I'm interested in learning more about estimating projects. It seems like its largely based on the client.
Right now I'm getting killed on a project for a designer's personal site. She is nitpicking the site to an extreme degree, and pushing the envelope on gray area. I'm spending two or three times the time I bid on it.
I did another project this month where the client was easy going, and it was finished in half the estimated time.
Does anyone have any insights on this? Are there any good resources on learning how to estimate and manage projects?
Your contract should specify the amount of rework that is included. If they come back wanting changes made after the specified number of reworks have already been done then there should be an additional charge.
So if your contract says a maximum of three reworks then the nitpicker would need to pay extra if they wanted more changes after you'd already made all the changes on their first three lists. The would still have the opportunity to request just as much change but if they don't want to pay extra they'd have to identify all the changes at once rather than giving them to you one at a time.
Alternatively, try to get the client to agree to a time-and-materials contract, rather than a fixed-price one. Then, when the nit-picker starts picking nits, you can say "OK, I'll do that, but keep in mind that it will increase the cost". Conversely, when the easy-going client refrains from nitting picks, you can finish the project under budget, to everyone's delight.
Of course, selling the idea of a time-and-materials contract is another matter, but it would always be my preferred route.
I agree doing time and materials, hourly rate is the only way to go. But if you are set on doing fixed-bid you can reduce risk through better project management.
At the beginning of the project write into the agreement a bunch of milestones that delineate the project. If you will do 2 design concepts, make a milestone for each. If you will do 3 revisions, call those milestones, too. Then, send a weekly status that shows which milestones have passed and which haven't. That way, the client should be crystal clear that they've used 2 out of 3 revisions, or whatever.
You should also write into the agreement what happens if the client asks for more revision, or out of scope work. Usually that is at an hourly rate.
Scope creep and expectation gaps are always the fault of the provider and not the client. Clients usually don't know or care about this stuff, you have to put it in front of them, make it clear, report on it, and be consistent. More experienced clients will be much easier and get it more.