Words and Meaning: When An Estimate Is Not a Quote

Doug Sisko // October 2018

Over the past week at Isovera, we have discussed one of the more frequent questions we get as a digital agency and Drupal developer.

Is your estimate a quote?

These words sound very similar — almost the same meaning perhaps — but the differences are critical as they affect your (a) financial planning and can influence (b) the actual execution of the project. What do these words really mean? This tip will explain how they are different, and why their difference is no trivial matter.


At its most simple, our estimate is our projected cost based on what we know about your project.

We break out an initial estimate into various factors and components that give us an educated projected cost based on what we know at the time. This last phrase (what we know at the time) is critical both for the developer and you. Why?

What can change after that initial estimate? Actually, quite a bit. Our estimate is based on what we know of your site when we do the estimate. This often changes dramatically as we dig into the “plumbing” or “behind the walls” of your site. Analogies are often used in these kinds of pieces, but the analogy is very applicable here. One of our favorite references is to the program Holmes on Homes where Holmes (the home expert) often discovers a host of problems that his clients don’t even see. For digital platforms, we see a similar phenomenon — as many clients chose their vendors based on price — getting a superficially pretty built site on the quick that will break on any kind of site traffic load, and will break with the slightest update. From a financial standpoint, an estimate can be best explained by what it is not — it is not a fixed cost price. However, as a vendor, it is on us to explain to you what the variables that come up so we can work together to come up with a sound solution that meets your needs and your budget. With an estimate, we are constantly working together knowing assessing when something does some up we can (a) add or (b) reduce work to our development schedule.

Quote - Fixed Price

A quote is similar to an estimate as it’s an attempt at estimating a project cost. However, the difference stops there. A quote is understood to be a fixed cost project.

What does mean for you the client?

First off, is the obvious is the cost is fixed.

However, the fixed cost project has its trade-offs. You have the risk of paying more to your vendor if it’s “easy” work (they quote $10K, and it takes them 12 hours or so). Likewise, your vendor may be assuming more risk as well if there are more variables involved. That being said, we believe that people want predictability, and this includes cost predictability. We respect that as a real consideration as procurement, finances, and budgets are not things done in a vacuum — and very much a daily part of life for our customers, clients, and partners.

A Practical Philosophy For Success

At Isovera, we rarely do quote or fixed bid work as we firmly believe in a communication process that communicates often with minimal surprises — the best projects are the ones that are done together. We will work with you on identifying the risks, potential concerns, and even more exciting, the opportunities that come up, as we work together. We will come to you with informed opinions, and sometimes ask you hard questions. And the core, this is the true meaning of Agile work.


Want to learn more?

If you have a hard question or a problem that needs to be solved, ask me or any of us here to help you today. We promise to be honest, amaze you, and we won’t bite. :)