This post is also available in: Français (French)
Here you go, what you’ve all been waiting for, the final controversial article from the great Mister WordPress! Haha, I have a reputation to maintain! 😀
Once again, I’m here to talk about cash, moolah, clams, dinero! Money is a taboo topic, and therefore a controversial one.
Studies have shown that controversial topics generate a lot of traffic. I’m serious! Every time I write a rant about web services clientele or the little competitors that are giving me shit,
hundreds millions (!) of you converge on my blog to debate in the comments section.
Just kidding, just kidding… but the interest you take in digital services rants only goes to show that there are some touchy subjects in our profession.
So I’m writing you a nice long piece about web services, prospective clients, and how they relate to money.
Landing the contract for your dream project
Now here’s a topic I’m excited about!
In this article, I’ll address a problem we’ve all faced as web service providers.
A problem in five stages:
- a prospect contacts you for a quote
- you have no idea how much they’ve budgeted for their web presence
- you put in *a lot* of hours coming up with a custom quote
- 90% of the time, you go too high (too expensive) or too low (unambitious offer)
- the prospect never follows up, ignores your e-mail reminders, even screens your calls! 😮
Ever had this happen? Was it fun? 🙂
How can you convince a client to work with you?
If only it were enough to:
- be more than qualified
- be super motivated!
- be able to offer reasonable rates…
But no. You also have to tread lightly when it comes to getting a prospect to pay the first deposit to get the project started.
And that takes serious moves!
In an ideal world, all you need is confidence and a little small talk
But let’s be real. We can’t tick all the boxes: honest in our work, creative, a good technician, a good-looking suit with a Colgate smile, a charmer, etc. We’re geeks with a passion, and passionate geeks are not as good of salespeople as your local car dealer trying to pass off a sports car as a Formula 1 racer.
Have you ever had an independent insurance agent come to your door?
(this guy is shady AF…)
These guys sit down at your table, in your home, and manage to talk you into signing up for a subscription to something you never wanted in the first place, and will have to pay for for the rest of your life.
These salespeople are goood!
But do they know how to develop successful websites?
I don’t think so.
I’m a damn genius, that’s all! 😀
Will freelancing have you pulling your hair out?
In addition to being a jack of all trades, a freelancer also has to master client relations, sales and project management.
Are you familiar with the “armchair manipulator” prospects?
Oh yeah, future best friend right there.
All the feelings, guaranteed!
How can you tell when a prospect is trying to hoodwink you?
Ever heard this one before?
Client: So for this project, our budget is fairly limited. But if this one goes well, we’ll have a lot more, better-paid ones down the road!
Mhm. Keep talking.
Learn to read between the lines, or you’re not going anywhere!
It’s a rather “freestyle” field, however.
There’s a world of difference between what the client says, what they want, and what they actually need.
It’s basically rocket science to navigate.
The prospect that’s done their research
It’s pretty simple. At least half of all clients with projects that will take weeks of development, will automatically start off with, “Oh, I just want something simple, nothing complicated… like Booking.com.” True story.
And let’s not get into the preconceived ideas and other misinformation obtained by prospects who’ve had the brilliant idea of “doing some online research” before asking the opinion of a consultant with years of experience that they themselves do not have. Definitely the right idea. Because everything written on the internet is totally true and up-to-date. /s
Are they afraid of being ripped off, or are they driven by an obsession to pay as little as possible? I honestly have no idea.
The prospect that’s already purchased a hosting package for $1/month before even creating a site
Ever run into this one? It seems half of the independent clients that come to me, before even putting out their call for bids, have already purchased a super “Pro Performance UltraPower Mega Full” hosting package for 2 cents a month from the indisputable n°1 best web host on the market (and the cheapest, of course).
They read “professional solution” and “n°1 best web host on the market” in the sales pitch, and jump in feet-first, when they should have consulted a professional to determine which hosting solution best meets their needs.
Where that leaves me: 5 hours of client education spent explaining the difference between:
- shitty shared hosting, weak performance, no managed services, no technical support, no back-ups, no file management, no SSH access, compatible perhaps with WordPress 3.2 and its Twenty Eleven theme, but not with any premium theme requiring a little RAM under the hood… and,
- my annual service for web presence monitoring and maintenance, as a web artisan, willing to wake up in the middle of the night to save a client’s data after they’ve accidentally deleted one of their online boutique categories, simultaneously binning 2,000 products that went with it.
