How to Find Out the Design Budget (Even When the Client Doesn’t Know)

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Don’t you hate it when you ask a client or prospect for their design budget on a project and they say they don’t have one?

How can that be? And what exactly does that mean anyway?

Does it mean:

  1. The sky’s the limit?
  2. They have no idea what it should cost?
  3. They literally have no money and need it done for free?

I vote for #2 – I think that most of the time they have no idea how much what they need should cost. But have you noticed how, once you submit a proposal with a high price, suddenly they know it’s outside their budget? What the….?

I finally discovered a solution to this problem: Stop asking for their budget. That’s right. Skip directly to the next step.

From now on, instead of asking, “What’s your budget?” ask this: “Is your budget in the range of $500, $5000 or $50,000?”

Here’s what one reader of Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor says about how this works:

Yes! This technique works much better than asking for a budget. I currently use a questionnaire to answer inquiries and vet prospects, and included is a question that asks people to choose between low, mid and high budget ranges. My low range starts at the minimum fee I will accept so prospects know right off the bat whether or not they can afford me before we start talking. It has made all the difference between time wasted and time invested.

Here’s my new thinking: The whole point of asking first for their budget is to get some real numbers on the table. But if your prospect has no idea what it should cost (or doesn’t want to tell you), the conversation stops right there and you end up frustrated—and still price-guessing.

So here’s the new advice: I am now suggesting that you skip that first step and go directly to the next one by putting something concrete on the table that they can respond to.

Even someone who doesn’t know their budget can tell you whether it’s $500, $5000 or $50,000.

Normally, when discussing money, Deidre Rienzo, of ConnectwithCopy.com, will say to a prospect, “Something like this usually costs between this and this. How does that range feel for you?”

It works pretty well when talking to her ideal clients—solopreneurs and small design studios—because she’s been working closely in this market for a while and by now knows the “sweet spot” where they can both afford her services and get something of value to them. “That’s why I have prices listed on my website,” she says.

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But recently she was approached by an international branding firm and she knew they had more to spend. “I almost gave my solopreneur pricing when the prospect blurted out, ‘My budget is $2000…does that work?’ I contained my joy and said yes. And I got to throw in some extra bells and whistles, which is always fun. The point is, we both won.”

“I love working with solopreneurs and never want to price them out of my services. But I sometimes forget that my work is worth more to certain clients. While it can help some land a $3000 dollar client, it can help others land a $30,000 client—and even though it seems weird, I’m pretty sure we should get paid more for that.”

That’s why, if your prospect doesn’t volunteer their budget, you should try this magic question: “Is your budget in the range of $500, $5000 or $50,000?”

Says Deidre, “I love that it can be said with a big smile on your face. It’s almost a joke. It takes the pressure off! And I know it’s going make people come back with a number.”

For more help starting the “money conversation,” read an excerpt from my latest article for HOWDesign.com and download my Money Talk Cheat Sheet (if you haven’t already).


Learn more about design contracts, client relationships and more with HOW Design University’s certificate in Creative Business Entrepreneurship.

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