Sam Brown

Should Website Budgets be Required Info

A while back I got asked for my thoughts on whether having a field for Budget on your websites contact form was a good idea or not. The indecision stemmed from the fear of scaring away potential clients versus the crap information clients might actually list in this form field. It is something I have been conscious of for a long time, I have a Budget field on my contact form and it is a required field. Do you?

Budget Form Field

Not that long ago my good friend Elliot decided to amend his contact page with the note that:

“In most circumstances, I’m unable to take on projects with a budget lower than £5000.”

This of course wasn’t the first time someone had listed a minimum figure but it continues to generate some interesting discussion on the topic. Very few freelancers, small businesses or big agencies list their prices and it’s probably the most secretive aspect of our otherwise very open industry. Some sites do list rough pricing guides, like Elliot does, some offer drop-down options with ranges of budgets to select from, and some don’t require this information up front at all which I find rather worrying.

I think the Budget field is the most clearly identifiable sign of whether a potential client has truly and completely thought through what they want done and the possibility of having you work on it with them.

The clients that fill in this field with an actual amount, or even a rough estimate of what they expect it will cost them are the best clients to have. They have clearly gone to the trouble to evaluate what they need done, who they want to do it and how much they have to spend on it. Of course, you need to make sure to discuss the scope of their project in detail with them, but actual numbers in this field make for happy days. These are the clients you want to be working with.

“Negotiable” or “You tell me!” means an extra round of discussion to coax their likely budget out of them and even then you will likely have a client that has little concept of the work they want done and what it will truly cost them. A simple solution is to respond with your rates and await the inevitable non-response.

At the end of the day I don’t think there is a right answer, should you display your rates, offer a multiple choice of possible budget ranges or simply leave it open to interpretation? I don’t know. But either way, you should definitely include a Budget field on your form as it’s a sure fire way to find out if the potential client has a $500 budget that you can’t work with, $15,000 budget that you can consider or whether you are going to have to dedicate your unpaid time in finding this information out.

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Comments

Daniel Marino 6 May 2010, 08:32 #1

It’s a double edge sword… If freelancing is your sole source of income, you may not want to risk loosing potential clients because they gawk at the figures on your site. I used to do freelance on the side, and didn’t rely on the money as much. If I started doing freelance work again on the side, I think I will put a minimum figure, or a range of figures on my contact form because a) it will weed out some of the riffraff and b) it will make the price negotiations go a lot smoother (I would assume).

Keith 6 May 2010, 08:49 #2

This is one of the trickiest issues we face, Sam. Nobody wants to scare clients away, but at the same time it’s unreasonable to be expected to take time to prepare a thoughtful, considered response to a request for quotation when the prospective client has no budget for the work. People seem to think (doubtless because anyone can buy a copy of Dreamweaver or FrontPage or whatever MS is calling it this week) that web design is a cheap, commodity item. After years of responding to requests from people who will not state their budget in advance, then reply with “Crikey, I thought it would only cost about £200” when I provide an estimate, the first question I ask people is what budget they have set aside, or if they even have any notion of what it might cost or they would be willing to spend. I understand why many are reluctant to give a figure, because they believe that if they say they have £5000 available that we will automatically quote them £5000, but you have to find a way of assuring them that knowledge of their budget will not only allow you to judge whether you can do anything for them at all, but also how much, and how near you can come to their expectations for the site — and possibly to offer them some options.

Now, as for budget fields on the contact/RFP form itself… When I finally get around to a long overdue redesign and expansion of my own site (what’s that story about the cobbler’s children having no shoes?) it will include a short RFP form with a budget field that must be completed in order to submit the form. I at least want prospective clients to think about budget before dashing off an RFP. And this will be a free text entry field, rather than a drop-down list of options. I can see why a drop-down seems like a good idea, but I suspect many clients will simply select the lowest figure/range in the list!

Just as Elliot lists a minimum figure, I plan to state the price range into which most of the work I do falls, which should at least give clients an idea of whether I might be able to do anything for their hoped expenditure or not.

DanC 6 May 2010, 09:47 #3

This raises a very valid point and one that has entered my head a few times over the last few weeks. The description of how you respond with your rates and do not receive an answer is bang on for the majority of enquiries I receive (and I don’t even charge that much!)

