Estimate Training Time and Costs: Your Dilemma
Are you a freelance consultant working on a client proposal? Are you a client looking at a vendor’s proposal? No matter your role, you’re here at this blog post because you need help on how to estimate training time and costs. I know you want a positive (profitable) return on your investment.
This blog post has a little over 1,700 words, and may take you 10-17 minutes to read to the end, excluding time to view any videos or links I mention. I feel this topic is so important to both clients and freelance vendors that it deserves more than a “quickie” discussion.
If you’re the client, you want value for the dollars you’ll spend on the project. If you’re the freelance consultant (aka the vendor), you want the project to end in the black, with a profit, so you can earn a living wage and not lose your consulting business due to income not covering your expenses. Clients watch their budget, and freelancers do the same with theirs. This blog post has suggestions and ideas for both roles that I’ve learned from running my freelance business.
NOTE: I wrote this blog for an American (USA) audience only, as that is my only business perspective and frame of reference. If you are an outsourcer in a country other than the USA (per responses to the SurveyMonkey survey - see link below) seeking how to estimate training time and costs for your area, I apologize that I cannot help you. I have not lived and worked in your country, so I can't address your financial and business considerations. Thanks for understanding.
Estimate Training Time and Costs: It’s an Art
Before you pull out your calculation tools, know that estimating is an art, with some reliable formulas tossed in, and not a pure science. Why? Because you’ll need to add into the equation the Art of Negotiating. Freelancers need to eat and pay bills, and clients need to stay within approved budget dollars. So, you’ll engage in back-and-forth discussions. This blog post’s suggestions, I hope, will help you to negotiate fairly.
In addition, since autumn of 2008, financial and economic forces have radically changed the learning and development world. Before then, U.S. consultants easily earned from $75 to $125 an hour on training design and development projects. Now, many U.S. clients offer only $25 to $50 an hour, which will not help the consultant to pay her or his bills over the long haul. Plus, to save money, many U.S. clients have outsourced their projects to areas in the world where the costs are between $10 to $25 an hour. That’s reality, and this blog post addresses it, with a slant or bias toward U.S. freelance consultants. (Note: I was hired three times to QA and “redo” elearning projects outsourced outside of the U.S. I’m not making any judgments nor disparaging remarks, I’m just stating my experience.)
Estimate Training: The People Factor
Clients need to know that, on their side of the business relationship, there are many variables involved when you try to estimate training time and costs. As I wrote above, it’s more of an art rather than a science because of people’s behaviors. Especially the client’s people.
All members of the client’s project team must agree to the project schedule to make sure the freelance consultant can complete the learning project on time and within budget. If just one team member on the client side causes delays, that throws the schedule off and then the time estimate no longer applies. The freelance consultant will need to create a Change Manage document to update the project’s Scope with new delivery dates. This will increase the project’s time and cost. It’s important for the client to get buy-in from all members of the project team to adhere to the schedule. For the freelance consultant, it’s important to have a backup plan in case of something happening on your side that causes delays.
Estimate Training: Use a Few Basic Metrics
You can “guesstimate” your potential project time and costs based on the following, long-existing metrics:
60 minutes of learner seat time = minimum 120 work effort hours (two months, minimum) = $6,000 to $15,000 project cost
Freelance consultants who earn a living wage don’t charge by the hour, but by project rate/cost. The consultant’s time writing and responding to email, taking client phone calls, and performing any QA effort is all billable time. Vendors need to build that into project rates and limit all client reviews to just two: an Alpha review and a Beta review, before the launch of the project. The client must sign off on the project at Beta review. If the client has changes at this phase, then the freelance consultant draws up a Change Management document with new target dates for the project and additional billable rates to make the changes.
150 written words of content = One minute of onscreen audio narration
If the client provides written content, the freelance consultant can estimate the time and cost based on the metric above used by professional voice over actors. (Yes, I am a VO talent.)
