Should You Ask Potential Customers Their Budget?

reportsDo you ask potential clients about their budget?

The question came to mind recently after I entered into discussion with someone interested in design. We exchanged some emails, shared thoughts and tossed around options. I liked the customer, the project was interesting, and the talks seemed to be going well.

Then I quoted her our standard rates.

The potential client didn’t respond. Nothing. Nada. Not even a, “I’ve changed my mind.”

That in itself isn’t surprising and it’s not unusual. Sometimes people can’t afford our services or expected to pay next to nothing for a lot of something. That’s okay; we understand words like “budget” and “economy” and “bank accounts”.

What did surprise me was the response I received to my follow-up email. I’d asked the potential client if she had any questions. We’d had a good exchange so far. There’d been strong interest.

“It’s out of my budget. Thanks.”

Just like that. It was a flat, non-negotiable response.

The response puzzled me. I didn’t mind that our quote was over her allotted budget. Not at all. What bothered me was the firm, decisive, unquestionable slamming of the door. What bothered me was being set to the task of shooting for a target while blindfolded with the lights off.

Aaaaand we missed.

We’d been put to some subconscious test. That doesn’t surprise me; people do this all the time. We set others up and hold them to hidden standards, then we watch them take shots in the dark.

But it does make me wonder. Should we ask people about budgets before beginning? Should we be the ones to say, “Sorry, we can’t fit into that,” before discussing with clients? What do others do?

I looked around for answers and found a mixed bag. Some people stated standard rates on their website. Some added a disclaimer that they’re open to negotiation. Some refuse to bargain. Some had contact forms that had obligatory fill-in fields for budgets. Some, like us, had nothing.

There are pros and cons to each of these methods, and there really aren’t any best solutions. It all depends what works for you and your business model.

Personally, I feel uncomfortable asking people what amount they have to spend. If I walked into a store and was stopped at the door to have my credit limit questioned, I would turn around and leave. I wouldn’t go back.

Then I think if that did happen, if the storekeeper did want to know what I had to spend, he could point me to this or that instead of watching me waste my time looking at stuff I couldn’t afford to buy.

Likewise, had I known the budget I had to work with, I could have tried to come up with solutions for the available amount. I could have pointed out that this project element wasn’t really necessary or suggested other options. I could have tried to help.

I did email the person and offered to look into it further. I was prepared to see how far we could go with the budget she had. I wanted to try to help her reach her goals, or at least get her partway there.

It’s a shame, really. If she’d felt comfortable discussing money, we could have found a solution together. I can’t help but wonder if she didn’t shut the door on herself by keeping me in the dark.

So today I have questions, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  • For freelancer and business owners: Do you ask potential customers about their budgets? When do you ask about it? How does asking about money make you feel?
  • For buyers and customers: Do you tell people your budget when you discuss your project? If not, why? Do you like being asked about your budget? How does it make you feel?
  • For both providers and buyers: If the rate doesn’t match the budget, do you discuss further and try to find a fit?

What’s your take on budgets?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.