How to Get Your Clients to Write Their Own Quotes

“How much will it cost to have you make me a website?”

At some point in your career, you’ve probably been asked this. You were probably amused or insulted, thinking that here’s another prospect who just doesn’t understand what it is you do.

I want to show you why this isn’t a bad question – it’s flawed, but not bad. More importantly, we’ll see how to take this question, turn it around, and get your prospects to start writing their own project quotes.

The above question is flawed because, to many clients, what we do is dark magic. They don’t really know what they want, nor do they know how to phrase it, so blanket questions are their only option. And we make a mistake by scoffing at questions like this, instead of trying to get to the root and figure out what they’re trying to figure out: will I get a satisfactory return on investment with this person?

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I’ve seen tons of creatives who miss the simple fact that clients hire us to make more money than they spent on us. You can one-up the majority of your competition overnight by acting on this, and presenting yourself not only as a talented designer but as a trustworthy business partner.

After five years of thinking that people were buying my talent, I’ve put aside that thinking and adjusted how I confront client projects. The results? I’ve been closing more deals at higher prices than ever before. I’ve done this by having clients do the proposal writing for me.

1. Compile a list of everything a prospect thinks they need or want

From the start you need to start educating. Don’t just capture, start asking how vital each requirement is and what the business case is for it. Eliminate sparingly at this point, you’ll be cutting away the duds later.

At the end of this exercise, you should have a prioritized list of requirements and nice-to-haves.

2. Estimate each requirement

Ask any designer or developer, and this is the step they probably cringe at. Humans usually act off assumptions (“of course this is how a message board works!”), and we like to think that the client has done exhaustive planning and knows exactly what they want.

I tend to multiply each requirement’s estimate by a number between one and three. One being “they are confident in what they want and there’s little risk on my end” and three being “this is very, very vaguely defined.”

3. Apply your hourly rate

Multiply the total estimate for each requirement by your hourly rate.

4. Send this scope list over to your client, and plan a meeting

You want them to have some time to chew over what you’ve put together. Be very particular in what you title this. Do notcall it an estimate, proposal, or anything that most people correlate with something they need to sign off on. I usually call these “roadmaps” or “scope proposals” (the former being a little less sterile.)

5. Step in as their business partner

Change hats and take the position of their confidant. “Is this budget you were expecting to spend? No? OK, then let’s figure out what you’re comfortable with so I can deliver as much value as possible for your investment.”

Bring their scope list to the cutting board, and work with them to determine what can be removed or prioritized later to get the most output for their financial input. You’re no longer the greedy web designer who wants all of their hard earned money – you’re their trusted guide.

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Many web designers capture a list of requirements, disappear for a bit, and return with a written proposal with a price tag attached. It’s usually unclear how costs are calculated, so clients can sometimes think we’re pulling a quote out of thin air. To a client, this can often scream, “high risk!” Usually, this is where the conversion shifts to trying to pigeon hole us into a fixed bid. You will deliver vaguely defined X in exchange for a solid figure of $Y. Trust me, don’t go down this path.

By making the project planning process as collaborative and straight forward as possible, the likelihood that your clients will see you as an adviser instead of a hired gun goes up significantly. Your worth will skyrocket, because you’re not just a designer – which to somebody who is struggling with getting sales on their website doesn’t mean much. Position yourself as a business-minded consultant who will work with them to figure out why their sales are in a slump, and help them increase their online income using a new design and strategy, the rewards will be almost limitless.

About the Author:

Brennan Dunn has been freelancing for over five years, and is the creator of Planscope, a project management tool made for freelancers and consultants.

Published August 1st, 2012 by

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7 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Lee, August 1, 2012

    Superb advice. I find this the single most challenging part of my business, and always end up feeling like I’ve undercharged myself. I’ll definitely try this in my next proposal.

    In fact, I’ve just spent a good chunk of money on a training course specifically teaching me techniques on how to put together proposals and quotations, and I think this article has negated most of that training!

  • Dale, August 2, 2012

    Simply Brilliant.

    Thanks so much for the insight.

    Kind Regards,
    Dale

  • Dan, August 2, 2012

    How do you see this as differing from the norm? It all seems pretty standard to me, except for the part about not using “estimate” language.

    In my experience, prospective clients almost always ask specifically for an estimate or quote. Why avoid that language when you are putting so much time into discovery, research, planning and then meeting with them? You call them “clients” at that point, but truthfully they are still prospects.

    I would suggest stressing the need to carefully screen prospects to identify the serious ones you want to work with and then proceeding exactly as you describe — but don’t avoid money talk, and don’t overdo the “business partner” bit until you have a contract and a check. Put your price on page one or two of the scope/proposal — it is exactly what they want to see first. Then go through the details, selling them on value. (This is advice I got from Walt Kania @ thefreelancery.com.)

    Others will say you should not base estimates on time and costs — you should start there and raise the price to reflect what the end result is going to be worth to the client. This becomes more necessary with large projects where you’ve got a payroll to meet, but even a solo freelancer should not charge only time and costs if she’s designing a logo or ecommerce site for a multi-million dollar company.

  • mark, August 6, 2012

    Words coined like “roadmaps” or “scope proposals ” suggest a very interactive approach towards clients. Great guidelines.

  • Tim, August 8, 2012

    Excellent article and a big help. Defining parameters before estimating ensures that everyone is on the same page moving forward. Clarity = Confidence.

  • Jordan Foutz, August 10, 2012

    These are all great points that above and beyond all bring down those barriers and help potential customers feel like they’re not being pitched like crazy. Great stuff.

  • Larry, August 23, 2012

    Great article an interesting way to brief a client. Might give it a go!