Estimate templates for Everybody

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New to estimate templates? Read our guide below.

If you’re looking to land your next big project, there’s a vital piece of admin that could make or break your pitch. It’s the estimate.

Clients want to know what you can do for them, but they also want to know how much it’ll cost.

And while you can’t always give them an exact price until you know the ins and outs of the project, you can provide an indication.

That’s where a good quality estimate template comes into its own. You can quickly send a clear and professional-looking estimate that covers all the necessary information, nudging you closer to winning the project and getting back to doing what you love in the process.

Sounds good, right? But before you rush off and download the first template you see, there are a few things you need to know.

What is an estimate template?

An estimate template is a pre-saved document that’s used again and again when issuing estimates to clients.

It’s designed to save you time and energy, meaning you don’t have to create a new estimate from scratch each and every time you need one.

Instead, you simply open the template, make a copy, add the deliverables and their estimated costs, and then save it with a unique identifier (an estimate reference number), before sending it to your client for review.

Why use an estimate template?

There are some obvious reasons why you should use a template to produce an estimate:

  1. Building a template that can be used over and over saves you time and effort;
  2. It helps you develop a consistent and professional tone of voice;
  3. You can reinforce your professionalism by adding your branding;
  4. And you can keep track of the estimates you’ve issued, rather than starting from scratch every time you need to provide one to your clients.

But issuing an estimate goes beyond simple business admin:

Firstly, it’s your chance to establish credibility. By taking your prospective client through a clear and structured process (from pitch to estimate to proposal and beyond), you’re demonstrating that you’re a professional and trustworthy freelancer.

And secondly, it gives you wiggle room. As we’ll discover in more detail later, an estimate is different from a quotation. With an estimate, you’re essentially guessing how much you expect your goods or services to cost based on the information provided — but you can adjust this as you learn more about the project.

Using a template gives you and your client a record of your initial estimation and a base from which you can potentially charge more (or less, depending on the circumstances).

Types of estimate templates

Besides a standard estimate template that simply covers costs for certain items of work, there are a few specific kinds of estimate templates:

Cost Estimate Template
A cost estimate template is great to be used whenever you need to provide an estimate of amount requested from the client.

Job Estimate Template
Use a job estimate template to approximate how much your potential client should pay for the job they need help with.

Project Estimate Template
In order to properly present the costs associated with a new project, send a project estimate template to your client.

Work Estimate Template
For any type of work, using a work estimate template is the best way to highlight your costs and services to the client.

Business Estimate Template
For general business needs, it's a good idea to rely on a business estimate template to showcase your pricing and services.

Service Estimate Template
Whenever you need to share a list of services and associated costs with clients, prepare and send a service estimate template.

5 common mistakes to avoid while using an estimate template

Using an estimate template helps you stay organized and keeps you on track while you’re trying to secure new work.

However, there are some errors you need to avoid to make sure everything goes smoothly. You see, that’s the downside of using a template — if even one mistake sneaks through, you’ll end up repeating it every time you create a new estimate.

It pays to double (and triple) check your estimate template and process before using it for the first time. But what do you need to look out for?

Well, here at Bonsai, we’ve worked with over 150,000 freelancers, many of whom are in the top 1% of their fields when it comes to earnings and reputation.

And, to help you get it right first-time, we’ve asked them to share the most common estimate errors — and how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Failing to do your due diligence.

Many freelancers (especially new freelancers) tend to dive in with both feet when it comes to estimates. They see an opportunity to land work and rush to provide a project estimate without first gathering the necessary information.

Failing to do your due diligence means you’re building an estimate based on assumptions rather than facts. And this can leave you in the dangerous situation of over-promising and under-delivering. Instead, take some time to research exactly what it is your prospect wants to achieve and by when.

Ask lots of questions and try to understand where this project fits with the overall vision for their business. Only then can you provide an estimate based on a comprehensive scope of work template.

Mistake 2: Failing to account for profit.

This is another classic early freelancing mistake. Failing to account for profit when writing an estimate can come back to bite you big time. When you’re estimating a new project, you shouldn’t just base it on the number of hours you expect it to take and the expenses you’ll incur; you also need to include a profit margin. Why? Well, profit is what you have leftover after you’ve covered your business expenses, and that includes your salary. If you fail to generate profit after you’ve paid yourself, you won’t have money to reinvest and grow your business.

Mistake 3: Failing to consider extra expenses.

If your project requires you to purchase tools, plugins, or materials on behalf of your client, you need to account for this cost and pass it on. Your template should reflect this with a dedicated section under which you can note these expenses. Otherwise, you could be left out of pocket and chasing reimbursement.

Mistake 4: Failing to provide different package options.

The top-rated freelancers know that if you provide your client with only one investment option, it makes that estimate all about you, and not about what’s best for the client and their business.

To counter this, you should be prepared to offer them at least three options to choose from. A ‘basic’, ‘popular’, and ‘enterprise’ level of package, for example, gives your client control over how to proceed. Instead of arguing on price, they can simply select the cheaper option.

Or, if they want to invest more, they can (without the back and forth). Factoring this into your template also makes it harder for prospects to compare your estimate like-for-like with your competitors.

