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Explaining Budgets to Clients

Budget can be a touchy subject to bring up with clients when you’re first going over the details of a project and discussing the possibility of working together. As the developer, you want to know how much the client has to spend as early as possible so you know whether or not working with them is feasible and profitable in the first place, and also the scope of what you will be able to achieve with their (necessarily) limited budget. The client, however may be unwilling or unable to divulge this information for a couple of reasons:

  • They may have no idea what a website should cost. Factors such as the quality and speed of work, CMS software used, and amount of content or functionality can have a massive effect on price. Couple that with the fact that there are inexperienced or unscrupulous developers out there who will bid very low on a project to secure it and then inform the client once they’re midway through the project that it will cost more than anticipated and it’s no mystery that clients are confused. A fellow developer once told me that he gave out what he thought was a fair estimate for a project, and was shocked when the potential client approached him and told him that another agency located in the same state had bid one third of his estimate for the same job!
  • They may know the maximum amount they can afford to spend, but are afraid that if they tell you, then you will quote them at that number even if the work can be done for less. This is especially true for smaller or medium-sized projects.

These are both very legitimate reasons for a client to be unsure of their budget, and as ethical developers it’s important that we respect those reasons and help to educate the client about what options they have.

One of the best ways I’ve found is to sit down and walk them through my workflow of completing a project from start to finish. It’s presumptuous of us as developers to assume that our clients know exactly what goes into building a site.

The analogy I like to use is that building a website is more like planning a wedding than buying a car. These are both major purchasing decisions that will be very familiar to almost everyone over the age of 30 and lot of people in their twenties. Whereas a car is a single, finished product that you can compare directly with others, a wedding is an event, planning for which involves a series of decisions small and large, and the plans are always changing and evolving slightly as the date nears. If your neighbor has a Honda Accord and you want one too, then figuring out what to pay for it should be pretty easy. On the other hand, no two weddings are exactly the same, and it’s impossible to know exactly how much one will cost ahead of time. However, unless the bride-to-be is a millionaire or wants to land herself in major debt, she wouldn’t start planning a wedding without at least a ballpark figure in mind for her budget. Establishing a ballpark figure from the get-go keeps things from getting out of hand and lets the developer/wedding planner figure out the best way to make those dollars achieve their goals.

Walking through each step of my process and comparing it like this has helped me build trust and rapport with potential clients. Once the client understands the amount of detail-oriented research, design, coding and testing that goes into a quality web site, they more often than not develop greater appreciation for the process and a better understanding of the difference between an India-outsourced template site that costs $500 and a custom, professionally designed solution that might cost $5,000 or even $10,000, but will actually achieve or exceed their business goals.

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