How to miraculously build a profitable relationship when your client’s budget is low

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So you’ve got this potential lead. You meet with them, go over their needs and wants, and you’re all pretty excited about getting started.

And then they review your design quote.

“Oh. We were thinking more in the <subtract 50%> range.”

(Have you heard something like this before?)

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If you’re anything like me, that’s a BIG difference in cost. Then the anxiety sets in and you start second-guessing yourself…did you quote too high? Are you worth that amount? Is this client going to pay? Etc. Etc.

Before you turn down your potential client, try one of these creative ways to keep their costs down without cheating yourself.

Pare down your project goals

This might be obvious, but if your client can’t afford the snazzier (yes, I said snazzier…I grew up in the 80s) design with all the extra features, figure out how you can create a more basic version for less cost.

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Tip: If possible, make the basic version expandable to add on those neat upgrades at a later date when they can afford it.

Offer fewer revisions

Revisions can eat up your design time and your client’s budget.

Offer to bring the price down in exchange for fewer revisions. Be sure to set an hourly rate for revisions past the agreed-upon amount, though, or you’ll be stuck making endless changes for no pay.

Consult rather than design

This works particularly well with clients who want to do as much as possible themselves.

Instead of doing the work, you critique it. Your client sends proofs and you respond with how they can improve upon their own creation.

It can be a win-win: you get paid your full hourly rate; your client spends less and gets some pointers on how to improve their project.

Also, after wasting multiple hours and struggling to make their visions come true, often times they’ll relent and ask you to do the project anyway…with a much healthier understanding of why you’re asking the price you are!

NOTE: this is not for the faint of design heart…you’re going to see some pretty awful stuff. You’re going to have to resist the impulse to fix it yourself or be too critical.

Focus on design, not page population

For WordPress and similar CMS websites, page population is often the tedious and time-expensive portion of redesigning a website.

If your client can’t afford for you to create each page, offer to create the design and one page. From that page design, they can create the remaining pages/posts to fill in the content of their site.

Sell in bulk

This tactic works really well with an existing client who pays well – offer a discount if they sign on to a year’s worth of services or commit to several projects over the course of the next 6 months.

Just don’t forget to sign a contract specifying the terms of your deal and what happens if either party breaks their part of the bargain.

Set up a payment plan

For start-up clients, often capital is their biggest challenge. But start-ups also need a LOT of work done to hit the ground running.

Allowing a client to pay you over a series of months can defray those design costs into manageable chunks.

NOTE: Be careful of how much money they owe you and set a limit at which you won’t continue work on any projects until they’ve paid down their bill.

Trade services

Trading services can be a useful tool when the two parties offer mutually beneficial products and services.

Make sure, however, that your business really could use this service, NOT your personal life. Otherwise you’re just cheating your business…and it should be YOU who pays your business.

Examples of smart service trades:

  • Trading for computer repair or computer upgrades
  • Trading for advertising and/or marketing
  • Trading for office space (if you need it)
  • Trading for printing services

Share your stories!

How have you cut costs to win over a tight-budgeted client? Do you have a great client or did you shy away from what appeared to be a shady company? Leave a comment on this post – we’d love to hear your tip and stories!

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About April Greer

April is the Director of Projects at Reliable PSD, a design-to-code company for designers, by designers. She’s the glue keeping everything together, organized, and right on time, and giving everyone a fantastic experience while she does it.


Leave a Comment



  1. This is a *great* article! I sometimes have potential clients with whom the prospecting process seems to go really well, and I’m really interested in working with them, but not at a price I can’t afford to offer. These are some good alternatives to keep that relationship moving forward even with a small budget.

  2. Here’s a small script I like to use when clients try to haggle with me. 80% of the time, the client decides to hire me after reading this.

    (The first email you send to the client should be about how much value you will be providing them and how your design will improve their business. If the client is still haggling, try and use the script below)

    Hey (name),

    First of all, I’d like to say thanks for contacting me regarding (type of job).

    Unfortunately, I can’t reduce the price as it reflects the quality of my work.

    By working with me, I can guarantee that I’ll provide more value then most people.

    I go above and beyond to please my clients and my rates reflects that.

    However, if the rates is still too high then I recommend that you check on sites such as Elance. The work done may not be perfect but the rates are similar to what you’re looking for.

    Feel free to reply back with any more questions. I’ll be glad to help.

    (Your name)

  3. This post was spot on! Especially, the scared look on the clients faces and the second guessing yourself about the price. this may sound sexist but as a woman, I have a lot harder time setting my prices and then sticking to them.

    • Elizabeth,

      At the risk of being sexist, too, sometimes I find that new clients of either sex can push me around a bit. I’ve learned that I just have to know ahead of time where my boundaries lie so that I don’t have to do any real thinking during the negotiations. Then I just have to be professional and firm and, if necessary, let them know that I’m probably not the designer they can afford.

      Good luck and stand up for your business! (You don’t have to be rude, even though it feels like it – it’s just business.)


  4. April – OMG, you really are a genius! Great article and very useful! I thought it was by that “other guy” as i didn’t even know you were writing in this blog until i got to the end.

  5. Great post! I haven’t run into this problem yet, but I’m sure I will in the future. These are great tips.

  6. I think your article is really shameful, I am not sure if the other repliers really read it carefully. Now I understand that clients demand what they demand, it’s because of people like you.. Not long ago I had client that wanted me to critique their crappy amateurish “proof”. I turn them down, because first I find that unethical to critique, I am professional designer and I am not position to hurt their feelings, secondly it’s not acceptable that somebody would do my job for me….I am a….hello!! DESIGNER, and lastly I am not a puppet, if the client won’t trust my expertise, than something is very wrong I and I will send that client to you, enjoy!

