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Ask a Trainer: How Do I Explain the Cost of E-Learning to My Client?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dear Tim,

I work as a freelance e-learning designer. Recently, I was talking with a potential client who wanted to convert several days’ worth of classroom-based content into e-learning. This particular client had minimal experience with e-learning and was a bit shocked when I provided an estimate of how much time and money this would cost.

I felt like my estimate was reasonable given the nature of the project. While I’ve had to deal with client sticker shock in the past, this particular client seemed offended by what I quoted for the project.

I’m curious if there’s anything I can do in the future to better handle a situation like this one. I appreciate your help!

Hello, fellow freelance e-learning designer.

I know exactly what it’s like talking to a potential client who is totally unaware of the time and money involved with creating e-learning content. It can be extremely deflating when a client comes to seek your expert opinion and then acts like you’re the crazy one for telling them something they don’t want to hear.

Unfortunately, client sticker shock is something that folks like you and I will always have to deal with. The worst thing you can do is give in to the client’s lack of understanding—it’ll end up costing you money and resulting in a subpar deliverable for the client.

So, here are a few tips I use when estimating projects with new clients.


Tip #1: Set expectations before you provide an official estimate or quote.

During your initial conversation, before you provide your estimate or quote, start preparing the client by explaining the cost and time involved in e-learning development. Do this by sending them the data and research on how much time it takes to develop e-learning content. Ultimately, the client will appreciate your willingness to educate them on e-learning development while also letting them see the research behind the costs.

Tip #2: Make the estimate as detailed as possible.

As you’re pulling together your official estimate, make it as detailed as possible. Don’t simply send a set number of hours multiplied by your hourly rate. While your client will want to see the total cost, they’ll also want to see how you calculated that final cost. Break your estimate down into each individual task or phase in the project. This includes the number of hours it’ll take you to draft the initial storyboard, the number of hours it’ll take you to develop a prototype, the number of hours it’ll take you to implement edits, and so on.

Tip #3: Explain how e-learning development differs from instructor-led training development.

Finally, make sure to help your clients understand how e-learning development differs from the development of an instructor-led course. Never assume your clients have any understanding of what it takes to develop e-learning. Unlike classroom-based training, you can’t merely build a PowerPoint deck, along with a few materials, and rely on a facilitator to fill in the blanks. With e-learning, every single word, image, graphic, and interaction has to be designed, developed, reviewed, edited, and approved.


I hope these tips help! Remember, you’ll always have clients who struggle to understand the time and cost of what it is that you do. But don’t let this discourage you. It’s an opportunity to help and educate. They’ll appreciate it in the long run.

Best of luck!


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]! Also, make sure to visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

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Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Great article
Expanding on Tim's guidance--dont hesitate to provide a comparable demo with ballpark pricing to qualify their budget up front--
Then follow Tim's advice to the letter: give them a scope of work with time to delivery for accurate pricing--
You get what you pay for--every time
Thanks for reaching and commenting, Buck! And it's SO true: you get what you pay for!
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I never thought of providing the potential client with education on the cost of eLearning along with the quote. Thank you for that advice.
Hi Robin! Yeah, I think sometimes it's just a matter of our clients not understanding what goes into the estimate or quote provided. Thanks for reading!
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Great article. Whether you are an internal or external developer, this information will be valuable for establishing expectations.
I'm glad you liked it, Amy! Thanks for commenting!
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