Swimming with big fish (finding the perfect client): Part 1

Small fish swimming with big fish

This is the first in a two-part article examining the perceived value of design and creative services by small businesses, and what options there are for the frustrated freelancer trying to earn an honest wage.

Hi, I'd like a new website please

Exciting news, someone has asked you to quote for a project! You, being the conscientious professional that you are, spend an afternoon writing a detailed proposal and quote for the work involved. You then receive a response from your potential client explaining that your quote was considerably more expensive than they expected.

It turns out that their neighbour’s daughter’s 17 year old boyfriend (who is apparently quite good at Photoshop) has offered to do it for a fraction of your price. I’m afraid your potential client can’t afford to pay you any more than £150 for a brand new website, logo design and business cards.

Yes. Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? It’s a story I’m sure all freelance web and graphic designers have experienced.

Vivien from Inspiration Bit recently wrote about design costs and values, and exemplifies how frustrating the scenario I describe above can be. Vivien seeks answers to why some people value our profession so lowly? How do we ‘educate’ people and change people’s mindsets?

Taking a punt

A small business is a small business. Budgets are low and everything is negotiable. The difference between a few hundred pounds and a few thousand pounds is absolutely massive to your average small business, and there is no amount of ‘educating’ that can change the perception that you are ten times more expensive than someone else.

Of course there are risks associated with working with non-professionals or unknowns based in far-flung countries, and most people are aware of this. But when comparing a three figure sum with a four figure sum for seemingly the same product, in the eyes of the small business, it might just be worth the punt.

I accept that I am making a massive generalisation. Of course there are some small businesses that truly value design and communications and will pay for the best, but I will stick my neck out and say this is not your typical small business client. If you are working with small businesses, the scenario described above will happen again, and again, and again.

Some thoughts...

In my next post I will conclude this article with why I think big businesses should play a part and feature in your business plans and I’ll offer some ideas for approaching them. For now though, I will leave you with some closing thoughts/questions:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating low-cost and reusable generic templates and I think it’s naive of a designer to suggest that this is a lesser way of operating or that it undermines their profession. If your target market is small businesses then should you not just give them the product they want?

Do you think professional design is undervalued by some businesses? Can we and should we be educating small business on the value of professional communications?

Do you think you offer a better product to small businesses than untrained, young designers or individuals working out of countries like India who offer design services at a fraction of the price you do?