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Tip: Getting the budget out of a client

13 Dec 2004 by Jason Fried

Carlos (recent winner of a Red Dot Award — go Carlos!) gave me a great tip last year about how to get a project budget from a client.

First you should just ask them for it. Be blunt: “What’s your budget or budget range for this project?” If you have a good client they’ll tell you (and trust me, you want good clients — finding the right clients is 90% of this business). If you have a reticent client they may say “we don’t have one yet” or “we’re just looking right now” or “we want you to tell us how much it will cost.” Truth is, everyone has a number in their head. They have a good idea of what they can spend or they wouldn’t be shopping in public. If they don’t then they shouldn’t be asking you to invest your time in writing a proposal — and you most certainly shouldn’t provide them with one.

So, how do you get the number when they won’t tell you? Try this: When they tell you they don’t have a number say, “Oh, ok. So a $100,000 solution would work for you?” They’ll quickly come back… “Oh no, probably something more around $30K.” BINGO: That’s the budget.

Try it.

22 comments so far (Post a Comment)

13 Dec 2004 | Jamie said...

These are not the droids you're looking for.

13 Dec 2004 | Chris S said...

He can go about his business.

13 Dec 2004 | MH said...

Whaddayou think I am, summa kinda Jedi?

13 Dec 2004 | beto said...

This should help save some gray hairs. Best piece of advice heard in a long time.

13 Dec 2004 | Ryan Mahoney said...

I think this strategy is a good one, it's direct and communicates some very important messages. First, I'm valuable and I know it. Second, I'm not afraid to tell you my price and walk if you can't handle it, ie. I'm not desperate.

I think this type of aproach has very broad application accross social interactions from negotiating with a client to kicking game at a bar ;)

13 Dec 2004 | jarv75 said...

Glad to hear that this happens over the pond too - and at different levels of spend.

I often say something along the lines of,"well we've built sites for [insert smallest figure I'm comfortable with for the job] up to [insert max figure]"

This usually does the trick and if it doesn't then I suggest they should write a full specification to give me an exact picture of what is required - for which I will return a figure. This usually makes them go white and they quickly provide the "ballpark" I'm after.

13 Dec 2004 | thirtymoose said...

I've also found that if a client doesn't give you a number, the conversion rate is very low. These types of inquiries aren't normally worth the time. This is the first filter question I use --- I don't get an answer it ends the conversation.

13 Dec 2004 | Ryan Brill said...

Perfect timing on this, for me. Thanks for that advice - I'll may need to try it out soon.

finding the right clients is 90% of this business

I had to snicker at this... I was thinking "finding any client is 90% of this business for some of us"... ;)

14 Dec 2004 | Brad Hurley said...


Now, how do you get a client out of the budget?

14 Dec 2004 | Matt K said...

This is an excellent suggestion.

I used to think any client was good business. Now, with a little experience under my belt, it is clear to me that a bad client can put such a drain on your resources (time, energy, money) that it can turn into a negative for your business.

Thanks for the tip!

14 Dec 2004 | brian breslin said...

my biggest pet peeve is when people say " i wanna sell xyz online, how much will it cost me to do this" and they have their idea in mind that this is kiddy work. So usually I tell them, well give me exactly what you need, and I'll get back to you, or i tell them $10k, and see what they say. anyway, great advice, i definitely plan on using this or some sort of pre-conceived menu system of prices in my head for each feature they want.

14 Dec 2004 | Jordon Brill said...

Great Tips. Finding out exactly what they want to spend can be a very challenging part. I'll have to keep these tips in mind...

14 Dec 2004 | jarv75 said...

I've also found that if a client doesn't give you a number, the conversion rate is very low.

Yes, that's so true. I reckon it's definitely a case of applying filters. Another one I use for local-ish enquiries is inviting them over to the office to talk through what they're after, or offering to come out and see them. If they really can't be arsed - then I walk away.

15 Dec 2004 | Filippo Gregoretti said...

What we usually do when they do not give us any budget, is to start with a "quotation".

The quotation does not have any legal value, as stated on it, and generally describes the "wide area" of functionalities involved in a ragne of prices.

