Occasionally, friends, or friends of friends, contact me about a design project they have in mind. I suspect they like my work, but I also think people genuinely like working with people with whom they have a real connection. Referrals are really important in business. It's how I like to find and hire professionals, such as accountants and financial advisors, myself.
Most of the time these conversations dwindle off after I send a quote. Sometimes it's a kindly worded email, something about needing to think about priorities (but they'll definitely contact me later when they're ready), and other times there's no response at all, radio silence. At times I question whether I quoted too high, or whether they were expecting a bro-deal, but ultimately, I think people don't realize how much work goes into the design (or illustration) process. I imagine that some people perceive designers as eternal fountains of creativity and ideas, as though it springs up from nowhere and there is always this inspired, easy-going flow of good idea after good idea, cool thing after cool thing, until we together land on the perfect design.
It's as though design grows like grass, bountifully and perennially. But I'd say it's more like a cherry blossom or a tulip. Something that comes only after a season, a process, that needs to go through the different stages of growth and change before producing the flower. And we value blossoms far more than we do grass. And transitioning people's understanding from the grass metaphor to the blossom is part of the designer's job, although it is hard to get people there without something concrete. Sometimes the most concrete thing I have is a price tag.
The way I see it is that if people feel that the branding process is valuable to their business, and feel like I’m the right designer for them, then they’ll keep the conversation going. Sometimes seeing what it costs is enough to make them reconsider their priorities, and I can totally respect that. On the same token, when someone is not entirely sure what the value of branding is to their business, then it makes it harder to make confident decisions throughout the design process. And that's no fun for anybody.
I am adamant about not doing "free" work. I even quote on pro-bono work, even if the payment won't be in cash. When people understand the monetary value of design, they respect it more. They understand throughout the process that my time and energies are a resource, and they are buying a lot more than a product (a logo, a web site, etc.) — they are buying my attention and concern for their business problem, something I otherwise may not naturally possess.
Good design exists within constraints. We all know that. One of the most real constraints is money. Another is time. Conveying these to potential clients is as important to the success of a design as the ideas and skills that go into it.