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The question about budget

I am always taken back by the topic of budget when dealing with clients. I know that it is a topic that is something that most people would rather brush under the rug. I know that I live on a budget. I know that I like to get good deals on things. I get it. I understand it. Budgeting is important.

So why am I bringing this up?

I am bringing it up because it is so important. We are going into the end of the year and it is time for people to start evaluating new projects as they go into the new year. I want it to be on everyone’s mind as they do this.

I read an interesting blog post today about this topic. I want to thank Cameron Moll for pointing out the obvious in his post “Why didn’t you tell me what you could afford?” In the article he recounts a story from someone else. It was a classic story of someone buying a big ticket item. There was a clear lack of communication going on.

I think that it is important to remember that when you are hiring a professional, the professional is going to make assumptions – you want them to do a job for you. The professional is going to assume that you have done your research and have already decided that your project will fit within your budget.

First, please do not blame the professional for this. There typically is a going rate for certain services performed by professionals in each industry. It does not matter what the industry is, there is typically an average pricing range that is common. You know that if you call a plumber you will likely pay a certain range. If you call the auto shop, certain repairs will cost a set range. It is the way it is.

This is no different when it comes to the design industry – web, graphic, or otherwise. Now, I know you are thinking to yourself that there is a huge range of prices in the design industry and you are right. This is true in any industry actually. The prices are just appear to be a bit steeper in the design industry because of their use case(s). You have to break down the use over time and honestly, their pricing is not so bad. I can tell you that this is also part of the reason that I have started to shift the way that I set up my billing because of this “panic” after the quote is handed to client. I want to do work, not justify my estimates/invoices.

Think about something that you are skilled at that you make money doing. How long have you been doing it? How much did you make when you first started doing it? How much did you make 5 years later? Or perhaps 10 years later? Now I want you to factor in that I have been in the design industry for almost 20 years now. Yes, it is humbling to know that I have been doing this for a long time.

So when a potential client comes to me, I can ask, “how much can you afford?” and we can work through a variety of options but I already do that to some degree anyway. Often I let the potential client tell me enough about the project and I give 2-3 options price wise in estimates, not always, but usually (especially when I am estimating websites). I can ask “how much can you afford?” but in the end it is the potential client’s position to be upfront about the working budget. I am not opposed to spreading work out over time if it needs to be done that way. I try my hardest to get people what they need and want for what the budget allows even if it means that it takes much longer.

What I do not want to be caught in, however, is an unrealistic budget. I do not work for free and most professional designers do not. If you are running a business you have costs. A website (or graphic design project) is part of those costs. You need to plan for them and budget for them. If you realize that your costs for these projects are more than you anticipated, you need to plan for them a little longer. It is okay to get estimates and realize that they are outside your budget for now and come back to them later. Please understand that your estimate might have an expiration on it and you may receive a slightly different dollar value when you return. This does not mean that the designer is out to get you, it just means that your estimate was only valid for a certain amount of time. It can still give you a good idea of how much you can look to spend. Plan on spending upwards of 10-20% more than that if you are not going to do it at that time. That will give you a good contingency budget to fall back on.

Remember a budget is important when working on any project.