair, just like a developer who charges an exploratory fee.
Second, as mentioned earlier, a thorough exploratory phase results in a more efficient work phase. This means that whether you work with the programmer who did your exploration, or decide to go somewhere else, the amount of hours needed for the project should be reduced, resulting in a lower price.
No one wants to pay for extras that they can get for free. However, a smart business owner will realize that the exploratory phase is not an unnecessary, extra cost. It is an investment in your project.