How to stop wasting your time on clients that won't reveal their budgets

It's easy to deal with cheap clients that are open with their low budgets. At the extreme, they're the ones who want a Facebook clone for $500. Since you know their budget is way too low for you to work with them, you can send them on their way or give them some alternatives.

The bigger time-waster is the clients who don't tell you their budgets up front. They're the ones who you waste your time on proposals that will never be accepted. If you ever hear back, you're likely to find out they went with a less skilled freelancer just because they were cheaper.

Since you don't want to slash your rates to work with them, all those precious hours you spent learning about their problems and writing up a proposal were wasted.

Discuss budgets early

You need to discuss their budget early on, before you write your proposal. If you start talking about budget too early, you can make it more difficult to land the project. You want to wait until after you make them excited about working with you.

If you bring up price before they are excited, they won't feel as though they are getting as good of a bargain.

If you are way over the client's budget, then bringing up the budget early works to minimize the wasted time for both parties.

Use a direct approach and ask them their budget

Some clients are happy to divulge their budget but won't think to bring it up themselves. You should always ask for their budget directly.

A simple way to ask is:

How much do you have budgeted for this project?

or

What do you plan on spending on this project?

You don't have to be fancy, just ask the the question.

If they hesitate to answer, then you need to explain the benefits of knowing their budget:

  1. You know if you are a good fit to work together If you are too far apart, it's best to give them cheaper alternatives.
  2. You know the scope of the project solution This is beneficial to them because you can focus your proposal on packages that are actually viable to their budget.

Then ask again:

With this in mind, would you be willing to share your budget now?

If they are still tight-lipped, give them your range of acceptable budgets

If after asking directly and then explaining the benefits they still don't tell you their budget, then it is time for you to take action.

Tell them the price range you expect the project to fall under. If they are well below your range, they will let you know now.

Funny enough, if you blow their budget out of the water, they will just tell you what it is.

If they STILL don't tell you their budget, it's best to move on (unless you have very strong reason to believe they have enough money for you).

Otherwise… now that you have their budget, you can make the call to continue with the proposal or not. But this time, it is a calculated risk rather than a blind one.