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I just recieved an email that asked the following question:

"How much will cost to code a WordPress theme?"

I cannot answer this question without know the answer to a plethora of other questions. I cam up with the following off the top of my head:

  1. What browsers/devices need to be supported?
  2. What core WordPress functionality needs to be supported?
  3. What template files need to be created?
  4. Are there and custom page templates?
  5. Is the theme to be internationalized?
  6. Does the theme offer functionality outside the scope of WordPress core?
  7. How complex is the design?
  8. What level of accessibility is expected?
  9. How much of WordPress functionality is represented in the PSD?

Unfortunately, I do not have all of these written down anywhere and I'm sure that I am missing very important things. To save me time in the future as well as to help other freelancers, I thought it might be a good idea for everyone to list the questions they ask potential clients when asked to develop a theme from an unknown design.

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6 Answers 6

I think some of your questions are too wide. You still cannot break down each answer in hours.

Some of the questions I ask:

  • Are there widgets? Which?
  • Which theme options are needed? Details? Colors, text fields, image uploads etc.
  • Custom post types and taxonomies? Very, very detailed.
  • How are the comments displayed? This one is missing on many PSD files. Do you need a custom walker?
  • What should happen when the user has a minimum font size of 24px?
  • What should happen when the user’s window is just 35em wide? I couldn’t find the pay button on Amazon once on my laptop because the designer had not thought so far …
  • Which plugins do you have to integrate? Contact forms, social buttons, subscribe to comments etc.
  • Functionality of nav menus: Icons, descriptions, embedded images?
  • Is a slider needed? What should it do? How are the items added?
  • Will the output for small devices be handled by a separate/child theme?

Some things you don’t need to ask but to know to estimate the time:

  • How many sprites do you have to build?
  • How much support will the client need? When in doubt use 25% of the total time.
  • Have you written your last code abstract enough to reuse it?

Extra: Calculation

Break down each step in hours. Sum the hours up, then double them. If you are a beginner, triple the time. Then add the support time.

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+1 one on comments. I've gotten PSDs that have no mention of comments at all! mind boggling! Thanks for all the questions. Great additions to the thread :) –  mfields May 27 '11 at 1:52

I can't add too much to the other answers, so here're my 2 cents plus some client related stuff that could be considered when calculating the price.

Time calculation

  1. Do I have a complete sitemap?
  2. Do I have screenshots, links or PSDs for every part of the site?
  3. 3.b. Do I get enough money to buy licenses for plugins i need? 3.a. Is there enough money to buy developer licenses that will save me money with the next project or makes it possible to make another project where the budget would allow to pay for a plugin?
  4. Do I have to set up the theme on some server?

Things i (personally) wouldn't do:

  • Fluid designs (Client will never be satisfied - Design will never look like expected & browser differences migth be visible for the client).
  • E-Commerce platforms (Product range changes or expands - You will never be finished).
  • Javascript flash clones (Catch a too old browser, some blocking AddOn or else and the client will hate you).
  • An "oviparous woll-milk pig": Something that can do all and everything. Clients with a good imagination & ideas are good. Some can't stop inveting or having new ideas each second.

Enquiry, Contract & Client

The (Web-)Designer

  1. Is a designer envolved?
  2. Do i get PSDs or Html Templates with finished mark-up?
  3. Does the designer have references online i can look at?
  4. Is the "Designer" a friend of her/him? (Always makes problems - the "designer" tells what's possible & how many time you should need/how many money is to pay for x or y)

The Client

  1. Is he willing to pay 30% in advance? (Those clients don't jump off - and you get the job preparation payed if she/he does.)
  2. May i alter the design slightly to save time?
  3. Is the client really the client her-/himself or just the tech savy representend in front?
  4. Does the client have a buisness together with partners (or family members)? (If so, invite all of them to every meeting)

The Contract

Meetings

  1. Set a limit/number for meetings for every phase of the project. If they cancel a meeting, it should count as meeting.
  2. Set a time limit for every meeting.

Guidance/Help Desk/Improvements

  1. Offer some hours of altering/improving the page after everythings payed and the site is online.
  2. Offer two sessions somewhere out of your office space to sit down and explain how basic stuff works.

Payment

  1. Get payed for every finished phase. If the client won't do this, then he doesn't trust you. And so you shouldn't trust her/him.

Aftermath

  1. Don't offer them phone support. Do it if you want to, but only pick up the phone every second time or pick up and tell them that you're not at the office (if you're not).
  2. Never take a client into your office and "quickly" change something in front of them. They then think you need minutes for the whole thing.
  3. Never, really never ever give your work out of your hand, before you received the complete payment.
  4. Never work with a client who complains that the last "webdesigner" didn't do this or that and the project was unfinished.
  5. (Just my experience:) Never work for pregnant women :)
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I usually won't quote without see the design. There are too many variables that could easily blow out an estimate in the design alone. I also like to questions like:

  • What should be configurable from the WordPress admin area?
  • Are all colours and fonts variable or is it set from the beginning?
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In general, you can answer most of that questions just looking at the PSDs.

I always put focus in asking the things that you cannot derive from the design. ie: Workflow for publishing content, if I'll need to migrate data from an old website, etc

Edit:

  • How much traffic (aprox) is the site going to have?
  • Do you already have a hosting? What technologies does the server support?
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Totally agree! But many times when I'm asked this question, it's a cold call with no psd or screenshot provided. Very true on the data migration though! I usually forget about that :) –  mfields May 27 '11 at 1:49
    
Data migration is not part of the theme development. –  toscho May 27 '11 at 1:54
1  
True, data migration is not technically part of theme development. But there are times when one is asked for an both are needed. –  mfields May 27 '11 at 5:29
    
Without a .psd its pretty much a case of blowing into the wind, from my own personal experience this can rapidly spiral into a loop of the client constantly humming and ahhh'ing and wanting to try this and try that. Most of my work is done with Silverstripe CMS which doesnt have as many belles and whistles as wordpress, but how can you put a price / timescale on work without a .psd?.. what gives?.. an hourly quote, a set project fee, how would you actualy quote a price for project without a .psd? –  MartinJJ May 27 '11 at 5:39
    
+1 on data migration "You mean I have to pay for that?" –  Ray Mitchell May 27 '11 at 13:09

Some excellent stuff here!

The way I personally would approach this is to just give examples of previously created themes with ballpark estimates of what it would cost to do something similar.

I find its dangerous to quote any numbers for a specific project until the specifics are ironed out.

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First questions i always ask:

  • Is there a fixed deadline?
  • When is it ans why is it fixed?

Some times clients will simply omit this and say "yeah, if we can get in the next couple of months it's ok" and then try to trick you into developing faster than your estimates because a somehow urgent matter arose and they need it to be done in no time.

Asking these gives me room to explain why deadlines shouldn't be so strict (mostly because the larger the clients the longer they take to approve anything), and also gives me grounds to charge more if the project is (or becomes) urgent.

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