10000 to 20000 Euros
Simple XHTML validated website, visual, project management, tests

20000 to 40000 Euros
Standard CMS, etc. etc.

40000 Euros and over

That is enough to:
- Make the client happy he can grab his "piece of paper" to show the boss
- Have a feedback from them that will tell you what their budget is

Quotations can be quite standard, and do not give you ani obligation. But you can make the client aware of price ranges, and wether he can or cant afford your services.


15 Dec 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Same idea works for any contractor trying to establish an hourly rate. Since they usually go through a third party (although it works when negotiating directly with a potential client), the "job seekee" usually tries to lowball you, so the third party can soak up the difference ("We'll bill 'em $105 an hour and pay her $35 an hour!").

"So ... what's your hourly rate?"

"What's the rate being offered on this project?"

"Well, we don't have a rate in mind yet. That will depend on the experience of the programmer."

"Okay ... I charge $95 an hour."

"WHOA! That's way too much!"

"Oh ... so you DO have a rate in mind."

And so it goes.

15 Dec 2004 | LordAlex said...

I am not so sure this will work all the time, I applied this tactic before and I had clients just calling someone else, some people are in very tide budgets sometimes and they expect you as a professional to offer them choices that meet their requirements.

I had clients coming to me for options in projects on very tide budgets (say 1K) where they have to deliver period by helping them with a solution, they had come back after with projects of over 50K no questions asked, because they already trust you.

Just my 2 cents.


15 Dec 2004 | JF said...

they expect you as a professional to offer them choices that meet their requirements.

Exactly. That's my point. You can't bid without knowing their budget since the budget is a key requirement, a key constraint. The budget is a requirement on both ends -- they need to know what they want to spend and you need to know if you can do what they want within their budget. Otherwise you can spend a week putting together a fantastic proposal, price it at $25K, and then find out that they only had 2K to spend. Everyone's time is wasted in that situation.

15 Dec 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Remember a fundamental rule of business: You WANT you competition to take the projects that lose money.

It's cruel, I know ... but eventually you get to buy them out and expand, the goal being to eventually sell your own business and retire.

15 Dec 2004 | jarv75 said...

Otherwise you can spend a week putting together a fantastic proposal, price it at $25K, and then find out that they only had 2K to spend.

Yeah, I learnt that the hard way. 6 times.

15 Dec 2004 | Paul Larson said...

Are there other ways to pre-qualify clients? Perhaps saying 'sites starting from $x" on your home page?

The 'aim high' strategy sounds like a good one, though.

17 Dec 2004 | Jon said...

Is this really advice ? It's the oldest trick in the book. Trying to scare someone into admitting their budget is just bully tactics and very non-proffesional. If you have any personal skills at all you should be able to talk like human beings and work out a price, without the need to resort to schoolboy tactics. Pathetic.

19 Dec 2004 | Relax Jon said...

All tips and "tactics" shared above are not "schoolboy." All who have been in the industry at least a few years can tell who the schoolboys are. Schoolboys take the low-budget, er, low-paying work because they need portfolio work. Let them, it's their right...besides, everyone has to learn.

As for our rights as experienced developers/designers/firms, we have people to feed and electricity to keep on. Not to mention our internet/hosting/email fees so we can actually receive and send emails to clients and potential clients. I guess you can throw a stigma like, "schoolboys use yahoo/hotmail email for business." Web-Noobies may not decipher who is experienced and who uses a freebie web-email account to do business.

How much is your time worth? I assume you enjoy wasting about 6+ hours per week for proposals that never get "off the ground." If you're solo then you have less to worry, most days. If you manage a business with more than one person then you spend time managing and working with, and review, and client relations, and project followup, and project/client research, and new business, and, and, and. Have you added up all those little minutes here and there? You might very well be suprised how much time is eaten away with routine tasks, and of course, how much is really billable? Again, how much is your time worth, and I'm not just talking about when you are actually at your desk!

NOTE TO ALL: Great tips, great encouragment, and happy holidays! 2005 is a nice techy # year, so let's all have great year(s)!

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