How To Make Your Client’s Budget Work For You

How do you get your clients to understand that their website is an investment? How do you get them to see their site as more than something they pay for only once and then leave alone?


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A number of posts here the last month or so have been talking about the web design industry and I’ve possibly left something of a depressing mood by asking if the web design industry is dying. I wanted to offer some positive thoughts for a change. I want to talk about clients and budgets and the benefits of getting clients to see their site as a business investment.

A few weeks ago I came across an article on Smashing Magazine. by Trevan Hetzel on Selling The Value Of The Web To Small-Town Clients. Trevan offers some interesting thoughts and the article is worth a read. It’s pretty much what the title says. It offers several points you can bring up with clients to help them understand what a website can do for them and why it’s worth their investment.

Clients and Budgets

One thing I’ve learned being a freelancer for the last few years is that what clients want typically exceeds their budget. I’m sure a few of the people who approached me over the years were just trying to get me to do more work than the price justified, but most have been honest people who simply didn’t know what a website costs. Why should they?

They know what they like and what they see on other sites that they want. They know how much they can reasonably spend. What they don’t know is how much work goes into each of their requests. Again why should they?

A common question I get is “is this possible: in reference to a site request. My response is always the same. Everything is possible. It’s just depends on how much you’re willing to spend

A large part of my job has often been figuring out how I can give clients as much of what they want as possible within their budget. To do that you have to listen between the lines. You have to listen for the things they aren’t saying directly.

You have to listen for what your client truly needs. What are the goals for the site? The business? Listen closely because your clients won’t necessarily use the same terms you do to describe things.

Not long ago a client asked me about responsive design. I was excited. I didn’t think it would be a term any of my clients would know. It wasn’t until we were deeper into the project that I discovered what my client really wanted was for the PDFs availale for download through the site to be readable on an iPad. That was it.

Don’t assume your clients are using terminology the same way you are. Ask more questions and dig deeper into what they mean.

You need to really listen and hear what the client isn’t saying. You have to ask a lot of questions, even when you think you know the answer.

Once you understand the needs, wants, and goals of your client, you then prioritize all their requests according to their goals. Prioritize from the must have requests to the nice to have to the won’t help with the goals.

With a list of priorities I think through everything I can do within budget and offer some thoughts about when we might work on the rest along with some rough ideas of the cost for the future work.

I don’t give a price break down per each request. I tend to underestimate the cost of some things and overestimate others in a way that balances over a project, but can be far off on specific features. I’ve found when pricing granularly down to each request, clients inevitably choose to work on all the things I underestimated. It’s Murphy’s law in action I think.

Instead I list what I can do within budget and offer the rough estimate for the rest of the work. This usually leads to a bit of negotiating over both the price and what I’ll do for that price. Not being so granular helps with these negotiations.

With some clients I’ve found there’s a maximum amount they’ll ever spend at one time on one project. It’s all they can reasonably pay at any give time. With these clients I figure out what that max is so that I can group future requests into bundles never costing more than that max amount.

We’re more likely to agree on price and features this way. My clients get as much as possible with each project and I get to hold the project to something reasonable for the price.

A Website is an Investment

When I was first starting out I might have turned some potential work away because the client’s budget and my costs were so out of line with each other.

I’ve learned over the years not to turn these people away. Odds are you won’t be able to get them to increase their initial budget, but you can get them to understand they can’t get everything they want with that budget.

It’s ok that they won’t get everything. You can give them the best site you can within budget and you leave the client with a list of things they’d still like to add to the site. You can offer them a plan for when you can do the work, how long it will take, and what it will cost. You have a built in excuse to contact them at any time and see if they’re up for the next phase of the project.

Do whatever you can to get across to your client that a website is a serious investment. For many small businesses, it’s the best investment they can make and yet so many small businesses still their site as little more than a brochure. They need the about page and the services page and a way to contact them, but that’s all they see. They see their site is something they pay for once and leave alone.

Change their minds. Get them to see their site as part of their business strategy and potentially the best investment they can make for their business. Explain to them how a website

  • is a great marketing tool
  • is good for building relationships with customers
  • is good at establishing trust and authority
  • can serve as a direct sales channel
  • can serve as a lead generation tool
  • can lead to unexpected opportunities

Again you have to get them to see their site as an investment and that all the things a site can potentially do cost money. Help them see all the things they want aren’t a single project or payment, but several projects with several payments over a longer time frame.

Let your clients know that not everything a website can do makes sense for them specifically to do. Help your clients define their web strategy. It’s more value you provide and can charge for and you get to share your expertise with someone who can use it.

Help your clients define their online strategy so you can both prioritize what they want done and how much can and should be done within their budget and how much the site can wait on for a future project.

Doing the work over a longer time frame also gives you more flexibility in pricing plans. With clients you trust to pay, you can do all the work now and charge monthly over time.

You might agree to a weekly charge with a weekly definition of what work will be done that week. The project in those cases will be done when it’s done, though I find some clients are mistrustful of this, since they won’t know the full cost at the start and might think you dragging out the work to increase the final price.

On your end if you write code modularly as possible it can help keep your costs down. It allows for quicker and more flexible solutions that are easier to maintain. It leads you being more productive and being able to get more done within your client’s budget or save yourself some time.

Closing Thoughts

Clients often have a limit on their budget that doesn’t meet the cost of the work they’d like done. They create their list of requests without price in mind. They don’t know what those prices will be and there’s no reason to expect they should.

Some will see their site as a one time thing that they pay for and never have to touch again. Change the perception of what it means to design a website and get your clients to understand their site is an investment. Show them how everything they want can be built in parts, in layers. Make clear their site will require maintenance as well.

When a client wants more than what they can pay for, don’t turn them away. Help them prioritize their requests so you can do as many as possible within budget and set a plan for when and how you can finish the rest.

Help your clients understand where their site fits into the larger context of their business. Get them to see the investment. If you do, you’ll be able to move projects from a single large one with a single large payment to recurring payments (albeit smaller ones) that you can collect weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Your client gets the best site their budget affords and you aren’t having to do more work than you should to close a sale.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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