The Best Way To Ask For A Design Budget
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The Best Way To Ask For A Design Budget

Today we’re looking at the best way to address low design budgets using a negotiation strategy called ‘Tactical Empathy’. Let’s start with the basics… what is ‘Tactical Empathy’?

Negotiating design budgets:

In his book ‘Never Split the Difference’ the former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, talks about the importance of listening during the negotiation process and he suggests a listening method he calls “Tactical Empathy”.

What is Tactical Empathy and how can it help Architects discuss design budgets?

Tactical empathy requires not just listening to your Client, but also labeling their problem, and playing it back to them. By labeling their problem and playing it back, we’re able to demonstrate that we’ve heard and understood their situation – helping to build rapport!

(Note: To help you with your design fee negotiations we’ve created a Starter Kit packed full of free resources):

Fee Proposal Starter Kit

Typically, the issued expressed by Clients can be labeled as either; negative, or positive. According to Voss, we should be looking to neutralize the negative and reinforce the positive.

Limited Design Budget:

For example, when a Client mentions that they only have a limited budget for Design Services, instead of ignoring the issue or defending your position, you may want to respond by neutralizing the negative and saying:

“It sounds like you have a limited budget for design services and maybe concerned about project costs?”

Once you’ve acknowledged the issue, the concerns the Client once had about project costs will have diminished… after all, you’ve heard their problem and you’re here to help them solve it.

Power of silence:

After delivering your response you should remain silent and let your Client do the talking. When delivered correctly (in a calm, confident manner, with an upward inflection at the end of the sentence to provoke a response) you’ll be surprised at how open the Client is to discussing their limited budget. They’ll be much more open than if you simply asked the question:

“What’s your design budget?”

Addressing the limited design budget in your fee proposal: 

Once your Client has confirmed their design budget you’ll want to address their financial concerns in your fee proposal.

This can be achieved by offering your Client a range of design service options based around different price points.  

The most affordable (basic service) option could be the minimum service that you are legally and professionally required to provide.

This basic service option will reflect the design budget numbers they’ve confirmed during the initial meeting.

Meanwhile, the more expensive design services options will demonstrate the benefits that a higher-priced design service can provide. 

When presented correctly you’ll be amazed at the number of Clients who choose a more expensive design service option – not because you’ve told them to, quite the contrary, because you’ve given them the freedom to choose and you’ve highlighted the benefits. 

To learn more about the power of options (including a case study) please visit the following blog: The Number One Mistake Architects Make With Their Design Fees.

Let us know what you think:

Are you already using tactical empathy in your design fee negotiations? Let us know in the comments section below by saying “Yes” if you do, or “No” if you don’t. 

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Want to improve your negotiation skills?

Don’t leave your negotiations to chance. The following resources are available right now to help you become your firm’s best design fee negotiator:

How to Respond When Asked to Lower Your Design Fee (Blog):

The Design Professional’s Guide to Negotiations (eGuide):

The Ultimate Fee Proposal Workshop (CE/CPD points available):