The Joomla! Community Magazine™

How can you charge that? Joomla! is free, right?

Written by | Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00 | Published in 2010 October
“I looked up that Joomla! CMS that you said you were using for my project. I saw that I can download it for free. How can you charge me $XXXX? Joomla! is free, right? I just want you to install Joomla! and make it look good for me.”

Believe it or not, I’ve heard that from a potential client.

When we’re putting together a quote for a client and going through our presentation, we explain that Joomla! is the content management system that we choose to use on the majority of our projects, because of the enormous benefits and value that it adds to their website. Usually about that time they get very excited and eager to begin. In order to continue with full disclosure, we then explain to them about Open Source software and how Joomla! is freely available. And that’s about the time they begin to question why we are charging them for it.

The Perception Problem

A major hurdle that often arises when utilizing Joomla! in a business proposal is the general sense that since Joomla! is free, the work you provide as the designer/developer should be relatively inexpensive. Often times, the less educated a client is about Joomla! and Open Source software, the more they devalue the time and effort that is required for a high quality web project. This can become a problem when pricing a project for a client who is not expecting to have to pay for the work developed on a ready-made CMS framework such as Joomla!.

In my company, we’ve come across this numerous times. But in the process, we have found ways to show the client that building on an Open Source already established framework does not diminish the time and attention their website will require. One example of this occurred recently when we were building a custom ordering system for a Joomla! customer. The customer had no idea of the number of hours that were going into the system to build a smooth flowing order process and make sure it was fully integrated with the Joomla! custom template design we had built for them. They expected to see changes the same day they provided the information, and they were completely unaware of the amount of time those changes required.

In cases like this we show the client the number of files we’ve created. Sometimes we’ll even break out some of the code to show them just how many lines have been written to perform some of the functions. In this case, once the client realized how much time and effort was being spent to put code in place that would make for a smooth, seamless order process, they were blown away. And suddenly they felt that the cost associated with the project was a steal! A complete turn-around from their initial feelings that we were over-charging.

Nowadays almost all clients want the ability to manage their own content and website, which means that some type of CMS must be in place to allow them to do this. Building a CMS from scratch can take enormous amounts of time and money, well beyond what most clients have budgeted for their project, and in the end, they receive a product that can only be supported by one company. It can help to show your client the numerous benefits to utilizing Joomla! as their CMS (as mentioned above), including the fact that they can receive post-development support for their site from whomever they choose (even themselves by making use of all the great Joomla! tutorials available). This translates to saving them much more money than you’re charging them for their web project, and gives them security in their CMS at the same time.

How to handle pricing

You will have to keep an eye on the market because it will dictate the type of price range you’ll be expected to charge. However, one thing I can say from experience and with certainty, do not give in on your pricing. Sure, you want to work with each client as best you can, but do not cut your pricing to the detriment of your company or your own livelihood. You know your costs and what sort of deal you can afford to give. Do not sacrifice quality or the level of support you offer just to land a project. It can be tempting, especially when times are tough, but it almost never pays off and you end up bitter that you’ve not charged enough, offering sub-par work, and the client ends up dissatisfied with the end product.

We have a specific set of steps that we go through with each new client to show them exactly what is involved with their project. I have had clients time and time again who have been completely shocked at the number of steps involved in a successful project, and once they have been educated about what we are providing they become much more understanding of our pricing. Client education is important. One client recently commented,"Wow! I had no idea. That's amazing!" when I explained how things were being built 'behind-the-scenes' on his project. In this case, a little education with him went a long way, and now he returns to us whenever he has additional work. "You're the technical experts, if it's something you think I should have — do it." That's the type of customer you want. The type of customer you can build a business on.

At the end of the day, you should have a good reason for your pricing and be confident when submitting your proposal. If you’re offering high-quality work, reliable support, and a smooth headache-free process for the customer, they will see the value of the effort your company will provide, and will be satisfied with the prices you set.

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David Hurley

David Hurley

David Hurley is an open source advocate and travels most weeks of the year to speak around the world on topics of tech, PHP and open source software. He is the Community Manager for Joomla - the second largest content management system in the world. He is also a member of the Production Leadership Team and the Framework maintainers. David writes semi-obsessively at http://dbhurley.com and is an active partner in several businesses.

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Ooooh, I like that, showing the client the code you've written!
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Hi David,
100% true, Client Education is the key to successful project execution, specially when the client is non technical.

Also never come down when you think it not worth doing the job for low cost. As this will eventually affect quality of this project and you will end up with unsatisfied client. This will also affect your thinking and personal life.

Regards
Richard Philips
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Thanks Dave, some good info there :)
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Great article. I would add that in addition to the CMS being a real value... the CMS itself is the same however, each project is NOT and neither is the client. Every Joomla project we build has many levels of customization on the front end and the back end. The needs of the client dictate the cost in our model. Thanks for the article.
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Thanks for writing this. I have a tendency to cave to client pressure in some instances, but I need to remind myself when tempted to do that, that my time and knowledge is worth reasonable compensation.
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Same here, Darcy. When I first left my cushy corporate job to go out on my own, I needed the work so badly that I would cave when clients asked about my fee. While attending the Ohio Linux Fest this past Summer, I listened to a lecture about undervaluing and underselling ourselves. I decided then that if the client didn't like my fee, I would work with them but to never undersell my services. I lost a couple of clients because of this but I decided that it was time to not work for free.
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Thank you very much for this article. Although I had already thought of all of these points, reading the article finalized an approach for me to present new clients, eliminating much "back & forth".

Funny how even the obvious need to be set down in one easy process.

Darcy Peal (Ripose)
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Sorry....I meant to reply to Richard. :)
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Sure, the client can install Joomla in 2 hours. After that it feels like a 90% finieshed site. But for the missing 10% you need 90% of time if you do it on a professional way. It is just not the same creating a design and programming a clean fresh new template than just use a finished template. That's 2 different things.
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Nice article
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Hello David
i'm living in Egypt, it's another part of the world and I use joomla in my work to build websites, and i want to tell you that i face the same problems with may client as you mentioned, and i pass loot of time thinking about how to price my work, and i think you have a right way to do so
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Hi David

I like your idea about showing the code to the customer.
I like to keep a list of all the things I need to do on a site as I go along. I am thinking of exposing that list to the client on a kunena forum. They don't have to interact on the forum but it would provide a good record of each task which had to be done if they start complaining about price. I wonder has anyone else tried something similar?

Neil
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Next time you visit your hairstylist, ask them how they could possibly think of charging you. After all, you own your hair!
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Would it be wise to build in an annual management fee?

We know the wisdom of updating an install when a revision comes out but it does take time (more so in 1.5) and can be quite a regular task.
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It's really really simple. If they have a problem paying you for your time then dump them and let them figure it out for themselves. Working with a disrespectful/cheap client is never a good decision.
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Yes Right, if you are looking for something in market then better you study, I had one requirement of my company site and got quotes from several freelancers, I tried freelancer.com and finally i got good service from one freelancer : www.freelancer.com/u/Champian.html
Although all it depends on your knowledge how you find the right person.
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