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Quality, Speed, and Price. Choose 3?

Nyla Smith | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

venn diagram with three circlesNope, pick two. You may have heard it before; it's certainly not a new concept. (There are plenty of variations floating about: quality, time, money; quality, service, cost; good, fast, cheap.. it's all the same.)

But I often find myself explaining to clients that as much as I would love to provide top-notch stellar quality at lightning-fast speed at the lowest rock-bottom price, I can't. Nobody can, without sacrificing something themselves. Between quality, speed, and price, you're going to have to pick two to optimize. Gosh, life is just full of tough decisions, isn't it? Let's look at "a day in the life of Jane" to illustrate this point.

Jane needs to go grocery shopping, but she has some restrictions:

  1. She has a limited weekly budget
  2. She wants healthy food to feed her family
  3. She only has time to shop at one place

Her three shopping options are the DiscountSuperMegaMart, the High-End Health Food store, or the farmer's market.

The DiscountSuperMegaMart sells everything from purses to lambchops.  Sure, Jane could shop there. They're known for having low! low! prices! And they're pretty convenient—close to home, and she can get what she wants, when she wants it. That's nice for Jane. But whenever Jane thinks of the DiscountSuperMegaMart, she doesn't think, "Oh yeah, that's top of the line. That's quality." Nope, Jane thinks the exact opposite. Sometimes the place has a funny smell, she often sees broken products or rotten food for sale on the shelves, and she's unclear about the origin of the food. Jane knows it may be difficult to find the quality of food she's looking for there.

The High-End Health Food store is Jane's paradise. In terms of good quality food, this place takes the cake (a gluten-free non-dairy organic cake of course).  Because Jane is health-conscious, she always tries to buy fresh organic foods. The High-End Health Food store is still very convenient, right across the street from the DiscountSuperMegaMart. And they consistently remain fully stocked on the items she needs. But Jane is on a limited budget. She knows if she goes to the High-End Health Food store, where their products are more expensive, she may not be able to get everything she wants with the amount of money she has.

Then there's the local farmer's market.  Jane knows she can buy top-quality fresh organic food from local farmers that she trusts. They're helpful and friendly, and are just so passionate about wanting to sell healthy produce to the community. The farmers don't have the same costs of the larger chains, and they are able to pass those savings on to their customers. However, they're a little less convenient— Jane has to drive farther out to get to their food stand. And the last time she went, they had just sold the last batch of tomatoes. To get more, she was regretfully told she'd have to wait for the next picking in a few days.

Jane's got a decision to make on where to go buy her food. But Jane is stumped. Why? Because she hasn't defined her priorities. She knows what she wants in a perfect world, but hasn't stopped to consider that she lives in an imperfect one. So Jane needs to figure out either what is least important or is most flexible— is it the budget, the quality, or her time?

Oh, poor Jane. That's not always an easy decision to make. Do you ever feel like her? I have plenty of "Janes" that contact me. Some are more prepared than others to define their priorities and know what it is they're willing to be flexible with. I sometimes have people calling up that need something "like, yesterday", and of course they expect it to be at the normal price and caliber of their regular work. I have to burst their bubble when I tell them there will either be a rush charge added on or they are limited in the scope/output of what can be done in order to have it to them, like, yesterday. I'm nice about it, I'm empathetic, and I often bend over backwards to help people when I can... but I'm also realistic.

This isn't to say that you have to completely sacrifice one parameter in order to optimize the other two— for a fair price, you'll get top quality...and you just may have to wait a week for it instead of getting it tomorrow. The time parameter doesn't just get tossed out the window and disregarded...you won't have to wait two lifetimes, just a week. But if you must have it tomorrow, then either price will go up a bit or quality will suffer a bit. You've just made time your priority.

So my question is, do you know your priorities? If you're shopping around to get anything, not just a design project, it's good to have a realistic expectation before you even begin. And be prepared to modify your expectations as you research and learn more about what it is you're buying. You may think, before you do any research, that a website costs $500. When you find out the average cost for the type of website you want will cost $3000, that doesn't mean it's not a fair price, it just means you started out with unrealistic expectations. So you may have to readjust your priorities throughout the process, but you should still always be clear on what they are.

In the Jane scenario, I would consider myself to be like the local farmer (or at times the High-End Health Food store). I genuinely care about the "health" (satisfaction) of my customers and want them to be happy...so I don't want to skimp on quality. I offer reasonable pricing...of course I have to make a living, but I don't believe in gouging people just to try and get rich myself. And though I've had some customers initially think something is pricey, during the course of the project they see how the cost is fully justified by the quality and the outcome. (Similar to how paying more to eat organic now can save you health problems down the road.)

So, back to Jane. What did she decide to do? Well, it turns out she gave up, stayed at home, and ordered Papa John's pizza.

(Oh, no wait... that was me... Jane's far too health-conscious for that.)

If you were Jane, what would you do? Have you ever had to make a similar type of decision? Do you know what your priorities are?

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and Front-End Web Developer with over 11 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support to small- and medium-sized businesses that need creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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