Design Domination Podcast Episode #72: What Your Reply to Prospects Says About You

Do you send prospects a price or your hourly rate when they first reach out to you? Do you lack confidence when dealing with prospects? Find out what your reply to prospects says about you and how to change their perceptions.

Do you respond to prospects right away? Do you send them a price or your hourly rate when they first reach out to you? Do you lack confidence when dealing with prospects?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, please stick around to find out how these behaviors negatively affect how prospects perceive the value of your work.

I see the issue of pricing being discussed by designers all the time, and, recently, one designer said they had lost a job because their pricing was too high (it was actually way too low).

Another designer said they had given some pricing to a prospect and was then told another designer could do it in fewer hours.

But guess what? These are not issues with pricing. These are much more deeply rooted than that. These are positioning issues, and that means that’s how you’re being perceived. Part of your positioning involves how you respond to a prospect.

It actually pains me to see designers in these scenarios, because I know what it’s like, and I know how frustrating it is! I too had these same behaviors early in my career. I totally get it.

But I also know how great it feels to not be in that position and to be in demand and command higher rates and get better clients who see you as the trusted expert.

And none of that has to do with having low pricing.

So let’s change that for you today.

I am going to get into how most designers typically respond to prospects and how their responses come across to them.

Answering the Pricing Question Without Enough Information

As is typical of prospects looking to have work done, the first question is usually how much is it going to cost.

Some prospects might even send over print specs for a brochure or whatever the case might be—the size, the expected page count, and so forth. This is what you need to send to a printer to get print bids, but that’s at the end of the process, after the design is done.

If the design hasn’t been created yet, why are they providing this information this early on?

After all, aren’t you supposed to be the designer providing input on this project? Maybe you even have a better idea for the format it should take or the size. Maybe a postcard would work better for them than a brochure, for example.

But, hey, they’ve got everything all figured out. They don’t need an expert. They just need someone to execute the work. They just need an order taker—that is, unless you change the conversation.

That’s fine if you want to be the order taker, but then price will usually be the deciding factor between you and someone else. If you’re sick of competing on price, just keep on listening.

Because no one is coming to you for design work. They do not care about the design. They are coming to you for a result—what that design will do for them.

And if the conversation always revolves about pricing and deliverables (i.e., a logo design, a brochure, a website), then they will always compare your pricing to every other designer out there who is giving them an estimate on these same deliverables.

What many designers do next is they get so excited at the opportunity of working with a new client, they just reply with a price. They just answer the question.

They don’t get any information about the details of the job, the deadline, the goals of the project, the needs of the client and so forth.

Just a price, like it’s a fast food chain and everything costs the same to everyone.

This only reinforces pricing shopping. This pits you against designers who low ball their pricing.

It’s a race to the bottom. Someone will always be cheaper. You won’t get the work and whoever does is doing it too cheap.

What you should do instead is take control of the sales process, and that starts with screening the prospect to see if they are a good fit, if the prospect demonstrates respect for your process by abiding by it and if the work is something you’re even interested in, have time for and can do well.

This is to say, “Hey, I’m not an order taker” and to see if the prospect is serious or just price shopping.

It also says, “I’m not sitting around waiting for clients to bestow work upon me.”

For some reason, a lot of prospects seem to think that freelancers are broke and always looking for their next project, and so when something comes along, you should be grateful—and so grateful, you’ll do it for less than you should be.

Reply to Prospects With Hourly Rates

A lot of prospects will ask for your hourly rate. I have never understood this.

I mean, what good is an hourly rate if you don’t know or they don’t know how long it will take? Otherwise, they’re writing a blank check.

What good is it to them to compare hourly rates when designer A, who charges $100 per hour could take 4 hours to do something (so, $400), and designer B charges $30 per hour but takes 20 hours (which would be $600)?

The more experienced designer can do it for less and in less time. But wait. Should that be less valuable to the client? They’re even going to get it done sooner.

On the other hand, should the client pay more to designer B, just because they’re slower?

