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Setting a budget for business websites

I just read something that struck me as both funny and poignant. It was an article about website budgets that pointed out how every project begins with what the author described as a “subtle psychological game of ‘you go first'” between the agency (us) and the potential client.

The point of the article was that the creative agency or web design firm should be bold and ask. Fundamentally, I agree, and here’s why.

To begin with, regardless of the business owner’s budget, there will almost always be a solution that will at least satisfy some of his organization’s goals. So, for web design projects with smaller budgets, we always do our best to guide the client toward options that have the best possible chance of early success.

Project quoting takes time

Sometimes, outlining the scope of a project ties our people up for days. To be accurate, we develop what we call use case diagrams outlining every possible interaction between the various potential users of the final website. Additionally, considerable effort goes into higher level strategic planning long before we present a proposal.

If we have a sense of the planned budget going in, we are able to concentrate our energy on strategies and tactics that have a realistic chance of being implemented.

It’s easy to understand why a potential client might prefer to play it close to the vest. There are agencies that would propose a project at, say, $5,000, but if they know the budget is twice that, the proposal will be presented accordingly. It’s an opportunistic form of bidding that is both unethical and unproductive.

In our firm, if we know the budget is X-dollars, we bid the project based on realistic expectations of hours regardless. If there’s anything left, we’ll make recommendations about how the client can gain additional value with the same budget, or simply leave it out of the proposal. But, in either case, we never jack up the price just because there’s money available.

It cuts both ways

Obviously, no one wants to be charged more than what the web design or development project should really cost. But, not having some idea of budget at the onset makes it very difficult to propose the right solutions. Also, there are times when a budget is simply too small for the proposed project scope.

Proposals cost a lot to produce. There’s almost always a significant amount of discovery that must take place prior to putting together the quote. So, if we’re going to invest several hours putting together an accurate proposal, we need to know that there’s a reasonable chance that the project will move forward.

We’re on the same team

In an ideal world, the client and creative agency share the same goals. In other words, both sides should be working to achieve the same result, which, by the way, must be to reach the objectives set forth by the client, not those of the agency. After all, we don’t get hired to send invoices. We are hired to accomplish something the client cannot accomplish internally.

In my view it all boils down to this. If you are the client, try to at least give some kind of range regarding your budget for a given project. That will help the web designer and engineering or marketing team outline the best possible tactics for meeting your goals. If you are the agency, be honest and quote what things really cost. That way, we maintain trust as an industry and everyone involved wins.

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