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How to talk to your clients about money

Ever felt like going into hiding after hitting “send” on an invoice or project estimate to your clients? Or worse, have you avoided opening their responses because you’re scared of their reactions?

You’re not alone. Mastering how to talk to your clients about money can be one of the most challenging parts of being a small business owner, or even being a freelancer. Even just the thought of talking about money with your clients can provoke feelings like:

  • imposter syndrome
  • fear
  • guilt
  • not believing in the value you create
  • shame
  • wondering why you even started your own business in the first place

Most psychologists agree that the fear of talking about money goes back to our childhood, and our “money scripts.” Money is indeed emotional. Even in our professional lives. But unfortunately, these feelings about money can keep you from getting paid what you’re actually worth. And avoiding tough money conversations with your clients can result in:

  • not pursuing late payments or defaulted accounts
  • lowering your rates
  • scope creep
  • going out of business because you didn’t get paid

To be fair, most people have never been trained on how to have these vital money conversations. Especially if you’re just starting out as a small business owner. But being skilled in having effective money conversations with your clients is critical to your business. And if you’re not talking about it, you’re probably not getting paid your worth. Read on for tips on how to have better money conversations with clients, WITHOUT the emotion.

Talking to Your Clients About Your Costs 

When and how to talk to your clients about money should start before any project work is done. Questions about how much you cost usually come up in the first phone call or email with a prospective client, especially about ballpark costs and your hourly rate. Here is our advice on how to handle it.

Should You Give a Ballpark Cost? 

Can I have a ballpark price?” “What ballpark are you even in?” “How many hours do I need?” These are very popular questions from prospective new clients or even current clients. And this is where many people easily set themselves up for failure. It’s very easy to lowball yourself because you didn’t ask proper questions, were too eager to get the new business, or were scared to ask for more. Don’t lock yourself into a lower fee. There are some ways to navigate these upfront questions.

The first thing that you can do is give a ridiculous range. “Oh, yeah, I’ve done projects from $2,500 to $125,000.” Two things can happen from this. First, your client will hear the lowest number (no matter what you threw out!) and think that’s what it costs.

The other thing that might happen is you’ll get some answers on what they had in mind for their budget. Like, “Oh, I was thinking, you know, closer to the $2,500 range.” Now you know how to start framing the conversation a little bit better as you have insight into their budget.

How to Talk About Your Hourly Rate

Another common money question from clients is about hourly rates. If you bill by the hour, it’s easy to just tell your client your hourly rate. But without a context of the number of hours actually needed, it is a meaningless number to the client. In fact, the client might compare your rate to someone slower (or less qualified) than you and think your rate is out of line.

We say, who cares? It depends on how long a project takes you. If you don’t know the scope of the project, and you haven’t talked about the details of the project, your hourly rate is irrelevant. You could do it three times faster than the next guy that charges twice as much. Hourly rates are irrelevant until you know the project scope.

Instead of giving your hourly rate, you could say, “my hourly rate is $175, but I have 30 years of experience running development projects, so keep that in mind when you’re getting quotes.” If someone is calling around just asking for hourly rates, there’s a great chance they are just looking for the lowest deal. And that might not be your ideal client anyway.

Don’t Commit in the First Conversation

Always avoid giving a prospect or current client a project cost in the initial exchange. If the initial conversation is through email, schedule a call with them to learn more about their business and project. After that initial call, ask for time to work through the details. You can say, “I need to absorb what you’ve told me. I want to figure out how we’re going to implement it. But I’d like to regroup with you in a week.” Be specific, and get it on the calendar before you get off the phone.

Practice Saying Your Worth 

Prepare for the next meeting by getting comfortable talking about your business’ fees, costs, and payment terms. Practice saying it aloud, so that it becomes familiar. Be confident, firm, and matter-of-fact. Your fees are facts, not emotions. And NEVER apologize for what you’re worth. It can sound like:

  • “My services start at $5,000.”
  • “The quote for this project is $20,000.”
  • “Clients similar to your size and situation have needed about 10 hours of my time a week.”
  • “We require 25% up-front, so that we can make sure we have resources secured.”
  • “We charge in blocks of hours, paid in advance.”
  • “If that price is out of line, we can discuss what we can remove from the scope to get it closer to your budget.”

Never underestimate what you provide, what you create, and what you can do that your clients cannot. That is the value that only you can give. Even if two of you were competing for the same piece of business, you would do it differently. Do some introspection and come to have that confidence about the value you offer.

Check out Susan’s money talk from DevCon 2019 for more tips on talking about money with your clients.

Reader Interactions


  1. Thank you! I think this is something that is helpful to be reminded of every so often. It’s easy to forget and slip into some of those bad habits!

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