The issue is with people constantly under-valuing the work that people within this industry do. It’s an old story, one which isn’t going away and something that is frustrating every-time it rears its head. If someone wants me to put in 30 hours of my time to do their project, they have to be willing to pay me my rate. Just because they have seen a site that offers a one page portfolio of £30 doesn’t mean that is what they need although unfortunately it does often mean that this is what they want to spend.

How to solve this? Well, if anyone knows, please share the answer round. I think most of us would like to know……

paul 6 May 2010, 09:53 #4

I agree that it’s necessary. It does require a kind of commitment on the part of the prospective client.
At first, I had a default range, then I set the dropdown to blank so that the visitor would have to consciously select a price range.

Mark McCorkell 6 May 2010, 09:55 #5

For the well established designers, like yourself, and Elliot, I think it is definitely a good idea to have something in there to filter out the clients that may otherwise waste your time.

You could potentially find yourself replying to emails and dedicating unpaid time to explain things to clients that simply can’t afford your services. So while some people may say it scares away some potential business… in reality it will just help validate that they are a real potential clients.

For me… there is nothing more frustrating than asking someone to give some idea of their budget, and them saying something like “well we haven’t much of a budget for this”, and you have sent them a few emails back and forth chewing up some of your spare time.

But that’s just my thoughts on the matter – I am but a young buck in a fickle world. :-)

Brian 6 May 2010, 09:58 #6

Sam,
I’ve been listing a minimum figure, much like Elliot, for about 2 years now and I’ve really found it helps to weed out those clients that do no value the benefits of good design. I’ve also been approached by those asking for “$500” websites, only to help educate them on the true value of good design and development and told them its best to save and build up your budget then to get a slapped-together website; half of the time they come back a few months later with a more serious outlook on the benefits and goals.

Also, as a full-time freelancer for 2 years now, I feel that I do enough unclocked work and answering emails that state “Can you design my site for $500” just takes up more time, when you know you have never designed a site for under $5,000. Listing a figure helps to streamline your own client interaction process.

Lee Munroe 6 May 2010, 10:04 #7

Good way of filtering out the low budget jobs and potentially awkward clients.

I don’t have this on my contact page, but after a potential client makes contact, and the enquiry/client sounds good (you can tell a lot about the client from their first enquiry) I’ll mention a minimum budget in my follow up email. Perhaps it’s time to migrate this to the contact page.

Alex Magill 6 May 2010, 10:09 #8

I’ve always asked for budget, but am considering switching to a range model (like sortfolio.com’s search ) as Daniel Marino suggested above.

That seems to me to have the benefits of establishing a lower limit and making it easier for clients to name range without the stressing and second guessing that naming a figure can bring.

José Mota 6 May 2010, 10:16 #9

If you show yourself off professionally and really think you deserve a minimum, then go for it. It’s a matter of energy and attraction. You will attract what you are. If you’re good, you’ll attract good, willing to pay fat, clients. Besides, it’ll always save you the embarrassment of hearing a silly or arrogant “no”. Good post, Sam.

Liam McKay 6 May 2010, 10:23 #10

I think it’s a good way to just get rid of time wasters. It’s definitely a good filter system, it’s not going to lose you any clients, as those people would have just got scared away at a later stage anyway. Better to get them out of the way as soon as possible anyway in my opinion.

Ken Stanley 6 May 2010, 10:29 #11

I completely agree – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for an allocated budget at all. In many cases it will allow you to determine what can be delivered and you can manage the client’s expectations. Often a client will come to you with a huge list of requirements and a budget that can only realistically cover a fraction of them. So in many cases you’ll have to tailor your solution to fit the budget.

Also, as has been said, it’s a great way to get rid of tyre kickers. There’s no point in spending huge amounts of time sending out comprehensive proposals only to find out that the client can’t afford to avail of your services!

Paul May 6 May 2010, 11:01 #12

It makes sense to only take on work where you can deliver a good outcome for the client (one which delivers tangible value) and where you make a profit. They get the benefits, you get paid – all are encouraged to move forward and solve more problems, deliver more benefits etc.

It’s always good when a client has a clear vision for the project, a measurable set of objectives, and a figure in mind they feel is worth paying to achieve those objectives. How much would we spend to increase our net-promoter score to X% and grow sales by 20% etc.

