What To Do When Clients Haggle

What To Do When Clients Haggle

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

– Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Do you hate to haggle? Do you find it insulting when someone asks you to lower your rates? How do you feel when someone says they can’t quite afford you and would you consider taking the job anyways?

I know people who light up on fire at the first sign of haggling. They feel personally offended. Does this client not know who they are? How dare he ask for a discount! Clearly, he’s just some cheap, unethical bargain-scraper looking to get the most for the least! The nerve!

That’s the wrong attitude to have. A client who haggles isn’t being disrespectful. He’s trying his luck and hoping to save a bit of money. There’s nothing wrong with that. The worst you can say is no, after all. And at best? He saves a bit of money, you get a gig, and you both get to work with each other.

Or, maybe the client doesn’t want to save a buck – maybe he just really, really wants to work with you and is just trying to find a way to hire you without blowing his budget. Nothing wrong with that either. How does he know you might not be willing to work out a deal? He has to ask…

Then there are people who feel that working out a deal is just a game, and they pony up to the betting table. There are lots of people who love to haggle – they grin like kids during negotiations, and there’s no harm, no foul if they lose. And because these people enjoy haggling, they often assume you do too. What’s the harm in having a little fun?

For others, it isn’t a game – it’s standard operating procedure. Maybe they were taught that this is how business is done. Or maybe they were raised with the philosophy that if you never ask, you never get. They might feel that negotiating lower rates is just a natural part of hammering out an agreement.

Or maybe they feel they have to ask for a lower rate. Some people have funny ideas about making sure they don’t show anyone they’re a pushover. They might be afraid that if they don’t ask for a discount, they’re showing you that you can walk all over them. They’re not trying to insult you; they’re trying to protect themselves in an attempt to command respect.

Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

Haggling isn’t bad. Asking for cut rate isn’t evil. It doesn’t mean the client is out to get you. (And truthfully, it says more about you than it does him if that’s what you think!) It’s not a “cheap customer” red flag or a sure sign of an impending problem client.

It just is what it is: a person asking whether you’ll lower your rate. That’s all.

In fact, the ball’s in your court. Play the game if you want to. Make a counter-offer and negotiate. Ask for something in return. Offer extended terms of payment. Modify your proposal so that it fits in with the client’s budget.

Or just say no. Politely decline and gently tell the client those are your rates, and you can’t lower them. Sorry. You might be surprised to find that you get the job anyways when the client shrugs and says, “Okay. Let’s do it anyways. Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

No, you sure can’t. So why get offended?

Your turn: Have you ever been offended by a client and realized after that no one meant any harm? Do you lower your rates or try to negotiate with clients who want a discount? And what’s happened when you have brought your price down?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. When asked to reduce fees, it’s perfectly acceptable to do so. However, the reduced fee must accompany a reduced value to the customer. That is to say, you must give the customer less. Unless your fee is padded, it’s the only fair way. If you lower the fee but provide the same value, then it’s a game of how low can you go…

  2. Haggling definitely doesn’t bother me – I actually set my rates knowing that some sort of bartering will be involved. What really gets to me and DOES light me on fire is when potential clients email over and over again asking for my “advice” or “feedback” knowing full well that’s EXACTLY what a hired consultant does. Trying to get a sneak peak at my services before shelling out the dough is okay, but emailing repeatedly trying to snag some free consulting is beyond messed up. I just end up sending them links to blog posts and being really general, but I don’t think that helps land me clients. Basically I have a hard time balancing how much I give away for free and when to draw the line…

    • Hi Marian,
      You’re right, it’s a big problem when customers try and get access to your smarts for free. Sometimes people do this intentionally, but far more frequently (at least in the business arena) they do it inadvertently. When customers are after a sneak peak at your value, what you really should do is maximise the potential. You have a potential client coming to you, telling you their situation. You have a bit of back and forth about their problem and objective (but not the specific solution), and then provide a value driven proposal.
      It’s a bit glass half empty, glass half full. You’ve got leads coming to you, that’s half the battle done. The next step is to sell them on your value.

