What is the minimum amount of funding you would ask for in a proposal for a multimedia history website?
December 16, 2004 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I am helping to write a proposal for a multimedia history website; the donor is a capricious individual with potentially deep pockets. What is the minimum amount of funding you would ask for?
posted by butternut to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
can you list what features you'd like on the website, and what tools you want to use? costs can vary.

also, do you plan on, i dunno....scanning in historical documents? what about archiving historical books? are you mostly going to have pre-written material?
posted by taumeson at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2004

That's really not enough information to go on, honestly. This issue has come up before in the Green, though, so I'd refer you back to looking at any earlier threads you can find on this topic. (For a "capricious" client, you've also really got to build in a premium, above and beyond any of the issues I described there.)

Before anyone could give you a viable estimate, we'd need to know things like:
- How many people are working on the project?
- How big is the project (estimated no. of pages, at least)?
- What does "multimedia" mean? (Flash? Video? Audio?)
- How is the multimedia content being provided? (Are you creating the content from scratch, or is the client providing you with it?)
- Are there any rights costs involved, and do you need to build them in?
- What level of prominence is it? Is it a "vanity site" for a small audience, or is it for a prominent institution, like a museum or a large library?

That's just a beginning--not to discourage you, but to make the point that you can't really get a useful and fair estimate from a forum like this without someone understanding a lot more about what you're looking at. (I'm also not suggesting that you share all that with us, here.)

That being said, having built a number of sites like this, I'd generally peg a small "multimedia website" project north of $50K, at least, and that's without any of the rights or production costs included. It's also for a small team of designers and developers (3-5 ppl, probably). It sounds like you're maybe doing this solo, so YMMV.

If it's got any level of prominence, my numbers would almost certainly come out above $100K, but again, that's for a marquee client, with a decent-sized team. Definitely more if they're guaranteed to be a pain in the ass.
posted by LairBob at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2004

I was about to write a lame short-form version of what LairBob just wrote (right down to the 50k guess), so I'll just say "Yeah, what LairBob said".
posted by kokogiak at 8:29 AM on December 16, 2004

Yeah some more details would be good here. For something as encompassing as a multimedia site it would not be cheap. In my ideal vision of a site I would want to visit, I would think a three year plan getting paid $50k a year = $150k minimum.
posted by jeremias at 8:29 AM on December 16, 2004

Another past thread on a similar topic...
posted by LairBob at 8:30 AM on December 16, 2004

Which is worse: asking for too much and getting turned down or asking for too little and getting the project?

Also, I spotted a tip the other day (possibly from Joel on Software, but I don't see it there) that if you want to get the price that someone has in their head just ask them. If they give a non-answer like "we don't have a budget set yet" then ask them "Would $100,000 be too much?" and they'll respond "No, we were thinking closer to $30,000." Of course, I'm not in sales so I have no idea how well that would work.
posted by revgeorge at 8:33 AM on December 16, 2004

Yeah, I'm thinking this same thing, revgeorge. The donor is being really cagey with the development folks he's talked to. LairBob, thanks for all that -- I did search archives, but didn't come up with that thread.

Y'all are right, I should give more background. It's site on university history. By mutlimedia I mean all of it -- definitely audio and video and flash if that's the best tool to deliver it all. What I'm looking to avoid is a boring, static archive; I want to hire a creative designer with a vision for how to present the material in a really engaging, dynamic, yet still useful way.

One problem is that we don't have the content yet -- all we have is the idea. It's a chicken-egg conundrum at the moment: we can't know what the site should be like until we know how much money we have to play with, and we can't know about the money until we pitch a proposal for the content...you see what I mean. It's all pretty nebulous right now, which is how university bureaucracy seems to go.
posted by butternut at 8:50 AM on December 16, 2004

Which is worse: asking for too much and getting turned down or asking for too little and getting the project?

The latter is often worse, much more often than you'd expect.

It depends on whether you need to subsidize fixed costs, or whether your costs are entirely project-dependent--basically, whether or not you've got salaried staff, office rent, etc., to pay for.

If you've got costs that you're going to pay out, no matter what, it may make sense to take on a project just to mitigate your outgoing costs.

If you're either working alone, though, or only paying a team of freelancers if the project comes through, taking a project at a loss can be a disaster. You can end up not only having a miserable time working on it, but actually further in the hole than if you hadn't done it at all. On top of that, you're probably preventing yourself from possibly taking, or at least pursuing, more profitable work.

