The Art of Quoting: How To Prepare Winning Quotations Using The 3 Cs
A quote is a question, not an opportunity. Here's how to answer it properly every time.
Most service providers think they simply need to send in the cheapest quote to secure the job, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
A request for a quote is a question, not an opportunity. The question is: "What would you charge for this?"
Your answer is judged on three factors:
1. Accuracy: Is your quote complete?
2. Detail: Is it comprehensive?
3. Value: Is it competitive?
When you fail to hit the mark on all of these aspects, you lower your chances of getting chosen drastically. Get it right and you’ll enjoy more responses from impressed clients.
Let’s dive in.
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Accuracy: Is your quote complete?
Accuracy refers to whether you’ve quoted for everything they’ve requested, in addition to anything else they’ve left out.
Prospects don’t know what they don’t know. They’re relying on you, the professional, to fill in the blanks for them.
For example, a client may request a quote for half-day food photography with props. However, you know you can’t simply show up with a camera and start shooting.
You’ll need to think of (and quote for):
A full prep day
Food storage containers
Usage fees (if it’s a big enough campaign)
Extra editing rounds (if you have a hard limit)
The client didn’t request all that stuff in the quote, but you know they’ll need them. Your answer to their question wouldn’t be complete otherwise.
On the flip side, too much accuracy creates more mental work for prospects — you don’t need to account for every single item they’d need. Know what to include in the quote and what to abstract away.
Detail: Is your quote comprehensive?
A bank once asked me to send them a quote for monthly social media management. My initial quote was pretty simple: “Manage up to four social media accounts + copywriting.” They replied with more questions:
Which platforms are included?
Will you source the stock images?
Does that include graphic design?
Will you create a content calendar?
We’d like monthly reports — are they included?
Do we need extra software for account monitoring?
I didn’t think they needed to know all this stuff, which is why I’d initially left it out of my quote.
I’d forgotten that a mid-level marketing manager reports to their own boss, who reports to the CFO, who reports to the CEO and ultimately to the board.
By leaving out crucial information on my quote, I’d made it extremely difficult for each of these people to justify buying my services to their managers.
So I responded immediately with a more detailed quote which they eventually accepted. Had I delayed or ignored that request, I’d have lost the gig to someone else.
The mark of a good quote is providing extra detail.
Continuing with our food photography example above, you might quote for food photography, retouching, and food containers — but:
How many retouched photos will they get?
How many food warmers will you bring along?
Does the client get three editing rounds or five?
What’s the usage length included in the contract?
Detail also includes the terms and conditions you stipulate in your quote. For example:
Does the quote expire? If so, when?
How do you expect to be paid, and by when?
Do you accept bank payments, PayPal, or just cash?
Is there a usage policy attached to the quote? Where can they view that policy?
Will you require a deposit, or do you only begin work after receiving full payment?
The more questions you answer in your initial quote, the faster your prospect can approve it. However, this doesn’t mean you should drown prospects in 10-page Ts & Cs.
Adding too many terms can bloat your quote and make the selection process harder.
One trick is to create a service page (here’s an example) that lists your processes and prices, and link to it from your quote. This keeps your quote clean while still answering all the necessary questions.
Value: Is your quote competitive?
Nobody sells in isolation. You’re always competing against a different solution, whether it’s a direct competitor, an indirect solution, or inaction.
Your quote’s value refers to how competitive your offer is against those three options.
For example, a corporate HR manager might ask you to quote them for wellness training for their team of 10 people. However, you’re also competing against:
Team-building specialists in your area
CBD brands that sell anti-anxiety products
Out-of-town lodges that sell corporate retreats
That independent yoga instructor on Instagram
Every spa within 10 miles of the client’s location
All of you are fighting for the same limited budget. At any time, the prospect could allocate more budget toward a competing solution.
When preparing quotes, most people only focus on the value aspect — and even then, they focus entirely on price.
They compare their quotes against other service providers, offer discounts and rebates, and try to become the cheapest option to get chosen.
This is a terrible approach for two reasons:
Value =/= price
Price psychology is key
Firstly, value doesn’t always equal price. In fact, here are 10 other ways a high-value prospect may define value:
Years of experience
Peer review and awards
Guarantees and warranties
If you have 10 years of experience, a client may pick you over the cheaper graduate.
If you’re a closer specialist, you may be more valuable than a remote generalist in India.
Being able to deliver in 48 hours might be more valuable than whatever they’ll save with a cheaper provider.
This is why asking the right questions on a sales call or over email is so crucial. Without knowing what your prospect values, you’ll default to competing on price — which places you at a significant disadvantage.