    • Chris Scelza says:

      Hi Marian,

      I agree with Daniel. Look at these as opportunities. Use their questions to gather information, to which you can reply with your own questions. This shows that you are engaged, and that you are gaining an understanding of their situation.

      You can follow up with a proposal to the client once you have enough information. This may shock them, but it shows professionalism, and sets the standard on your time.

      I’ve witnessed this act first hand; it was beautifully implemented by a fellow consultant. It was an inspiring moment for me, to say the least. I kept falling into the “free consulting” trap myself. No more!

    • @Marian – That’s a definite problem. I have that happen often, mostly because people know I like to help. In some cases, a little pro bono is worth it, and I like to do what I can when I can. But… yeah.

      So my answer is simple: “Have you checked out our blog? This post might be of help.” And I follow with, “Here’s a fast tip, but I could do a lot more if you wanted to go for a consultation. You can learn more about consulting with me right here: https://menwithpens.ca/services/consultations” That puts the ball in their court and they can choose the option that works for you best.

      • Awww, James, I LOVE that. “I could do a lot more if you wanted to go for a consultation” Totally brilliant. I’m absolutely going to try this next time this happens.

        Thanks for the free consulting on consulting 😉

  3. I know people who light up on fire at the first sign of haggling. They feel personally offended. Does this client not know who they are? How dare he ask for a discount!

    This is such a perfect example of projecting your own insecurities/beliefs onto another person. We all have egos and we all want to be loved, right? Right. And when someone attempts to lower your perceived value it’s offensive. And yet this is all business — it’s all about the Benjamins. As you pointed out, the person selling the product wants the highest price, the person buying the product wants the lowest price.

    Period.

    • You’re very right. When someone gets offended at being asked for a lower rate, it says a LOT about them and very little about the asker. It often happens when people have their work tied up in their self-worth.

      But as you said, this is business. It’s never personal. (Unless they make fun of your mother.)

  4. Chris Scelza says:

    Hi James,

    I do think it’s ok to lower rates. However, one thing I have learned is that you should not let this expectation carry forward. This can be addressed by replying to the client that your rate is $xxx per hour, and that this first contract will be discounted to $xxx per hour. Specifying it this way lets you hold your ground, and clearly states that this discount only applies to the first gig.

    • Very nice, and I’d recommend that method to everyone – I use it myself sometimes. Or, I’ll do the inverse. “Well, I can’t budge on our package rates, but if you’d like some extra pages, I can offer you X.”

  5. Hi James,

    Fun topic to dig into.

    I don’t haggle anymore. My prices are fair for the beautiful design work I do, not to mention the extra business wisdom that comes with the deal. If you haggle, then clients think, “Hey, if I got this much off, perhaps I can get even more.”

    It’s really part of the lowest-price mentality out there, the one that contributes to many jobs going overseas and the loss of our Main Streets. I’d rather see full prices come back and people have more well-made products rather than tons of cheaply made stuff that goes to the landfill prematurely because it falls apart.

    Better to take away the extra features if client want to pay less or even wiser — offer several packages from the start. If they want the bare bones, that’s their choice. The times I did haggle without removing value, I had clients try to wrangle even MORE info out of me.

    Clients who’ll pay your full price respect you more because they respect themselves enough to make the investment.

    Besides, would you haggle with your heart surgeon or your lawyer? Why then creative folks? We need to pump up our own pricing self-esteem.

    G.

    • Well, while I don’t entirely disagree, I think this is part of the “How dare you!” problem: “We need to pump up our own pricing self-esteem.”

      It’s good to charge what you’re worth, for sure. No issues there. It’s when self-worth and self-esteem get tangled up with pricing that it all becomes a problem. Separating the two is key!

      The rest…? Yup 🙂

  6. I hate begging and the charity model, I try to barter which helps protect my battered ego at least a little.

    BTW: Just saw your “Black Book” and your catalog of resources. Great idea.

