“How Much Does it Cost?” – The Deceiving Effects of This Question

A Blog by Linda Darlene

“Make no mistake, business is ALL about relationships.  People buy from others that they know, like and trust.  This is 100% True.” – Tyson Zahner

If you’re a web designer, I imagine you don’t relish hearing a conversation that begins with, “How much do you charge for a website?” Ostensively, when a person asks that question, the potential client is trying to rule you in or out as their designer. However, narrowing their choice of designer down to a ‘price’ is the wrong emphasis. 

In my early days of web design — and until I learned better, I naively answered that question, and even more foolishly, responded with an hourly rate. I cringe just thinking of those days. 

A most distasteful experience for me occurred when a very good acquaintance inquired about my rates, “What do you charge for a website?” Fortunately, by this time, I had learned not to answer that question by stating an hourly rate, so I replied, “It depends on what you want. What would you like?” I thought that was a genuine and honest response. She said, “I’ll get back to you.” She never did!

I emailed this acquaintance a few times to ask how I could help her, but no response. A person doesn’t ask about pricing for no reason, but I guess I’ll never know why she never responded — and I’ve stopped asking.

I vowed that from then on, I would definitely be answering that question differently.

It took a while for me to understand the dynamics behind this question. In the process of my growth curve, I came to realize that my worth to a potential client is more than just what I could do for them at an hourly rate. Charging an hourly rate discourages creativity, emphasizing ‘time’ rather than efficiency, competency, and excellence. It encourages a designer to be aware of the clock rather than tuning into a realm of universal, creative ideas and bringing those into the physical.

In any case, when charging the hourly rate, I tended to invoice far less than the actual ‘time” I spent designing. Since I am a perfectionist, I did not always ‘clock’ all of my work. I felt that a client shouldn’t have to pay for my perfectionism. Wrong again.

I finally realized one day that my perfectionism is precisely what I have to offer my clients. So I now prefer negotiating a flat rate rather than an hourly rate. I base the fee on value and how much effort it will take to implement the customer’s business goals and to incorporate my best design ideas. My hourly rate is ‘included’ with all these other considerations, but it does not determine the final fee. But I didn’t understand all of this — back then. 

I’ve learned a few things over the years and I’m happy to share my realizations. Here are some tips to answer that ugly, and potentially deceiving question, “What does it cost?”

Three Essential Conversations Between a Client and Designer 

1. Build a relationship with a prospective client and establish your expertise.

As in any working relationship, building trust is critical. A connection based on trust gives the prospective client the confidence in the designer’s ability to provide not only an attractive website but one with the marketing know-how to promote their business. As you converse, the client will begin to feel more comfortable with you and your marketing knowledge. The goal is for the client to sense that ‘you’ are the right person for the job.

When relationship-building becomes part of the process, the question of what does it cost tends to occur at a much later stage. When the discussion finally centers around cost, the client will trust that the price they are paying is ‘worth it.’ 

2. Help the possible client to understand the difference between an investment and an expense.

I don’t just design; I offer marketing tips for small businesses and non-profits. That’s why I always want to know about a client’s business goals so I can provide seasoned advice on what would work best for those purposes. Having this initial discussion takes the emphasis off the ‘cost question and onto the ‘value’ that I can offer. 

diamondNot all, but many small business owners are budget conscious, and this is good. However, my job is to move them beyond the consideration of just price. They need to see that setting up a website is an ‘investment’ in their business, not an expense. Expenses are not recoverable, investments are.

The return on their investment (ROI) comes about when they reap the harvest of new clients, or increased purchases, or whatever the business goal may be. The fulfillment of that goal is invaluable and should not be measured by ‘cost.’ 

3. Let the potential client know that the cost of a website is well within their control. 

People who want to decide on whether the price is ‘right’ are basing their decision on inadequate information. It took me a long while to grasp that I needed to sell potential clients on ‘me’ and what I could do for them. I needed to discuss their needs first and ask them thought-provoking questions. Before discussing price, I should have provided them with information on what I do, how I do it, and why it matters. It was also essential to let possible customers know that I could give them what they were asking for, and if not, why not.

I often find that clients have pre-set ideas about what they want, but sometimes, this is not within their best interests. I have to skillfully and tactfully guide them to understand this.

In the past, in immediately responding to the cost question, I was doing my potential clients a disservice. I was reacting inappropriately by not providing information on what my total services entail and the marketing benefits I offer.I have found over and over again that once these critical discussions take place, the client generally decides on a web package that is more expensive than the basic packages. Once I’ve opened their eyes to the possibilities, they often decide to spend more money. Why? Because they see the value in what is being offered.

Another disservice I discovered was in answering the cost question with a per- hour rate. By offering web design packages based on an hourly rate, I had locked myself into that package price. Subsequent discussions may demonstrate that that initial rate is far too low for offering the best site for a client. And having set a price in the client’s mind, I usually can not move much higher above that initial quote without making for an unhappy customer.

It’s best to avoid locking myself into a rate before the client knows what exactly is best to meet their business’s goals. The mere statement, “I want a website,” is not a price setter. Without genuinely knowing what kind of a website a potential client desires, establishing a price too early is a disservice to both the client and me.

Adding to the initial discussions is the importance of addressing external costs. Isn’t it disappointing to see the price of a hotel room, for example, only to find out later all the taxes that are added onto the original quoted room rate, such as state hotel tax, local hotel tax, sales tax, and even a resort tax for the hotel’s amenities? Likewise, clients need to know upfront the external costs, such as domain name cost, hosting fees, and domain privacy registration, monthly maintenance, etc. If a rate quote does not mention these necessities, a crack in the trust can occur.

Prospective Client: “Hey, how much do you charge for a website?”

Me: “If you’re interested in a website, let’s sit down and chat sometime. I provide a 30-minute free consultation in which I find out what type of website you’re looking for and your overall business marketing goals. Then I can give you some ideas and suggestions for a site that could help accomplish those goals.  As for pricing, I feel that you, the client, are entirely in control of the cost. Your business’s marketing goals, my design ideas, as well as your budget, determine the fee. Let’s set a time to talk about all this.”

Are there better ways to answer this question? I’m sure there are. But now, I have given the client a bit more information to ponder, rather than a ‘fee’ to think about that may potentially rule me out as their designer. It’s a risk, but well worth taking.

How can anyone just out and out answer on the fly the question, “How much does it cost?” and do justice to the subject? You can’t. You simply can’t.

How to Tell a Client How Much Something Costs

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