Slightly different levels of service. And yet getting a client to let go of their one-year contract for $2.99/month hosting is harder than you’d think. *Sniff* — while writing this, just now, a single tear is sliding down my face #exhausted #cruelworld
Distrust… sooo much distrust!
Not exactly easy to click with a client that always has that air of distrust about the price they’re going to be quoted. Especially when they play ‘mentalist’ and use different strategies to try to manipulate the freelancer, in between discussions about their web profitability goals, towards a “low-cost” budget, despite their project being *massive*.
Like, imagine if we did that with our car dealer or our dentist, and actually expected it to work.
Hi, Mr. Dentist! I have an hour to kill and a root canal that needs doing, but I only have $10 on me… take it or leave it!
It seems like “money” has become a taboo subject these days. It’s like pulling teeth to get a prospect to divulge their “max budget” before making an initial offer.
I imagine the prospect’s thought process going a little something like this:
“If I don’t state my “maximum” budget for the site I want developed, maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be cheaper than I anticipated.”
– A client who knows it all
When you go to your local dealer, you’re barely in the door before you announce “I’m looking for a car in the $75,000 range, show me what you’ve got!” And they know right away what you’re talking about. The salesperson won’t waste time showing you Ford Fiestas.
Mister WordPress’ little workshop: “creating a landing page”
Practical exercise: based on your budget, sir, to create your sales page, we can…
- do something very basic, bill 3, 4, 5 hours for elegant and professional content placement (tight budget)
- do something more advanced, including research on marketing, communication and brand image, search engine optimization (SEO), perform A/B testing involving multiple messages and a CTA, original image creation, a presentation video, and so on and so forth… billing 4, 5, 6 days to create a single page (larger budget)
As you can see, creating a single page can take anywhere from 3 hours to 6 days of work, no scam involved.
And obviously the same goes for an entire site!
Back to the real world
But no one treats web service providers the way they do car salespeople. With providers, they beat around the bush, scrutinize them, keep a sharp eye on them. Distrust. O distrust.
These website things. It’s all a big scam, I’m telling you!
Sally, bring me another beer, will you.
How do major web agencies deal with this?
My partner worked for a few web agencies before we joined forces.
Speaking with one of their sales representatives was much simpler:
“No, but sir, if you don’t tell me your budget, I can’t provide you with a quote. No, sir. No. How am I to know whether you’re looking to spend $2,000 or $20,000 on your digital communications? If you have a large budget, I’ll provide you with an appropriate strategic plan, and conversely, if you’re on a tighter budget, then… Yes, sir. Four-thousand? $4,000 dollars? All right, sir. Very good, sir. We’ll get back to you ASAP with an offer. Yes, good-bye.
At the end of the day…
If they have money to invest, and they really want a quote, the client will always end up stating a price.
And then the odds of them signing on with you skyrocket, as opposed to a quote made by blind guesswork.
And by determining the client’s budget, you avoid one of those infernal situations that I alluded to in the introduction, and that we’ve all been in, where:
- either you make a “middle-of-the-road” offer, because they won’t tell you their budget allowance for the project: something not too expensive, but not too light either in terms of functionalities, but something fairly complete all the same, with a few options… End result: the client walks away because you went a hair above their secret budget;
- or you make a super “cheap” offer, and the client logically thinks you’re offering shit (you know, the no-name brand product on the bottom shelf of the supermarket aisle that tastes like cardboard). End result: the prospect goes straight to another provider that hit the nail on the head by offering a price 30% higher than yours (for the same specifications as you)
Oh the joys! 😀
In my company
We tried (for years) to determine the client’s budget by simply… asking them.
When the client was transparent and stated it straight away, we would save a lot of time and were better able to meet their needs by prioritizing our actions, and focus efficiently on what counted most.
But as we all know, simply asking the client straight up doesn’t work most of the time.
Try it, Mr. Nice Guy. Show even a modicum of humanity when speaking with a prospect, and they’ll clam up about their budget faster than you can say “web services”, right up until you send them the quote!
“Could you tell us your budget so we can come up with an offer that fits your needs?”
