The Grumpy Designer Wonders: Why Are Clients So Cheap?

If the internet has accomplished one thing (beyond giving us web designers a career), perhaps it’s the emboldening of cheapskates. The ability to get free and low-cost items online has outshined even the most fervent coupon-clippers of yesteryear.

Now, everybody (even the grumpiest among us) loves a bargain. But when it comes to building websites, free and cheap don’t always add up to much. Yet, that’s what so many clients have come to expect.

Need a shopping cart? Go with the free one. Want to protect personal information? Sure, just install that free security plugin. Hoping to achieve world peace via your website? Of course, just check out one of the many free solutions.

On low-budget websites, this strategy can work well enough. But when the expectations are higher, the quality of the solutions implemented should level up as well.

With that in mind, let’s take some time to discuss cheap clients and how they limit what a designer can reasonably accomplish. And, just maybe, we’ll convince them to see the error in their ways. Wouldn’t that be worth its weight in gold?

Big Needs, Small Budget

Building a modern website usually means piecing together several third-party plugins or applications. They help designers build for a specific need without having to spend exorbitant amounts of time debugging code (at least, that’s the idea).

This inevitably leads to clients who want that one extra feature. For example, wanting to add a shipping method to their WooCommerce shop that isn’t included in a default installation. This requires an extension plugin.

Maybe you can get away with a free item that will do what is needed. That tends to be the exception, though. Most times it means having to purchase that missing piece of functionality. In the case of WooCommerce, it likely means yearly licensing fees as well.

I’ve always found it curious when clients balk at having to make this type of purchase. Particularly so when their site is turning a solid profit. Why not invest in something that has the potential to help you make even more sales?

Being budget-conscious isn’t a bad thing. But the expectation that you’ll successfully run a business website for next to nothing is often counter-intuitive.

For web designers, this can be a massive challenge. We’re trying to fit square pegs into round holes and likely wasting time in doing so. Especially when a legitimate solution already exists.

A person holding coins.

Attempting to Change Client Attitudes

How do you talk some sense into an unreasonably frugal client? It’s yet another thing that web designers find themselves responsible for. We’ll fit this in – right between psychiatrist and security expert.

The challenge is that online culture often celebrates all of the amazing “free” stuff we can access. Heck, web designers like me who tout WordPress are part of the problem. By talking about all of the amazing things you can do for free, we may be leading clients to think that nothing should have a cost attached to it. Or that commercial software isn’t a requirement at all.

But it goes beyond web design. Think of all the free services offered by the likes of Google and Facebook (just disregard those privacy costs for now). People have been trained to sign up and just start using products without a thought as to monetary value.

I do think progress can be made. But it does require that you temporarily relinquish your inner grumpiness and try the following tips:

Explain the Limits of “Free”

There are a number of amazing free solutions out there. In some cases, they really do outshine commercial competitors. But the supply isn’t limitless.

It’s important to educate clients about where free tools do and don’t make sense. They need to know the difference between using a free icon set and a free tool that powers mission-critical functionality on their website.

Regardless of cost, anything used for crucial functionality needs to have resources behind it. There should be either an open-source community or a company that works to ensure bugs are squashed and security holes are patched.

A free plugin like WooCommerce passes that test. But it’s also worth noting that it usually takes commercial add-ons to do more with the shopping cart. You only get so much for free.

In other areas, free options may simply be unable to meet project requirements. When that’s the case, the right commercial solution is the better way forward.

A stop sign.

Explore Return on Investment (ROI)

There are times when even a relatively cheap (sub-$100) option is eschewed in favor of something free – even when the latter is lacking key features. Fair enough. But it may be worth pointing out what can be potentially gained by making a small investment.

Going back to our eCommerce example, consider plugins that allow you to customize the checkout experience. Perhaps the free plugin allows for adding or switching a few form fields around, while the commercial option creates a slick single-page process. Under the right circumstance, this could make a significant impact on a shop’s conversion rates.

By streamlining a sometimes-clumsy process, customers are more likely to follow through with completing an order. This, in turn, could mean more sales and fewer abandoned carts. Thus, the software that was seen as “too expensive” may well pay for itself rather quickly.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of pointing out the potential return on investment to get a client to see beyond the immediate cost.

Offer Real-World Comparisons

The expectation of free or super-cheap solutions on the web runs counter to what brick-and-mortar businesses have come to accept: quality products and services cost money.

What’s funny is that a traditional business won’t mind paying for something that enhances their physical location. Yet, they may question the need for similar enhancements to their website. This again is fed by the perception of the web being a bastion of free goods.

When a client is in doubt about spending money on something that can help their website, making some real-world comparisons can help.

Take accessibility, for instance. Most storefronts wouldn’t want to be caught without the proper accommodations for persons with disabilities. So, why would they skimp when it comes to their website? Are the needs of online users, who may also be paying customers, of any less importance?

Quite often, clients don’t see the correlation between the physical and online worlds. Making these sorts of comparisons can help to enlighten them.

Two people reviewing a document.

Spending Money to Make Money

The challenge of building a great website on a shoestring budget can actually be a bit of a thrill. It’s fun to see what you can accomplish on limited resources. But there does come a time and place where spending is necessary. That is, if everyone wants to meet the project’s goals.

What’s standing in the way? A tight-fisted client will do the trick every time. Unfortunately, the ones who insist on free options are sometimes their own worst enemy.

For web designers, it’s about communicating the importance of implementing the right solutions – free or premium. Clients need to know what’s in it for them and how that little upfront investment can mean more cash down the line.

Ultimately, all we can do is try and steer clients in the right direction. The rest is up to them. I guess we can now add “cost analysis expert” to our list of duties.

This page may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, we may earn a commission from any purchase via the links on our site. You can read our Disclosure Policy at any time.