Mistake 5: Failing to make it easy to get started.

When your prospective client is running their own business, they’re not always going to be able to communicate in a timely manner. Things might get lost in the shuffle, and you could be left waiting for confirmation that your estimate has been accepted. It’s therefore up to you to ensure everything goes smoothly.

If you make it difficult to get started, you could be left kicking your heels until your client finds the time to review, print, sign, scan, and return your proposal.

Instead, you need to make it simple. Consider using software to create and send your estimate — that way, your client just needs to accept and sign digitally, rather than deal with several time-consuming steps. Plus, you can track if and when they open it, meaning you can give them a gentle reminder that you’re awaiting their decision.

You’ll find a lot of the best practices mentioned in these tips built into our freelance tool, Bonsai. It costs $19 per month and used by 150,000 freelancers. Give it a try with a 14 day free trial.

What should a good estimate template include?

(whether you use our template or not)

Now that you know some of the benefits of using a template, and some of the most common mistakes you need to avoid, let’s take a look at the key elements of an estimate template.

To begin, the template will require sections that will remain the same every time, including:

  1. Your company name, number, and address
  2. Your company branding
  3. Your payment terms and bank account details
  4. Your VAT registration details, if your business is registered

Next, you need to include sections for the information that you’ll change with every estimate that you produce. This helps you keep the format consistent, even when the content changes.

Typically, you’ll add the following information as you flesh out your estimate:

  1. Date of estimate issue
  2. Customer reference number (such as an invoice number or purchase order)
  3. Customer’s information including name and contact details
  4. Description of goods or services (split into packages, where appropriate)
  5. An estimated cost for each good or service
  6. Additional project expenses
  7. Total estimated project costs

When to use an estimate template?

You will typically use an estimate template early in your discussions with a prospective client.

Because your estimate is quite simply an estimation of how much the project will cost, based on the limited information you have to hand, it is subject to change. It’s also not legally binding.

When you complete and send an estimate template to your client, it should act as a guideline for the costs associated with a project — but you are by no means required to carry out the work for the figure outlined.

Essentially, this document should help your client understand if they can afford your services before hiring you. Only when they’re comfortable with the estimated costs should you seek to nail down actual costs with a detailed proposal template.

Estimates vs Quotes: What’s the difference?

Now that you understand what an estimate template is and why you might use one, there’s another important document that you need to know about. It’s similar, but crucially, it’s not the same. It’s a quote template. So, why are estimates and quotes different?

Well, as we’ve already learned, an estimate is an approximate price that’s subject to change and not legally binding. A quote, on the other hand, is an agreed fixed price that cannot be changed once accepted.

If you issue a document labeled as a quote instead of an estimate, you must adhere to that cost, even if you end up carrying out more work than you initially anticipated.
That’s why, if you offer a service that’s unlikely to be the same as anything you’ve done previously (such as bespoke web design), you need to provide an estimate to account for various circumstances and expenses. Don’t risk being locked in on a price by offering a quote when it could quickly and easily change.

Advantages of estimate templates

There are a number of clear advantages to using an estimate template. For example:

  1. Templates offer consistency. When you use a template, you can produce a number of estimates in quick succession, and edit each for a specific client and/or project.
  2. Templates free up your time — time that can be better spent on other important (revenue-generating) freelance tasks.
  3. You won’t miss any important info, like your terms and conditions, package options, or additional expenses that might come back to haunt you. If it’s in the template, you’ll fill it in.
  4. You can use a template to reinforce your brand. From the colors you choose to your logo, font, and tone of voice, you can position yourself however you want.
  5. A clear and easy to understand estimate template also sends out a positive message about you as a freelancer. It demonstrates that you’re professional, reliable and that you know what you’re doing.
  6. Finally, using a template becomes an iterative process — you can adjust and improve aspects with each one you create.

Disadvantages of estimate templates

However, there are some downsides to using an estimate template, too. For example:

  1. Choosing the wrong template could mean that you end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
  2. A poorly designed estimate template may be misunderstood or mistaken for a quote. This could lead to your client expecting work to be carried out at a set price and put a strain on the relationship before you’ve even started.
  3. If you continue to use the wrong template, you could waste countless hours clarifying things with confused clients.
  4. Templates can appear boring and antiquated to savvy clients who now expect a modern, streamlined workflow. They don’t want to search their jam-packed email inboxes for documents — instead, they expect a software solution that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time.
  5. And finally, many estimate templates can be tricky to edit. If you try to add a new section — or move or remove an existing one — you could mess up the entire design. This makes templates restrictive when you’re trying to grow and improve as a freelancer.

Instances Templates Bonsai
Badly designed templates raise questions over your professionalism.
Vague terminology, buzzwords, or jargon inherited from the original template can lead to misunderstandings.
Important sections can be overlooked if not included in the original template.
Templates are harder to track, as they’re usually sent via email. You won’t know if the client has received it or opened it.
Templates can appear basic to tech-savvy clients who have come to expect a streamlined workflow.
It can be difficult to improve a template’s design, especially if you’re not a designer.
Adding, moving or removing sections in a template can be tricky.

