Should I ask for client’s budget before the initial first meeting?


First of all, is it a good idea to ask a potential client for a ballpark budget they are thinking to work with? I just don’t want to meet with somebody who has a very low budget, and who could be surprised during our first meeting that I’m not the cheapest guy in town.

So what do you think my first step should be when a client sends me an e-mail, wanting to discuss a project? The client has no idea what I charge, beside the fact that the client likes the work I do.

1/1/2017 9:15:00 AM

Related: Whose responsibility is to give budget for job: Freelancer or Client from

I never ask for budget. I have my pricing. I price what is inline with my pricing. Then the client can mention their budget if they want to.

To me "What's your budget" has only a few outcomes:

  1. The Client lies about budget in order to get you to price lower than you traditionally would. Assuming there may be overages or using the extra margin for negotiating.

  2. Gives unethical workers the opportunity to price more than they would if they were unaware of the budget.

Neither of these should be a contributing factor to your pricing. Therefore, there's little need to know the client's budget before providing a quote/bid. You should know your rates, gather an understanding of what the client needs, then price based on your rates. Only afterwards may budget be a concern if the client indicates their budget is lower than your pricing. They, obviously won't mention if their budget is higher.

I never buy anything starting the purchase by exposing what I have allotted spend. That almost always results in unnecessarily inflated pricing. Many, many clients in my experience feel just this way.

Asking for budget is really only valid if you are purchasing prefabricated items which range in pricing. Service industries in general rarely deal in prefabricated items other than perhaps "parts".

Note that while I do not directly ask for a "budget" I do ask pointed questions to determine the general spending range a client is considering. I do not want to put a great deal of time and effort into working up a quote only to find out the client wanted a project done for $50.

So, during conversations I will make comments such as "I'll have to do more research, but generally projects such as this run $xxxxx to $xxxxx. Is that okay?" Or "This is going to run a few thousand dollars." then merely gauge the response.

I get a ton of work because I do not "ask for budget". I price my time and the work involved, not based upon what the client has to spend. Could I make additional money by asking for a budget then targeting that figure with my quotes? Probably. Is it worth the headache to me? No. I use value-based pricing and I feel my prices position me in the market where I wish to be. Any attempt to "chase budgets" just means I may not be confident in my pricing or I want to take advantage of clients willing to spend more than I would traditionally charge.

There are no undetermined costs in design in my opinion. None. It's not like remodeling a kitchen where you must know a budget to purchase materials. There's no such factor in design. All designers know costs before ever discussing a project. The only variable is the time needed and third party licenses. All of which can be determined by discussing the scope of any project with any client.

In short, for design work, the only variable is my time and effort. Not material costs. Without material costs, I see no relevant reason to ever ask for a budget. Service industries are generally not budget-oriented on the whole. It's a myth that design (a service) should be. It's only product industries that need to be aware of a budget in order to determine materials which need to be purchased. There are no "materials" in design projects 99% of the time. And any standard materials should be built into pricing as overhead, not per client budget.

Based on the lengthy comments below. . . let me qualify a few things.....

  • I don't gain clients via cold calling.
  • I don't gain clients via Craigslist ads or similar.
  • 99.9% of my clients come to me via word of mouth and are therefore already "pre-qualified" as reputable clients. I don't really deal with many "looky-loo" clients or uneducated clients that need to be convinced design is a necessary business expense.
  • I don't assume my clients have little or no money, in fact just the opposite. My assumption is that anyone contacting me is prepared to pay my rates. I'm always open to the pricing conversation, but I don't start from the inferior mindset of "errr.. can you possibly pay me this much?"
  • I never apologize for my rates. They have been established and proven over several years as valid rates for my particular market.
  • I'm just as comfortable passing on a client unwilling to pay my rates as I am taking on a client who will pay my rates.
  • I've been doing this for quite some time. I'm not just starting out or trying to establish a client base. I have extensive experience in what I do so clients looking to "just throw something together cheap" are not the type of clients I am approached by. Don't get me wrong, I do the quick cheap stuff all the time, but for already established clients. Not new clients.
  • I have minimum prices. I share this during early conversations. Client: "How much to create XXXXX." Me: "My minimum for any XXXX project is $xxx but I can't really provide solid pricing without fully understanding what you need." Or me: "XXX projects range from $XXX to $XXXXX depending upon what's desired."

All these factors lead to the answer (and subsequent comments) above.

12/5/2017 8:50:00 PM