Estimates with options

Designers are often not taught ‘business’ language.
Clients are often not taught ‘design’ language.
How do they talk to each other?
Via estimates and submissions.
The better the estimate, the more successful the relationship.
And the best estimates include options

The UK ‘What clients think’ survey states clients want a design partner, someone who understands their market, their challenges, and their product/service. The report also says clients think the best pitch is a face to face discussion.

That’s great, but when push comes to a shove, most clients want to know how much your expertise will cost. Even if the brief is yet to be formalised and the figure might be an approximate, we need to talk money early. It’s a sure way to manage expectations.

Keeping the conversation going

The aim of an estimate is to continue the conversation. That’s why just giving one price isn’t a great solution – one figure invites a yes/no answer.

Blair Enns is often saying it’s not our job to convince a client to buy. Instead; we should explain what we can do; to give options, and then facilitate a discussion to let the client choose which one is best for them.

So estimates should give options.

Helping clients make decisions

The primary role is to give clients a context to decide. Without a context, clients will look for their own and that often includes asking for hourly rates.

Clients will attempt to understand the value of the design solution in the context of their business and their market. Not the context of design, nor aesthetic.

That’s why the options in your estimate shouldn’t be focussed on design, and nor should they be about about more assets (AKA burgers with your fries).

The options should focus on different strategies to fulfil a need.

The lowest fee option isn’t a ‘bad’ choice and the highest fee option isn’t the ‘best’ choice. They’re just different strategies.

What do you want the estimate to ‘do’?

So there’s two roles of an estimate:

  1. keep the conversation going by giving options
  2. give context by explaining your value.

Example of an estimate with three options

  1. Transactional: estimate time + materials
    Example: cost on an hourly rate
  2. Sell outputs/deliverables
    Example: a product like an annual report delivered online and in print
  3. Sell an outcome
 A report produced to meet the silver award criteria of the Australasian Reporting Awards.
    This might involve running inhouse content workshops introducing the ARA criteria, auditing the existing photo/illustration library to assess for fit-for-purpose, coordination of suppliers and schedule etc

Take away

One price is a yes or no conversation.
Three prices is an interesting conversation around a considered delivery.


Want to discuss any of the above? Email Carol.


Want more?

More information about adding value and estimating:

      1. Talking money with clients
      2. Dealing with price-senstive clients
      3. Why saying no to a client is a lazy response

About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a need for more information about the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing so they wanted more info about how to work more efficiently and effectively.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.

Our second site is – Australia’s only business school for designers