Secondly, price psychology is key. A higher price may signal higher quality, which makes prospects more likely to take you seriously.
Conversely, a low price might indicate you’re not as good as the competition. Nobody (especially in corporate) wants to lose their job over a failed project because they tried to save a few bucks.
If anything, a pricier service provider allows them to request a bigger budget for the next fiscal year.
Is there such a thing as giving too much value?
Conventional wisdom says you should pile on as much business value as you can. That sounds good in theory, but too much of a good thing can also be bad. Like my father is fond of saying: “Everything in moderation.”
Let’s say the cost of doing a job is §1,000. If the market typically pays §10,000 for the service, you can comfortably charge §8,000 — both sides still get value.
However, if you charged §1,200 to undercut your competitors, you might win the contract — but you’ve just created two new problems:
You’ve made it exceedingly difficult to raise your prices in the future because the prospect is now anchored to a lower price. They will balk at paying you anything higher later — even if your cost of delivering the service rises.
You’ve just dropped the pricing power of every service provider in your market, which affects your entire profession in the long run. Clients are now less likely to pay more for good work due to their perception that your skills are inherently cheap. This is especially common in creative industries.
“But wait,” I hear you say, “isn’t it more ethical to charge the lowest price you can profitably get away with? Why inflate prices unnecessarily?”
I’d argue it’s more ethical to charge what the market is willing to bear. Here’s why:
If clients are happy to pay §10,000 for a §1,000 product, that means they derive enough value to justify paying the higher rate.
To use a more familiar example, it does not cost Apple US$2,500 per unit to make an iPhone, yet the market is willing to pay that price.
People might feel the iPhone’s photo quality or its temporary status boost justifies the price tag. Either way, Apple would be foolish to leave money on the table by charging less.
By charging what the market is willing to bear, you and other providers in your profession earn enough money sooner to invest in your businesses and grow.
You also make more money working less, which is a healthier outcome than having to work multiple jobs just to make rent.
Balance the stool
Think of these 3 Cs — completeness, comprehensiveness, and competitiveness — as the three legs of a Quote Stool.
When one or more of the legs are broken, nobody can sit on the stool. Here are three different ways a broken leg can hobble progress:
#1 Accurate + Detailed, but not Valuable
An accurate and detailed quote may lack value for the client either because you overcharged them (in which case, raise the value) or you undercharged them (raise your rates).
If you don’t fix this broken leg, the prospect may be forced to delay working with you till a later date when they have more budget.
Alternatively, you may end up resenting the gig because it costs you more to deliver than you charged.
#2 Accurate + Valuable, but not Detailed
An accurate and valuable quote that lacks detail merely causes the prospect to ask: “What exactly am I paying for?”
This manifests as additional calls and emails to gain clarity, which decreases your chances of getting the gig — and increases a competitor’s chances of getting it.
When projects get to the quoting stage, always assume they’re asking six other service providers for a quote. Time is of the essence.
#3 Detailed + Valuable, but not Accurate
A detailed and valuable quote may not be accurate because you failed to account for other crucial elements.
For example, a client might ask for a quote to shoot the next season of their talk show — but in your quote, you fail to account for the cost of stage soundproofing, crew transport, and a teleprompter.
This omission constrains the quality of service you can offer. The client also won’t be too happy down the line: “You knew we’d need crew transport, why are you only bringing this up now? We have no extra budget.”
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Detailed quotes are more memorable
I recently asked a film production company to quote me on shooting S02 of The Mo Talk Show.
Their quote was just under US$100,000 — an eye-popping figure better suited to large commercial productions.
But what stood out to me was the comprehensiveness of their quote — down to the number of assistants and amount of catering they’d need.
And while their quote was far beyond what I’d budgeted for the next few seasons of the show, the quote now lives in my head rent-free. If I ever get to that level of production, I’ll know who to call.
An old boss once told me to write content that was “needlessly detailed.” That advice applies to quotes, too.
Detailed quotes lend an air of expertise, accuracy, and legitimacy. A detailed quote says “I’ve costed your project down to the last cent.”
Even if the prospect can’t afford you right now, their trust and willingness to work with you in the future goes up.
Detach from the outcome
Lastly, don’t worry about whether they’ll accept your quote or not.
Worrying creates unnecessary stress for you, so detach yourself completely from the outcome.
Even if they don’t accept your quote this time around, that’s ok: better will come.
Focus instead on inputs — the quality of your answers to the question — and the outcomes will take care of themselves.
Go forth and sell. 💰