The Happy Studio – Handling Quote Requests

Quote requests, and RFP’s are the best and worst thing for your business. Without them you probably would have nothing to do, -but every one you get is a potential waste of time and energy. We get lots of requests through our website and through phone calls every week. Still more of them come via formal RFP’s in the mail. The only way we’ve learned to deal with them, and maintain a light staff is to be selective.

Qualifying Leads
Like most studios, we don’t publish our prices online. Lots of people call us asking “how much” for this, or that. If we made a formal proposal for every call that came in, we would go broke. A lot of times the people are just feeling around without any real money to spend. The goal of whoever fields the phone call is to qualify the lead. We give out rough cost ranges for the bottom end of our services pretty freely. Since we do flat pricing on logos, that’s an easy question to field. If the prospect is still on the phone after giving them basic costs, the next step is to determine a range, and or set up a meeting. We never agree to a meeting, or a proposal without first making sure the potential client understands the range of prices that our services can be purchased for.

How much for a tri-fold?
We work somewhat backwards from the way some studios handle pricing. We’ve heard the retainer method, we’re aware of people that do blind quotes. We also know of agencies that have a yearly minimum. We don’t do any of these things. We’re more than happy to do one project for you, or many. What determines the price of your project is the number of hours we spend on it. A small complex website might cost more than a large simple on. A 30 page catalog obviously takes more time to create than a tri-fold. But as every designer knows, – if you have 4 hours to make a tri-fold you could do it. You would adjust your style, and your photography use. Use more simple headlines, and simple typography. Likewise, if you have days to spend on a tri-fold, you can begin to consider illustration, die-cuts, foils, and all sorts of fun stuff. The 4 hour brochure isn’t necessarily worse than the elaborate one, – it was just obviously targeted at solving a different problem.

We know that not all of our clients are rich. When you work for Nike, or Apple, the question presumably is not about how much it costs, but rather can you do the work that meets their expectation of quality. You just have to assign a cost for what it takes to do the best work that your agency can summon up. We have a few clients that approach that attitude, but the majority are small to medium companies that need to worry about quality AND budget. The reality is that we often have to work on small budgets, and tight deadlines. Which begs the question: How much for a tri-fold?

Obviously projects cost different prices in different situations. We would never take a project that wouldn’t allow us the budget to meet our quality standards, but how do you pick within the acceptable range? Some studios probably go on their instinct. If the client is a big company, go on the top end. If they’re a start-up, go on the low end. We try never to be in the situation of guessing. We just simply ask for the budget.

Of course there are clients that are reluctant to tell us. They’re afraid they will be taken advantage of, and that whatever price they say will magically be our price for the project. They’re actually more right than they know (about the latter). We try to explain that we can hit virtually any budget that the client provides us, with a varying degree of complexity, and scope. It’s our job, as designers to solve problems within a budget, – that’s one of the differences between graphic design and fine art. We ask clients to challenge us with a budget. We ask clients to challenge other studios and agencies as well. It’s out belief that a discerning client will see more value in the services we provide for the same price than any of our competitors would provide.

Getting a budget up front helps us avoid something we hate. Providing multiple proposals, or redoing proposals. We don’t mind losing the job if you don’t like us, or don’t like our work, or don’t have the money to work with us. But we really don’t like having to do a lot of guessing and reworking on a proposal that we’re never going to get.

Getting Out of it
Do you really have to do a proposal? Fight it as much as you can. Ask if you can email a few line item prices. Ask if you can get started today at your hourly rate. Ask if the client can approve a small preliminary budget to get started, and test out the relationship. Ask for a handshake.

We’re sticklers that our clients understand our hourly rate, and that they know every hour we spend costs money, but we’re not sticklers for documentation. We’ve been told by collection attorneys several times that a check for previous services, an email, a hand scratched note is just as good as a contract. We very rarely have problems with payment for services, and if we do, it has nothing to do with a client not understanding that they owe the money. So, we look for every opportunity for simpler time commitments to get the ball rolling than doing a full blown proposal.

The cost of doing business
Proposals are a cost issue for a studio, and they should be scrutinized as such. You would shop around for a new printer. You carefully consider software upgrades. But if you aren’t discerning on your proposal process, you’re throwing money away. You can’t, and don’t want to win them all. Each proposal you undertake should be with a fierce desire to win it, – and the rest should be politely refused. A proposal for us generally takes 2-4 hours to create. Our proposal materials are about $5 per booklet. Each proposal we agree to do costs us hundreds of dollars in other work we could be doing. It’s a cost of doing business that we have to accept, – but we think it’s really important to consider each commitment carefully.

About This Series
We’re definitely not the biggest studio in town. But we’d really like to think we’re the happiest. Like all businesses, we make lots of decisions every day. It’s been that way from the start, but a couple of years ago we made a shift in our decision making process. We started to consider happiness rather than just earnings, and productivity.

We’ve decided to create a series of articles about how we factor happiness into our process. We’re calling the series “The Happy Studio,” and we hope you find it useful, or interesting (or both!)

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