Understanding the Differences: Project Quotes vs. Consultancy in a Design and Digital Agency.

When engaging with a design and web agency, it’s important to understand the distinctions between receiving a quote for a project and seeking consultancy services.

Both approaches serve different purposes and meet varied client needs.

This article explains how we distinguish the two and describes how an agency can best help you.

Project Quotes: The What and How

A project quote is a fixed-cost estimate provided by an agency for completing a specific project.

This quote or proposal is based on a detailed understanding of the project’s scope, including deliverables, timelines, and the amount of work involved.

It’s a straightforward approach where we, the agency, assess your needs and outline the cost to achieve your objectives within a set timeframe.

Key Characteristics of Project Quotes or Proposals:

  • Defined Scope: A quote is most effective when the project’s requirements, outcomes, and deadlines are clear.
  • Fixed Price: Quotes typically offer a fixed price, clarifying budget requirements without fearing escalating costs.
  • Outcome-Focused: The emphasis is on delivering specific results or products, such as a website build, branding package, or digital marketing campaign.

The first two points above are the most clean-cut. A fixed price for a fixed amount of work. If the scope changes mid-project, so does the price. It’s very clear and easy to understand.

The third point is slightly more complex as it can mean that the requirements to achieve the outcome can change throughout the project. For these sorts of proposals, you’re into a time and materials-based approach; the longer it takes to reach the solution, the more it costs.

Consultancy Services: The What and How

Conversely, consultancy involves hiring the agency’s expertise to advise on strategic directions, troubleshoot problems, or develop plans for achieving business objectives.

Unlike a project quote, consultancy is more fluid and can adapt to evolving needs. It often involves an hourly rate or a retainer fee, reflecting the ongoing nature of the advice and support provided.

Key Characteristics of Consultancy Services:

  • Flexibility: Consultancy can adjust to changing project scopes and priorities, offering tailored advice that evolves with your business needs.
  • Strategic Insight: Consultants bring a wealth of experience and industry knowledge, providing strategic guidance to steer your project or business towards success.
  • Cost Structure: Billing is typically based on time spent, which can vary depending on the project’s demands and the depth of consultancy required.

Making the Right Choice

Choosing between a project quote and consultancy services depends on your specific needs:

  • Opt for a Project Quote if you have a well-defined project with clear outcomes and are looking for a straightforward solution with a fixed budget.
  • Choose Consultancy Services if you’re seeking strategic guidance, need to navigate complex challenges, or require flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
Understanding the Differences: Project Quotes vs. Consultancy in a Design and Digital Agency

You can’t cross the streams.

At Toast, I am often asked to:

Take a look at my website and tell me what I need to do to improve it and what that will cost.

This causes an issue.

Firstly, I am being asked to spend my billable time looking into something that I may or may not recoup the investment on.

Secondly, if I were to provide a detailed document outlining all the things that the [website] owner should do in order to improve their website, I would simply provide a to-do list that can then be used without any (billable) input from me.

What’s being requested here is consultancy in the form of a proposal, and these two don’t (or at least shouldn’t) mix.

It’s akin to taking your car into a garage and asking them to show you how to fix it so you can do it yourself.

The breadth of experience of designers is often misunderstood.

At Toast, our senior team has years of experience working in the design field – from branding to websites.

With this design experience comes involvement in 1000s of problems that clients need to solve, which all transcend merely getting involved in the design.

Design is the end product, but many people miss the fact that an experienced designer solves all the other problems on the journey to the final design.

These steps are consultancy, not aesthetics.

Designers bring a wealth of strategic experience, often from many different verticals, if they’ve been working for over a decade.

They don’t call themselves strategists, as ‘designer’ has a much better ring to it (and it’s probably the name of their bachelor’s Degree).

Consultancy comes as standard, but it’s not free.

If you want a project proposal, send the designer (or agency) a detailed brief outlining all the important stuff, such as market research, audience demographics, desired outcomes, measurable KPIs, and so on.

Don’t phone up and ask, ‘How much is a new website?’ or look for free consultancy, as per the quote above.

If you need help identifying what you need to do, just say that. You’ll find that most creatives are, in fact, very generous with their pre-project advice, but to a point.

Remember, the better the agency, the busier it will be, so anyone who can drop everything for a one-hour Zoom later today will likely be sitting around praying for a new business phone call.

Any initial conversation with a creative team will naturally cover some consultancy, but be prepared to ask them how much time they think they will need on the project before the design work starts: they will instantly upgrade your lead status to ‘means business’.

To conclude.

Understanding the difference between project quotes and consultancy services is pivotal when working with a design agency.

While quotes provide a clear cost for a specific requirement, consultancy offers flexible, strategic guidance tailored to your evolving needs and ultimately will result in a better outcome (which might not be what you thought you wanted in the first place.

Budget for consultancy, even if it’s just a few hours for the agency to get their head around things.

They will appreciate that you understand the process and will take you more seriously. You will also get a better ‘project’, whatever that looks like.


David Foreman

David Foreman

Dave is the MD at Toast and has been working on branding, creative and web development projects for over 25 years. He's a founding member of Toast and enjoys a good rant.