Still, many designers will respond with an hourly rate, and some might give a number of hours and some might not.

The first problem with giving out an hourly rate at all is that it says you want to paid only for your time, and you may not be taking into consideration any expenses—taxes to be paid, insurance, rent or mortgage, electric and water, etc. In other words, you’re going to keep a lot less than what you’re charging per hour.

You have to first know if you’re even profitable at that rate. And if you’re comparing your hourly rate to what you were paid at a job, you’re not comparing apples to apples. You have a lot more expenses when freelancing, whether that’s full or part time, and you’re not working eight billable hours five days a week.

If you’re not sure what you’re charging is even profitable, I recommend downloading Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun’s Overhead and Hourly Rate worksheet (2.6 MB PDF).

Hourly rates also don’t compensate you for your expertise. I mean, you’ve probably invested a lot of time over a long period of years honing your skills to be as good and fast as you are today. Why should you penalize yourself for that?

Except in very rare situations, experts just don’t charge hourly.

What you should charge is going to depend on the size of the client, geographic location, your expertise, the quality of your work, and any particular niche or specialty that you have.

Think about this: what if you redesign a logo for a product and the client’s sales double? Wasn’t that worth more than $150 to them? Don’t you deserve more for having the expertise to have helped them do that?

Speed in Replying to Prospects

Many designers will also reply right away or outside of set business hours. Some designers might even respond late at night.

I realize some of you may be working full time and then freelancing on the side, so it’s hard to respond during typical business hours. That’s fine. I get it.

But if you have a habit of replying whenever, this can make it seem like you have nothing else going on.

You can think of it like dating. When you are too available, it can make you less attractive or even seem desperate.

If you don’t have set business hours, please consider them. You can work whenever you want but setting hours also sets expectations for when clients should expect to hear from you.

When you don’t set those expectations, you’ll start getting emails at all hours and on the weekends. I speak from experience. It’s a very hard behavior to untrain.

Presenting the Price Like It’s Up for Negotiation

Oftentimes when designers provide a price (and, again, I did this myself in the early days of freelancing), they end what should be a statement with a question mark (if it’s an e-mail) or with an intonation of a question (if they are talking to the prospect). The price is presented like it’s a question.

Or maybe you’re guilty of asking if the price is “doable.”

Either way, this comes across as “My price is up for negotiation.”

This isn’t eBay. You’re not in search of the highest bidder. You’re in charge of setting your price.

When you’re in the mentality of “I’ve got to charge something they’re willing to accept,” you’re missing the point completely.

Who is running your business? Clients or you?

Plus, if your pricing is up for negotiation, it comes across as unprofessional.

Most designers hate sales because they feel sleazy. I get it. But what actually can come across as sleazy is negotiating your pricing to the whim of the prospect.

If you’re always willing to adjust the price, it actually puts your credibility in question. That’s because it makes it seem as if your initial price was inflated, like you just made it up, had no basis for it, like you’re just trying to get as much money as you can get out of them.

Taking on Other People’s Problems

Some prospects will come to you with a sob story, asking if you can do it for less—or worse—for free.

Trust me. I’ve heard it all before:

  • “I already paid three other designers who didn’t do the work well, so the money I had for this has already been spent.”
  • “We’re a startup and can’t afford to pay much right now, or we can pay you in stock.”
  • “We can’t pay you for this work but we can provide tons of exposure.”
  • “Give us a discount now because we will have a lot more work for you in the future.”

These are their issues, not yours. I have learned: if you’re always willing to take on other people’s problems, I have learned, you are creating problems for yourself.

Trust me. I know. You will miss out on better projects with better clients.

Lowering the Price on Your Own

Shockingly, some designers will even lower the pricing on their own, without the prospect’s prompting, thinking it will help them get the work. I’ve done that too at some point.

So many designers think clients are looking for cheap! Good clients want quality work and are willing to pay for it.