” Well uh… go ahead, state a price and let’s see!”
“But, if you don’t mind… ideally we need to know your budget so we know how advanced of a solution you’re looking for…”
“Well, keep it as low-cost as possible!” *hangs up*
As if the money is automatically going to disappear from their bank account just by stating a budget 😀
Let’s go, make a blind estimate!
And we’re off! Several hours of feasibility studies, competitor auditing, technical analysis and drawing up a quote, all without knowing the available budget allowance. And a lovely e-mail to the client to explain our approach.
At last, the quote is sent, and receives, at best, a cursory reading, or at worst, a quick glance at the bottom line. And except for a random stroke of luck, the client won’t even bother following up because “it doesn’t match their budget“. Oh, the irony.
We had a discussion about this recently in the comments of another Mister WordPress rant of min:
Freelancers waste a lot of time, too much time, sending quotes that take hours to prepare, only to get no response from the prospect, either positive or negative!
Zero respect: that’s just how it is.
Personally, I can’t take it anymore #SoDone
We basically have to become robots. 2 options:
- Sir/ma’am, tell us your budget and we’ll provide you with a detailed offer.
- Sir/ma’am, if you don’t tell us your budget, you’ll have to make your decision without an offer from our agency.
Optimize your workflow
At the moment, my agency is perfecting the “educated guess”, using several strategies to determine how much a prospect is looking to invest, without actually asking them the question. And as such, the conversion rate has improved significantly, and the client relationship is a lot healthier.
Kisses, I love you.
For the super curious among you, just check out the contact form on the blog if you want to see the exposed tip of the iceberg.
The ‘iceberg’ being the understanding that when the prospect’s budget is known, everyone benefits.
In addition, we’re working on an ever more reliable workflow that should help us achieve our 2017 goals. It’s the product of years of experience and heated debate.
So, for us, while this year of 2016 was considerably better than 2015, we’re hoping to double our revenue next year. That’s all. We’ll see how it goes… I’ll keep you guys posted.
Aw, how lovely.
A message for clients of freelancers and small agencies
When you have a project, state your budget transparently to every professional you contact for a quote. At the very least, they’ll all match your desired rate!
Then, choose your provider not based on their “total price”, but on the content of their offer and its implications for long-term collaboration.
Constantly trying to minimize the budget you’ll allocate to your provider is the best way to limit their involvement and the quality of their work on your project.
I’d even tell prospective clients to try to use their analytical skills to gauge a potential agency or freelancer’s level of dedication, honesty, and professionalism.
If they’re honest, and they quote you a slightly above-average rate, their intention isn’t to rip you off or line their pockets, but simply to ensure they can take the time necessary to devote their undivided attention to your project and give it their best.
It’s so frustrating (for the web designer) and unfortunate (for the client) to complete only 80% of a project due to a slight lack of financing, or due to the budget running out in the middle of the project. Yet that happens more often that you’d think.
I like to imagine a cross-Atlantic collaboration where the opening scene involves a potential client openly telling his future service provider how much cash he has available.
“I need a website done. I have $3,000. What can you offer at that rate?”
Meanwhile, in Europe, the young service provider, being inexperienced and unsure of himself (and his skills), is too shy to state his price.
At some point, in B2B, particularly when dealing with companies with many full-time employees, we need to stop the hypocrisy.
I enjoy my field of work, and I’ve been in it since I was 11 years old (yup). But I don’t pay up to $4.00 for a single effing AdWords click (damn!!!), just so I can “express my creativity” through a project (which, incidentally, generates $100K+ of revenue per year for the client) on a volunteer basis or for the same pocket money as a pimply teenager washing cars.
I don’t have any pimples but I can design your logo for 5$.
I’ve been learning on the job daily for yeeears, to be able to offer the best service possible. Let’s be clear. My goal with prospective clients is to land a contract that will let me put in the necessary number of hours to perfect their project while still putting bread on the table and allowing me to achieve my life goals as well. And by ‘goals’ I don’t mean buying the latest PlayStation, I mean something more concrete, along the lines of buying a home, getting better health insurance for my family, eventually having a child before it’s too late (I’m 30 years old, it’s that time of life), etc.
