How To Avoid Clients With No Budget

I imagine at some point in your career as a web designer you’ve had a client ask you if they can catch up for a coffee, or even lunch, to discuss their ideas for a new website. I also imagine that you have optimistically gone along in good faith, full of enthusiasm, ready to answer any questions they might have with a little excitement about using WordPress again with those new plugins you’ve just discovered.

I imagine after a lengthy discussion with your prospect over coffee or lunch (that you pay for – they are a potential new client after all) you discover they want to build a new version of Facebook, but only for holistic natural medicine practitioners in their local area, of which there are eight.

You take your notes back to your studio and knock up a proposal outlining how you intend to build their new website, what features will be included, how long it will take and the cost.

Then, I imagine, one of three things happens:

  1. You never hear from them
  2. They respond with polite shock and awe at how much you quoted them and mention something about an article they read recently on about how to install a Facebook “like” button on a website in 7 easy steps, or
  3. You have an ongoing conversation over a period of three weeks about what they can and can’t afford until you both agree that all they can afford is a landing page with an email sign up form that should send an email directly to their inbox because they’ve never heard of MailChimp and they think all email marketing is spam

Either way, you’re not getting the job.

Stranger Than Fiction

I imagine all of this because these things have actually happened to me at some stage over the last 5 years. All in equal proportion. It is a waste of everybody’s time. Particularly mine.

So I have arrived at a point in my career where I am now comfortable enough that the sky will not fall in if I say “No” to the initial request for meeting. Instead, I explain to my prospect that in order for me to consider whether or not I am able to provide a solution for them, I need to know a little more about their business and what they are trying to achieve.

The best way to do this is to send the prospect a very simple questionnaire, or website worksheet as I call it, that asks them some fundamental questions about their business, their products, their audience and their budget.

First of all this helps me decide whether or not I want to do business with them (sorry gambling companies – I don’t do that). Second of all, and more importantly, this helps me establish whether or not they have a realistic budget for what they want to achieve. If they do and the project sounds like fun, I call them up and arrange an initial meeting. If they don’t, or the project sounds like a major pain in the ass, I send them a polite email outlining why I’m not a good fit for them.

Since I implemented this in my business, I’ve had to argue a lot less on price and I’ve completely eliminated the numerous coffee and lunch dates that amounted to nothing.

Occasionally a prospect objects to this strategy claiming that they can’t tell me about their new idea because it’s so awesome that I might steal it from them. Sometimes they even ask me to sign an NDA before I meet them! I never do this and I’ll explain why in a future post. The point is, if they want to do business with me, they have to fill out the website worksheet.

So, I urge you to start qualifying your leads as of now and stop wasting time running off for coffee or lunch everytime someone mumbles “new website” under their breath. I’ve even posted up my website worksheet for you to get started. No excuses.

Just tell me where to send it.

Download The Website Worksheet

* I owe a little bit to the great guys at for the inspiration for this idea.

2 thoughts on “How To Avoid Clients With No Budget

  1. Hey Charles,

    It’s really good to hear that from the client’s perspective. I love the fact too that you felt good about picking their brains because you paid for the consultation.

    Thanks for the comments.

  2. Interesting post as I was recently the client looking for a web developer. One company I called took this approach, then, after reading my filled in forms, recommended a long meeting (half day) which they would charge me for and after which they would prepare a detailed quote. I was impressed with this approach. Although I did not end up working with them long term, I found the meeting very useful, and did not feel bad as I’d paid for a consultation.

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