When you price too low, it scares away the good clients. I know this all too well from experience too. In my early days of freelancing, I lost a lot of work that I was well qualified for because my pricing was too low. It did not matter that it was because it was just me at the time in my business and the other estimates they got were from larger agencies.

Qualifying the Prospect/Using a Process

OK, so then what do you do if you shouldn’t respond right away or with a price?

Qualify the prospect with a process. Just because they ask for a price doesn’t mean you just give an answer. How can you possibly even give a price without knowing more?

Some designers will ask for a call to discuss the details of the project. That’s great. But sometimes what happens is the prospect pushes back. They’ve determined they don’t need a call. They just need a price.

Unfortunately, what most designers will then do is to just give in and provide a price, and their process goes out the window.

This leaves them susceptible to taking on a bad client and charging too little.

That’s because there was no chance to demonstrate value, which is a crucial step in the sales process.

The prospect was allowed to dictate the process. The prospect based their decision on price, not value.

If someone reaches out to me about a price, I don’t give one. I screen them first. If they respect my process and seem like they might be a good fit, only then do I set up a call.

I ask them a few questions about their project and what they’re trying to accomplish. If you’re not sure which questions to ask, check out my 17 Questions to Ask During a Design Consultation guide. You’ll also get some helpful e-mails.

Only then will I provide an estimate because now I have an understanding of their needs. Otherwise, the conversation is going to end up being about price.

Confidence and Positioning

Let’s get something straight. The goal is not to win every job and every client. The goal is to be profitable. If you aren’t profitable, why are you taking on the work?

If it’s going to cost you more than you are being paid, why do it? Nevermind the frustration from having to deal with bad clients.

Cheap clients always end up costing you more. They will suck the life out of you, which is time you should be spending on clients who pay better and value your work.

The root of these issues is not pricing. The issue is positioning. The other issue is your confidence.

Prospects will treat you the way you allow yourself to be treated. If you want to be treated like an expert and charge like an expert, you have to act like it.

That was really hard for me, but that was a game changer for my business.

Let’s change this for you today. I’ve got something to help you do just that. Like I mentioned, my 17 Questions guide will give you some of the questions to ask. But my Brand Identity Builder will guide you through a process from start to finish:

  • Consultation: The questions to ask in the beginning of the process to position you as an expert and help you screen potential clients, so you don’t waste time on those who are a bad fit.
  • Proposal: What to include in a proposal and why, so that you are seen as an expert and stand out from other designers.
  • Discovery: What information to gather from the client, so you have an objective point of reference throughout the process and a smoother relationship as a result.
  • Research: What to think about before you even start designing, so you create a more successful design.
  • Design: What to consider as you’re creating the design, so you ensure it works for the client and you enhance your expertise.
  • Presentation: Ways to present your work and address feedback, so that you impress the client and get less pushback. (Who doesn’t want less pushback?)
  • Delivery (if you’re creating a logo): How to properly finalize the logo and create the proper deliverables, so you enhance the value of that kind of work.
  • Showcase: How to showcase your work online in a professional and impressive way, so that you can start attracting better clients.

Even if you’re not designing a brand identity, these questions—this process—will still help you get your power back in the client-designer relationship.

This process puts you, not the client, in charge, so that you will be perceived as the trusted expert.

When you have a process in place, you will have more confidence and will be less susceptible to taking on bad clients.

Confidence is key to being seen as an expert. Clients want to know you will be able to deliver what they are expecting. They need an expert to lead them.

You can be their next design hero to do just that. That’s what I want for you.

I really hope that this episode has been helpful. Check out the show notes because I’ve got a lot of links to several other podcast episodes that will help you. If you implement any of these strategies, I would love to hear from you how they’ve worked for you. You can always reach me via e-mail, in the Design Domination Facebook group or leave a comment below.


  • Good episode! It always reverts back to avoiding becoming an order taker. As you point out, clients aren’t really paying for design, they’re paying for expertise. And if they don’t want that, maybe they need a different production artist (because designer doesn’t really apply).

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