5 Tips for Handling Pricing Objections

One of the most difficult aspects of business for many freelancers is the pricing of projects. While some designers offer package-based pricing, most will have to provide a custom quote for every new client. Making an accurate estimate as to how much time will be required is often a challenge, but for many freelancers what is even more difficult is closing the sale and getting the client to commit by signing a contract and agreeing to the price.

By nature most designers are not interested in sales, but it is a necessary part of being a freelancer. Of course, the more demand you have for your services the easier it will be, and the less pressure you will have to land each potential client. But in reality most freelancers today are not in a position to lose out on projects if it can be avoided.

In this industry pricing objections from potential clients are relatively common. Maybe the client doesn’t have much knowledge or experience in the area and they have unrealistic expectations of what is involved in the process and how much work is required. Or maybe they have a friend or family member who claims they can get a website for much cheaper somewhere else. Whatever the case, freelance designers never enjoy dealing with pricing objections.

In this article we’ll look at a few key things that you can do when you are in a situation where a potential client is hesitating to move forward due to price. While there will always be some clients who expect a top notch website for a bargain basement price, most clients are very reasonable and effective communication can often lead to some way to come to an agreement.

1. Break it Down

Rather than presenting a client with a quote that shows only the total price and a few bullet points about what they will be getting, go into more detail and break down the process step-by-step. A total dollar amount can seem very overwhelming if it is more than a client was expecting, but with some detail that explains what is involved and what they are getting for that price, the same price may seem quite reasonable to the client.

You can start by breaking down the project into various stages. If you haven’t already gone over your design and development process with the client this is a good opportunity to show them everything that you will be doing. If the project involves mood boards, wireframes or other preliminary steps, break it down to estimate the time that will be devoted to these steps and assign a dollar amount to it.

Moving on, you can also break down the steps for the design work, coding, feedback and revisions, testing and launching of the site. Every step of the process can be documented, with a time requirement and cost estimated. This can help the client to get a more accurate idea of everything that is going in to the project and how the time needed for each step is impacting the total price of the project.


If you’re able to speak with the client when presenting the proposal, as opposed to simply emailing it, you can also take the time to explain why the various steps or stages of the process are critical to the overall success of the project. Many clients will not be experienced with going through the process, so they may not see a need for some things, which means you will need to show the significance if they are going to be willing to pay for it.

In addition to breaking down the steps of the process to show how the final price was determined, you can also break it down to show the payment in installments. You should always be getting a percentage of the payment up front, and depending upon the size and timeline of the project there may be other milestones at which a payment will be due. Rather than seeing one large payment amount it may help the client to see it broken down into several smaller payments and when they would be due. Particularly if the project has a longer timeframe, having several smaller payments can make a big difference on the impact of the price to the client.

2. List Everything that is Included and Emphasize the Services that You Will Provide

Many clients like to compare prices from one designer to another. The problem with this is that it is rarely an apples-to-apples comparison. To help the potential client see the value in your proposal, be sure that you are listing everything that you will be providing. Will the project involve custom graphics? Custom icon design? A unique blog theme or customizations to an existing one? Will you be setting up email accounts for the client? Will you set up analytics, plugins, automated backups?

When the proposal includes everything that you will be doing for the client it does a better job of showing all of your work that will go into it, and there is greater justification for the price. If the potential client takes that proposal and compares it to another designer that has not listed everything that is included, yours will look much more complete and thorough.

3. Offer Options

One of the best ways to overcome pricing objections is to offer a few different levels of service that the client can choose based on their needs and budget. If they can’t afford your normal service with all of the items included, they can always opt for your lower-priced option that may not include as much but would still allow them to work with you.

Offering various options may not always be possible, but in most situations it is appropriate. For example, your low price option may include customization of a template or themes (could even be one that you have developed) rather than a full custom design. Or maybe instead of including custom icon design in the project the lower-priced option could include buying stock icons or even using free icons.

Providing options puts the client in control of what they spend, and reduces the risk that they will simply say they cannot afford your work and move on to another designer.

4. Explain the Risks of Going with a Low-Budget Option

Whether you are offering multiple options or just one, the client who is objecting to the price should be aware of the potential dangers of going with a low-priced option. When clients are not experienced with web design or development they often don’t fully understand what the difference is between your proposal and what they would be getting if they hire the designer who gave them a lower quote.

Cutting corners always involves some risk or loss of potential benefit to the client, so make sure that they are aware of the potential impacts of choosing a lower-priced designer. Will the designer offering a lower price do the necessary preliminary work to ensure that the site meets the needs of the business and its visitors? Will they be risking having a site with an e-commerce system that is not user friendly? Will they be left without a designer who is willing to work with them on an on-going basis when needed?

5. Have Flexibility When Appropriate, but Don’t Seem Desperate

There are situations when it may be justified to reduce your price after communicating with the client in order to secure the business. However, you shouldn’t simply drop your price because a potential client objects to the price, nor should you drop it significantly without some adjustments to the scope.

If you quickly respond to the client’s price objection with a lower offer for the same amount of work you will be setting a dangerous precedent that can carry over as long as you are working with that client. Rather than putting them in total control, work on finding a compromise that will keep the price within their budget while reducing the amount of time required from you.

