October 7, 2020

Reader question: “How do I value price a dev project when there are lots of unknowns?”

Fellow list member Goran Bajazetov wrote in with a question about pricing a SaaS application development project when there are many unknowns (shared with permission, edited slightly for clarity):

Hey Jonathan! 😊

Let me thank you for the amazing value you provide with every email you send! I’ve read like 98% of all emails I’ve got from you so far. 🙏

I was wondering this —

How do you set a price on a project like SaaS application development when there are so many unknowns and so much potential for wrong interpretation of a feature set.

For example, is the “Like” feature supposed to “just like something”? Or can you unlike it? See how many likes there are? See who liked it? And so forth.

In other words, how to keep yourself safe from a client who is too picky?

Thank you a lot!


The short answer:

Don’t work with picky clients who think they know how to do your job better than you do ;-)

A longer answer:

The client doesn’t want a “Like” button.

They want to increase engagement so they can sell more ads or decrease churn or attract new customers or whatever desirable business outcome they think a “Like” button will contribute to.

Keep the client focused on their DESIRED BUSINESS OUTCOMES instead of worrying about micromanaging you.

This starts as far back in the relationship as the first meeting, and ideally even before that in your content marketing.

In your sales interview, you establish that they are the expert at what business outcomes they want to achieve, and that you are the expert of building software that will achieve those business outcomes.

If you can’t come to this understanding, it’s a bad fit.

Ultimately, it’s about mutual respect:

You won’t tell them what business outcomes to go pursue, and they won’t tell you how to write the code that will get them there.