This metric works not only for calculating audio narration time, it can give you a “guesstimate” for an elearning course. If the client’s content comes to a total of 10,000 words, that’s approximately 66-67 minutes of seat time, or a little over an hour that the learner is actively in the learning activity (training course, etc.).
I made a YouTube video to help freelance consultants and clients estimate training time for asynchronous elearning projects based on word count only. Select my blog post link below (or the image to the left) to learn more and view the video:
PowerPoint (PPT) Content = 2 to 4 hours of work effort for every PPT slide of content
Sometimes, the client will provide content within a PowerPoint presentation file. Let’s say the file has 24 PPT slides:
24 PPT slides * 4 hours = 96 hours, approximately
If there’s a lot of written content, plus images, I suggest calculating the estimate based on the higher four hours per slide for design and development.
Estimate Training: Keep Track of Project Hours
One elearning consultant in another state told me his “secret”. When he gets a brand new client, he does not work on a fixed, project fee basis, he always works on an hourly basis on the first project only with that client. This way he can track hours and then be able to provide an estimate for the client’s next project.
When a new client is new to elearning, my colleague said, he finds he’s also a coach as well as an ID and a developer, and the coaching takes up more of his time. He reports his time to the client weekly (or twice a month), and he said the reports help “reign in” the client when needed due to the client always changing things after a design was approved.
I’ve used this approach as well. I open up a simple Excel file and track hours that way. I include meetings, conference calls, and time spent communicating through e-mail messages. I know not everyone likes ADDIE, but each element is a good header for me to use to track time on a project for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.
Estimate Training Means Negotiation and Relationship
At the risk of sounding like I’m talking down to my readers, it’s important for clients to understand the freelance consultant’s point of view. Take a moment to watch this YouTube video on my blog post for a humorous yet sadly realistic look at the art of negotiations [duration 2:19]:
If you, the client, have a small budget, let’s say: under a couple of thousand US dollars, you may not be able to afford a skilled experienced U.S. freelance consultant on a full training design and development project. Instead, ask the freelance consultant for some coaching time, paid by the hour. The consultant will discuss your project and provide valuable guidance and ideas for you to implement in house.
Colleagues Share How to Estimate Training
Yesterday (May 17, 2010), I was asked how I estimate the number of hours it could take to design and develop learning activities for a training (workplace performance improvement) project.
My answer? “It depends.”
That said, my colleagues and I do have to provide clients with an estimated delivery date for projects, and so I fall back on a few helpful resources.
Your time is valuable, so let me share some links to great advice from mentors and colleagues. You can quickly select the links and see if their sites answer your questions. I agree with their approach and guidance.
Guy W. Wallace has been my “online Mentor”, and he has shared with us all an article he wrote on this topic. Please select to view Are Development Ratios for ISD Efforts Meaningful? (shared 24 March 2015).
More great information on how to estimate training time and costs comes from Bryan Chapman. View Bryan Chapman’s SlideShare presentation
And, select Bryan’s blog post on the same topic as well. Thank you, Bryan!
Another wonderful blog post, by Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach, can help you. View Connie’s blog post.
Make sure you read the Comments under her post for additional resources:
Dr. Karl Kapp (on Twitter, @kkapp) wrote an article for ASTD (now ATD) in 2003, then revised it in 2009, along with co-author Robyn A. Defelice. This article is worth your study and application when you estimate time for your projects. For me, it is an invaluable resource, so I hope it helps you:
Coaching Service to Help You Estimate Training Time and Costs
If you’d like assistance with estimating your project, I encourage you to reach out and chat with me. I charge $125 for one hour of coaching and $75 for 30 minutes. We can use PayPal, or you can send me a check. Our coaching session begins when the deposit clears my bank. We can chat via phone call or Skype. I enjoy helping people, and I’ll share from my freelance consultant experiences from 2008 to the present.
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Link to Calculator Photo: https://pixabay.com/en/calculator-calculation-insurance-385506/