“How should I deal with a haggling client?”

February 23, 2017

(Image credit: Kristopher Roller via Unsplash)

Isn’t it frustrating?

A client wants to hire you for a project. You listen to what they have to say, and carefully learn what exactly they want. You take some time to think about what you should quote them.

You estimate a number that feels satisfying to you and is more than fair to the client, considering how much work you’ll be doing.

So you send the client a quote… and in response, you get a hissy fit.

It can take many forms:

“Er… I actually had a different number in mind.”

“There’s no way this job is worth that much.”

“Can you give me a better price? How about [a substantially smaller number]?”

“I could go to Fiverr right now and hire someone for 10% of this price!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are perfectly good, respectful clients who value your work… but can’t afford your regular fees. They are out there – but we’re not talking about them today.

Today, we’re discussing the hagglers.

We’re making fun of people who get worked up about your (fair) prices. People who act like it’s your fault for needing to feed your family. People who behave as if all other freelancers they’ve ever worked with were ethereal beings who sustained themselves on pure sunlight – and would take only a rusty nickel as tribute.

Those people.

When it comes to dealing with haggling clients, there is one important point I have to make right away…

Got a haggling client? Don’t play their game

Ever.

Haggling with a client is like arguing on the Internet. You might think you won… but all you probably did was make yourself look like an ass. Similarly, never apologize for what you charge. You are better than that.

Landing a haggling client might feel good in the short term. But it's hurting you and deep down you know it.

“Hurray, I got the job at 30% my regular rate! Now I’m drowning, because I can no longer afford walls. Or a ceiling… Damn.”

So… if you shouldn’t bargain, what can you do to protect your income and (hopefully) still get the job?

I have 3 strategies for handling prospects who haggle. If someone is trying to knock my price down – while being a dick about it – I always respond in one of three ways.

In this article, I’m going to share all three responses, and describe when each of them makes the most sense.

Option 1. Change the scope of the project

“Honey, I Shrunk the Freelance Project”

Let’s pretend that your client is hiring you to do a 10-hour design project. Say, to mock up a re-design of 5 key pages on their website. You quote them $1,500, at your standard rate of $150 per hour.

The client says it’s beyond their budget, but they would still love to work with you. They come back with a counter-offer of $1,000 – a number that’s substantially lower… but not so insultingly low that’s you tell them to take a hike.

Here’s what I would do in this situation… I would tell the client, “I can’t do the project we agreed for this price – but here’s the amount of work I will be able to complete.” Not in so many words, but you get the idea.

Here’s a sample email response to a client asking for a discount:

“Hi [Name],

Thank you for getting back to me about this.

I’d love to work with you on this project, but at the $1,000 price point, I would have to rush through it and deliver something that doesn’t meet my high standards. And I believe that your website deserves my best work.

I know that you have budget concerns, but you also see the value in good design – or you wouldn’t have come to me. 🙂

So, to help you do what’s best for your company, I put together a new proposal. It outlines the amount work I would happily do for you at the $1,000 price point.

Even with somewhat reduced scope, I believe there is opportunity to deliver enough value here to make a real difference in your website, and your business goals.

Here’s the proposal: [link]

Let me know if this sounds reasonable?

Oleg”

The beauty of this approach is, it shows the client that you’re a professional who holds firm on price, but always thinks about what’s best for the client. Occasionally, I run into opportunities to use this script – only for clients to tell me that I convinced them to invest in my work at the original price!

Makes me think that I don’t always do a great job explaining the value of what I do…

Option 2. “Bye, Felipe!”

Me every time a client asks for a laughable price.

As a freelancer, you have to be comfortable with rejection, especially when it’s about your price. I would get rejected all the time even when I was charging $5/hr – never do that, by the way – and clients still reject me now, when I charge 30 times that amount.

And the higher your fees grow, the more selective you have to become about who you work with… and the more laid-back you need to be about losing a client. OK, maybe not laid-back – but at least prepared.

So when you quote someone your regular rate, and they act like you just devoured their elderly dog right in front of them, that’s fine. It’s normal that some people consider your fees ridiculous and unreasonable. The operative word being “some.”

To these clients, I usually say:

“My regular fee for this project is $X. If it’s more than you can pay, I understand. I wish you best of luck finding a freelancer who would be the right fit for your project.”

That’s it – not much else to it, really. Probably the best thing you can do to deal with a haggling client is stop wasting time and energy on them. Let them find someone else to swindle – you’ve got actual work to do!

Option 3. Refer the haggling client to someone else (IF they aren’t an asshole)

Just don’t make it as awkward.

Finally, sometimes the client is genuinely interested in a substantially lower price. Maybe they are used to paying $30/hr and not your usual $100. Perhaps they need to do a quick one-off project, and they don’t care how experienced the freelancer is.

In that case, if the client doesn’t make your asshole radar (every freelancer has one) go nuts every time they open their mouth, you can do them a favor and refer them to someone else. For that specific purpose, I keep in touch with as many good freelancers as I can – some with similar skill-sets, and others working in completely different fields.

