You want to know why? Because the scope, specifications, and other items associated with the project are unknown, and because these are unknown, the ability to price out the project is unknown too.
All around, the Free Estimate is a waste of time for you, your customer, and makes us all look like nincompoops too.
So what needs to be done to fix this?
Believe it or not, I have an idea. It's a pretty simple fix too.
First, Free Estimates need to die, and the people advocating their reps to give them shown the door to someplace else. Pretty easy fix, if you ask me.
Information As An Image
Think of the information exchanged between you and the customer as an image. In order for either of you to have the foggiest idea of what it is you are looking at, the image needs to be clear, focused, illuminated, have context, and be viewed from the right distance or perspective.
Let's take a simple project (and I'm not going to let you know what it is either) to show you what I mean.
First, we have the initial call.
|First Information Exchange|
Something is being described here and the focus is somewhat customer centric. I want you to give me, this, that, and another thing, you to be here on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM because blah, blah, blah. This conversation is going nowhere fast. Usually the Free Estimate thing is brought up. Now try to describe what this project is all about, and give me a price to boot.
|The Conversation Continues|
Things are getting a bit more clearer and you're both beginning to share information about what it is you're talking about. There's still quite a bit of fog and stuff going on here so to help "educate" you, the client demands you come out to "see" what it is they're talking about. Oh, and maybe you can give me some design ideas while we talk about the Free Estimate? Right?
|The Conversation Continues Some More|
The project still lacks scope, focus, context, is not clear in its intent, and although the customer may feel this one wee image contains all the information needed to give them a Free Estimate, a detail doesn't define a project.
If you're a customer, your first step is to hire the right professionals to help you bring your project into a focused image. This will require you to spend time working on defining, creating, and clearly illuminating the project's scope and specifications so anyone can easily understand what it is you want to do.
|What The Customer Was Talking About|