The budget guessing-game

Stop me if you’ve heard this before — the conversation starts like this:

Client: “I need a new website. What will it cost?”

Me: “Great question! It’s a complicated one, though; it depends on a lot of factors. Tell me a bit about your business…”

We discuss the type of business, who the customers are, what sort of content gets published, what the site needs to accomplish, how often it’s updated, etc. Eventually, we get around to that question again:

Client: “So, what will it cost?”

At this point, I usually have one question:

“What’s your budget?”

…and then there’s an awkward pause.

It’s a bit rude to answer a question with a question, I suppose, but in this case, it’s unavoidable.

Nobody wants to feel cheated

The client is reluctant to share the project budget, which I understand: the concern is that whatever number they pick is going to magically match the price of my services — it will. They will interpret this as an amazing coincidence (in other words: they think I don’t want to leave any money on the table, and I’m probably inflating my price because I think they won’t know the difference).

Not only am I charging appropriately, it would never occur to me to overcharge. The type of services I can provide varies with a project’s budget, but I do my best work for all of my clients.

In it for the long-haul

Besides, the goal isn’t to land one big job with a client: I prefer to maintain long-term relationships with clients, as I have since 1997. I have clients I’ve worked with for 15 or 20 years. I consider 5 years to be a short-term client relationship. That doesn’t happen when you overcharge.

Everyone has a budget

Back to our conversation…

Client (being cagey): “I don’t have a budget.”

Everyone has a budget. If I were to quote you a price that’s a lot more than you want to spend, then you’d suddenly have a budget. Otherwise, you’d agree to that price.

As with cars, there are a huge range of website-related services on offer. Cars range from sub-compact 2-seaters, to sedans and minivans, pickup trucks, and luxury SUVs. What do you need? You can turn a $40,000 car into a $60,000 car if you add lots of options, too. Do you care more about trim-lines or performance? Maybe housing analogies work better: your budget determines not just the square footage, but also the neighbourhood, the type of yard you get, and how much gets spent on materials, furniture, and renovations.

The client always sets the budget

By refusing to disclose your budget, you’re asking me to guess — which is a waste of time my time and yours. Yes, the price I quote you will match what you tell me. You have a budget — an amount that you want to spend — and so we’ll spend it. Simple. That’s why it’s called a budget.

My job is to figure out how much we can do within that budget, and what tasks to prioritize to deliver the greatest possible impact within whatever time constraints you have.

No budget is too small

The other thing people worry about is that maybe their budget is too small. That’s never true. You may have expectations that are out-of-line with actual costs, but there’s no task or budget too small.

Whether or not I’m interested in taking on a job has less to do with budget than you might expect. Profitability is always important, but $500 jobs can be profitable, and $50,000 jobs aren’t guaranteed to be profitable, either. From my perspective, it has more to do with making sure the job hits its targets efficiently.

The risk of guessing games

If you force me to guess at a budget, though, there are a few things that go through my mind:

  • We may not enjoy working together, because you already mistrust me. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years: if I wasn’t trustworthy, I wouldn’t still be in business.
  • If I’m forced to guess at a budget (I won’t), there are only 3 possibilities:
    1. I’ll underestimate. This seems great except we would run out of money before we accomplished everything you need your site to do. Then I either work for free (not going to happen) or I look like I low-balled you to lock you into something I knew would be more expensive (also not going to happen).
    2. I’ll overestimate. This makes me look arrogant, clueless, or both. I like to think I’m neither, but if I overestimate you’ll probably just walk away and hire someone who enjoys playing budget-guessing games more than I do.
    3. I’ll nail it. This never happens. How can it? For some businesses, spending $500 is an investment that gets made very carefully; for others, $50,000 gets spent casually. It all depends on business goals, the owner’s approach to their business, and what they feel the opportunities might be. I can’t guess these things.

What services do you need?

Ultimately it’s my job to know or find out what you need. Everything will be discussed, and there’s no mystery about what we’ll do. Your estimate will be detailed, and the contract lays everything out in clear, understandable terms.

Reduce the risk

If getting over the feeling of I’ll-get-fleeced-if-I-share-my-budget is difficult, why not dip a toe in? Try a small project first: break off the smallest piece of the project that makes sense as a stand-alone, and go through the project from start to finish. Once the experience is good, take a deep breath and go for it on the rest of the project.

Let’s start this conversation right

Let’s get started — give me a call at 506–364–9408 or send me an email today — and have your budget ready!