Freelance clients may push back on price. That’s their prerogative, right? Some people have that “can’t hurt to ask” mentality. You probably have friends and family with it.
However, to build a profitable, sustainable, satisfying business, you need clients with high lifetime value.
To win a loyal client who will keep sending you projects takes the same effort as winning one that will leave after the first project. The trick is knowing one from the other.
Clients who push back on price go into three buckets:
- Those shopping for a commodity
- Those fond of negotiating
- Those short on budget
I’ll explain all three, and give you an effective tactic for differentiating between the second and third.
3 Types of Freelance Clients You Don’t Want
1. Those shopping for a commodity
Some prospects told me my prices were too high because they actually believed what they were saying. They believed that copywriting or brand development projects had fixed prices within a certain range.
If my price was outside the range they were accustomed to paying, why should they pay more for me? They were making an apples-to-apples comparison as though I were selling a commodity like apples and one bag was nearly distinguishable from the next.
Of course, one writer and her work product may be as different from another as an apple is from a white truffle.
Freelance clients make such mistaken comparisons based on price all the time. The challenge here is the implicit belief that product copy for a Shopify site “should” cost X or new visual identity for an engineering firm “should” cost Y.
Beliefs are hard to change.
2. Those fond of negotiating
Some prospects told me my prices were too high because they were using a negotiation tactic: "Let's play ball and see if we can push back on price and get him to come down."
Early on, I did come down on price a couple of times, but then I learned that whatever concessions they had offered me in return ("We'll send you lots of work" or "This project should be quick and easy" or "We'll refer you to everyone") never materialized.
Oh! I'd gotten played. Lesson learned. I'll know better than to fall for the same trick again.
The challenge here is the personality type, folks who always ask for a discount, always look for an angle, always try to find some way to extract more value for themselves without giving commensurate value.
Personalities are hard to change.
3. Those short on budget
Some prospects told me my prices were too high because they actually didn't have the budget. They wanted to work with me, and rather than come right out and say, "We simply can't afford your price right now and we're disappointed," they made my price the issue.
I didn’t want to come down on price because I didn’t want to train any client to balk at price and then pay less. I’m not a grocery store in the couponing business. I don’t accept competitor’s coupons. I don’t run a charity.
Yet, fine people who make fine clients can certainly find themselves with budget constraints. To not have the cash at the moment isn’t a sure sign that they’re inept, stingy, or self-centered. Sometimes, you’d love to fly business class but you can only afford coach. It is what it is.
As a business owner myself, I understand the budget predicament intimately.
The challenge here is two fold: You’ve got to determine whether the core issue is, in fact, the budget or whether it’s a hard-to-change belief or personality above. You’ve also got to determine if a different, smaller project scope can address a need for the client and effectively start the relationship.
Should you try to persuade price-sensitive prospects?
As I already implied, I don’t think there’s much you can do with price-sensitive prospects. Even if you can convince them you're worth what you charge, you’ll have to do it again and again.
You’re deceiving yourself if you think conversations about money will suddenly get easier once the client has more cash. Being price-sensitive is more of a mindset than a temporary situation.
There's always someone who charges less, and as soon as they find a cheaper option, they'll leave. Because there was never going to be any loyalty, the upside for you and your business is nonexistent.
When you realize a prospect is treating you and your work as a commodity, politely excuse yourself from the conversation. You're better off pursuing and investing in other relationships.
Now, we come to personality types
If you don’t mind a little business combat, a little push and shove, then lock horns with prospects who want to negotiate. You’ve got the personality for it. They do too. Both parties can play the game without souring the relationship before it starts.
My friend Joey has this capability. He treats negotiation like a game, and he’s in it to win it.
I’m just not that way. A client once told me, “The main hold up will be the price tag. Just to be transparent, it seems inflated, when the artwork and heavy lifting will come from us.” I didn’t want to spar. I sent a thoughtful response, but I found the whole interaction annoying, in part because the pushback usually isn’t logical.
The prospect makes a claim about my prices, but they don’t back it up with anything. They don’t build a case with evidence.
Do they go to dinner and say to the waiter, “These prices seem a little high”? No. Do they try to negotiate with the airline and pay less for a plane ticket? No. The price is the price. If you won’t pay for business class, you fly economy, or you don’t fly at all.
Creativity seems squishier to people than a meal on a plate or a seat on a plane, so some make unqualified statements about prices like “It seems inflated.”
How to differentiate between the second and third types
Thankfully, we’ve got a good way to differentiate between prospects who can’t really make a case for why your prices are “too high” (other than their unwillingness to pay that much) and those who simply don’t have the money.
You clamp down any irritation you may feel and say these words:
“I totally understand budget constraints. What would you like to remove from the scope?”
Reasonable people with real budget constraints will recognize that you’re not obligated to offer the same amount of work at a price lower than you originally quoted, simply because they don’t have the money.
It’s logical that you’d offer to shrink the scope to match their budget.
Though I don’t recommend selling any project that you don’t believe is a true solution to a real, felt need, I do think, in most cases, you can find an alternate project, a smaller one at a lower price point, that will benefit the client.
Problem solved: Both parties adjust the scope. They stay within their budget. You come down on price without discounting your services and thereby undermining your expertise.
Anyone who raises a stink about paying less for a smaller project because you wouldn’t give them a just-because discount on the bigger one? Recuse yourself, and smile because you just dodged a bullet.