Monday, June 14, 2010

When The Price is Too High: How to Get The Job Anyway

“We’d love to hire you, but your price is too high.” It’s not an uncommon response from prospective clients. And I’ve let many exchanges end at that—even though I could have ultimately landed the job, if I’d known what to say next.

When someone says your price is too high, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t work with them. You will have to adjust your price down—but you can do it without compromising your overall rate. Here are a few things to try when a prospect tells you you’re too expensive.

Defend your prices. Before you offer any kind of cut rate for any reason, defend your prices. Explain that they’re not just getting “writing.” (Even though it’s a valuable skill, many clients see writing as something anyone can do—some of them are used to passing off marketing copy to their unpaid summer intern.) They’re getting your marketing expertise, research skills, years in the industry, sales experience—emphasize any value-added skills and experience you bring to the table that can raise the prospect’s perception of your value.

Offer a reduced rate for editing. It might cost too much to have you do the whole thing from scratch. But in some cases, it might be possible for you to reduce your rates if all you have to do is edit copy they already have. Be sure there’s a solid differential between your process for writing—which includes research and phone interviews—and editing, which includes nothing but re-wording the existing concepts themselves. If you feel that in this case the changes needed are so drastic that you can’t do a good job of rewriting copy if you can’t interview a client in detail and research competitive marketing tactics, for example, this type of compromise may not be the best idea for you. The idea is to reduce your amount of work along with your price.

Offer a reduced rate for reduced work. Maybe they don’t need as many pages as they thought. Maybe you can get away with interviewing two sources instead of five. If there’s room to reduce the amount of work done in a way that’s acceptable to the client, make the suggestion.

Ask about their budget. If they keep telling you what you’re offering is too expensive, ask them flat out—how much were you expecting to pay for this? Once you have that number, you can tell them flat out what you can do for them for that price.

Avoid cutting your hourly rate. All of the above tactics are designed to help you get the job without having to reduce your actual hourly or per-word rate. It’s never a good idea to start price negotiations with an offer to reduce that rate—always try to reduce the workload first. In general, I don’t offer to reduce my rate at all without reducing the workload.

It can be tempting to offer a reduced flat rate (which translates into a reduced hourly or per-word rate for you) in exchange for ongoing future work or large volumes of work. This is to be avoided at all costs. It sets up the expectation with the client that your quoted price is only a starting point that can be talked down. And it sets you up to get into an ongoing situation where you’re getting paid less than you want to be for a large volume of work. Which can lead to taking up time that could be more lucratively devoted to higher-paying clients.


Mark Wiehenstroer said...

Very well-written and informative post Jennifer. I think much of what you have written here applies to freelancers in general and not just writers. Price is often given as an excuse by the customer for what the real reason may be for not hiring someone for the job. As you say, it really comes down to value of the completed work rather than price alone. Knowing and communicating the value of your work to your customer is very important. I also like the 'work smart' mantra.

Devon Ellington said...

My response is, "What a shame. You get what you pay for."

Then they go with someone who lowballed, the person screws up, and they come back to me, begging me to clean up the mess. And I charge a higher rate -- and get it.

Unknown said...

I think I'd start with asking them what they were expecting. Sometimes they think "Writing = cheap" and no price is going to please them.

I'd never cut my rate because someone didn't like it. I'd help them find a way to afford me. Love your advice - it's exactly what I'd do, too. I usually add billing in installments should they really balk. Beyond that, the client and I probably wouldn't be compatible.

Chip Tudor said...

When clients are put off with my price and are considering writing content themselves as the next option, I offer to proof and edit as a way to insure professional copy at a lower rate. Then I offer them a good, better, and best rate to provide more options. This has been an effective approach a number of times. And they most often choose the best rate.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Mark, yeah, I think a lot of business advice on this and other blogs could apply to lots of service-based businesses.

@Devon: That's happened to me a couple of times too. Nothing like a few botched jobs to teach newbie clients the value of writing.

@Lori: I think it's really key not to just cut your rate across the board--this has always been my instinct (a self destructive instinct to be "nice," I think) and it's never helped me.

@Chip: Great strategy. Offering options like this is often successful for me too--and usually people do choose the bigger rate! Funny how that works...