Give a design agency your budget

Budgets, budgets, budgets.

Having been in web development for over 25 years, it still surprises me when we are asked to provide a quote against a brief with no budget.

This guesswork doesn’t help anyone, especially you, the client, and here’s why.

Everything has a budget.

Whether you are buying a new car or going out to eat, everyone has some idea of the ‘price’ that they will accommodate.

It doesn’t matter what people buy; they know how much they want to spend.

This price is seldom a fixed cost; it’s usually a low and a high-end scale, with the preference somewhere around the middle.

We’ve been conditioned in business to always ask for three quotes and to usually select the middle one, as the perception is that this must be the correct price.

This is completely wrong.

What do most agencies do if you don’t give them a budget to work against?

If you send out a request-for-proposal to three agencies without including a budget or at least a budget scale, most decent agencies will ask you for a budget.

This is generally not because they want to quote you your budget; it’s more down to the fact that they don’t want to waste their and your time.

If they ask you for a budget and you don’t have a figure to give, you find yourself in the realm of the Guestimate.

Agencies don’t like guessing, so if there is a relatively good brief laying out all the functions and requirements, they will simply look at other projects they have completed of a similar size and scope and throw you a price based on that.

Busy (good) agencies simply don’t have the time to spend hours on guesswork, so you will get a rack-rate quote.

What happens if you provide a budget to an agency when asking for a quote?

This opens up the project to many other options that greatly benefit you, the potential client.

You’ve given the agency the ability to make a choice.

There is a misconception that giving a budget means the project will cost all of the budget.

There are three types of web development projects.

  1. Projects with a lower budget than needed to fulfil the brief and spec.
  2. Projects where the budget is broadly in line with the brief and expectations.
  3. Projects where the budget is very generous and means everything can be achieved comfortably.

Imagine you run a web development agency; which of the three options above would be your first choice?

It would probably be in this order: 3,2,1.

One of the things that clients often overlook when working with creative companies is the simple fact that they are successful commercial operations in their own right – they are businesses with experience in buying in services themselves, receiving quotes for work, planning, budgeting, employing and so on: just like your business.

In the commercial world, businesses have to make choices.

  • They may price more aggressively if things are quiet to undercut the competition and win more work.
  • If things are busy, they may price higher only to take on the new projects if there is a premium price.
  • They’ll probably quote on their regular charges if they tick over nicely.

Due to the above, getting three quotes and going with the middle-range one simply does not work when asking creative companies for a quote.

This is where giving the agencies a budget gives them a choice: Do we want/need the money?

This may sound crass, but agencies are businesses with wages to pay, bills, rent and everything else that affects other businesses.

You will find that if you give agencies your budget, you give them the choice to do things like:

  1. Discounting their standard web charges to take on your project, should they wish to (this could be a commercial decision or simply because they like your brief).
  2. Offer you options for what they can accommodate within your budget.
  3. Politely decline the project, saving you (and them) time.
  4. Explain that the budget is relatively high for the spec and suggest how they can use the surplus budget to add further value (such as ongoing SEO or monthly website support).

All of the above are positive results for you, the client, and much better than obtaining three guestimates.

Do your due diligence.

Most agencies will know if you are a good fit for them after you first get in touch.

Experienced WordPress agencies do their due diligence when talking to potential clients; as a potential client, you should do yours, too.

Research the agency properly:

  1. Look at the size of the team
  2. Look at their office location
  3. Check the types of clients they have worked for
  4. Look at reviews
  5. Go to Companies House and look at their accounts

This will show you whether the agency in question would fit you well.

If you are a small rural charity in Cumbria that needs a ten-page website, a Soho-based web agency with 30 staff is not likely to be a good fit for you, but a smaller agency based outside London might be a good fit.

Again, having said this, the Soho agency may have two new Junior staff for whom a small job on a pro-bono basis would be great.

Many design agencies in the UK are lifestyle businesses, meaning they can be much more flexible than others.

There are two main types of business, according to Daniel Priestly:

Lifestyle businesses are designed primarily to support the owner’s lifestyle and personal goals rather than solely focusing on maximizing profit or growth. These businesses are typically built around the owner’s passions, interests, and desired work-life balance. They may not have ambitions for massive expansion or global dominance but aim to provide comfortable and flexible living for the owner(s) and staff.

The other type of business that Daniel sometimes discusses is the Enterprise Business. Enterprise businesses are those with a strong focus on scalability, growth, and long-term value creation. They are often more prominent in scale, have the potential for significant market share, and aim to impact their industry substantially. Unlike lifestyle businesses, enterprise businesses are driven by a desire for expansion. They may involve more substantial investments and a greater emphasis on systems, processes, and team building to achieve their growth goals.

So, identify if the agencies you are talking to – a lifestyle business can flex, an Enterprise business can’t.

Why is identifying a project budget so tricky?

It’s not you, it’s us.

We work in a completely unregulated industry, so getting a real idea of how much a well-built website will cost without asking can be challenging.

This is made even more complex with the likes:

  • Sites like Squarespace and WIX selling sites for pennies
  • People on Fiverr promising websites for next-to-nothing
  • Youtuber snake-oil salespeople telling you to DIY
  • Freelancers working for peanuts
  • Jan in Accounts son, who ‘knows a bit of HTML’

There are some simple ways to get an idea of what you need to invest in your site.

Go with your gut.

What do you feel comfortable investing in your site? If your gut feeling is no more than £1000, that’s your figure.

Do some math.

Chances are you’ve crunched some figures somewhere, so use these as the basis for your website budget.

If you want to generate £100K revenue from your website over the next 24 months, a £1000 budget doesn’t seem enough, but somewhere between 5K and 10K would be a little more appropriate.

Ask around.

Ask people you trust for their experiences and see if they can provide any insight for you – most businesses have websites, so if you hang out with other business people, ask them or your followers on Twitter (X) or Facebook, for example.

It’s important to remember here that £1000 might seem like a huge investment to one person, whereas £10K might, to others, not seem enough.

Pay peanuts, get monkeys.

This is true in most aspects of life, and it’s very try in web design and development. You cut too many corners; you end up with something that falls apart.

So where to start, and what is the main reason to give your agency a budget?

If you need a new website, you need to talk on the phone or over Zoom with the people at the agencies you have shortlisted.

If you give some indication of budget in the initial contact, the agency will:

  1. Take you more seriously
  2. Be happy to have a short discovery call or Zoom with you
  3. Explain what they can do and can’t within your budget
  4. Potentially even do you a deal if they like the sound of the project

This goes for micro-budgets all the way up to budgets of tens of thousands of pounds.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the vast majority of web agencies in the UK are lifestyle businesses, and by giving them an idea of budget, you can often find they will choose to help you out, even if the budget for your project is a little lean.