Your client wants to know that you can do this.

They expect you can figure it out, fix it, make it, deliver it.

They don’t really care how you manage that, exactly. Only that it’s done and they look good and the project moves ahead.

But when it comes to paying, it’s a different story.

The harder they perceive the job, the more they are willing to pay. They’re okay with fees for work they couldn’t possibly do. Or something they once tried themselves. Or work that seems grueling or mysterious.

But if they somehow perceive it as simple or quick, they expect it cheap. Even if their perception is dead wrong.

(Hence the old ploy: “It’ll only take you like five minutes. You just have to re-type it so it sounds better.” Or, “You only have to change the colors, and move it over a little. It’s nothing.”)

They’re okay with paying for hard. For easy and fast, not so much.

Dan Ariely tells the story of a young locksmith.

As a newbie, he often struggled and bumbled his way through jobs that would be routine for an experienced pro. Like when a customer’s deadbolt jammed or a key broke off in the front door.

To get the door open, it sometimes took him a half hour of sweating, jimmying and skinning his knuckles. Often with a customer waiting outside in the rain, late at night.

But with all the fumbling and taking forever, no one complained about the bill. And he often got a generous tip.

Later on, when he was savvy enough to get a door open in a couple minutes, there were no tips. And customers griped about the charges, which were the same as before.

I get that.

Back when I was a clueless novice with no credentials, no skill, and no track record, the only way I could land an assignment from a skeptical client was to feign utmost confidence.

I would shrug nonchalantly “Piece of cake. No problem. Can do.”

Behind the scenes, of course, I had to scratch and scramble mightily. I had no idea what I was doing. It took hours and hours to get anything good.

But of course, I turned in the work as if it had been a breeze.

And clients usually balked at the fee.

“Whoa. Sounds like a lot for something you could do in your sleep, with one hand.”

Nowadays I never let on that anything is easy. It’s more like, “Hmm. I’m sure if I work it, I can probably figure out something.” Or, “Let me hammer at it. See what happens.”

And, though I would never advocate phony theatrics, I’m not above turning in an assignment barely twelve minutes before deadline, panting ever so slightly, with a drop of sweat on the page.

And I may or may not have, once or twice, set an email to send a job out at 2:24 am.

Just so they know I wasn’t coasting.


How not to be scared: Smarter Freelancing.