As much as I hate the term, referring people is a “win-win” situation. Your client will hire someone affordable. The freelancer you recommended will love you. You will be able to come back to playing video games and binge-watching Netflix… or, you know, working at your normal rate. Everybody wins.

Also, some freelancers charge 10% commission for each referral they send someone else’s way. I don’t do that, but I have no problem with others doing it.

How would YOU deal with a haggling client?

And now I would love to hear from you.

Do you have your own go-to strategy for dealing with hagglers? Did I miss anything in this post? Maybe you’d like to see some more scripts and step-by-step tactics for dealing with price resistance?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

8 Comments

  • Reply Meehika Barua February 24, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Hi Oleg,

    This really was a useful post in a very needed time. Thank you so much.
    Definitely sharing this!
    I’ve mailed you my situation, but I’m gonna post it here as well, so that anyone who has advice to offer me on how to deal with this client can post it .
    So, as you know I’ve just started out some months back and had 3 articles published on one magazine. Now another magazine is interested to publish my pitches, but is offering me a lower pay than my standard pay. My current pay is 70$ for every 600-700 word articles. But this new magazine is offering me 40$ for every 600-700 word articles. I’ve published three articles till now at the 70$ rate, but I feel I’m still too new. The second magazine was initially offering just 35$ per article, but when I got back to them telling them that 35$ is too low a rate for someone with my experience and calibre, they agreed to set it on a 40$ basis and no more stating budget constraints. Considering I’m still a newbie and having my work published and paid on more than one magazine is essential to my portfolio, I said yes. So now they’ve asked me to send some more pitches. What do you think I should do?
    I’ve already said yes to their price. Should I sell them 2-3 articles and then tell them that it’s not working anymore? Because that way, they’d see my work and trust it, and wouldn’t want to lose it.
    What do you think?
    If you could please let me know your opinions on this, I’d be grateful. Many thanks.

    • Reply Oleg Starko February 28, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      Hey Meehika,

      Thanks for the valuable comment!

      I did reply to you in a private email, but I want to repost my response here, for the benefit of other people. 🙂

      Here’s my response:

      It ultimately comes down to this: considering your situation, is it more
      important to be paid a higher rate… or have your name in another
      magazine?

      If it’s the latter, then you can write one piece for them just to get
      another thing to put in your portfolio, and move on to bigger and better
      things. If it’s the former, then as much as it hurts to turn down a paying
      job, you should say no and focus on higher-paying gigs.

      Here’s what I would do… And please keep in mind that this is based on my
      experience with other niches, so it might not necessarily work very well
      for magazines. What I would do is, I’d basically tell them:

      “Listen, my going rate is $70 for a piece like this. [Name of other
      magazine] happily pays me that as a regular contributor. But I understand
      that it’s important for you to establish if my writing is a good fit, so
      you are understandably reluctant to pay this higher rate. So here’s what
      I’m proposing: I will write you one piece at the starting $40 rate. If you
      love it enough to agree to $70 per article going forward, that’s great. If
      not, then you will get a solid piece at $40 anyway.”

      You don’t want to do it in those exact words, obviously, but this is how
      I’d play it:

      – “Anchor” a higher rate in their mind.
      – Acknowledge the risk of hiring a newbie for a higher rate.
      – Offer a solution that would keep everyone’s pride intact and offer a
      good option for raising your rates.

      Thank you again for your feedback, Meehika!

  • Reply Andrea Martin February 24, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Sincere clients are worth the extra effort, if you have the time to help them out. If you have a client that has no clue how to work with a writer, are suspicious or just plain strange….run. There are so many options for writers that it simply is not worth it to mess around with insincere companies. Those types of clients are unprofessional. I tell my students that it makes more sense to put the time into researching a new client rather than fight with a “losing” one. I don’t think anyone has ever looked back and said, “Man, I’m glad I kept working with those loonies.”

    I did keep one “rough” client on for a bit, because the work was in my niche. You will eventually get burned by these types.

    • Reply Oleg Starko February 28, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Hey Andrea,

      Thank you for the comment! 🙂

      >There are so many options for writers that it simply is not worth it to mess around with insincere companies.

      Can we get this etched into the brains of every freelancer on the planer, please? 😀 I had to learn this the hard way, and I see people get burned by this every day, just because they could use the money. It’s an understandable desire, but it’s sooo not worth it in the long term.

  • Reply Lindsey Hayward February 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    This is such a helpful, awesome post. Bookmarked!!! Thanks for putting such great content, Oleg!

    • Reply Oleg Starko February 28, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Lindsey! 🙂

  • Reply Sheri February 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Great post, Oleg! Letting the hagglers go is one of the hardest, but most important lessons in freelancing. If you take on their project at a reduced price, not only will you be working for less money, but these people always end up being the scope creepers from hell! 🙂

    • Reply Oleg Starko February 28, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      Very true, Sheri! Especially regarding scope creep. Goddamn nuisance, that is. 🙂 That’s why reducing the scope was my #1 strategy in the post.

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