Don’t know what to quote for a project? Try this question

Pricing a bespoke service – like web design, graphic design or copywriting – can be a messy business.

Each project – and each client – is so individual, that it can be difficult to predict just how much time, energy and expertise will be required to complete the work. And looks can be deceiving – sometimes the simplest end result requires the most resources to perfect.

But some of the biggest challenges facing new and even experienced entrepreneurs, are our ‘money blocks’ – those deeply programmed personal beliefs about finances that keep us stuck in some pretty limiting patterns of behaviour.

In my little biz, I’ve already had to address quite a few money blocks and I know there are more lurking just below the surface. One of mine is that nice people don’t charge lots of money. Another is that people don’t value writing, the way they might value say web design or accounting services. Don’t ask me where these beliefs came from, they’re just there.

Back when I started my business, whenever I was preparing a quote for a big project (like a website or a massive report), I would stare at the final (very reasonable) figure with a plummeting heart.

This little voice in my head would pipe up and say I “couldn’t charge THAT much,” regardless of the time or skill involved. It would tell me all sorts of stories about what the client would be willing to pay or what their expectations or financial circumstances might be.

I would tie myself in knots, before finally presenting a watered-down quote that left little wriggle room.

What I didn’t realise at the time, was that 

I was projecting my own money stories onto my clients.

I was deciding what they were willing to pay, without even consulting them. Consequently I was a shocker for giving things away for free, undercharging or putting hours and hours of additional unpaid time into a project in order to complete it to my high standard. I worked in a state of denial, “forgetting” to track my time on each project, perhaps because I didn’t want to face up to the reality of an abysmal hourly rate (and thus be forced into making some changes).

Does any of that sound familiar?

I’m sure you can see that’s no way to run a business – but it IS a fast way to burn out all your energy and your passion (not to mention your adrenals).

Then I started asking this simple question.

What is your budget for this?

Some clients won’t have a clue what a fair budget should be, while others have a fixed amount in mind. Either way it feels good to tackle the issue head on.

If they do have a budget, that does not mean I’m going to charge right up to their upper limit – charging a fair price is a matter of integrity for me. But it does mean I know roughly whether we are in the same ballpark from the outset.

Time and again I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what my clients were willing to invest to find the right words to explain their work and connect with their tribe. Turns out, they valued my service more highly than I was valuing it myself.

Therein lies the first lesson.

Never assume what your clients are willing to pay for a bespoke service.

We all have different challenges and we all value things differently. What I take for granted about my skillset, may be something that’s highly valuable to you and vice versa.

Time and again I’ve realised that had I not asked the question, I would have quoted a ridiculously low amount – perhaps because I wanted to get the job, because subconsciously I wanted to be liked, or most of the time, because I assumed (with zero evidence) that their budget was lower than it turned out to be and I was afraid they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for the real value of the work.

I was the one who was not valuing my work

Then I would run myself ragged trying to make the job profitable (putting pressure on both myself and my family), falling into a pit of exhaustion and wondering whether running my own business was worth it.

All because I was afraid to ask the question.

One of my great life lessons is that it never hurts to ask a question.

On the contrary, it can open up so much breathing space. It gets the issue of your quote out and on to the table. Even if the clients have no clue what a fair price would look like, asking the question allows you to set expectations of the range of prices you would typically charge for this work.

It’s far more pleasant and easier to simply ask the question than try to produce a quote in a vacuum, with no idea whether the client will be shocked or pleased by the final number.

 Now over to you. Do you struggle with money blocks? Where are you making assumptions – or failing to ask questions – in your business, and how is it holding you back?

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