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First of all, is it a good idea to ask a a potential client for a ballpark budget they are thinking to work with? I just don't want to meet with somebody who has a very low budget, and who could be surprised during our first meeting that I'm not the cheapest guy in town. So What do you think my first step should be when a client writes me an email and says it wants to meet me about the project? The client has no idea what I charge, beside the fact that the client likes the work I do.

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6 Answers 6

I have used a budget selection option in the questionnaire I send out but not all clients fill that portion. I may have to make it mandatory. From my experience, writing proposals and then figuring out somehow that the prospect was no were near what I had proposed to be the cost can be discouraging. Another way to do it is to send an email with a rough estimate of the cost and ask if that fits their budget and then take it from there. But never lower your prices to get the job. Provide a design solution that fits their budget.

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Hi Sean, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your answer. If you have any questions, please see the help center or ping one of us in chat once your reputation is sufficient (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site! –  Vincent Sep 25 at 13:12
    
Thank you for the warm welcome :) –  Sean Jamshidi Sep 25 at 15:09

[updated clarification: Before meeting with the client? Likely, no. That is just the wrong time to ask. But as early as possible in the discovery/scope defining process? Absolutely.]

The job of a designer (or anyone providing a business service, for that matter) is to provide a solution that meets the business objectives of the client.

If your solution costs more than the budget. You've failed.

If your solution falls far short of the scope that was intended. You've failed.

That's not to say client budgets and your costs are fixed. Rather, you have to know what the budget is so that both sides can adjust as needed/capable. And that can go in both directions. If you're a designer that typically makes WordPress sites and find out that the client has a half million dollar budget, obviously they aren't likely looking for a WordPress solution and have a much larger scope in mind. Maybe that's something you can accommodate, or maybe it's something you need to pass on.

And conversely, maybe the client wants a logo for $500 and you normally charge at least $2000. Knowing the budget up front lets you make a decision as to whether you need to pass (just not worth your time) or adjust the solutions you provide to meet that budget (maybe it's a really fun project that is worth you finding a solution for).

In other words, the only way to properly deliver a solution tailored to the client's objectives and goals is to understand the scope of the project and a key part of that is understanding the expected budget. Knowing that up front hopefully allows you and/or the client to adjust expectations and scope as needed from the get-go. Worse case, it at least will make it clear if you and the potential client are just not a match. Both you and the client will benefit from knowing that sooner than later.

It's business. Everyone knows that money will be exchanged. The sooner that's figured out, the less time will be wasted by all parties and the quicker solutions can be started on.

UPDATE:

My original answer didn't address the 'prior to meeting with them' part of the question. That's a bit different of a question than what I initially answered. In that situation, I'd say "probably not" as there's going to be a lot more that has to be thought about than just the budget. That usually has to happen in a more in-depth meeting where budget--along with scope, goals, objectives, strategy, business needs, etc will all be talked about and will work together to determine possible solutions to fit budgets.

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You can phrase the question as "To avoid misaligned expectations, I would like to know what the budget is" to emphasize what this answer focuses on. –  hlovdal Apr 3 at 10:00
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"If your solution costs more than the budget," then there may be a mismatch between solution and client. Just because the client has a budget of $50 for a logo doesn't mean I can provide a logo for $50. (or, I can, but it won't be anywhere as good as the $500 logo.) So either the client has to adjust budget, or the solution has to be different. Neither of those is "failure." –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 3 at 10:01
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Those opening two sentences are so flawed. Not every solution provider will be able to (or desire to) provide solutions to every budget. –  Paul Apr 3 at 10:35
    
@LaurenIpsum you misunderstood (or I mistated). I agree with you. What you are saying is the same as what I'm saying. It's a failure if those adjustments aren't made. And one can't make those adjustments without knowing what the budget is. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 14:55
    
@Paul how is it flawed? If you can't provide the solution with stated budget, then you pass on the job. You of course, have to know what the budget is to make that decision. I'm not saying you must take every job. I'm saying that the jobs a designer does take, meeting the budget is part of measuring success. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 14:56

I would never ever lead with a question about budget. Huge red flags.

It reminds me of when I interview for jobs and they "pre-screen" me with either fishing for prior salary information or what type of salary I'm expecting. If you were to go over to workplace.stackexchange.com you'd see the norm is to either avoid it, decline to answer, say you signed a confidentiality statement, or some other way to evade it including as Scott said --- lying.

