How do you quote website budgets? Do you go with what “feels” right?

Do you remember the days when $500 “felt” like a good size budget for a website? I remember starting off building an entire Flash website for that budget. If I cataloged my hours during that build, I could have made a killing… had I just worked at Starbucks.

The kicker though? At the time, $500 was a really good budget for the value I was bringing to the project and what the client was getting out of the website for their investment. Says a lot about what I knew at the time! It had nothing to do with my hours invested, or the price I paid for the flash website template. At the time, I had no experience, no process, no idea of the length of time it would take – $500 was completely appropriate, and sad (had we just based it on value alone.)

Now that we have experience, processes and an idea of the length of time it will take, just quoting a big number isn’t going to cut it either.

Contrary to popular belief, it takes balancing a couple of important factors to make sure you are using the budget in a way that maximizes profit and avoids burnout.

I’m going to show you that, ultimately, to be content in your quotes, it’s how you use that budget that is the real success, not the number of zeros at the end of it.

Let’s begin with something that doesn’t seem that obvious:

What the client needs (a.k.a the level of “you” involvement):

How you allocate “you” is a major factor in a budget and the only way you figure that out is through the client’s needs.

How you allocate your time, creativity, passion and laser focus really dictates how much value you are bringing to the project. And if you step back, you’ll be honest with yourself that this varies on each project, and it should!

The trick is knowing how much value you should bring to the project (the budget). I’ll give you an example:

Two clients come to me both needing a 5-page website. Client 1 is prepared with all the copy, images and vision. Client 2 has nothing and needs a lot of guidance.

In both of these situations, we end up with a 5-page business website. However, the type of value that I’m adding to these websites varies completely. So if both clients ask me about budget, do you think the answer would be the same because the end result is a 5-page website?

Well, let me throw you a curveball:

Client 1 says that they want the website to attract 6-figure deals, and this website has to convert at least two “big whale” leads a month.

Client 2 says that they just want their website to attract a few inquires in their contact form, as the website just functions as an educational tool after an in-person referral deal has closed.

Well, wow.

The value I have to bring to Client 1 has now skyrocketed!! Playing the part of just a technical build isn’t going to cut it for them. Client 2, however, may not need all the value I was thinking I would need to provide initially. It’s just not worth it to them and would be a waste of my time to try and squeeze tons of value into the type of budget they can afford. I can still do the build for Client 2; we just reset expectations on the level of involvement in the build.

This is what we mean when we tell clients that the budget depends on what they NEED. And we aren’t always talking about the technical needs of the build, but how much of our expertise, time, dedication, and creativity they need us to bring to the table.

If a client is expecting a 100k return on their investment for a new website in the first month, should the value you are bringing into the project – your focus, your expertise, your passion – be delivered to them in a 1k website budget? That’s a 100:1 ratio, and that’s insane.

In order to give them a website that demands the type of return they want, you have to factor “you” into the budget.

Not every project is going to require a lot of you. Sometimes the smaller projects are just as worthy as the larger budget ones, as they can be quicker, run more through your team than through yourself and satisfy the client’s minimal expectations.

Now with that settled, let’s look at factor number two…

How to Budget Smart

When allocating a budget successfully, you have to be clear on what you need to make it happen. For this reason, you have to be familiar with what that involves.

In another real world example, I had a client come to me with a website that was technically complex. I ended up quoting the biggest budget I had ever quoted up until that point in my career. When she agreed and signed the deal, of course, I was excited… What I realized, however, was that I didn’t quote, large enough for what this project required. Not even close.

By month three, I had to hire two separate specialist developers to reach the deadline for the build. They were US based and at a cost higher than my own hourly rate at the time!

I needed a larger team to accomplish the technical needs of the build, and if that been put into the budget, it would have been double the original cost. Just shooting for the stars didn’t cut it on this one.

To avoid this, we have to break down how we use our budgets on every site to understand where it all goes

  1. Catalog the hours it takes your team for each phase of the build and start thinking of your builds in terms of weeks, i.e. My team (with myself) is “X” amount per week, baseline.
  2. Start breaking down the type of work you put in yourself for each phase: is it high-level involvement, or low-level involvement? What does that look like in terms of hours, in terms of stress level?
  3. Be upfront with the client about turnaround time on their part and the factor it played into your final quote. When you start thinking of your budget in terms of weeks, you’ll understand why. Try specifying this in the proposal, “ I’m expecting a two-business-day turnaround for all notes and changes.”
  4. Power tip: On the call before the proposal ask them about timeline and if they have any vacations, work obligations or major time sucks of any kind during that period! If they say yes, you now know your team will be tied up for the entire time they are gone unless the schedule works that in.

  5. Document the limitations of your team (including yourself). You shouldn’t be using projects for clients as a learning tool. Keep these in a Google Sheet so you can reference it when need to and add/delete as you go through projects. (I know you’re thinking, “I don’t know their limitations!” Now’s the time to ask. Try something like, “Do you feel comfortable doing X? Do you have any experience with Y?”)
  6. Finally, perfect your niche. Taking a job because you think you can quote a large budget won’t do it. Bigger isn’t always better. Projects that fit your wheelhouse and your expertise are going to yield you a greater profit, lower stress, and a finely tuned and perfected process.

In short, understanding the client’s needs beforehand is critical; what they need from you, and what you need to make it happen is the only way to allocate that budget in the best way possible.

We aren’t just quoting bigger budgets to quote a bigger number.

Get out of that headspace. It’s not a race to the top to see what type of project you can get for the biggest budget.

You need to turn that focus, rather, toward value. Know how much value you are going to bring to this project to help the client get the greatest return on their investment for what you can provide them.

If you can understand what value you bring based on their needs, then you are well equipped to help the client understand it too. You will have no issue selling the budget you’ve allocated.

Do you agree that we shouldn’t get hung up on how many zeros are in our quotes? The greatest successes I’ve seen lately are week-long projects that have nailed my team’s sweet spot.

Let’s start looking at how we use our budgets, perfect knowing the value we bring and what we need to maximize profit, all while giving the client the best return on investment. All parties involved will be happy, and we can comfortably say it “feels” right.

Kristina Romero
Kristina Romero is a website developer and consultant working for the last 8 years through her company KR Media & Designs (KRMD). As a front-end developer in the Washington D.C area, she’s had the opportunity to work with the Coca-Cola Company and Food Network on various WordPress projects. Kristina is proud to be a WP Elevation Business Coach, a mompreneur and passionate advocate for WordPress.