Why we don’t give quotes and why you should (almost) never ask for them.

14th June 2017

You need a new website? Your CMO asks you to build her a new app? But you don’t know your WordPress from your Umbraco or your PHP from your Node. How can you make sure you get the best deal and get the best value for money?

First thing you should do is go out and find out how much it’ll cost. As you are a sensible person you’ll ask 5 different people.


This is the worst thing you can do (well not the worst but it’s a pretty bad idea). You’ll either pay too much or not get what you want. You will be unhappy and so will your supplier.
In the olden days when people sent us their ideas we used to give quotes, but very rarely did we or our clients walk away feeling like we’d got a good deal. One of us always seemed to come off worse.

Our new approach to working with clients

So last year we turned convention on its head, stopped giving instant estimates and began talking with clients in a new way. It’s not exactly revolutionary but neither is it conventional wisdom. If you’re in need of a new website or app and you don’t know exactly how you want to build it, it may be worth considering our method.

To explain how our new approach works I’d like to talk about cars, or rather…

How not to buy a car

second hand carImagine you are in the market for a new car. You don’t know much about cars but you know you want 4 doors, reasonable fuel economy and a built in GPS. You want to use it to take the kids to school and pick up the weekly shopping. You won’t be doing many really long journeys but you want it to be ready for them in case you change your mind. And it has to look nice.

As you are not that knowledgeable about cars you send off your specifications to the first ten local car dealers you find on Google and wait for them to get back to you.

Why quotes can be misleading

But you’re quite surprised when the quotes you receive back vary wildly. After all you asked all the dealers for exactly the same thing. Hyundai offer you a new car for £8,000, Ford £12,000, BMW £25,000, Audi £40,000 and there’s a company called Porsche that wants to charge you £65,000 for a car that does the same as the Hyundai, but only has two doors. They must be ripping you off. Quite naturally, you begin with a visit to the Hyundai garage to see what they have. It seems fine and you buy it.

But a week later you realise there’s no bluetooth handsfree or electric windows.

So you call the garage and ask where they are. “You didn’t ask for them” the dealer replies. “It’s obvious I wanted them, every car has electric windows now” you say.

And so it continues. Little by little you realise your new car is missing many of the features you’d been expecting it to have.

In the end you are quite unhappy with your new Hyundai and swear never to buy another. The Hyundai dealer does all he can to help, but once the car is sold he’s a bit stuck. He offers to buy it back from you and upgrade it but you don’t want anything to do with Hyundai ever again.

A year later you sell the car and repeat your mistake, this time going with a Ford.

How you do buy a car

Most people, when they buy a car, know more or less what they want. My last car needed to be a small hatchback that was economical, had air conditioning and was big enough to get my folding bike in the boot. Most importantly I only wanted to spend about £10,000.

I didn’t need an estate, it didn’t have to accelerate from 0-60 in under 5 seconds and I wasn’t bothered about the colour. So I went to 10 dealers, told them my needs and my budget and asked for their best deal.
What a surprise. I got 10 offers all around the £10,000 mark and chose the car I wanted based on what the dealers were offering. I was happy with my choice and still am.

Buy websites and apps like you buy cars

Every week we get numerous requests for quotes to build websites and apps from people who don’t know the exact technical specifications they require. I’m quite sure those same messages get sent to a bunch of other companies.

In the past we got back with our quote right away and sometimes we won the work, and sometimes we wouldn’t, but we were never able to spot a pattern. To continue the car analogy, we were quoting for a new Audi while often other companies were offering a second hand Lada.

Bizarrely enough, the automotive theme doesn’t end there – this is a request we received recently;

Website for a car accessories company.


  • New design based on corporate branding
  • Admin to be able to change and update the content
  • A slider on the homepage
  • Contact form
  • A shop to view our products and sell online
  • Static pages including about us, terms and conditions, our philosophy etc.

The client clearly had a strong idea of what they needed and thought it reasonable to send these requirements out to various companies.

But – and this is a big but – while this is not a complex brief it can be completed in one of several different ways. For example, we could;

  • Use a Shopify or Squarespace template, add a logo and change the colour scheme – Total cost £400
  • Build it using a pre-made WordPress theme – Total cost £1000
  • Custom build a unique WordPress template for the job – Total cost £4000
  • Build the whole thing in Magento with a custom design and a bespoke set of features – Total cost £25000
  • Create a custom, load balanced solution capable of handling tens of thousands of concurrent requests based on NodeJS and Cloudflare that has been thoroughly optimised for speed. Keep in mind the design alone could easily break 50k

And a multitude of variations in between, with every option fulfilling the client spec 100%.

So our problem is; how exactly do we explain that we can’t give a quote on these specifications in an email? Especially when 9 other companies have all quoted to do the job for under £1000.

The answer is we don’t. At least not in an email. Instead we make the effort to call people back, outline our approach, the various solutions we can provide and determine how much they’re willing to spend, then we can come up with the best solution for them for their budget. Now of course, not everybody likes to have their question of “how much will it cost?” answered with “how much do you want to spend?”, but it is surprising that almost everyone knows how much they have budgeted and if they don’t they definitely have a range of prices. Even if it might be “the cheapest way possible” or “I just want the best”.

Once we have this information it’s very easy for us to provide a proposal that matches both their expectations and budget and in the end our client gets the best product for the price they want to pay.

only-fools-and-horsesOf course, many of our clients already have a website or know exactly what they want and in those cases we can easily provide an estimate based on their technical specifications. But if you have an idea and you don’t know how you want it built just work out your budget first and then go and ask for quotes.  Just as you buy a car, set how much you want to spend and trust your web designer to build the best possible solution for your budget. That way you’ll go looking for a new BMW and you’ll get a new BMW. And you won’t walk away with one of these…