"Bonsai has been absolutely essential in taking my freelance work from an amateur side-gig to a full-time business. It pays for itself 2x over in the time I save having everything so seamlessly integrated. I love how I'm able to send professional-looking invoices, track billable and non-billable hours, create to-do lists, track finances/expenses, and even create contracts and proposals all in one place. The integration with Google Calendar is a huge plus, the customer service is beyond stellar, the platform is really intuitive and easy to use... Really can't say enough good things about it."

Danica Mitchell

Why are Bonsai’s automatically generated estimate templates better?

Once you’ve cracked building a winning estimate template, the next step is to join the top 1% of freelancers in using a modern cloud-based system.

This will do most of the work for you, including adding and removing sections with a click, sending client reminders, and tracking when the estimate is delivered and viewed.

And if you’re looking for a game-changing freelance suite for professional estimates (and so much more), you’ve found it! Bonsai offers a no-risk 7-day free trial to get started.

There are a number of things to notice with Bonsai's estimate:

  1. First, both the logo and the banner image are prominently displayed. This establishes professionalism and trust and reinforces the company’s branding.
  2. The business name and address (FROM) and the client’s name and address (TO).
  3. The date the estimate was issued.
  4. A clear, scannable structure, detailing the packages included and the associated costs.
  5. A breakdown of each line item.
  6. An easy-to-understand cost summary.

Why is this better? It’s simple to read and looks professional. But that’s not all. As soon as your client opens it, you’ll be notified. No need for prolonged email correspondence to discover if they’ve read it!

How to create estimate templates using Bonsai?

Easy peasy. Bonsai makes creating, saving, and sending estimate templates effortlessly simple. Here’s how:

Create an account

First, set up a Bonsai account. The only information you need to enter is your name and email address.

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll arrive at this screen:

Create an account image

Click on "Draft a proposal"

Simply click on “Draft a proposal” from the options in your freelance workspace, and you’ll be able to create your new estimate template.

Click on Invoice image

Insert client information

Now you’re ready to insert the prospective client’s information, add the project name, select the currency, and choose the proposal template. You can pick from Generic, Design, Development, Consulting, and Writing.

Client information image

Build your ‘estimate’

The proposal template will open, and you can then build your estimate. First, add a logo and banner to show off your brand to the client. Then you can start adding the necessary information.

Build your invoice image

Create your packages

Under “Fee summary”, you can create tiered packages to offer your client a selection of services at different price points.

Send invoice image

More Options

In the top left corner, you’ll find More Options, including duplicating the proposal (estimate), or downloading it as a PDF.

Track invoice image

Send the estimate

Finally, once ready, you can send the estimate and track it in your dashboard to see if it’s been opened:

Track invoice image

Using Bonsai is easy and intuitive. Let us make your freelance admin more manageable while you focus on the work you love.

Sign up for your free trial and build your first estimate template today.

Bonsai vs generic estimate templates

There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s easy to search for and download a free estimate template, customize it with your branding, fill out the necessary details, and send it to a prospective client. But it’s also incredibly time-consuming.

The alternative is to use a freelance product suite (like Bonsai) to handle all of your admin tasks in a matter of minutes.

We’ve worked closely with over 150,000 freelancers since first launching, and we’ve discovered that they all agree on one thing: spending time redesigning free templates distracts from more important, money-making tasks.

So, if you’re serious about growing your freelance or consulting business, it’s time to take your estimates to the next level.

Here’s what you get for spending $19 / month on Bonsai:

Instances Templates Bonsai
Speed up your workflow:
Create, customize and send great-looking estimate templates in a matter of minutes.
Look and act professional:
Add your logo and branding, and impress clients with a streamlined software solution.
Flexible editing:
Add, move, or remove sections in seconds.
Get notified when clients view your estimate.
Automate your follow-up:
Optimize automatic reminders by choosing the right time to email each client.
Time spent creating and sending professional estimate templates. 2 minutes 2 hours
Time spent by clients to accept your credit note templates. 1 minute 30 minutes

At Bonsai, we recommend ALL freelancers to protect their time like it’s the most important thing in the world. Otherwise, it’ll consume you.

Everything you need to run your freelance business.

Focus on your passion, not your paperwork.

Becoming one of the top 1% of freelancers means assuming many different roles and responsibilities at any given time. But it also means finding ways to successfully carry out these tasks quickly and efficiently.  

Creating estimates is a crucial part of winning new work, but it doesn’t have to distract from your current clients. Instead, you can delegate most of the heavy lifting to technology.

Don’t let chasing new clients dominate your day and steal time from the more enjoyable, bill-paying creative work.

Using a modern, cloud-based freelance product suite, you can claw back that time and put it to good use (i.e., getting paid for your incredible freelance work).

And when the opportunity of a new project arises, you now know you can send a quick and professional-looking estimate to nudge things in the right direction.

So, now that we’ve covered what estimates are, why they matter, and how Bonsai can help you create them with only a few clicks, we’ve only got one question left:

Are you ready for your no-risk 7-day free trial?