Educate your clients about their budget

As a freelance web designer, I’m often engaged in conversations with clients that surround requirement gathering. The first thing I always ask before starting this conversation is “What is your budget?”

Now I’ve heard it said that some clients feel you’re asking this question so any price estimates will be increased to meet their maximum allowance. However, this is very rarely possible in any situation I have ever been in. I often find the client doesn’t have nearly the budget available to meet every demand they have, and have never ever been in a position where I could happily meet the clients demands for less than their maximum allowance.

Finding out their budget, as soon as possible, is vital for me to not only decide if I can provide a solution, they would be happy with that can be within budget, but also to allow me to manage their requirements and expectations to fit in-line with their finances.

I would like to apologize now to all the switched on clients that don’t fit into the stereotype I am about to describe.

I have found on numerous occasions that clients will come to me with a low budget and a huge amount of very complicated requirements. Even though the web as an industry is growing very quickly, it is still a very new area of expertise and precious few clients really understand the value and cost of our skills and output. We need to do our best to educate them and hope that with time this problem will ease.

So what’s the best way to deal with a client with a low budget and a massive set of requirements? Tell them to look the other way while you make a swift getaway? That’s one option that sadly not everyone can afford to take. So the other option, in my opinion, is to try to put things in terms that they can understand.

I like to use the analogy of trying to buy a house. If I walk into an estate agents and tell them that I would like to buy a house, they will then continue to ask me all sorts of questions regarding exactly what features I would like the house to have. So of course I tell them I want a 4 bedroom detached with an indoor swimming pool, a fully kitted out gym, 5 acres of land and I need it to be as close to London’s West End as possible. They will then rub their hands with glee as they ask me what budget I have. When I reply with “£200,000” I shouldn’t be surprised when they begin sobbing with disbelief, as they realize they are dealing with a madman.

However, instead of telling me I’m a madman they could instead decide to ask me what features I am willing to negotiate on and begin a discussion with me about exactly what my ‘needs’ are and what my ‘likes’ are. Of course I am being ridiculous for dramatic effect here, but anyone hearing this story would understand that the buyer in this case will need to give up some of his requirements to ensure that he finds something he can afford that he can still be happy with.

It is this conversation that you need to try to get into with a client when requirements gathering. What is it they feel is vital to their project and what is it they just want if possible? You have to try to help them to understand that their budget won’t allow for every need to be met, however, you can still produce a perfectly capable website for them that will meet their upmost needs and comply with the budget they have presented.

If after you have told them that, they still expect the Facebook killer in a week for next to no money then maybe it’s time to use the “Look over there” method of hightailing it out of their office. Good luck!

Michael Wilson