Friday, September 14, 2007

The Sticky World of Price Negotiation

In an ideal world, there would be no price negotiation. The price a writer offers and the price a client wants to pay would match up every time. But even with ongoing clients who are used to my prices, I do sometimes go through some back-and-forth on cost when it comes to new projects.

I used to get stressed out every time I had to deal with a negotiator. But after doing it a few (hundred) times, I realized that most people are reasonable. Most of the clients I’ve had who’ve tried to negotiate this way didn’t understand why I set a certain price. If you know what to say, you can get them on your side.

It’s not just about the length. Sometimes a client will think that 500 words is 500 words, no matter what the project is. But I charge different rates for press releases, online articles, print-quality articles, web copy, et cetera. Sometimes two 500-word articles will be priced differently depending on the subject, the audience, and the amount of research involved.

I’ve had good results explaining that what keeps costs up isn’t word count: it’s time. It takes more time to craft a print-quality article, because of the research and interviews involved, than it does to write an online how-to. It takes longer to write an article for an expert audience than for a general audience. When a client understands that your pricing is based on a time estimate and not a word count, he may be more likely to come around.

Value makes a difference. Direct mail copywriters sometimes charge thousands for a simple eight-page document. Part of the reason is the time and research it takes to craft a well-honed sales letter. But a big part is the money the client stands to gain from that letter. If your work could earn a company millions, you should be charging more than a few hundred bucks for it. Even a few thousand is a drop in the bucket.

Like most writers, I’d charge more for a website’s landing page than I would for a newsletter article. That landing page, if done right, could boost a company’s bottom line significantly. It’s a high-earning piece of writing, and it needs to be priced according to its value.

There’s no free lunch. Once I was talking price with a prospective client, and he wanted to get me to come down. He offered a price about $200 less than what I’d stated. I said something like “okay, I can do that if we leave out this, this, and that.” He responded that he wanted a reduction in price—without a reduction in quality. He actually laughed while he said it, I think because he realized midway through how ridiculous it sounded.

More recently, I had a client with a specific budget in mind for a project that involved some time-consuming research. The piece itself was short, but the information he wanted to include was going to take some time to find. I told him that I could meet the lower price only if the information covered was more general, and this worked out for both of us. Reasonable clients understand that to get a writer to go down in price, they may have to make some compromises.

Know when to let go. Some prospective clients aren’t reasonable. They don’t want to compromise their expectations for a lower price, they don’t care about the value a piece offers, and they feel a short piece of writing should be cheap—no matter what. I’ve taken on clients like this in the past, despite my better judgment. Every time, I was battling scope creep throughout the project. Now, when a prospective client doesn’t listen to reason on price, I know it’s time to let go.

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