What’s Your Experience?

How do you deal with pricing objections? Feel free to share your experience or advice in the comments.

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33 Responses

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  • Best Smartphones, October 13, 2010

    I have usually found that customers have no problem in asking for a reduction in the price. However, another fact to bear in mind is that they will often ask you to do additional work for the same price once the project is commenced. Make sure that you have a strategy for dealing with this in place whilst agreeing the contract.

    Kind regards, John

  • Ryan Swarts, October 13, 2010

    Nice post. I agree with you. Because “web design” can mean so many different things to so many people, it can be hard to explain what professional work really entails — and costs. I think breaking it down is the best way to go about it. By showing all of the steps of a project and the hours needed for each step, it’s hard for a potential client to discount or low-ball you. If they do try to, then be ready with some less costly (less time-consuming) options.

  • Jon, October 13, 2010

    The worst is “feature creep” once the project is agreed!

    Make sure you have stipulations that outline the steps necessary to adjust total project time. Of course, if it’s something small usually it’s ok, like an additional image or slightly different layout for a specific page. It’s when the client wants to add ecommerce functionality to a simple static site that you need to step back and talk it over!

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Jessica Nunemaker, October 14, 2010

    From a customer stand-point, I appreciate when potential freelance designers skip the technical talk and give me a detailed outline of their plan in relation to cost.

    It makes it a little easier to see that not only do they seem to know what they are doing but that we would be a good fit (which is really important to me).

  • Eko, October 14, 2010

    This post really helpful for me in determining price. I agree, that over time for the blog owner of the design would be faced with offers from clients. As we blog, after running 4 months we found it difficult when it comes bid projects, especially in setting a price.

    Thanks

  • Dave D, October 14, 2010

    As stated in the post and as Jessica mentioned, it’s important to give a detailed outline and break it down for the customer. Don’t get lazy and make the plan half ass…your customer will sense that and relate that to the design work you produce. Not a good start or attempt at getting a new client.

    Also, I agree it’s important to provide options and list and emphasize services. I’ve found that customers usually choose the middle option BUT more importantly have noticed what my top tier plan offers and how it breaks down. Although they didn’t go with the ‘big daddy’ option from the start, I’ve consistently had clients come back recalling my detailed plan at the beginning and tell me they’re ready to implement “service xyz”. More business, less selling.

    I really believe it’s a matter of educating the customer from the beginning. Help them learn and they’ll be less likely to shy away from quotes!

  • Ryan Prentice, October 14, 2010

    Thanks this is a great post. I think a lot of freelance web designers and also web design/marketing firms struggle with this element and often that is why they have to offer their services at a significant reduction in cost. In turn I think this has a knock on effect on others in the industry because it can push down the value of all of our work.

    This provides some great steps and advice to overcoming these objections. Another golden piece of advice is that you can always lower your price but you can never increase it after making your initial quote. Always go in slightly higher than you would like to pitch the work at – that way you leave room for negotiation. Get used to dealing with price objections and the more you deal with them the better you become at closing deals.

  • Priyesh, October 14, 2010

    Some very good tips! Setting the price can be difficult but it is important that this is a well thought out process, which can be justified to the client. I find it is important to inform the client exactly what the process involved is from the brief to the development to avoid any potential communications problems.

  • Vandelay Website Design, October 14, 2010

    Jessica,
    I think most clients would share the same opinion. Thanks for the feedback.

    Dave,
    Good point, showing careful attention to detail in this aspect of your business can indicate how you will handle the entire project. And I agree that less selling is a good thing!

  • Dave Wright, October 14, 2010

    In my experience it does well to put the cards on the table as early as possible, don’t try and get them all excited about a project then hit them with a fat quote, they’ll often run a mile!

    • Vandelay Website Design, October 15, 2010

      Dave,
      I’m with you. I don’t like spending too much time with a potential client if there is no way they are ever going to be willing to pay your fee. Talking about budget early helps to get a ballpark idea and if it’s not going to work you can both move without wasting time.

  • Eugene, October 14, 2010

    I have ran into a lot of these at one time or another. I kinda fumbled my way through it. It is nice to have a plan and this is going to help me out alot. This has always been my weak point. Now all I have to do is follow through.

  • Simon H - Way Fresh, October 14, 2010

    Nice post and agree with the points raised.

    The detailing out each element is a great way to allow the client to see the value of each section especially if they can then cherry pick which bits they want to get to their own cost that suits their budget.

    Sometimes this can be quite time consuming to break it all down especially for the smaller projects. I tend to give the client a quick ballpark initially to see if I am in the right area and if they are still keen then I go for the full breakdown.

    If they go ahead then I definitely follow this up with a lot more detail to totally spell out exactly what they are getting (especially for larger projects with programming elements) to ensure no feature creep as mentioned above. :)

    Cheers

  • Mia Lazar, October 15, 2010

    Now price I can know what I’m pay.

  • rob t, October 15, 2010

    I’ve been trying to price people low and then keep it somewhat basic. As options are added, I kick the price up accordingly.

