Designers talking money

One of our recent mentoring sessions with a designer uncovered her greatest fear: talking money with a client. She  actively avoids any ‘money’ discussion because she finds it stressful.

Problem is, her invoices often surprise clients … which leads to a discussion about money … which was exactly what she was afraid of because it stresses her out. Worse that that, the discussion starts with her being defensive.

Part of the problem is most of us were taught from an early age – along with religion and politics – it’s impolite to talk money. But it’s all about context. Yep, money is probably not appropriate in some situations, but it is very appropriate in a business setting. Especially within a seller/buyer conversation.

Clients expect to talk money

It’s fair to assume clients expect to talk money.

Everyone talks money in a seller-buyer context, and most of the time, the discussion around ‘how much’ is relatively early in the negotiations. Especially if you think it might be a barrier.

We talk money at the dentist, at the greengrocer and at the dressmaker.
It’s just part of the transaction, the fee for service.

Design should be no different.

Talking money may improve your mental health

Research shows that stress is often caused by the feeling of not being in control. And fear of the unknown.
That’s two very good reasons to introduce the budget early in a conversation.
In fact, it’s avoiding talking about money that’s stressful.
Do the money conversation early so you can enjoy the project.

Save time and headspace by talking money early

Avoiding any talk about money may mean you spend more time than you should thinking about money.
More time writing a (defensive) pitch document justifying your work.
More time trying to second guess what your client might think is a fair deal.
And arguably more time managing how to avoid talking money.

Manage expectations by talking money

Talking money with the decision makers early in the project can often result in a higher budget.

Presenting a good, better, best budget scenario early gives clients options. They can see, and make a decision on, all the possible solutions.

That conversation is more often met with a ‘leave it with me and I’ll find the money to do this project properly’.

Losing business based on price

Bottom line is, if you lose business on price it may not be because your fees are higher than another. It may be the client doesn’t have confidence in your ability. Perhaps the client thinks they can get just as good quality somewhere else, which means you’ve not carved out a leadership position or niche. Both those things give a market edge.


The moral is, not talking money with a client is stressful.

Better to own the project and manage expectations right from the beginning.
It’s better for the client because it avoids surprises, and it’s better for the designers because it avoids stress.

More information

Here’s two more articles about how to use a design value chain for new business development:

How to think like a client – three clients views on a variety of issues.

What do you do? – how to explain the value of design management to clients

As always, happy to discuss, just email.

Carol Mackay

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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and

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