When small-to-midsized advertising, media and web and print design and development firms are approached by prospective clients for pricing, one often hears something to the effect of “somebody told me about a package (or service) that costs XYZ-dollars.” This is typically followed by a reference to the offering that the prospective client has found – usually based on some kind of template – and an assumption that you will have similar pricing. The client has seen examples of work or has been referred to you by someone else based on the quality of your work, know that it is professional, beautiful and special. Then they see, for example, a free template, and somehow make a connection between what you will charge for your work and the cost of these prepackaged solutions.
Smaller firms often have small-to-midsized businesses, or even individuals, as clients instead of larger brands. This means that money, which is of course an object in any business scenario, is an even more important factor than many in the decision to utilize your skills. For fear of losing business opportunities, many inexperienced designers, developers, etc., or startup firms that rely heavily on earned revenue from engagements to prove performance for a financing plan, or even survive, will try to compete with “canned” solutions to win the business. This almost always turns into a double-edged sword. You may receive your short-term revenue for the job if you compromise, but if the value of your talent, your reputation (even if you are only briefly in the industry but possess strong skills) and the amount of time that it takes to perform custom design and development are not considered when delivering on a project, it is time, energy and emotion spent to fulfill which makes good strategy impossible.
For the most part, clients that come to smaller firms want custom design. Regardless of their possible inexperience when pricing these services, thus, the comparisons to canned/templated solution, you have probably been recommended to them because your work is more personal than that. The truth is that, no matter what they may say to you, most of these clients know this. It is a rare case that someone has budget, even if very limited, for an important marketing or advertising activity, and does not have at least some idea that something provided out-of-a-box is not as high in quality as your work.
The answer: as much as possible, LEAD WITH THE DESIGN. When you engage these prospective clients, demonstrate to them – through examples of your work, your experience, and with examples of return on investment for engaging you where possible – that the value of your work is its custom aspect. Some will respond by saying “how do you calculate the value of that design?” To that you must answer with some statistics about the additional brand values brought about through custom work and through demonstrating the importance of aesthetics. For web projects, functionality is “king”, but ugly websites do not attract visitors or consumers unless the client’s offering is so inherently compelling that people will bypass these aesthetics, or even more intelligent workflow, to get to the product, service, etc. Still, even for the largest brands, if a website is poor in function, if the “cookie-cutter” nature of the site does not promote the right visitor or consumer experience, or if a site is ugly, those who come to it will feel this. Some clients may also say: “I can do something cheaply now and pay for something better later.” The counterargument is that first impressions are as important as savings.
Always remember the inherent value of your design skills and work. It is a true market differentiator for you and your clients.