You’re reading an excerpt from Art For Money, by Michael Ardelean. This small but powerful book helps every creative freelancer know their value and scale their business. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
There are a few reasons why a freelancer like you would consider discounting your work for a client:
You need money. You’re desperate. But like the wise Sheriff in Super Troopers says, “Desperation is a stinky cologne.” If you cave in easily when it comes to your value, you are only learning to agree to what you’re offered, rather than learning what might be possible. And with the stink of desperation on you, you’ll be offered even less. Keep cool and you could walk away with more than you’re willing to accept.
You want this client longer term. You believe this client could be a great long-term partner for you, and you want to start off by making them happy. However, what they’re willing to pay you on your first job is highly indicative of what they’re willing to pay you on every job, ever.
You want to build a portfolio. You’re just starting out, and you want to take on as much work as possible to build up your portfolio and get referrals. If this is the case, it’s a legitimate choice. But make sure you revisit the above calculations each year and give yourself a regular raise.
You care about the client. You really like the client, you believe in their brand, or they’re personal friends or family. In any of these cases, still quote them full price. If your full price quote is out of their budget, they’ll come back to you and say so. Or, if you know for a fact that your price is out of their budget, you can preemptively write a friends and family discount into the invoice, making sure they see the full price quote next to it, in order to set a fact-based high bar regarding your value. Negotiators call this “anchoring.”
On the flip side of the latter situation, sometimes you’ll be asked to do jobs that you simply don’t want to do, or for a client that you might not feel a strong sense of closeness or obligation to. In these cases, you can easily use your pricing model to dial up the margin for the job. Not enough to gouge them, but enough to make you more enthused about doing the job, and creating a financial cushion that could enable you to dial down the margin for deserving clients on the other end of the spectrum. Do this ethically and you can actually create win-win pricing scenarios: if they say yes, you make a lot of money, and if they say no, you don’t have to do the job.
Consider the above reasons carefully, and if you reach a point where it’s pretty clear that the client does not intend to pay you anywhere near your rate, I encourage you to smile and say, “Well, thanks anyway for thinking of me, and let’s stay in touch. I love your brand and I hope we can find a way to work together in the future.”
Does this sound like leaving dollars on the table? It is, and for good reason.
Consider the alternative: you cave to the client’s budget, you deliver, and what do you think happens next? The client comes to you with the next job and brings more money this time?
Nope. The client has identified you as the bargain option in the marketplace, and you can bet that every time they need big work for small money, they’ll come right back to you.
You can also bet that within the company, when your name comes up, it will be accompanied by words like “inexpensive” and “works with us on budget” and maybe even “cheap.” These are not words you want associated with your art.
caution Think carefully about what a client thinks about a freelancer whose default mode is to immediately offer a discount. Make them ask for it.
Even if you aren’t necessarily in love with the client or their brand and you just simply need the money, you have an ace up your sleeve—you can actually go down in price without losing money.
Once you know that the client needs a discount from you, there’s nothing wrong with offering it. The important thing is properly communicating the discount. And that doesn’t mean fabricating some pretend pricing just to show that you’re giving them a discount. Use your pricing model, and make it real.