5 simple ways for design and creative businesses to send better quotes: business cards edition

Last week we kicked off an effort to get some new business cards made for team Qwilr.

After Dylan deployed his design skillz to put together a new look for the cards, I set about figuring out where we’d get them printed. In the process I got to play customer to a small, design-focused business – in other words, I put myself in the shoes of the kind of people that are, could, or should be using Qwilr for their quotes.

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A mockup of our new business cards

Buying business cards is a lot like purchasing any other design-related professional service: it’s something the buyer doesn’t do very often – so you’re dealing with consumers who aren’t well educated in the space – but at the same time the results are deeply important to the customer because they are a critical part of expressing their brand.

Here are five things I learned from the experience about how small businesses in design industries could quote better:

1. Customers will seek out social referrals – so net promoters scores are vital

The first thing I did was approach the world’s biggest and best content publishing platform – Facebook – to crowdsource some recommendations. After leaving my callout to bubble overnight I’d collected the names of half a dozen local printing companies that I was going to approach for a quote.

I’m not alone in this behaviour. And the takeaway for small business is clear: you need to make sure you leave your customers (and even your non-customers) happy enough that they’ll recommend you to someone else. That means you should be tracking and looking to maximise your net promoter score – the easiest measure of customer satisfaction and tendency to recommend your business. More on that here, via FlightFox.

2. Instantly win customers and qualify leads by making sure your website is accurately communicating your brand values and your price point

The next thing I did was visit the websites of the companies that had been recommended to me. I was amazed at how bad some of them were. If a company is asking me to trust them to create one of the only physical manifestations of my brand, I start to worry when the way the website looks says they don’t care about design or aesthetics. In an era where a beautiful website can be put together by anyone (over breakfast, while reading the paper) with an app like Squarespace or Strikingly (or Qwilr), there’s no excuse for a website that doesn’t look polished and professional.

By the same token, it’s important to be sure your website accurately conveys your price point. I crossed one recommendation off the list straight away because the website copy spoke about the major, large-scale, bespoke printing projects they did. There’s no way, I thought, that they’d be interested in a job this small. It turns out, after a personal introduction to the founder, that they were indeed keen to have our business. A few tweaks to the website copy would’ve solved the problem.

I was able to disqualify myself as a lead, saving them the sales time of quoting to someone who couldn’t afford them anyway.

Making your pricing clear has another benefit: it helps to qualify leads before they take up any of your sales time. I loved The Distillery’s website, which features a simple tool that lets customers obtain an initial quote for business cards. While The Distillery was too expensive for our scale, that tool had two important benefits for them. First, I came away wowed and would recommend them to someone else. Secondly, I was able to disqualify myself as a lead, saving them the sales time of quoting to someone who couldn’t afford them anyway.

3. Make it easy for your customers to feel they can quickly contact a real person

When I wanted to reach out for a quote, I found a lot of websites offered me only a phone number or a ‘contact us’ form on their website. I’m Gen Y, I work in an open plan office, and I’m in a rush – so phone conversations are out of the question unless strictly necessary. That leaves contact us. These forms are awful – they make you feel like you’re dropping your request into the void, rather than contacting a live human who will help to solve your problem.

It’s not 1999. You can put an email address on a website without being overwhelmed with spam. You should work from the presumption that your customers aren’t spam bots. Treat them like real people by offering them the email address of a real person they can contact to ask for a quote or ask a question. (Even if it’s just someone’s name as an alias for your general contact@… address).

You should work from the presumption that your customers aren’t spam bots. Treat them like real people by offering them the email address of a real person they can contact to ask for a quote or ask a question.

4. Respond quickly to establish rapport and quickly qualify the lead

Another part of making your company act like one staffed by humans is responding quickly to inquiries. I don’t expect anyone is going to be able to give me a quote instantly (though I’m wowed when they do!). But I do expect that they’ll acknowledge receiving my request pretty quickly (within a day). And I do expect that if I’ve asked basic questions (e.g. price range, turnaround times, procedure) they’ll be able to give an initial answer.

There’s another benefit of a quick, preliminary reply: earlier lead qualification. If your 30 second email giving me your rate card makes me realise you’re out of my league, you’ve just saved yourself the effort of producing a full quote.

5. Send a quote that is clear, in line with your brand, and to the point

After sending out some inquiries in the morning, I started receiving some quotes in the afternoon. The best quotes do a couple of things well. First of all, they make it clear what I’m getting and what I’m paying. They give me clear line items and cost drivers so I can understand the pricing (and which of my choices have driven cost).

Secondly, the quotes convey the brand. In many ways, your quote will be more important than your website in conveying your brand, yet few businesses behave as though this is the case. The reason is that while the person researching the purchase might visit your website, they’ll likely only present the quote to their boss or colleagues. So while your website might introduce you to some people, it often is your quote that introduces you to the decision-maker.

While your website might introduce you to some people, it often is your quote that introduces you to the decision-maker.

Finally, good quotes get to the point and then provide a clear call to action. They help me understand what my options are, and then make it clear what I have to do to proceed.

I’m biased, but I think Qwilr quotes are great at achieving these goals. Being able to send people a great-looking, on-brand web link is such a differentiator when your competitors are stuck firing off ugly PDFs. And having a quote that’s a webpage that the MD can open on their smartphone is a major point of difference compared to the awful experience of opening and zooming PDFs on phones.

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Steve Hind is a Strategist at Qwilr

Steve Hind is a strategist. He blogs (sometimes) at The Hindsite Blog and has economics and law degrees from the University of Sydney. He has won the World Universities Debating Championship, and the World Schools Debating Championship, as both a student and as coach of the Australian team.