Why do I ask for your budget?
Clients often avoid revealing their budget to freelancers, but there are good reasons why we ask.
Is there any exchange between freelancer and client more ingrained than the dance around the subject of budget? A creative has asked how much you can spend on a project, what do you do? You don’t tell them, of course. Instead, you request their rates. Once they tell you, you disappear. No discussion. Stony silence.
It’s unproductive for all involved. Whether clients are ashamed of a low budget or want to catch a designer out for a lower rate, budgetary discussions often feel like a standoff. No one wants to draw first and let the other take advantage. So, they circle one another until somebody cracks.
It’s stupid. It’s also unrealistic — professional designers don’t hide their rates.
As a book designer, inquiry emails often get a little ahead of themselves. After a brief introduction, the author launches into a lengthy description of their book before breaking down every minute detail they envisage for the cover.
It’s understandable, then, that they might balk when the response is a blunt request for their budget.
There is a reason I ask for someone’s budget immediately. If that question puts you off, makes you end the discussion, or a designer’s rates do, you’re making a mistake.
We’ve all seen shows in which cowboy craftspeople take clients’ money and leave a mess. So, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a client reveals a budget and receives a response like: “What a coincidence, that’s how much I charge!” In a gig economy ruled by non-professionals, it’s not unfeasible. However, professional designers don’t behave that way. The idea that we’re mercenaries may suit platforms like Fiverr, but it’s also inaccurate.
If I ask for your budget, I’m not trying to trick you. Rather, I’m trying to save us time. Your answer allows me to gauge your sincerity and preparedness, and better understand how to address you. How people talk about money reveals a lot about them as prospective clients. It can tell me if you’re a novice who needs that extra help through the process, or an experienced client. It tells me whether you’re serious; if you value what I do.
I have pretty set prices influenced by consistent circumstances. If your budget is higher than my rates, it doesn’t mean I’m going to change those prices. If it’s lower, I can learn fast if it’s worth having a discussion about your budget or better for us both to move on. This is a professional mindset.
A higher budget means greater options, not an opportunity to leech more money from a job. For a book design, it can focus market research — and increase a book’s reach. I’ll be more likely to suggest an illustrator or that you explore professional typesetting.
So, if my rates are fixed, why don’t I include them on my website? Wouldn’t it make everything simpler? Welcome as transparency can be, the simple truth is I don’t charge the same for every project. If I had one service, applicable in a single context, I might display my prices. But I don’t. I’ll quote more for a book design for a publisher than I might for an independent author.
Fixed rates that are prominently displayed serve as a barrier to budgetary discussion. Payment as abstract may let clients fantasise about how little they can get away with paying me, but when you’re confident talking about money it’s not an issue.
With the range of services I offer — cover design and typesetting, in print and digital — I would need a hefty breakdown of contextual price. Not to mention off-book services I don’t display but take on. I don’t want prospective clients to read an essay on how much I charge before I speak to them. It’s boring and, frankly, it’s quicker if I deliver a quote for a specific circumstance.
This is a human and collaborative industry and I want to simulate human interaction rather than discouraging conversation with an obtuse website.
Designers and clients alike need to learn the value of the question: what is your budget?
In an industry such as this — not to mention a time such as this — there is always a discussion to be had. Designers are human beings — generally pretty good ones. We’re not ignorant to how hard it is to budget for things, nor are we heartless. But this is our livelihood. We might be in a position to help you or to direct you to someone who can, but we still deserve fair remuneration. We also have every right to turn you away.
An invitation to discuss your budget isn’t, however, an invitation for abuse. The Internet is full of screengrabs of clients who don’t value our right to do business. Don’t be a screengrab. If we take the time to respond to you, especially if your budget isn’t where it should be, you can show us a little respect. Just because platforms like Fiverr, Reedsy, and 99Designs don’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Why do I ask for your budget? It tells me everything I need to know. It’s the single most important and effective question I might ask. And if you ignore it, if you run away from it, or if you respond poorly — you’re giving the wrong answer.