For 99% of web designers, our career is also our passion. Sure, we’re lucky. But it’s still our job, and for most of us, our sole source of income, since almost across the board, we spend (a lot) more than 8 hours a day, and (a lot) more than 20 days a month doing it.
The worker is worthy of his wages.
Dear client, you are not your future provider’s enemy!
Worst case, if your collaboration doesn’t work out, you each go your separate ways and forget about each other in 2 months.
Best case, your
opponent partner will become the ally that guides you through the digital jungle.
Stop being defensive or trying to ‘beat’ them!
You see the carrots? You want my money? Do you?
Then get on your knees and tell me I’m your daddy. Hmm? Who’s your daddy?
Did you ever stop to think maybe you need the technician more than the technician needs your money?
Dear client, ask your potential provider questions
Try to determine their intentions, and if you have a good feeling about them, trust them and give them a chance.
Be transparent, and be cool.
If freelance web developpers wanted a boss, they would apply to companies that offer job security. You’re not their boss. You’re their client.
Personally, in my company, there’s no worse ‘thorn in my side’ than the minority of clients who continue to make things awkward by refusing to apply basic principles of common sense collaboration, trust, transparence, understanding, and goodwill, even after years of collaboration.
You know, the sort of client that even on the 26th assignment is still bugging you with questions about “budget, price, brackets, approximately, roughly-speaking, more or less, just to know, how much, huh, how much, how muchhh?”
How much? Well, a priori, it’s the same rate every time… unless you keep pissing me off, which will eventually become unlivable, at which point I’ll have to raise my rates to factor in the cost of my Xanax, Valium, & Prozac prescriptions. Or, another option: find a student/intern/neighbor or some type of freelancer to outsource to if you can’t pay for professional services locally. Bye, Felicia.
Can you feel the rage? 😀
If a provider wants to create something high-quality that’s a true reflection of their skills, they have to guarantee sufficient compensation.
That’s just how it is.
Isn’t all of this a little over the top, Mister WordPress?
You think I’m affording myself the luxury of total freedom of expression on a blog whose ultimate goal is to attract new clientele in need of my WordPress skills. A blog known and followed by less than 30% of my current clients.
I’m taking the liberty of being candid and raw here because:
- it makes the reading more interesting for popcorn amateurs
- it makes my perspective clear from the get-go, no hypocrisy
- it keeps me from being contacted by prospects looking to “exploit” me. I wasn’t born yesterday.
And finally, I’m taking the first step in transparence towards prospective clients.
I have difficulty imagining that, after reading this article, a reader could contact me for a quote without giving me an idea of their budget. Unless they’re a sadomasochist.
This will also keep me from working my ass off for them, for free
When I first began working professionally, my first client was a family member who never paid me for the work done. Yay! Great way to ease into the business.
Ever since then, I make sure clients pay up front, just like Rakuten and Alibaba do, or at least pay a 33% deposit for larger quotes. If they don’t like it, they can “go get scammed elsewhere” as I like to put it.
Sir, when we don’t have to waste time running after the money our clients owe us, we can reduce our rates.
Some providers use the opposite strategy.
They do 30% of the work before even quoting a future total price to the prospect, thinking that once the work is underway, the client won’t dare dispute the bill.
To each his own… Except that in my experience, the majority of people have no qualms about “time”, as long as it’s not their own being wasted.
So, what should we do about website budgets?
I’ll conclude with the reminder that we, as providers, and you, dear clients, are in a business relationship: money in exchange for time and skills.
We need to stop burying our heads in the sand.
Freelancers and agencies offer a service for which they expect to be compensated!
If you don’t have money for your web project, please, have compassion and refrain from contacting professionals and putting them in an awkward position. Imagine if a freelance webmaster has to put in 4 unpaid hours every day just to prepare quotes (including the design brief that they often have to prepare in the client’s stead)… they’ll be out of business in no time!
Are you really broke? Try to find a knowledgeable friend, an intern that you can hire in your company, an end-of-year student looking to build their portfolio, or better yet, if you really can’t squeeze out even a dollar (cheapskate), learn to do it yourself just like we have. And if you end up finding it too difficult, maybe you’ll gain an appreciation for actual web designers’ skills.
But above all, leave the true professionals to each other.
First person to state their budget wins!
This post is also available in: Français (French)