How to Estimate CMS Project Costs: 3 Go-To Strategies

Figuring out how much a new CMS implementation project will cost can be tough for both the vendor and the client paying for it. In the world of CMS projects, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Smaller projects with limited scope differ vastly from larger, more complex ones. The choice of platform, the specific requirements of different customer segments, and other such factors play a significant role in determining the overall cost.  

In this article I want to analyze the problem of project delivery estimates that often decide success during the presale phase. I'll also share strategies and tips on how to make good estimates, both for the agencies and for the clients. 

b2b ecommerce efficiency

Understanding the cost rollercoaster 

Estimating the cost of a CMS project can often feel like riding a rollercoaster. Just as a rollercoaster has its highs and lows, the estimated price of a project fluctuates, making it a challenging task for businesses to pinpoint an exact figure. 

Drawing from our extensive experience with CMS projects, we can observe that the estimated price distribution resembles a Gaussian curve. This means that agencies typically hover around an average cost value, with some deviation depending on the project specifics. In simpler terms, the prices of software projects tend to fall within a certain range, and the broader this range, the higher the chances that the project's actual price will be captured within it.  

Naturally, each agency will have the average value somewhere else on the price axis. So, the shape of the distribution function will be a bit different as well.  

Die Gaußsche Kurve zeigt das Beispiel der Normalverteilungsdiagramme für zwei Agenturen mit unterschiedlichen Durchschnittswerten.
The Gaussian curve demonstrates the example of normal distribution charts for two agencies with different averages. 

The challenge of estimating costs for agencies

At the start, the information about project requirements is limited, designs are drafted – in a better scenario - as simple wireframes. The features are analyzed with many assumptions rather than concrete specifications, making the cost estimation task even more daunting. 

Despite these uncertainties, it's still important to estimate the cost of internal delivery. Why? There are two reasons for that.  

  1. You want to avoid losses and ensure that the project doesn’t end up in the red numbers.  
  2. You need to make sure that your price is right. If you charge too much, you might not win the project in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process where potential clients compare bids from different vendors. 

So, how do you even start to estimate the right price early on?  

To get an accurate estimate, you need to create a backlog, listing everything that'll go into the project. Which means getting into the nitty-gritty with the frontend and backend developers who will do the work. This can take several days, and if the client decides your price is too high and goes with another company, all the time you spend working out your estimate is essentially wasted.  

That's why it's so important to be able to come up with a good estimate quickly, especially if you tend to deliver similar projects repeatedly. 

3 Strategies to Estimate CMS Project Costs 

Let’s explore 3 strategies that will help you with quick cost estimations. They rely on having a deep understanding of what's involved in a project and what the client is looking for. 

Low-budget projects  

Recommendation: let them go  

Sometimes, you can tell right away if a project isn't going to work out. The reasons may be: 

  • Financial constraints - when the client simply states the budget ceiling is too low. 
  • Functional requirements – when the platform of the agency’s choice is too advanced, and the client seeks only a basic website with no extra features. 

Our advice, in this case, is to let these opportunities go and not waste precious resources to fight a price battle you cannot win. It's more practical to let other agencies that are more suited to such projects take over, as they can deliver the work within the client's budget and still make a profit.  

Here we speak about the lower endpoint of the “golden interval” — the price range where an agency operates most successfully. It's important to remember, though, that the decision isn't black and white. The specific threshold where a project's budget becomes insufficient may differ depending on the actual situation.

Golden interval  

Recommendation: find out fast whether a new project falls into this category  

Every agency should have a sweet spot for project budgets — we call it the "golden interval". This is the price range where most agencies’ projects fall, and they're profitable without being too pricey for the clients. Agencies should get familiar with this range so they can quickly tell if a new project's budget makes it a good fit.  

Drawing from our experience, the interval itself might be broader than what a client is expecting to pay, but that's where the expertise comes in. Instead of spending time listing out every task and feature (like user stories and the work needed for them), we use what we already know about the client's needs to narrow down the price

Setting expectations with clients 

Clients understand that prices can vary a bit. They're usually okay with a price range, as long as they know what factors could make the cost go up or down. An experienced presale architect can use their knowledge to outline a budget range quickly—often in just a few hours, not days. This efficiency helps us start projects faster and keeps our estimates competitive. 

Paid inceptions  

Recommendation: if unsure about the scope or complexity, separate analysis and delivery stages

From time to time, we all want to be blessed with a project that is far beyond our daily bread. It's the kind of project with lots of websites, components, integrations, and content items to migrate. Figuring out a rough price for this can take a lot of time—weeks or even months—because there's so much to think about. 

These projects are strategically crucial, offering a chance to push the boundaries of our expertise and making us better at what we do. The investment in detailed project preparation is justified, as it often ensures smoother project execution. 

Lately, we've found it works well to do a short inception project first. This way you can: 

  • Figure out the most complicated parts of the project. 
  • Come up with a better estimation of the budget and project timeline. 
  • Prove to the client that we're a reliable and engaging partner to work with, not just now but for future projects too. 

Cost estimations - Recommendations for clients

We have been describing the problem primarily from the vendor’s perspective. But is the client’s point of view much different from the vendor’s?  

For those in need of CMS implementation, here are some tips to remember when estimating the cost of the project: 

  • When preparing a new website project, clients/companies need to assess their financial possibilities to select the right vendor. It is an easy way to disappointment to approach a top-class agency with high expectations, but a (very) limited budget.   

  • Quality always has its price. It’s smart to think about costs as a range, not just one fixed number. There are always certain parameters and matters to decide on which can make the project cheaper or more expensive.   

  • For larger companies ready to spend on a big CMS project, consider breaking it down into two parts: inception and delivery phase. This approach can help mitigate the risks, keep you from overspending, and lay the foundation for a strong working relationship with the implementation partner.

In conclusion, while the journey of cost estimation is fraught with uncertainties, the combined expertise of qualified vendors and informed clients can lead to successful project partnerships. Vendors must sharpen their estimation strategies, and clients must approach their projects with a clear understanding of the financial commitments required. By working as a team, you can ensure that the envisioned CMS solution is delivered with precision, aligning with both the client's vision and the agency's capabilities. 


Adam Böhm, Division Director at ACTUM Digital

Adam Böhm

Division Director at ACTUM Digital. You can find me on LinkedIn

You may also like...

[20/10/2023] Cost Drivers for B2B Web Solutions | CMS Project Breakdown

Discover the cost drivers for B2B web solutions and the factors affecting CMS project prices. In the article, we share insights into CMS price ranges and budget considerations.

Read the Insight

[30/06/2023] The Importance of Content Strategy for Digital Marketing Success 

Content strategy is an important digital marketing method for manufacturers in 2023. Find out why this strategy is compulsory and how to set up an effective content operations system for your brand.

Read the Insight

[27/03/2023] CMS: Skip comparing features and create user scenarios instead

Choose a CMS based on how well it meets the tasks and requirements of your most relevant user scenarios...

Read the Insight

Subscribe to Actum's Insights