If you’re a freelance web designer, you’ve probably received a vague email enquiry asking for a quote.

The email is usually short on detail, high on expectation and ends with the most beloved of questions: how much does a website cost?

The usual response: it depends.

It’s a common frustration for freelance web designers. But it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain.

Grand designs

The question itself is fine. Most often, the email enquiry lacks detail, making it difficult to estimate the work. You can’t price a project if you don’t know the project details.

You’re going to have questions. You can ask these in an email, but in my experience, clients rarely respond as thoroughly as I’d like. So, get your prospective client on a call if you can.

A call allows you to get the detail you need straight away. When clients are talking freely, they’re likely to drop in useful information that might be overlooked in an email. Only when you know the scope of the project can you accurately price the work.

A call is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your value, too.

Show me the money

Your response to ‘how much does a website cost’ might be ‘what is the budget’. It’s a legitimate response, but clients may rail against this.

A client might misinterpret this as an attempt to extract every penny from them: “If I tell you my budget is £10,000, won’t you just quote £9,999?”

Though this may be true of some designers, what you’re trying to do is get a sense of how much they have to spend so you can quote appropriately.

Case in point: your recommendations for implementing a website on a £3,000 budget are likely to be different than if the client revealed they had allocated £30,000 to the project.

Paul Boag said it best:

“Keeping your budget secret means we have to guess how much you want to pay for design. It makes no sense because the winner isn’t the best designer, but the person who guesses closest to the figure you had in mind. That or the person who charges the least.”

Reluctance to reveal a budget upfront isn’t limited to smaller projects or clients who lack experience commissioning website work. It’s our job, as the professionals, to highlight the benefit of being transparent about budgets.

A better question would be: tell me your budget, and I’ll suggest an appropriate solution. Rephrasing the question like this demonstrates to the client that you’re thinking about the best outcome for the project rather than prioritising your bottom line.

Any enquiry is an opportunity

Every enquiry is an opportunity for freelance designers. When you’re dealing with design on a daily basis, it’s easy to underestimate a client’s knowledge. After all, how often is it that a client commissions a new website?

When we receive a “how much for a website” request, it’s up to us to ask the right questions and guide the client through the process.

I’ve heard of designers ignoring vague requests on the assumption that the work is low budget or a bad fit. If someone has taken the time to get in touch with you, they deserve a reply.

It takes a couple of minutes to respond to an enquiry. If you include a minimum project fee in your first response, you'll quickly get an idea of whether the client’s budget is appropriate for you.

Replying to a potential client will pan out in a few ways:

  1. The client is a bad fit, and you move on.
  2. The client doesn’t have the budget yet but comes back to you when they do.
  3. You win the work.

Either way, you’ve not spent long responding and could end up with a new client.

In summary

So, how should you handle vague client requests? Here are my top tips:

  1. Always respond! Each new business enquiry as an opportunity.
  2. In your first response, mention a minimum project fee and offer to schedule a call if the fee meets their expectations.
  3. Prepare a list of questions that you can ask prospective clients (put those questions in scoping document).
  4. Explain the value of being upfront about budgets. If the client is still reluctant, try Dan Mall’s method.