I used to think that a ‘fair price’ was whatever the client was willing to pay.
I had always heard, “If they pay, they must consider it fair.”
So I made it a practice to shoot for the ‘whistle price’. (Except when I chickened out.)
That’s the fee where the client says, “Whew. That sounds like a lot. But let’s go ahead.”
I figured that meant I was getting the maximum possible, and wouldn’t be leaving money on the table.
But I discovered that is not quite right.
Pricing at the whistle point can work for one-shot clients and drive-by projects. (Provided you can deliver, of course.) Maybe you can wring more money out of a project that way.
But if you depend on long-term opportunities, whistle-point pricing can backfire. As it did on me too often. “Okay, go with him this one time, but let’s keep shopping around.”
For the frequent flyers, for heavy users, for pro buyers — the kind of clients you can build a career on — I found there’s a smarter way.
The idea is to aim for the sweet spot: the fee that the client feels good about, and would be happy to pay, over and over.
Which also happens to be a fee that you feel good about, and would be happy to take any day.
There’s no begrudging or grumbling on either side. They end up thanking you, and you end up thanking them.
You won’t always get there on every project every time. Sometimes those Venn circles won’t quite intersect.
But that’s what your aim for. Because that is where the money is.
That’s how you keep clients for years. Streams of work from avid buyers will buy you a beach house.
Oh. And here’s the big point.
Making the client feeling good about the fee doesn’t automatically mean lowering it. (It rarely means that.)
It’s more about raising their comfort with the project. Make them feel better about what they’re getting.
Which means, starting on day one, all your conversations are about client’s end of the project. What they’re trying to accomplish, how this moves things ahead, how things will be when this is done. They feel they are the center of the universe.
What counts is what they get.
October 25, 2018 @ 4:59 am
You made an important point here. We all want those picky direct clients, and just keep the look-what-google-dragged-in ones for pocket money. Where do we find those clients? By looking, first of all. As a rule, the clients you find are better than the ones that find you.
Public tenders are a good starting point for people without high-up friends (living in a country where public procurement is halfway transparent helps, of course). The application procedure is tough, but you learn a lot about what long-term clients expect. Some have extremely detailed purchasing criteria. Also, public buyers will often prefer freelancers to agencies, as they might only need one language.
Fair Pricing and the Freelance Writer | Words on the Page
November 8, 2018 @ 6:48 am
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January 10, 2019 @ 12:44 pm
Well it is a great point but then i bet you also have to do a survey on the work load and how long the project may last. I also feel that there is no fixed rate it all depends with the project
April 27, 2019 @ 4:42 pm
A great point there. The way we approach the problem in my line of work and in my neck of the woods is we have those ‘whistle prices’ for one-off deals that are usually predicated on the client needing the work done well and fast and quite possibly someone else having already failed, or in some cases a great professional having done the conversion work being unavailable at the moment and quite quite possibly being your (unidentified) source of referral on the project, which is because of how pros tend to at least recommend someone who won’t fail their client if they themselves can’t fit the job in.
That sort of client may or may not come back and isn’t really giving you any favours, nor do you have a relationship in place. If you tend to get a lot of such one-off inquiries, you might as well live well off of them.
However, we also have some preferential options for repeat purchasers. They may well be aware of the ‘whistle price’ but also of their own privilege of being allowed to ask if you’ll agree to work on a budget or deadline that’s more in line with their constraints (e.g. middleman’s aversion to loss on any individual deal, regardless of scale and scope). That way they get what they ask and you appear like the nice, reasonable guy who is helping them and accommodating them instead of being seen as an aggressive salesman trying to win them over with a discounted offer for his own benefit and in his own interest exclusively.
In some cases you can also ask favours from such clients, though I wouldn’t recommend doing that for a trivial reason, such as something you can achieve by putting in a manageable amount of effort or cash to make the problem go away without bothering the client.
A useful thing to know is the ‘little people’ you deal with, who aren’t the company owners or top managers, typically have some clout, some sway and some favours to collect, and they can indeed achieve much, though not without some personal cost for them to pay, such as depleting their own pool of goodwill within the organization. Hence they won’t do that for a stranger who hasn’t won their trust and, I dare say, affection yet. But they will once the trust has been established and once you’ve done the same for them. And their reluctance to work with anyone else will sometimes get the whole organization to refrain from switching providers. A change-resistant line employee or line manager is a switching cost to the suits in the board room. The same goes for clients who hire you for their own clients, e.g. clients are reluctant to go against their lawyers’ recommendations. But of course you can also establish a relationship with the end client so that the end client expects the middleman to keep hiring you and not someone else for that client’s projects. Works both ways. And those middlemen or end clients, whichever one is on your side, may (each, even) want to continue to work with you even when they no longer work with each other.