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How to deal with freelance clients who want discounts

Many of your clients will accept your rates, without asking for any discounts. But some clients will be very price-conscious, or just plain cheap. You can either haggle over prices and work for less than your usual rates, or you can stand firm. This short video shows a polite approach to standing your ground and denying discounts.

Key points:

  1. Stay positive when possible. Be friendly and try to emphasise what you can offer, rather than what you can’t. So even if you need to say no to something, try to follow this up with an alternative offer – something to sweeten the bitter pill of disappointment!
  2. Offer to reduce your costs by doing less work. You and your client may be able to achieve the desired result in less time, or by using a different process. Be willing to discuss different options for meeting the client’s needs.
  3. Try to remind your clients that your costs relate to your experience. If they want to pay peanuts they can look forward to working with a monkey, or a student.
  4. Clients who demonstrate a negative or rude attitude in the early stages of the project are likely to be a right royal pain in the ass for the duration of the project. So if a client views your price as a barrier, you may be wise to let that barrier stand, and run the hell away.
  5. Consider a discount if there is a genuinely good reason for it (charities, payment-in-kind etc). And even then, resist agreeing to a discount on the spot. Ask for a day to consider if you can afford to accept the reduced price.

And that’s about it. The best thing about being freelance is the ‘free’ in freelance. The ‘lance’ just makes me think of boils. Because you’re freelance you can work for pennies if you please – or you can lock down your prices to maintain premium profit margins. You can work for magic beans if it makes you happy. So when you’re faced with a client who wants to haggle, just make sure the deal you agree is good for you.

8 Comments

  1. Julian Samuel

    I often reply to requests for discounts by politely explaining that if I were to agree to take this client’s work on at a reduced rate then I would be preventing myself from working for other clients who are ready to pay my regular daily rate.
    Very easy for client to take on board, plus demonstrates that you have a clear understanding of how the market values your work.

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    • Leif

      Hi Julian – that’s a great tactic! I think the key to client negotiations is to just be honest. But it can be difficult, especially when you’re new to freelancing, to have honest discussions about money. And ultimately you are putting a value on yourself, and if you aren’t totally confident in your abilities in can be hard to stand firm on the price you’ve put on yourself.

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  2. Fiona Humberstone

    Love this video! A great example of a polite way to handle the sometimes inevitable discount question

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  3. Peter Lilley

    What a ridiculous video. They’re not friendly and polite to each other. They obviously can’t stand each other. Neither shows the slightest hint of flexibility – and neither of them get what they want.

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  4. Leif

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your feedback! ;)

    The video is supposed to show a way to deal with people who want discounts – assuming you don’t want to offer random and baseless discounts.

    So the video shows the freelancer offering the client the flexibility to do less work in order to reduce the cost. It’s always worth trying to accomodate a client’s budget – if you’re interested in the work!

    In this case the client is motivated mainly by cost, so he wants all the work but for less cost.

    The freelancer doesn’t want to slash her rates, so she offers the client another alternative: another freelancer.

    The other freelancer alternative is just what the client wants: cheap!

    So they actually both get what they want. The freelancer maintains her rates, the client gets the price he wants.

    That’s an interesting point you raise about them not seeming very friendly – to a large extent this is due to the stilted animation and the robotic voices. I certainly tried to script it so they were polite, but there’s only so much you can do with the service I used – that’s partly why I supported the video with text to explain the ideas contained within.

    But yes, I believe it’s very important to be polite, friendly and positive in all dealings with clients – even when you want to say no. :)

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    • Peter Lilley

      That’s a pretty good answer Leif. And far more polite than I deserved!

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