So What do you think my first step should be when a client writes me an email and says it wants to meet me about the project?

What you should do is learn everything about the client, presumably you should have already done some of this before even bidding or applying for the job unless they were referred to you by someone.

Then your first, and only step, is to schedule a time and place to meet with them.

Once they meet with you its your job to close them, to negotiate, and to come to terms everyone can agree with. If their budget is so vastly off from what your expectations are you can work with them as a consultant, refer them to a "newer" designer you know, or even piece meal it for them.

Story:

Last week I went to Lease a car. One of the dealerships I went to immediately sat me down with a form and started asking my first name, last name, budget, ranking my needs, all this stuff. I told him Ryan and that the rest is completely irrelevant at this point in time. He didn't get the sale.

I went to another dealership and after test driving a few cars the sales guy sat down with me and asked how much I had available to put down. I told him my bank account is none of his business. He didn't get the sale either.

I went to a third dealership and there were no forms or "fishing questions." The guy just discussed with me the rates they're allowed to do and what he was flexible on. I signed a 3 year lease.

Moral of the story: Price isn't determined by your client's budget so don't worry about it.

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Your answer is fine, but is written in the context of bidding on a job. If we're talking RFP type relations, that makes sense. But hopefully one doesn't have to spend time bidding on every project. Hopefully a lot of their clients come to them based on reputation, past work, or the like. In those situations, it's expected that budgets will be talked about. In the end, your price isn't determined by the client's budget, but the project costs absolutely are. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:01
    
Simple example...let's just take a basic project of printing a brochure. How can you bid the project properly without a ballpark budget? There's a vast difference between short-run photocopying and large-run 4 color offset printing with die-cuts and varnish. The design solution you come up with will vary quiet a bit knowing which way they want to go. You may charge exactly the same for both solutions, but knowing the budget is key to knowing which solution you should be working on providing them. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:03
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This varies a lot by culture. Where I live, if you turn down every job that 'fishes' your expected salary, you'll never get a job with a stranger. You'd be lucky if they don't demand your previous pay slip for these jobs! However, these budget questions are quite rude which will hurt your chances. Unless you're screening and filtering potential clients, it should be avoided. –  Muz Apr 3 at 15:18
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@DA01 your last comment, about budget (in the other answer) before even meeting is the issue. Now that you said that everything else is fine. Your two comments here are perfectly acceptable but you have to meet with them and discuss things first. –  Ryan Apr 3 at 15:26
    
@Ryan yep, that was a miss on my part. I agree, asking BEFORE the meeting is a different scenario. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:31

Related: http://freelancing.stackexchange.com/questions/1304/whose-responsibility-is-to-give-budget-for-job-freelancer-or-client/1317#1317

I never ask for budget. I have my pricing. I price what is inline with my pricing. Then the client can mention their budget if they want to.

To me "What's your budget" has 2 outcomes:

  1. Asks you to lower pricing to meet their smaller budget than your standard pricing would entail.

  2. Gives unethical designers the opportunity to price more than they would if they were unaware of the budget.

Neither of these should be a contributing factor to your pricing. Therefore, there's little need to know the client's budget before providing a quote/bid. You should know your rates, gather an understanding of what the client needs, then price based on your rates. Only afterwards may budget be a concern if the client indicates their budget is lower than your pricing. They, obviously won't mention if their budget is higher.

I never buy anything starting the purchase by exposing what I have allotted spend. That almost always results in unnecessarily inflated pricing. Many, many clients in my experience feel just this way.

Asking for budget is really only valid if you are purchasing prefabricated items which range in pricing. Service industries in general rarely deal in prefabricated items other than perhaps "parts".


Based on the lengthy comments below. . . let me qualify a few things.....

  • I don't gain clients via cold calling.
  • I don't gain clients via Craigslist ads or similar.
  • 99.9% of my clients come to me via word of mouth and are therefore already "pre-qualified" as reputable clients. I don't really deal with many "looky-loo" clients or uneducated clients that need to be convinced design is a necessary business expense.
  • I don't assume my clients have little or no money, in fact just the opposite. My assumption is that anyone contacting me is prepared to pay my rates. I'm always open to the pricing conversation, but I don't start from the inferior mindset of "errr.. can you possibly pay me this much?"
  • I never apologize for my rates. They have been established and proven over several years as valid rates for my particular market.
  • I'm just as comfortable passing on a client unwilling to pay my rates as I am taking on a client who will pay my rates.
  • I've been doing this for quite some time. I'm not just starting out or trying to establish a client base. I have extensive experience in what I do so clients looking to "just throw something together cheap" are not the type of clients I am approached by. Don't get me wrong, I do the quick cheap stuff all the time, but for already established clients. Not new clients.
  • I have minimum prices. I share this during early conversations. Client: "How much to create XXXXX." Me: "My minimum for any XXXX project is $xxx but I can't really provide solid pricing without fully understanding what you need." Or me: "XXX projects range from $XXX to $XXXXX depending upon what's desired."

