Movie stars have it easier than we do.
The movie star sends her agent to do all the ugly bargaining with the producer. The agent says:
“Morty, we have to go 250K on this or it’s a non-starter. I know she’s crazy, but she won’t budge.”
And the agent takes all the flack from the producer:
“Are you kidding me? It’s ten days work, max. She ain’t that good. She has to come down a little.”
Same with the famous dermatologist. He doesn’t have to talk money. His office manager sits down with the patient, “The complete procedure will be $8,300.”
You want a famous guy to speak at your convention? You can’t call the famous guy and ask how much he charges. You have to go through his speakers bureau. (A bureau sounds like furniture, but it’s just a fancy name for an agent.) A cheerful representative will tell you the famous guy’s fee is $40,000 plus first-class airfare and a four-star hotel.
The famous guy claims, “I only use a speakers bureau because I am too busy to handle inquiries and fuss with all those details.”
Maybe. But mostly it’s because he doesn’t have the guts to say “$40,000″ himself. It’s unseemly, he thinks. And he may hear someone say, “That’s ridiculous.” Better to hide behind the agent.
But you and me, we solo renegades and independents, we have to say it.
(If this doesn’t bother you in the slightest, good for you. You can skip this post.)
As freelancers, we have to go one on one and say how much it will be. At least until next year when we get famous.
Here’s how to do it.
Avoid quoting a project fee on the phone or in person. No genius who is in demand ever quotes a project over the phone. (Telling them your hourly rate is fine, however. If that is how you work.)
When quoting ‘live’ it is too easy to screw up, to get intimidated, to chicken out, to wobble, to second guess. We can get thrown when a client says ‘WTF’? We don’t want to start defending and justifying. That is not pro.
Nor do we want to sound like Tony Soprano shaking down a union boss. (That was me, after getting scalped by a client the week before.) When it sounds like your first or ONLY concern is the money, clients get very wary.
Better to skip the ‘live’ quoting. No famous person does that. Only peddlers.
For the quote, we send our agent to do the talking: an email or pdf. Or a proposal if it’s a bigger project.
And it doesn’t talk about money, exactly. It talks about what they get.
Which is precisely what a good agent does.
Take your ‘self’ out of it
Maybe the client will call you back to discuss the fee. Or ask questions. Or maybe even start bargaining.
We’re ready for that, of course.
We slip into ‘agent’ mode. We are not discussing ourselves and what we’re charging. We are talking about “The Work. The Project Budget. The Fee.”
It’s almost like we’re deflecting the discussion toward some object on the table, or a third person who’s not in the room.
Which is precisely what an agent does: advocates for someone else. Here, we become the ‘agent’ for “The Project.”
If the client asks, “Why are you charging XXX for XYZ?” . . .
. . .the answer is “Because that’s what is involved in delivering what’s required here. Otherwise, you could be left with . . .”
If the client asks, “Could you also do. . . ?”
. . . the answer is, “If you add that to the project, it would require some additional budget, but it can be done, sure.”
There is no “I” or “me” involved in any of this.
If the client asks, “Is there any way to get the fee lower somehow?” . . .
. . .the answer is “Maybe, if you can reduce the scope of the project. Is there something here you might want to leave out for now?”
You’re not negotiating your fee, you are advising the client on what’s involved in accomplishing what he needs to do. You are, after all, the expert on getting stuff like this done.
(I know, it’s a mind hack. But it works.)
Or, call in someone else
Is there a little Jekyll and Hyde in you? Does your psyche have a few different ‘selves’ jostling each other up there?
It might help to appoint one of them as your agent.
You know, when it’s time to talk money, you close your eyes, recede into yourself, and let “Bad Bobby” come out.
Send “Bad Bobby” to handle the negotiations. He won’t cave. And send him to collect the overdue bills, too. Not that I recommend this. But if your mind does this anyway, I say use it to advantage.
I also knew a designer who was so paranoid about losing jobs that he tended to quote too low.
His wife, however, got tired of that. She wanted to redo the kitchen.
One afternoon, she took over. “How much are you going to quote for this?”
“Twelve hundred,” he said.
She gets on the phone with the client. “Hi. This is Dawn calling from Eric Anderson’s office. The design you asked about will run twenty-four hundred fifty. If you okay this, I’ll get it on his schedule right away.”
He lost a few jobs. But he made a bunch more money.
Clients would tell him, “Boy, that Dawn is tough.”
“I know,” he said. “She is good.”
The trick is to be your own Dawn.