Unless you're really doing it for overhead costs, never, ever price a project at whatever it takes to win it.
posted by LairBob at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2004

donors like to see their money amount to something, especially if they have some level of ongoing association with the project.

ask for too little, and if it comes out substandard, the amount donated feels like a waste. ask for too much, and the project feels bloated and wasteful unless you deliver a mammoth website.

you have to build a business case and functional requirements before you can spec something like this to get a cost estimate. the more planning done up front, the easier the work will go.

from having worked as a interactive project manager on the client and agency side for the better part of 10 years now, your effort needs to be in infrastructure to support the site as it launches and grows under the weight of the multimedia that it will host.

between architecture, planning, design, hardware, content development, management, and administration, i'd start in the 250K range. it sounds like a lot, but media production has a high burn rate.
posted by angry jonny at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2004

Sounds like you're looking for traction in the business development conversation--what you really need, at this point, is a vehicle for discussion, more than an actual proposal. Here's what I usually do to bracket a client's actual appetite, and get myself out of that early "chicken-or-egg" situation:

- Outline "low", "medium" and "high" quality versions of what the site could be. For each version, give a quick description of what would be included, how it would work, etc. (and preferably links to similar sites that they could look at). This doesn't need to be more than a paragraph or two per case, or a single slide in a presentation.

- For each of the three degrees of quality, give a very broad ballpark estimate of what it might cost. (At this point, a range of $50K or more is fine, like "Medium: $50-100K", "High: $150K+")

- Give them a list of the key "governing factors"...the main criteria that are going to drive the overall cost up or down. (The amount of high-quality content from scratch, the volume of multimedia/Flash content developed, etc.)

Pulling these together into a single doc should help get you to a point where you can sit down with them, talk things through in a little more grounded fashion, and start to gauge how much they're really willing to spend--without necessarily making any mistaken presumptions. Once you've agreed on a broad set of characteristics, and an overall price range, then you should be in much better shape. (You may still need to go through another round like this, around tighter, more detailed criteria, though, if they're as squirrelly as you say.)
posted by LairBob at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2004

(And angry jonny's definitely right about the overall cost--another issue that's not really clear is the scope of what you're responsible for. If you're talking about setting up hosting, acquiring/admining HW/SW, things could easily run that high. My figures were for design/development/production, not necessarily that stuff.)
posted by LairBob at 9:26 AM on December 16, 2004

Thanks for all the detailed comments -- it is giving me a good grasp of how to think about this project. In terms of the scope of what I'm responsible for -- nothing, yet. Possibly nothing, ever. I am acting now as a liaison to bring together the content people with some design/tech people. I work for a university, and the way things seem to get done around here is on some strange socialist/committee model (i.e., no one is in charge and everything is spectacularly inefficient). This idea has been on the shelf for about a year and a half, and it's just now gaining some momentum. I know full well that this may never happen, or may happen after I leave this job, or may happen in some distorted form...I am practicing nonattachment.

From what I am hearing, I'm thinking that asking for less than 50K would be doom. I'm meeting with the content folks on Monday, so I'll toss this revelation at them and see if they flinch. Thank you for being my panel of experts.
posted by butternut at 11:29 AM on December 16, 2004

All very intelligent thoughts. Having produced a lot of multimedia (think VERY LARGE SCALE), I can safely advise you, as a freelancer, to do what you can to show a willingness to be flexible, protect your involvement long-term, and quote values, not costs.

Here's how it breaks down:

1. Have a clear project plan.
a. Discovery - arrive at clear definition of requirements, content sources, roles, schedule, and a clear list of milestones.
b. Production - you build templates for content first, because you don't know when/how it will come in. This way, you're busy doing something, and have templates to drop content into when it starts coming (more on that later).
c. Delivery - Make sure you have all your hosting issues resolved, test your pages, safeguard the assets, etc.
d. Maintenance - your cash cow.

2. Break the project into phases. Set easy, obtainable goals, such as "The Early Years, 1860 - 1890" as the first project. Your "client" will be pleased to see a capsule of productivity and content. Then plan future projects around what was involved to do this one, taking into consideration the template, hosting and other initiating setups.

3. Set up an easy maintenance process for future segments. Once "The Middle Years" starts accumulating content, you'll be all set with the templates, server, and other production-level items. Bill these to your client in halves - half up front, half upon delivery. Distinguish the segments/phases in your project plans and billing.

4. Always quote values, not costs. Don't break your estimates out into number of hours, hourly rates, material costs, etc. Know that the value of this type of work is $X,000 per piece. In other words, Discovery is worth $5,000 (reasonable), Production is worth $10,000 for design, $12,000 for development, etc. per phase/segment.

5. Knowing university projects, you're headed for long delays, breaks in schedules, uncertain development resources, etc. So build into your plan a healthy buffer, both in time and cost, that your client doesn't need to see. It's not good to go cheap with this type of thing when these elements are so unclear. If they want it cheaper, you'll have to extract from them exactly how you would go about completing the work to expectations, when content sources (and development) are not under your control.

Good luck with this. Just some free advice. Hope it helps.
posted by ValveAnnex at 3:29 PM on December 16, 2004

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