We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogs posts for this special article. What would you do if a client sent you this email?
“Hi, our budget is $2000 below your pricing, but you will get tons of referrals from our wedding guests. If you give discount, I will sign right now.”
This was an email shared on a forum by a colleague. Naturally, people had a field day with it. All sorts of fun responses were suggested.
As professional creatives we love it when colleagues share emails likes this. First, for the person sharing it, it provides an outlet to let off steam. It feels insulting and demeaning when clients (or prospective clients) ask you to significantly drop your rates. Everything in you wants to write back and say “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR VULCAN MIND?! Do you KNOW how much time I put into these things? Do you know how many hours I’ve lost with MY family putting up with the crazy shenanigans documenting the events of OTHER people’s families? Do you know how many fights I’ve had with my spouse over late nights working trying to get everything done? Do you think Canon just GAVE me this camera and all these lenses with the pretty red line? Have you seen how much it costs to put a kid through college these days?” I could go on, but you get my drift.
The other benefit from sharing experiences like this is genuine help and suggestions from your fellow colleagues who’ve been in similar situations. They range the gamut from serious replies based on sage advice, to wild and crazy replies born out of things we all WISHED we could say, but know it would be wise not to say.
In my nearly ten years of being in this business (and 20+ in the business world in general), I’ve been in this situation lots of times. I’ve posted my frustrations on many a forum and have had many a response. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made some pretty good choices. Here are a few nuggets I’ve learned along the way.
- Stay calm. I love proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Depending on the state of mind you’re in when you receive such a missive, you may be inclined to shoot off a reply that, although may not be as bold as the one I wrote above, nonetheless may be unprofessional and snarky. If you need to write it just to get it out of your system, do it (but don’t send it). Whatever you do, keep a level head and don’t let the immediate emotion take over.
- Be compassionate. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with a human being on the other end. Someone who is trying to survive in this wacky economy just like the rest of us. (Naturally, if the person on the other end is someone having their wedding at the Ritz Carlton with 200+ guests, screw ’em. – Just kidding! 🙂 ) In my experience, when I get requests like this, it’s because the people I’m dealing with really are having financial difficulties. Maybe it’s a non-profit with limited funds. Or in our photography business Teen Identity, it’s often a parent who loves my wife’s work and the programs we’ve created to raise the self esteem of teen girls. Most of the time I can find it in my heart to come up with some way to make a deal work, but it starts with me truly caring about the person as a person, and not just looking at them as a possible gig.
- Honor your brand. Whatever choice you end up making, it needs to be one that is consistent with your brand. If you cater to a high-end clientele, a straight-out discout just for discount’s sake may not be the best way to go.
- Be creative. You are a professional “creative.” So live up to your title. It’s okay to come up with creative ways in which a client can pay you and you still honor your brand.
- Don’t burn bridges. Ultimately you may not be able to work with a prospect. However you leave the conversation/email exchange, leave the door open for possible work or referrals. Maybe this person can’t hire, but maybe their friend can. Maybe this company doesn’t have the budget now, but maybe they’ll get a round of VC funding next year and have tons of money to invest. How you handle their request now may determine if they ever come back to you or send other business your way.
- Make it easy for people to pay you. I’ll never forget advice I heard “the Godfather of Wedding Films” John Goolsby once give: “Make it easy for clients to pay you.” If you normally get half your fee up front and half a week before the gig, consider breaking it up into four payments instead of two. Offer all major credit cards. If a prospect does want to give you money and pay you what you’re worth, don’t make is such a pain.
- Value is more than just money. Value can be recognized in more ways than just dollars, euros, pounds or yen (I apologize if I left out your country’s mode of currency. My U.S. education has limited my knowledge of international monetary verbiage. But you get the idea). Time is also a factor that can add value and be used when speaking with a client. It may be worth it to you to offer a referral reward (don’t call it a “discount”) if a prospect refers a certain amount of business to you in a specified time. In some cases the value of time may be worth charging for. You may charge more for a job if they require it turned around in a shorter period of time. Other forms of value could be: exposure opportunities, trade of services, barter for equipment, etc.
- It’s okay to say “No”. If you’ve exhausted all of the possible options, realize it’s okay to say “no.” Don’t feel compelled to give too much a way, or give a discount just for the sake of landing the gig.
These are hard economic times, and people are looking for every way possible to save a buck or a schilling. (Aren’t there times when you try to get the best deal you can?) If you’re wise and compassionate, you’ll make the right choices for your business, without hurting the prospects for future business.
How have you handled these kind of requests in the past? Do you ever cut deals?