When A Prospect Can’t Afford You (Or So You Think)

599 GTO.

Have you ever prepared a proposal for a prospect and, in your heart, you know he or she can’t afford your services?

What do you do then?

Do you put your proposal together haphazardly, knowing it won’t lead to a paying project anyway?

Or do you jump at the first opportunity to give the prospect discounts?

Or do you ignore the prospect and not submit a proposal at all?

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

In the past, I have been guilty of offering discounts even when none was requested. I’d say something like, “My regular fee is $$$, but since you were referred by Awesome Person Z, I will give you a 20% discount.”

Eventually I realized I was doing myself a disservice by discounting my fees so easily!

If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation and you still want to work with the prospect, because:

  • you really need the money, or
  • you feel it’s a good opportunity that could lead to more freelancing gigs, or
  • you really like the prospect and don’t want to turn them away

… there’s a better way to make your services more affordable without undervaluing them.

The Power of Options

Here’s what I would do now: Give the prospect two options to avail of my services.

One is the “Ferrari” option with my full services and full price. The other is the “Volkswagen” option with fewer features but still a good value.

I suppose a third option could be offered as well, if you think it’s necessary. But don’t give the prospect more than three choices, because a confused mind does not buy.

Here’s an example of how I would package my services into two options:

Option 1: Long copy sales page

  • full sales page copy
  • photos/images/Copydoodles
  • fully formatted in HTML or WordPress
  • up to two revisions within the original scope of the project
  • two alternate headlines
  • Fee: $1000

Option 2: Sales page rewrite

  • revision of existing sales page
  • copy in text format
  • no formatting or photos/images/Copydoodles
  • up to two revisions within the original scope of the project
  • two alternate headlines
  • Fee: $500

With this approach, I’m able to offer my services at a more affordable rate — without devaluing them through random discounts. I’m charging less for Option 2, because it requires less work and time from me.

At the same time, I’m giving my prospect the opportunity to take my higher-priced offer.

Because I could be wrong about my prospect’s finances. Maybe they can afford me, after all.

And, believe me, I’ve been wrong before.

Would You Do The Same?

How would you handle a situation like this?

Share your ideas in the comments below, and help other freelancers with your wisdom.

Lexi Rodrigo Savvy Freelancer

Creative Commons License photo credit: Damian Morys Foto

12 Responses to When A Prospect Can’t Afford You (Or So You Think)
  1. julie
    March 20, 2012 | 12:44 pm

    Great suggestion, Lexi.

    I have also offered two alternative proposals when I’m not sure if the client can afford me. This also works great when the client herself isn’t sure what she wants.

    I think offering options opens the discussion.
    julie´s last blog post ..Tip the ‘Box’ to Think More Creatively

    • Alexis
      March 20, 2012 | 2:22 pm

      @julie – Good idea to think of a proposal as a way to “open the discussion.” :-D

  2. Carole Seawert
    March 20, 2012 | 1:30 pm

    Hi Lexi
    Three potential clients have been in touch recently, all wanting a complete rewrite of their websites. I haven’t put my rates up for some years yet all three of them say my quotes are way beyond their budget. The problem is, they are all small companies who only have small budgets. A fourth client (an international organisation) OK’ed my quote in an instant and I am now writing this site for them.
    I can’t write at a cut price rate just because they are small outfits. And I don’t offer to edit the text they write because they ‘we’ all over the place (features not benefits) and it always needs rewriting from scratch anyhow. That’s why I like writing for big corporates and law firms.

    • Alexis
      March 20, 2012 | 2:21 pm

      @Carole Seawert – Sure, Carole, sometimes the prospect is just not a good fit for us. In which case we just go our separate ways…

  3. Shannon Smith
    March 20, 2012 | 8:38 pm

    I’m guilty of doing this all the time. I don’t normally publish flat rate packages like that though, so I’m not sure how I could give options. Although I do sometimes explain what they SHOULD have me do for them, and what they can do themselves which saves on time and cost.
    Shannon Smith´s last blog post ..Facebook Cover Photos

    • Alexis
      March 20, 2012 | 8:58 pm

      @Shannon Smith – You can give options even if you don’t publish your rate. Just think “budget” vs “premium.” Not all the time, of course, but when you think the prospect may have issues with your regular fees.

  4. Dojo
    March 25, 2012 | 5:05 am

    I fell into this trap myself on occasion and now I just give them my price. And was ‘shocked’ to see that many of my clients were actually willing to pay my initial price. And, at times, the 2 solutions work well too: they can get a new design for their site or some tweaks at different prices.
    Dojo´s last blog post ..Do you have your domain names details private?

    • Alexis
      March 28, 2012 | 10:15 am

      @Dojo – True, I’ve had prospects who ended up not even batting an eyelash at my fees. We shouldn’t underestimate them — and our value :)

  5. Abu Wilson
    March 31, 2012 | 11:11 am

    Is there a way to find clients who are hungry for my freelance services and not concerned with price? They just want the job done. I get so many people trying to bargain shop. It is like they are trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip.

    • Alexis
      April 24, 2012 | 11:28 am

      @Abu Wilson – Yes, of course there is. Good clients who are willing to pay serious money for high-quality work are everywhere. Where you’ll find them depends on your niche and services. Avoid the bottom feeders.

  6. Mados
    April 4, 2012 | 5:18 am

    Great post. I’ve taken on several underpaid freelance jobs because ‘I needed more work’, ‘needed the money’, ‘wanted experience’, ‘wanted to build my portfolio’ e.t.c.

    My experience is that low-paying clients expect quite a lot of work done and will be as big as a problem as a high-paying client if they don’t get what they expect. Your solution is great because it allows you to specify what they will not get for the money they choose to pay.

    What I do if I want a job but feel that a client can’t afford my service: I put my ‘normal rates’ on the quote and then lower the total price with a ‘goodwill discount’. That way I do tell the client what my work is worth but put the price down to where there’s a chance I can get the job.

    • Alexis
      April 24, 2012 | 11:29 am

      @Mados – But don’t offer the discount unless the prospect asks for it. You might be surprised how much they’re willing and able to pay.

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