What should this sort of project cost? How long should it take an experienced programmer to implement?
January 4, 2012 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Freelance filter: how many hours should it take to put together a re turn tracking extension/plugin/module for an existing online store? What would you charge as an hourly rate? What would you charge for a flat fee?

I am working with a person who runs an online store and have done various tasks for them: added a piece of functionality there, coded a newsletter signup page here, etc. So far so good.

The most recent, and largest, project was a custom ret urns plugin/extension/module/whatever for one of the common shopping cart systems (think zencartoscommercemagento).

I'm being a bit cagey to hopefully avoid any random googling from the shop owner turning up this question.

The project took longer than expected, and the shop owner is used to paying for inexpensive overseas programmers ($15 an hour or thereabouts).

I'd love to get a bit of a reality check from people with experience from either side of this equation: how long should this take an experienced freelancer? How much would you charge per hour? If undertaken as a flat-fee assignment, how much would that flat fee be?

The project required:
  • Creating database tables to hold returns information
  • Dynamic forms (input fields for arbitrary numbers of and kinds of items, depending on the order) for entering returns
  • Several pages (an overview page, with browseable and filterable returns information; a page to search for orders; a page to actually create returns selected orders; and a page to review and update an return status information
  • Accurate calculation of taxes and totals, serverside and client side (PHP and JavaScript), that were consistent with the store's tax calculations
  • Some JS interface goodness (fill in default values, provide live totals calculations, ennable/disable sections of the returns form, etc.)
Feel free to MeMail for more relevant specific information.
posted by jsturgill to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
How many hours did it take?

Freelance programmers I expect to pay anywhere from $30-$75/hour for, depending on experience, length of contract, specialties, and skill.

I run a dev shop and we bill out at $125 an hour. In exchange, our customers get work done in the US by talented developers with good communication, a guarantee on our quality of code and a warranty on what we deliver.

Depending on the platform, QA time involved, changes necessary, and other elements, I'd expect something like this to take anywhere from 40-80 hours. How fastidious you are and just how high quality you want to go shifts that, of course. You could probably have a quick-and-dirty concept in as little as 20 hours, but anything under that I would think is selling yourself short; you almost certainly spent a good chunk of time thinking about the approach, researching the interactions necessary to make the cart behave properly, planning the project itself, and the coding, testing/debugging, and finally implementing.

For the headache factor alone of working with the horrible clusters that are OSCommerce and Magento, I would easily charge $4,000-$8,000. I'd do it hourly though, since things get out of hand when working with third party software.
posted by disillusioned at 11:51 PM on January 4, 2012

Response by poster: How many hours did it take?

It took me a little over 30. I billed for a little less and cut them a break on the rate for some of the hours after some pushback.
posted by jsturgill at 8:12 AM on January 5, 2012

I did a bit of similar small projects although I work with Django, not php. 30 hours sounds very reasonable. It depends very much on how many similar projects you've done and how much back and forth communications you had to do with the client and how responsive they were, how good was their spec.

There's two possibilities here, first is that they had experience with a good overseas dev working at a low rate and they expect the same from you; however, good devs, even if they're overseas, quickly find they can charge higher rate for high quality work. They may have been lucky but now the original devs increased their rates or moved on to new projects and they need to readjust their expectations.

Another possibility is that they negotiate just on a matter of principle, trying to get a lower price, and checking how far they can push it down. Ultimately the solution for you is to have contacts with multiple clients, letting you choose the one with higher rate, and being able to turn down low-rate work. Other than that, only you can decide if a project is worth your while if you don't have any other work at the time, based on how much savings you have, whether you expect continued work from the same client, or if the project will give you experience you'd like to have, and so forth.

Feel free to MeMail with any questions..
posted by rainy at 8:37 AM on January 5, 2012

Response by poster: I'm happy with the payment, even with the concessions on my part. I asked this question because a part of me worried that my work was unusually slow, and I was somehow unintentionally exploiting them or costing them an unreasonable amount. Working with this store owner is my first experience coding under the clock (previous work was for fun or for a flat fee, never per-hour), and I don't have any context in which to place my output per hour.

So far the responses have been reassuring.
posted by jsturgill at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2012

When you code personal projects, do still keep time track, it's a good habit to have and will help a lot with situations like this one. It's extremely easy to underestimate the hours on dev work.
posted by rainy at 9:02 AM on January 5, 2012

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