I don’t think there’s a disadvantage to stating a starting range for a project, giving indicative bands (small project = X days) and/or talking through your rate card in more detail in a face to face meeting. There’s also sometimes value in spending a tiny amount of time (a day, two days) clarifying the scope of the project – then agreeing a cost structure.

If it looks like a project is going to be achievable and profitable, there’s still the question of whether you and your team are excited about it – whether it’s going to be one you write a case study on, talk about – or whether it’s just one that keeps things ticking over.

Bottom line, be up front about what’s realistic and achievable, what you think that’ll cost – the people who have the money and see value in working with you will probably go for it.

Matt Brett 6 May 2010, 11:07 #13

I don’t “reveal” my exact rate on my site, but I do have a pulldown with budget range options. My initial reply to nearly all leads is a canned one, which gives a ballpark estimate for the project they’re look to have done. If the budget field in my form didn’t weed out those that can’t afford my services, that first reply does.

And like Liam pointed out, I’m not losing any clients here. I’m ending conversations with people who don’t have a suitable budget. Otherwise, there would have been a few exchanges before getting to this detail which is a show-stopper for many.

Grant 6 May 2010, 11:09 #14

I see budget as a filter. The reality is that we all won’t take certain projects under a certain amount. I also don’t want to work with clients that don’t know what they can spend. It doesn’t mean the have to tell me up front, but I tend to be very frank about what a project will possibly cost once I know some basic parameters. If my quick guess scares them away, then I consider them “filtered”. We probably weren’t right for each other.

I don’t place this info on my website because it’s unique to each project, but if you’re someone who tends to do a lot of the same type of work and get a lot of referrals off your site, I wouldn’t be afraid to post budget info on the site. It saves everyone’s time from being wasted.

Christoph Zillgens 6 May 2010, 11:12 #15

I completely agree, Sam.
But I can also understand the clients. If I was a client and had a complete concept of what I want to get done (and I’m aware of that it costs more than $1000), I would expect from a good Designer that he/she can tell me the required budget. Because I don’t want to be the fool who gives the Designer $10,000 although he/she would have done it for $6,000. I (as a client) could also say:“I know it will cost around $10,000, but maybe the Designer will do it for $7,000, let’s wait for his estimate.
It’s always bargaining for the best budget. In the end, both parties have to be satisfied.

Erik Ford 6 May 2010, 12:01 #16

I think that it would be in your best interest to get an idea of the budget that a client may potentially have to work with beforehand and compare that with the list of services they require. Whether you list your prices or a range is to taste and, agreeing with Sam, I don’t know if there is a right or wrong approach here.

Andrew Chiperfield 6 May 2010, 12:16 #17

Since going with a range dropdown, it has certainly helped not only remove the “amazon for £200” clients, but I find it also gives prospective clients comfort that you’re not a fly by night who uses purchased templates. At the end of the day, the clients I want are those that understand ‘you get what you pay for’. As you say Sam, there’s no right or wrong here, I think it’s what type of client you like to work with.

Scott 6 May 2010, 13:08 #18

I like the idea of making some sort of budget field mandatory. If and when I start taking on freelance work again I might go with a range slider and try to label it in a way that disassociates it from the final quote. Something like “How much do you think this project should cost?” I don’t know if that would help or hinder, but it might be worth A/B testing to see how it impacts conversion. You know, because I expect to have so many people beating a path to my door. ;-)

jamEs 6 May 2010, 13:11 #19

“A simple solution is to respond with your rates and await the inevitable non-response.”

That’s the most true thing I’ve read all day.

Brian N. Burridge 6 May 2010, 13:15 #20

I would say definitely do this if you want me to think that you charge a lot of money for your services and that I probably can’t afford you. For example, I hired someone for $1,500 to design a wordpress theme for me. If I had seen a budget field, I would have assumed you wouldn’t want such a low end job.

How can you be sure a client has any idea how much something is going to cost? I may have no idea at first, and then I talk with you, realize how awesome you are and that I really need you, and then you tell me it will cost me $2000 and I think, well that’s a lot, but hey he’s great, I’ve got to spend it.

Good salesmen know they can get a customer to pay more than what they planned when they came in, if they can earn their trust and convince them of the product. By adding the budget required field, you may be eliminating a chance to upsell someone who simply didn’t know what to expect yet, though they had the money.

But if you are so swamped with work that you don’t want to have to sell anyone, or if you only want to take $10k and up jobs, then this might save you a lot of work.

