Getting Design Clients to Talk About Their Budget

how to get clients to talk about their budget web designer

Plain and simple – you can’t do business without talking about money.  If you don’t initiate the topic of a budget for the project, you risk coming off as amateurish and may leave the impression that you can’t be taken seriously. If your clients are hiring you as a professional, obviously they should have a vague number in mind as to how much they would like to spend on the project. Talking about a budget might make you uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page. It gets easier with practice, and you’ll find that when you begin working with higher quality clients, it will become a lot less stressful to discuss financial requirements. 

Talking About Money is Necessary

Talking about a clients budget doesn’t have to be confrontational. If your client has a budget in mind, they should be happy to tell you how much they would like to spend. Talking about money should be one of the clearest planes to speak on because there are no blurry lines when it comes to hard numbers. Your clients either have the money, or they don’t.

Assess Their Needs

Ideally, clients will know how much your services generally cost. Talking about money with these clients should be relatively easy because they are familiar with how the process works, how to accommodate budgets and are accustomed to investing in designers. These are your most desirable clients, and dealing with them makes talking about money a breeze.

Many times, your clients might have a general idea, but you have no idea if they can afford it or not. Asking about a clients budget will immediately confirm whether or not you are wasting your time. If your client has $500 stuck in their mind, you need to be on the same page. You can then assess if you can help them out within their budget, or move onto other clients who are have appropriate budgets. 

  • Get as much information as you can about the project. The more details you have, the better you can estimate how long it will take and how much it will cost. Some websites can range from $1,000 to $20,000 in price because of complexity and the clients needs. Money should be a priority, but you need information first so you don’t have to give an estimate based on assumptions.
  • If the main purpose of a client getting in touch with you is to get your rates, this should throw up a red flag. If money is a big issue, they will bring up cost without much conversation beforehand. This could also mean they are price-shopping around with many other designers and will simply pick the designer that gives them the lowest rate.  

For example, you could say something like:

“I just want to make sure we are on the same page with your budget before we get ahead of ourselves. A typical website can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000. Is this within your budget?”

You should be able to tell right away if these were the types of numbers they were expecting. If they don’t have the budget, conversation usually dies pretty quickly. 

When They Won’t Give You a Budget

No Idea

You will get some clients who have absolutely no idea how much a website costs. For these clients, give them a range (like above) for different types of websites. “This will cost X, this will cost Y and this will cost Z. How much are you willing to spend?” Again, clients will usually have a budget, even if they don’t realize it and once they see numbers in front of them, it will be easier for them to determine a solid number. 

Ask What They Spent Last Time

If your client is redesigning, ask them what they spend on their last website. They might be more inclined to talk about what they spent on the previous project and their expectations going into this project in regards to budget. 

They Insist on Knowing Your Cost Upfront 

Some clients will be stubborn about giving you a number before you do. These clients most likely have a budget in mind, but if you lowball them a cheaper deal, they will go with that number. If they say things like: “Just give me an estimate”, “Tell me your hourly rate and how many hours this will take” or “Why do you need my budget? I just want to know how much it costs,” be persistent that they give you more details. Tell them you produce results that are tailored to your clients needs and the cost of a website can range from one to the next. 

Written by Janna Hagan

Janna Hagan is a web designer from Canada that likes to blog, tweet and Dribbble. She's the founder and editor of Student's Guide to Web Design.


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  1. Jim on September 3, 2013

    Interesting. Never thought of it that way. I will take this into consideration. thank you for the info Janna

  2. Pierre-Luc on September 12, 2013

    I've been working as a web designer and web developer for well over 15 years. I've only been freelancing full-time for a little over a year now and realize now I didn't have to wait that long. It just took me that long to believe in my results, as Jenna puts it. I've had a couple of nasty emails from potential clients lashing out that I was too expensive because I wasn't up-front right away about my prices. So I can definitively backup what Janna is saying. Let them know everything and don't be afraid of loosing a client. For guys out there, think of it as the same approach taught by many "pickup artists". They propose that when you approach a girl, if she rejects you, she may simply be having a bad day or she may not be compatible with you. It's nothing personal. There's a ton of potential clients and enough to go around at different level of quality. So why bother? Simply move on and you'll both live much happier lives.

  3. Ed on November 12, 2013

    Yes, I agree don't be afraid to walk away. You should add especially for redesign work. "I just spent so much money on the last designer, that I just need someone to fix it, so I don't have a lot to spend on your rates.", uhm Red Flag, I tell them, I don't fix other people's work and why would I take less money because you spent on work you hired another to do. Get your refund, come back to me and you'll have a budget to spend on my work. Simple. My best clients that are referrals from other clients of mine, are cool and sometimes come up based on their perceived value of what solution you can provide them, are often shy to give me a low ball number, considering they have the money to spend. Just recently a new lawyer client was referred to me from a friend I did their business card and wanted the same. We both have the same celebrity friends and when we discussed his business card, I too said, "So we're on the same page what's your budget? Shyly he responded I don't have a big budget but if you can do this for me for $250.00 in addition to the cost of printing his cards separately, would I be cool with that number?" my answer sure no problem, I know graphic designers that will do a layout for their Photoshop rates of $60 bucks if not less. I asked my friend that referred me the new client. I told him hey thanks for the referral, he's paying me $250.00 for a layout I did in less than an hour 2 sided. My friend's response was he didn't want to insult you by offering something low ball plus he likes my work, and that was his perceived value of me based on my portfolio and testimonials from friends. If you have the skill sets to provide high quality work, you'll know what pricing works for you. I am enjoying this site, I often mentor college kids, foster care and homeless youths that aren't equipped to ask about money for their work. Let alone afford the tools to build such things. Doing work pro-bono and starting with family and friends is a necessary first step, in a freelancers learning curve. The biggest barrier starting off, and back then that wasn't really taught is the business side of freelancing, which translates into a steady income. The other barrier is having a portfolio that stands out as well as the type of clientele that you've worked with. I was asked to substitute my friends web design class, many years ago. I asked the kids in class what they think they can expect once they graduate. All of them stated "the competition" + "lack of real world experience" when seeking an entry level position. My solution to them was, hey if anyone is interested, I'll take you under my wing as my production assistant, you'll learn hands on how to talk to clients, work on high profile projects, then this way you will have experience and credits on my celebrity's website for your portfolio. I am happy to say that all of them got call backs right away and have careers with top design firms, if not have started their own company. This industry is tough but is achievable with the right guidance. Kudos to you, Janna

  4. Tom Semmestom on January 16, 2014

    Thanks for your post. It helped me figure out how to ask my client about budget.

  5. Shad Vick on February 20, 2014

    I don't know how many times a client has tried to low ball us and when we've taken on that type of work - it always goes south. Everyone do yourself a favor - take on quality clients that can give you quality time and vision. If they want you to just "come up with something" you may end of giving them a refund later. It's always best to get higher end clients who have pre-established a budget and know the expectations of what they are getting. Charging hourly with an initial estimate of hours is better than a project rate in my opinion. Thanks Janna. This was a good reminder for me. We're in the middle of a logo design that has gone south because the first round of concepts was poor due to the fact that we didn't spend more time on the creative brief and it's a project rate with limited time for revisions.

  6. Sean on October 4, 2014

    One of the better articles I read about budget. Thank you for sharing. I was wondering would you recommend a budget selector in the project questionnaire or on the contact page?

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