    Than you contradict yourself saying that you create the design of one page in WP and let the client finish it up, gee you know, half-ass work puts a really great light on our work ethics as well!!

    But the last article really did for me! Yeah why don’t go ahead and barter, trading services will pay the rent put food on our table, make a great portfolio piece. What disgraceful and disgusting article. Grow up!

    Watch this:

    • Eva,

      Article aside, please use respect and professionalism here in our Millo comments. Each member of this community is encouraged to share their thoughts and discuss differences in opinion, but we hold ourselves to a higher standard. In all three of your comments, you’ve been overly negative, argumentative, and aggressive. No one wins when we resort to Facebook-like ranting at each other.

      That being said, I believe the intent of my piece has been misinterpreted. In no way am I encouraging a designer to back down from their price point or create shoddy work. When there’s a huge disparity between budget and cost, if you as a designer decide you’d still like to work with them, you can compromise using these methods.

      You’ll notice that you’re still getting the same “hourly rate” if you will; you’re just doing less work and therefore coming down to do the amount of work they can afford.

      Furthermore, critiquing work/ideas without hurting someone’s feelings is an essential skill all designers can continually improve upon. It’s how we steer our clients in the right direction when they ask for a picture of their dog being goofy in the middle of their website and how we produce an amazing project when we work collaboratively.


      • I don’t want you to suggest to your readers that designers should work for free or let the client do their own designs and turn us designers into puppets. It’s bad enough that our profession is being outsourced to 3rd world countries where the salary is about $1.00 per hour.
        You don’t tell your dentist: “I can’t afford the cleaning so I so I’ll clean it myself and you can just polish it and I am expecting a discount or if you don’t have the money to buy milk, well you simply won’t be able to get it, right? I hope you get my point.
        I understand that truth hurts, but if you can’t take negative opinions maybe you shouldn’t be a blogger.

        • In no way have I suggested reducing your hourly rate. I’ve suggested how to keep your hourly rate intact and still provide services to a client who can’t afford full service.

          Some clients can afford a full-service, inside-and-out car wash for $40 while others go to the self-serve and pay $4 to wash their car and vacuum it out themselves.

          I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

          Note: I accept all opinions that are brought to my attention in a professional and respectful manner.


  7. April,

    Great piece – well written and informed. Thanks for this as its something that most design folk will come across, eventually in their design careers. ‘Forewarned is forearmed’

  8. Be careful trading services. I’ve been burned in the past. It seems a lot of people don’t put much effort in reciprocating the favor once they get theirs. The best approach I’ve found is to make certain you establish in detail the items/services being bartered so there is no confusion. Also only barter with someone who seems credible, professional and trustworthy. And when possible, have the other person offer their services first. I’ve even asked for retainers (deposit) from people who want to trade services with me. When they show they’ve fulfilled their end of the deal, I refund the deposit. Just my two cents.

  9. Excellent post, April. I enjoyed your ideas. I also like to give clients options while still honoring my pricing and boundaries. Now I’ve got some new ideas to add to my toolbox. Thanks!

  10. These are some really good points.

  11. Small budget is certainly a big problem for me. Because when the budget is small, I find it unsustainable and can’t able to spend more time on that project. It is sad but this is true as well.

  12. Thank you for a great post and I fully agree with the idea of more basic version with the possibility to add new features furhter – this works great for many clients who need to get the project live and then they’ll be able to order more exra features

    • Victoria,

      A side benefit this is that often I hear new from new clients that the “other designers” they’ve talked with have pitched hundreds or thousands of dollars of “must-haves” to start the relationship and they start feeling swindled before the relationship even starts.

      By offering to pare down the services you think they need, they trust you more because you’re not out to squeeze every penny from them from the get-go.

      Thanks for chiming in!


  13. Hi April, this was an excellent article with some fantastic ideas. Thank you so much.

    I have only bartered my services a few times, and in all cases it worked quite well.

    The best barter arrangement I had was with a gourmet gift basket company. I had done quite a bit of copywriting work for the owner, so for a while she’d send her gourmet goodies to my clients. This barter agreement was actually a win/win/win situation because: I loved giving the gifts, my clients loved receiving the gifts, and the owner loved the extra exposure her business was getting (some of my clients ended up using her gourmet gift basket services for themselves!). It was quite a delicious arrangement for all concerned.

    Thanks again April. 🙂

    • Lucinda,

      Wow! That sounds like the perfect storm – a win/win/win! Great way to get creative and turn something that you didn’t really need into a great marketing/client relations tool.

      I’m super-impressed and will keep this tip in my toolbox.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Another thing you can do is to offer alternatives to designing and building a website from scratch. Depending on the client, if they want a full custom website, then yes, I will do so if they can afford it. However if there budget is low, I often use a web builder (we use our own one, click my name if you’d like to have a look) to help cut the costs down.

    Often the ‘budget’ clients don’t need a full custom site, so you can get the costs down to a level where they can afford it.

    • Great advice, Bianca – I rarely build websites from scratch these days because CMS websites are easier for clients to update and maintain and are much more cost-effective.

      However, if a client needs something custom, I’m happy to do it.

      Thanks for sharing!


  15. Thanks for the tips April.

    As a freelancer/designer one has to find creative ideas to do business in order to survive and thrive. If being a DESIGNER EGO is predominant in your approach with clients, you will be one of those who struggle to pay their bills and then this career is blamed for not being profitable.

    Very practical advice April, thanks again!

  16. Great Post! Thanks for sharing this one. If anyone interested check out this blog also


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