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Let’s talk about budgets

Last updated on January 18, 2023

In every professional talk, or even in casual conversations with other independents or small businesses, I say the same thing: you have to ask the clients about their budgets. This is met with the following responses:

  • “They’ll never tell me that!”
  • “I couldn’t ask that! Talking about money is awkward!”
  • “If I ask them for their budget, they’ll insist that I immediately quote them a price!”

Let’s address these one at a time.

First, let’s talk about why we discuss budgets in the first place. Let’s say that a prospective client comes to you with a project. They think it’s quick and simple, and they’ve brought their Fiat-sized budget to go with it. You hear the scope and timing and are convinced that this is Lamborghini money. The time to discover this discrepancy is not next week after you’ve carefully crafted a proposal. Now is the time for this discussion.

Now for the objections:

They’ll never tell me. How do you know? Have you asked? I’ve found that clients are very forthright if you deflect some of the pressure. I often say something like, “I know that everyone wants their project done two weeks ago and for free, but let’s talk about your deadlines and budget.” That usually gets a laugh and helps them to understand that I’m well aware of their challenges.

Talking about money is awkward. Yep, there’s no getting around that. We’ve been told that discussing money is taboo, classless, rude. As a result, we don’t have a lot of practice with it. There’s only one way to get better, and that’s to practice, practice, practice.

They’ll demand a price. They might. And I don’t provide one. After they’ve provided their budgetary limitations, I tell them whether or not I can work within that budget. If they want specifics, I say, “I will get you a quote by tomorrow, but for right now I need to review my notes about the scope and deadline and make sure that I’m properly factoring in everything.” If they push harder, I’ll explain: “In the past, I’ve given a number. And then, as the conversation evolves, the scope changes, or the timing changes. All that the client remembers is that number. So, I prefer to put everything into context — scope, deliverables, timing and price — to ensure that we’re both clear on what’s needed.”

It seems almost too easy, doesn’t it? And yet, in my experience, it works.

So go ahead: ask. You’ll be surprised by the answer.

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