All these factors lead to the answer (and subsequent comments) above.


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@Scott I disagree , I can do a $500 and a $5000 logo, it all depends on the project scope and what the client is looking for. Also different business entities will have different nuances, those nuances can eat up a lot of time. Before meeting with someone its a good idea to see if its going to be even worth your time. –  Ctrl Alt Design Apr 2 at 23:44
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I'm not saying you are wrong. But it's not an opinion that I share. Design is about a lot of things, including meeting the business objectives. All business objectives should have defined ideas of budgets. If a client hasn't thought about budget, I'm not sure they're prepared to think about the project. –  DA01 Apr 2 at 23:44
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@scott, how much time/money do you lose exploring in that manner? Sometimes its good to know upfront if the project is going to fall in your ballpark. –  Ctrl Alt Design Apr 2 at 23:47
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That may be very well for you, which is great. But it really depends on the project. Lots of projects requires hours upon hours upon hours of research to come up with even ballpark estimates. Think of a large promotional campaign where you may be doing design, ad buys, trade shows, large print runs, etc. If the client isn't realistic walking in the door with budgets, a lot of time can be eaten up getting to that point. –  DA01 Apr 2 at 23:53
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(Good conversation, btw!) –  DA01 Apr 3 at 0:14

Yes, It is totally legitimate. It's usually the second question I ask after whats the project about.

"What kind of budget are we dealing with?"

This can give you a general idea if it falls in your realm and worth your time. Generally over email or phone.

I usually prefer phone a call, you can hear about the project, budget and get a feel for the client and if you want to move forward. Meeting IRL takes time. If the project doesn't bring in money, its wasted time for your business.

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You need to qualify the client from the very beginning. Survey their products, marketing, customer support, and competition to see if they're investing to an extent that will support your services. If not, a short phone conversation can determine if they plan to. Once you feel confident that they're in the ballpark, you can move ahead with an initial meeting.

Start with getting to know them better and sorting out what the expectations are in general and for the project at hand. Set a follow up meeting where you can review an itemized quote in person and discuss the scope of the process and deliverables they'll get out of the deal. At that point, you can discuss misalignment of the quote and budget. There's usually a little room on both ends to compromise. Most of it should center on adjusting the scope.

When you start with money, you're already breaking down the relationship. You want to be a business partner, not a vendor. Vendors are a commodity, but a good designer is creative capital. Start with relationship building, then the money will be a lot less painful for them.

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But to contradict your last paragraph: vendors are usually shopped based on price (vendor X can do it for less). Business partners are shopped based on value. If money is a painful issue, then they would have just gone with bidding it out to vendors, rather than establishing a relationship with you as the designer. –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:05
    
I've coached more than a few start ups and small businesses through the rationale for finding a long-term partner over asking vendors to bid. It doesn't always take but when it does, you've found a great client. –  plainclothes Apr 3 at 15:12
    
I agree. And usually discourage designers from spending too much time on bidding. Responding to RFPs can be a frustrating and futile endeavor. You want to build a relationship...not fight your way to the lowest bid. :) –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:16
    
On the other hand, if you can get in as an approved vendor with a govt agency you might just find a cash cow :) Then you've got to suck it up and RFP your brains out. –  plainclothes Apr 3 at 15:20
    
Having both bid on .gov jobs as well as been a receiver of bids when working in .gov, I still say it can be a futile endeavor. So few RFPs provide sufficient detail as to what the scope of the solution they are looking for is. The other huge problem with RFPs is that there is often an attempt to define a solution in the RFP (which is needed to get accurate bids) but that usually means they didn't go through the proper process of finding the solution (which you usually want the designer to be a part of). I agree, it can be a cash cow if you get it. Just a pain to get it. :) –  DA01 Apr 3 at 15:30

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