When should designers address the issues of money?

Recently I’ve been reading a book named The Win Without Pitching Manifesto. The ninth chapter is dedicated to talking about the costs with the client early in the project. I was wondering when is it the right time to do so. Are there any cues to do so in a project? Or is it a matter of intuition?

Thanks in advance.

Whether brought up by the client or the designer, once the project’s been reasonably well defined, that’s when discussions usually begins about fees. From my experience, it just naturally comes up at that time. Sometimes the client asks before the project’s been fully spelled out, and I’ve had to mention that I need more information before I can offer an estimate.

Also from a selling point of view, you sort of want the client to become invested in the possibilities of a good mutual relationship before getting into prices. After they’re invested with some of their time and a pleasant back-and-forth discussion, they’re sometimes a little more inclined to move forward than if the money thing preempted that by being mentioned too soon.


That’s pretty much the approach I take.

However, if I sense the person can not afford me, I’ll throw out some numbers up front as a way of qualifying the potential client.


Immediately, and you should bring it up. Even if you just provide a “starting at” figure in the initial call or e-mail. You won’t know what the scope of work will entail without first delving into a discussion about their needs and what they’re looking to achieve, but you don’t want to waste time with tire kickers either, especially if they’re asking for a proposal.

For example, I have orgs send me RFPs all the time. They rarely state any kind of budget or expectation of cost. I always ask for that (even if it’s a range) and how many people they’ve sent it to. If they’re looking to spend $1,000 on an e-commerce site or if they’ve sent the RPF to 10 people, I’m not wasting my time.

Once, someone contact me about slides for a presentation. Everything sounded great and then I asked how much she was expecting to spend, and she said $100!!! Oh, and she wanted it done over the weekend. NOT!

Like @Steve_O said, qualify the prospect. And use an initial call with them to ask questions about what they’re trying to accomplish and to explain how you’ve helped other clients with those needs.

My point is not to get off the phone until you have some range of pricing. If they don’t know what it will cost, give them a starting point, ask for a range, or ask, “$500, $5,000 or $50,000?” It’s like asking how much a house or call will cost. Lots of factors.

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I always quote new clients. My quotes are a combination of my hourly rate multiplied by how long I estimate the project will take. I think it is important to address cost early in the project. Plus deposit for new clients.

Regular clients don’t seem to care for quotes so I just charge my regular hourly rate. I don’t ask for deposits from regular clients who have a good track record of paying.


That’s probably true, and especially so for someone starting out.

I’ve been doing this stuff for so long that I have a fairly good sense within the first minute or two of who’s a tire kicker, who’s just after that company-mandated second bid, who probably will be shocked at the cost, who’s a bit clueless and who’s a prospective, serious client.

However, I’m also very hesitant to rush to judgment or jump into prices too fast in the conversation. I’ve been on the other side of phone calls with contractors, and when they’ve shifted over to money a bit too abruptly, it’s sometimes not left the best impression.

For example, I called a landscaper about a possible project last summer and began clumsily describing something I don’t know much about. Before I was able to get into any details, he said he would need to visit the site first and that the visit and estimate would cost me $400. Then he told me he didn’t take on jobs for under $10,000 and to get back to him when I was ready. I’m pretty sure he mistook me for a tire kicker.

Another landscaper I called, talked to me for several minutes, gladly came to the job site a couple of days later, looked over everything, shared some money-saving ideas with me, then worked up a detailed estimate for $35,000, which was within the range I had expected.

Guess which landscaper was never called back and which one got the job?

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By “immediately”, i did not mean immediately in the conversation. I just meant in very the beginning of the process. In the initial conversation, it’s the last thing I bring up but I bring it up before getting off the phone. I actually ask a lot of questions prior to that because someone could have an unrealistic expectation of cost at first because they don’t see the value or understand all that’s involved, but then they come to understand all that during the conversation, and they become more trusting as a result of talking to me. If they are tire kickers, I can often tell because they don’t have any interest in getting into too much detail about the work or discussing the end result of what they’re trying to achieve.

I try to get people to fill out a short questionnaire before talking to them to gauge their needs so I can then discuss them in more detail in a call. Every now and then, they don’t fill out the budget question there, so I give them a starting at figure before our call. If it’s way off, there might be no point in discussing further. I assess that on an individual basis.

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I offer an initial hour consultation at no charge. During that time we talk about their goal(s), their target audience, I take notes, we google a few images together, I clarify a few things…

Usually by the end of this consultation, we know whether we’ll move forward together. If yes, I send them a detailed proposal several days later.

Even if the prospect seems like a tire-kicker, I’ll spend the hour with them, for networking if nothing else. Tire-kickers have friends and if you treat them nicely, they’re more likely to recommend you.

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I think we’re on the same page. Sometimes initial conversations are way short, as in, “Let’s discuss it more tomorrow when you have a chance.” But when the conversation goes on for more than a few minutes, I can’t think of a situation where the subject of fees hasn’t come up.

My first response in the thread was more about digging into the details and discussing specific prices, which isn’t usually doable for me in the first conversation. Most mentions of fees in that first conversation tend to be more along the lines of ballpark figures and expectation to establish whether or not to move on to writing up an official estimate.


I simply discuss the work/project and if not asked right up front I’ll work in fees and fee structure somewhere near the end of the initial contact.

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Yeah. In my case, I don’t usually get on the phone with them until they fill out my short questionnaire or I have some preliminary info and then I get those other questions answered then.

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I think there’s a possible podcast in all of this. :wink:


I do the same but try to keep it at 30 minutes.

The tire kickers don’t usually want to stay on the phone to have the discussion; they just want a price and get off the phone usually—or not talk at all.

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This, with a fat emphasis on well defined. There’s nothing worse to me than receiving a call and immediately getting asked how much something will cost. For you, only a million. When that happens I like to ask them to send more details (like such and such) in an email and then I come back with an estimation. Questionnaires are very handy too, but not everyone will want to do this process without having at least some idea of the cost.

When they bring up the subject right at the beginning of the conversation, I’ll try to give them some sort of a ballpark figures that often stretches across thousands of dollars.

Then I’ll explain that I can’t pin it down tighter than that without figuring out how much time it will take. Before I can estimate the time it will take, I’ll need a better idea of just what the project entails and that involves a whole bunch of questions.

If they balk at this approach, I’ll write them off as difficult to deal with, unreasonable and someone I don’t want to work with. At that point, I’ll politely thank them and say I’m not interested.

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