  • randy karaan, October 17, 2010

    i agree with item 3. through experience, i noticed it’s best that you provide your client with several options specially if the client is not well versed with technology. present the alternatives in such a way that they will go for the high value package. such as giving free maintenance for 6 months, instead of 3 months, if they go for the high value package.

  • Gunny, October 18, 2010

    There is alot of truth to what your tips suggest. I have to struggle with what is right and wrong everyday. The best thing I came up with it to have set prices. This way everyone gets a fair deal. If someone ask for something new and I do not have a price on it, I come up with one and keep that price from then on. I will try to use some of your suggestions. Maybe, I am doing it wrong.

    • Vandelay Website Design, October 18, 2010

      Gunny,
      I definitely wouldn’t say you are doing it wrong. The same approach doesn’t work for everyone.

  • Developers in DC, October 18, 2010

    It’s very difficult to give the pricing on different project.but this article is informative to me !

  • Dükkan Senin, October 18, 2010

    I’ve been trying to price people low and then keep it somewhat basic. As options are added, I kick the price up accordingly.

  • Thm, October 19, 2010

    Great Tips… Thanks for advice…

  • Gavin, October 20, 2010

    This is a God send for me, whereas I recently had my first “potential client”. I am starting out in this industry, and I had no clue how to provide a quote for the customer. So I scrambled to put together a quote form to send them as I read that was a good thing to do. It asked various details about them and what type of features and amount of content they would want to include. The problem was, I think I scared them off somehow. Maybe not giving a soft, or rough quote and instead giving them a form that might have appeared more like a check list of features to end up billing them for… Are quote forms to impersonal? I am almost wondering if I should build a VERY simple site for free for someone just so I can get experience in working with a client.

    I have a feeling from reading diligently about quoting clients that this hidden language will take some time to master. :-

  • randy karaan, October 20, 2010

    To Gavin.

    It’s ok to share our skills for free. When I started, I developed websites for free to ngos, churches, and other civic organization. You can use ask them to help you out by promoting you by word of mouth.

  • Marc Brodeur, October 27, 2010

    I think its the same in every business. If you have your own business you wear more hats than anyone who has a “safe” corporate job can imagine. Its best to bring up fees first and get them out of the way, put it in writing, and move on to completing the job and getting paid.

  • Web design hull, November 1, 2010

    As most others have mentioned, it’s always best to discuss pricing as early as possible… I find that to be willing to go a little over what I originally quoted usually has sales benefits further down the line with recommendations etc… If any additional work is going to have to affect the original quote, you always need to let the client know asap. Good article thanks.

  • Jason, November 5, 2010

    @Gavin

    A better way to go instead of building free sites for clients is to build demonstration sites within your own as examples of your work. This way you can showcase your skills and reap the benefits of targeted appeal directly to your potential clients.

    A great way to approach this would be a case study – by including the project brief and outlining your decision making process – this will be MUCH more attractive to potential clients than Another Joe’s Web Page.

    This way you get value from the work undertaken, directly helping you persuade new clients, building your own site, increasing your credibility, etc.

  • Swopper Stuhl, December 2, 2010

    I really have a hard time with price objections … This article is very useful in addressing these issues .. thanks vadelaydesign :)

  • Webster, February 10, 2011

    A step-by-step proposal is a great idea. Most clients will not understand what is involved in the development of a website if you just send a form or questionnaire. Whenever possible, meet with the client personally to discuss this information. This creates an opportunity to educate the client about the process and what is involved to create a quality product. I find it helpful to include the overall price (itemized as suggested above) with a reasonable number of revisions but add a line item price for additional revisions that exceed the scope of the project. That way, you won’t find yourself working for free.

  • web development newcastle, February 18, 2011

    I’ve found that transparency in pricing helps all the way. Break down your tasks, with hourly figures next to it. Its also worth pointing out that a good hairdresser gets paid £50 an hour these days. That usually puts things into context.

  • Web Developer Rob, May 13, 2011

    Make sure you add in enough detail to the brief – for instance, explicitally say what a certain section of the site will and won’t do. Some slightly more savvy clients may find a loophole in how you have described certain areas, the more detail in these situations the better imo.

  • Toronto Web Developer, June 10, 2011

    Amazing Tips,

    Thanks!

  • James Ryan Hamilton, July 5, 2011

    @Gavin and @ randy karaan, and anyone else reading this,

    Please, don’t work for free, even for non-profits. Working for free for any reason de-values the work of all designers. The “word of mouth” offered as compensation will likely have little or no impact in terms of sales. In addition the message that will spread will be “this guy works for free,” not “this guy is a great designer.”

  • Tucson Web Design, July 28, 2011

    This is a very relevant and helpful article. Especially in these tough economic times it is even more difficult to close the sale. So many people are counting there pennies, but with the web design you really do get what you pay for. If you cut too many corners, you might as well just forget about getting a website and continue on later when you have the budget to do it right. Quality web design is not inexpensive, but you can get it done at an affordable price. You just have to make sure not to be taken advantage of by someone or to choose to go with a really cheap provider just because you don’t care enough to research good web design.