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“How much will it cost to have you make me a website?”

At some point in your career, you’ve probably been asked this. You were probably amused or insulted, thinking that here’s another prospect who just doesn’t understand what it is you do.

I want to show you why this isn’t a bad question – it’s flawed, but not bad. More importantly, we’ll see how to take this question, turn it around, and get your prospects to start writing their own project quotes.

The above question is flawed because, to many clients, what we do is dark magic. They don’t really know what they want, nor do they know how to phrase it, so blanket questions are their only option. And we make a mistake by scoffing at questions like this, instead of trying to get to the root and figure out what they’re trying to determine: will I get a satisfactory return on investment with this person?

I’ve seen tons of creatives who miss the simple fact that clients hire us to make more money than they spent on us. You can one-up the majority of your competition overnight by acting on this and presenting yourself not only as a talented designer but as a trustworthy business partner.

After five years of thinking that people were buying my talent, I’ve put aside that thinking and adjusted how I confront client projects. The results? I’ve been closing more deals at higher prices than ever before. I’ve done this by having clients do the proposal writing for me.

1. Compile a list of everything a prospect thinks they need or want

From the start, you need to be educating. Don’t just capture, start asking how vital each requirement is and what the business case is for it. Eliminate sparingly at this point, you’ll be cutting away the duds later.

At the end of this exercise, you should have a prioritized list of requirements and nice-to-haves.

2. Estimate each requirement

Ask any designer or developer, and this is the step they probably cringe at. Humans usually act off assumptions (“of course this is how a message board works!”), and we like to think that the client has done exhaustive planning and knows exactly what they want.

I tend to multiply each requirement’s estimate by a number between one and three. One being “they are confident in what they want and there’s little risk on my end” and three being “this is very, very vaguely defined.”

3. Apply your hourly rate

Multiply the total estimate for each requirement by your hourly rate.

Related: 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services

4. Send this scope list over to your client, and plan a meeting

You want them to have some time to chew over what you’ve put together. Be very particular in what you title this. Do not call it an estimate, proposal, or anything that most people correlate with something they need to sign off on. I usually call these “roadmaps” or “scope proposals” (the former being a little less sterile.)

5. Step in as their business partner

Change hats and take the position of their confidant. “Is this budget you were expecting to spend? No? OK, then let’s figure out what you’re comfortable with so I can deliver as much value as possible for your investment.”

Bring their scope list to the cutting board, and work with them to determine what can be removed or prioritized later to get the most output for their financial input. You’re no longer the greedy web designer who wants all of their hard-earned money – you’re their trusted guide.

Related: Psychology of Pricing

Many web designers capture a list of requirements, disappear for a bit, and return with a written proposal with a price tag attached. It’s usually unclear how costs are calculated, so clients can sometimes think we’re pulling a quote out of thin air. To a client, this can often scream, “high risk!” Usually, this is where the conversation shifts to trying to pigeonhole us into a fixed bid. You will deliver vaguely defined X in exchange for a solid figure of $Y. Trust me, don’t go down this path.

By making the project planning process as collaborative and straightforward as possible, the likelihood that your clients will see you as an adviser instead of a hired gun goes up significantly. Your worth will skyrocket because you’re not just a designer – which to somebody who is struggling with getting sales on their website doesn’t mean much. Position yourself as a business-minded consultant who will work with them to figure out why their sales are in a slump and help them increase their online income using a new design and strategy, the rewards will be almost limitless.

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