A tool for estimating project budgets

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When I first started freelancing, I struggled to estimate project budgets that didn’t result in some level of inaccuracy. A couple times I even left out important activities/expenses that I ended up paying for in the end. To avoid any further frustration and loss, I created a project cost estimator spreadsheet in Excel. This has made estimating projects simpler, more efficient and consistent, and has made me feel much more confident when submitting a proposal.

Features of the project cost estimator template:

  • A default list of activities and expenses that might be part of a research project; when doing an estimate, I keep the ones that apply, and delete the ones that don’t
  • The spreadsheet is flexible enough so if I add or delete a line item, it doesn’t screw up the formulas
  • Activities are either based on hours (e.g., meetings, research activities, etc.) or a flat cost (e.g., recruiting)
  • There is a column to change the number of researchers for projects where I have a colleague working with me
  • Activities are categorized in a way that simplifies moving the final numbers over to project proposals
  • Costs are also broken down into Consulting, Expenses and Travel categories to give me a high-level sense of each one (also helpful in case I need to cut costs in one of these areas)
  • Finally, I do a +/- 10% calculation, giving me a range to present to clients; +10% accounts for unforeseen project expenses

Here’s a link to download the template. If you use it and have any suggestions for improvement, please leave your feedback below.

Download: Project Cost Estimate Template


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