Asking “how much will a website cost?” is like asking “how long is a rope?” or “how much is a house?”. But the client might not know that. They’ll want a quote in the first 5 minutes of talking to you.
How do you respond to these requests?
Definitely not with a price. Setting a price before fully understanding the requirements puts you at risk of underbidding, and potentially working a ton of cheap hours.
You can try to ask follow up questions to suss out the client’s budget. But what about when those don’t work? By the end of reading this article, you’ll have a set of tools you can use to move forward from these situations without binding your self to a price or work order that’s worth your time to fulfill.
Why are they pushing for a price at the beginning of the conversation? There are a few different possibilities:
Asking for budget numbers outright can be a turn off for some clients. They are concerned that if they say $10,000, you’ll say “here’s a $9,900” proposal. You’ll have to get there by more indirect means.
You’ll have to use your intuition to judge your potential next client’s situation of awareness. For this reason, I encourage getting the fidelity of communication as high as possible as early as possible. If you’ve only been speaking via email, pick up the phone or get the client on Skype. Meeting in person is preferable when possible. It will help you decide which tactic to use.
Explain that you need to know more before you can fully answer their question. If you use this line, have a next step ready to go. Here are some ideas, in ascending order of difficulty to pull off:
This way, you can try to steer towards a continued conversation. From there, you can learn more about the project and come up with a fair price.
I’m gobsmacked by the number of times I’ve asked the question, and a client blurts out their budget. “We have a budget of $15,000.”
This question can help you filter out clients with unreasonable expectations. You can’t accurately price a project based on a 3-sentence description, but you can at least tell a $500 project from a $50k project.
If your client thinks that a complete eCommerce solution costs the same a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, then you know that you don’t want to work with them, and can go ahead and end the conversation.
You show them a bit of the dark art of how you price your services, and in exchange, you have both educated them about market rates and give them perspective on where they may fall. Like the previous question, you have a similar effect of pushing for alignment: If what you offer at a particular price is wildly different than what the client expects, you can end the call.
The worst thing you can do is blurt out a way-too-low price because you didn’t understand the scope of what is being asked of you. Try the techniques above, and learn more about the project and the client before you make any commitments. And if you want to improve dramatically at the art and science of pitching & pricing software projects, I’d recommend Dependable.
I once spent six hours putting together an in-depth project proposal with a $20,000 price tag, only to hear the client respond “I was thinking more like $500.” It stings when you put hours into a proposal, only to get turned down, or figure out the client is a dud.
When a freelancer submits a proposal, they will often only include one offer. They will set the deliverable, and the price, and throw their proposal over the wall. When you do this, you give the client a binary option: Hire you or don’t.
By giving the client a few different options, you are changing the conversation into one that is more likely to end with the client hiring you.