Matt Hill 6 May 2010, 15:32 #21

I agree with the responses stating that a budget request is a good way of filtering your clients.

However, Brian N makes a very good point. Some clients will not have any clue yet what their budget might be. That doesn’t mean that they are going to waste your time or be unable to afford you. They could actually be loaded and very happy to pay tens of £K but they currently have no clue what the cost might be. So it’s always best to add an option for this.

Of course, this means the rest of your form should also be asking for other relevant information (in required fileds) that will help you qualify the prospect in other ways.

If you ONLY have a budget field on your form as a client qualifier, this simply makes the conversation about money, and not the value you bring to the project. Hopefully, no freelancers are doing that!

My current site fails on all these counts, but the re-design on its way will fix all these problems with a dynamic pre-qualifying form.

JohnONolan 6 May 2010, 18:21 #22

Excellent post Sam, that’s definitely something I’m going to start doing. This line resonated in particular!

“A simple solution is to respond with your rates and await the inevitable non-response.”

Always a classic :)

Damien 6 May 2010, 23:29 #23

Hmmm, I considered putting a budget on my site a while ago but decided against it as I didn’t want to put people off. The point is, until I have spent some time talking to prospectives, they dont know if they want to work with me not I them; and I’ve had no chance to tell them WHY they should pay me $5-10k rather than $500.

Instead I put together some priced packages with lists of inclusions on my site which they could see before contacting me or which I could direct them to as an example if they were unsure. I do of course still have many conversations with people who only have $500 to spend which can be frustrating but is also an opportunity. I give them good, free advice and hopefully, even if they dont use us this time, they’ll remember me as the expensive but helpful guy, next time or for their more well-heeled friends.

Andy Pearson 8 May 2010, 05:26 #25

I’ve just gone solo and am starting to pull in some leads. Some have a good budget whilst others are really not worth the time.

The unfortunate bottom line here though, is that I still have a mortgage to pay.

There is no way I can design a website for £500 and make a good profit. Impossible.

But £500 will pay half my mortgage for a month. So at the moment, I can’t say no. No matter how much I would like to.

In a couple months, when I am in a better position I will start turning down cheap projects but right now I have got to pay the bills.

Elliot Jay Stocks 11 May 2010, 10:55 #26

Sorry, Sam — only just checked my feeds and now I’m late to the table!

I have to say that putting a minimum project fee on my contact page has helped tremendously. I only get around 10% of the time-waster emails that I used to, which has obviously made things a lot more manageable. The downside is that I’ve probably lost a couple of potentially decent projects that may not have been that time consuming, but it’s a small price to pay.

And of course it’s not just about getting rid of time-wasters: as you say, it’s “the most clearly identifiable sign of whether a potential client has truly and completely thought through what they want done.” It’s about getting your potential clients to associate a value with their request. Plus, it indicates to them that you — and therefore they — are working in a certain ‘space’, so to speak, and they can then decide whether they consider themselves to be in that same space. Changing that minimum amount over time will inevitably lead to a different class of clientele (assuming they’re coming to the website in the first place).

Oh, and it doesn’t always work: I still get people asking, “can’t you tell me?” I guess they’ll always be out there!

Gary Bury 19 May 2010, 07:28 #27

My opinion from a client side of things.

We recently had our site redesigned.

I knew it needed to be done, but having never worked with designers I had no clue how much it would cost.

I didn’t know how long it takes to design and build a page.
I didn’t know if you charged by day or on project basis or what rates may be.
So I couldn’t have filled in a form that said “budget”.

I just knew we needed a new site and I had a good idea of what we wanted.

Fortunately Andy Budd at Clearleft took my call and gave me ideas of how long it takes to design and build pages, James at StiffRowlands also did the same. Without these two I’d still be in the dark.

As it happens we’ve now got a great site, cost well over £20k. But money well spent.

I respect the budget field as way to filter out the £300 for Facebook kind of enquiry. But I’d be interested to read a discussion between designers of why they don’t publish more info on the design and build process, and their rates?

Fabian Marchinko 23 May 2010, 03:34 #28

I’ve often thought about adding a budget question, it’s a great way of weeding out the time wasters and window shoppers. Thanks for helping to make up my mind with this article.

Commenting has closed for this article. Feel free to me.

Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.

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