This is for when you have to submit a bid or a proposal.

Maybe for a big job, or for some complicated work.

Or whenever you have to explain in detail what you plan to do, and how much it will cost.

(You don’t need this for casual quotes or simple estimates. Just for the bigger deals.)

It sounds odd, but it works.

Here’s the idea:

Put your fee, the price, smack dab on page one.

In 24 pt. bold

Unadorned, unqualified, un-apologized for

Start with the money. Work from there.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. Especially since I harp so much about making freelance negotiations less about the money and more about the work.

But oddly, that is exactly why this seemingly stupid tactic can work so well.

Getting it backwards

For years, every presentation and proposal I had ever seen followed the same flow:

First the chatter. Then the price.

You start with the business objectives, the parameters, the need. Slip in some nice stuff about your credentials and experience. Step through your process, methods, approach, creative issues, technical considerations. Show how all this meets the objectives, blabbity, blabbity.

Then somewhere on page nine, or on slide 34, you reveal the price.

The thought was, you need to soften them up with your dazzling ideas and expertise. Then, when they are putty in your hands, you can talk price. And only then.

Everybody did it that way. Big companies, small players, freelancers. Including me.

But it’s backwards.

Flipping it

A while back, a video producer had called me in to write the script for a new corporate project. He asked me to come along when he presented the overall concept and budget to the client.

“This guy is a tightwad,” the producer says. “There is no way I can meet his ridiculous budget on this, so I’m coming in much higher than what he’s thinking. I’m not sure what will happen.”

At the client’s office, we all settle in around the conference table. The producer hands everyone a single sheet of paper.

It says:

J&A Productions

XYZ Corporation
Customer Interview Video

Delivery date: June 1
Budget: $17, 230.

Nothing else.

Everyone reads it silently. They look up. They look at each other. The client looks up.

The producer asks, “Shall I continue?”

The client, of course, starts hemming and hawing. It’s higher than we wanted to go, this is too steep for customer interviews, blah, blah. He goes on for a bit. He’s not happy.

But finally, he gestures dismissively. “Okay. You might as well tell me about this video I’m not going to buy.”

So the producer hands out his proposal. He starts talking about the video. We explain how we’ll shoot the interviews, how we use voice-over, graphics. Soon, everyone is into it. We talk about how we structure the script, scheduling, logistics. The client asks questions, we answer.

An hour later, the client buys it. He bitches, but he signs off on it.

(Okay, to preserve his reputation as a skinflint, the client did eventually ask to lop $2000 off the fee. The producer simply asked which shooting location he should eliminate. So the price stood. But I digress.)

Why this works

At the time, I thought this was a risky one-time stunt, a good story to tell over a few beers after work, but not a useful tactic for every day.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And the more I started doing it. And the more it eliminated the awkward fencing and parrying, the silly cat-and-mouse games I had seen so often.

In those proposal meetings, for example, I always saw people flipping ahead in the handout, looking for the last page, where the price was. (Meanwhile, not listening to the actual discussion.)

I’m sure clients did the same thing when I emailed my proposal as a pdf. They scrolled right ahead to price, ignoring all my carefully-fluffed bullshit up front. Maybe, just maybe, if the fee was okay, they would scroll back and look at what I was actually offering.

In live meetings, I also noticed a bit of mental tension when the price was a mystery. It seemed as if people were reluctant to fall in love with an idea or even consider an approach until they knew how much it was going to cost. You don’t flirt with the girl before you know if she’s married or not.

Often, too, leaving price to the end made the meeting or conference call come down with a bump. Happy meeting runs into quicksand. Nice discussion turns into bean-counting and haggling.

But somehow, getting the money thing laid out at the beginning changed the entire tenor of the discussion.  It steered the conversation toward the work and the approach. Is this worth the money? Is this what we want? Will this fix the problem?

This approach also gives the client a chance to ‘live’ with the fee for a while. Maybe they gasp a bit when they first hear it. But once you get talking about the work, the solution, the price softens a bit. They get used to the number. (Well, sometimes, anyway.)

Even if the price is shocking, or off-the-charts impossible, the next question is always, ‘Well what would I get for this hilarious price?” They’re curious. They’re listening.

It is now about the work. About the ideas, the solution. Not really about the money.

It shifts from “How much does it cost?” to “What do I get?”

Which is where we want to be. “Here’s what you get.”

When you think of it, this mirrors precisely how we all make decisions about expensive things.

We know roughly how much the car costs. We visit the dealer to see if we really like the seats, the handling, how it rides. What the terms are. It’s all about deciding if we like it enough or not.

We know roughly how much they’re asking for the house, the apartment. We go to see if we really like it. Check the closets, look in the oven, measure the den. It’s all about deciding if we like it enough or not.

No, this isn’t a cure-all. Not a guarantee.

They may, after all, listen to your story and blow you off anyway. (Been there. Been blown off.) Or, they may consider what you have to say, and decide it ain’t worth the money. Which happens.

But at least it’s about the work. What they get rather than what it costs.

I’m over-explaining this.

I’ll stop now.