    • That’s a neat trick – helping improve confidence by learning to ask and hear, “No can do.” Every little victory becomes a, “Huh! I did it!” and every no becomes a, “Well, now, that wasn’t so bad. I can do this.”

  7. When a sales person hears someone haggling, it means “I want to hire you.” So that’s the way to interpret it. But just as in any deal making, get something in return. If someone wants me to lower my price a little, I will often counter by asking for more time, asking to eliminate something from the job, or even asking for payment upfront.

    I combined two of these counter offers recently when a client said he couldn’t afford my fee. So I said yes but asked for payment upfront and an extra week.

    This is fine for first-time projects, because the important thing is to land the client and increase your client pool. But I try not to make a habit of it for established clients. And you should limit the amount of the fee reduction to 10 or 20 percent max.

  8. I love how you took the drama out of the situation. You’re so right. The situation doesn’t mean anything other than whatever story we tell ourselves about it.

  9. Price is never set in stone. This is one good argument for NEVER publishing your rates if you are a freelancer… but that can backfire as well, because some people want at least a ballpark estimate before they will talk to you.

    I believe that you can haggle on a price, especially if the customer has good intentions.

    They key to lowering your prices is to provide LESS for less money. Tell the customer that you would be happy to take a discounted fee, but you will also put in 2 hours on the project instead of 4, or give them 2 final versions instead of your usual 6.

    If you cut down your output to match what the customer is paying you, then you aren’t cheapening that worth of your work.

    They will realize that if they want the full monty, they are going to have to pay for it, otherwise you will be happy to work with them, but they will get what they paid for.

    I’m not advocating doing a crappy job. That will ruin your business, because that’s the first person that will tell everyone they know how terrible you are.

    I am just saying do LESS for less money. It keeps your worth in check.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • I resisted publishing rates for a long, LONG time (there’s a few posts about it around the blog here). But I have to say that publishing rates has:

      1. Saved me time because I’ve eliminated the curious and the tire-kickers
      2. Made me more money because the companies I want to work with now come to me ready to do business.

      It’s been a big win, all ’round. 🙂

  10. Right on! You’re exactly right it is what it is. Ya never know unless you asked but the important thing here is what you do when they ask. Haggling equals future failure. You give a deal to one client, then they refer others to you and they expect a deal too. One year later your entire client base is the “deal crowd.”

    I don’t give discounts, I don’t give breaks, and our prices are what they are. Just remember that theres plenty other folks who will gladly pay your fees. Build your network on respect and it will grow itself.

    • Hm… Maybe you should re-read the post, Nick. It’s great if that hard stance is working for you, but I believe there’s nothing about haggling that equals any sort of failure. (And there’s no such things as failure, really, as it’s only a learning experience.)

  11. Remember, too, that some cultures have a built-in bartering bias. We U.S. folk have gotten used to the fixed-price model on just about everything, then think it very strange to haggle.

    Do a bit of research. In some places/cultures, not to bargain with someone is insulting.

  12. This is an essential way to look at the situation. It is hard to not feel insulted, especially since they came to you for help.

    On the other hand, would you haggle with your surgeon or lawyer? I don’t. Maybe I should.

    • For some people, it can be hard not to feel insulted, but I think in that case it’s important to sit down and think about WHY you feel insulted. Very often, it’s about your beliefs and how self-esteem has become tied to your work. It works for some, but in most cases, it just ends up holding them back. A little introspection goes a long way!

      Also… I haggle with my lawyer. I don’t pay for surgeons (Canadian, eh?) but I remember haggling for the price of my blue fiberglass cast versus a white plaster one 🙂

  13. Just one more note:

    Sometimes when someone wants to haggle, they ARE trying to take advantage. Just five minutes ago I talked to a prospect who had previously told me he didn’t have the money to pay my fee. Apparently, he has hired a part-time employee to do the work. So he has the money after all.

    Losing a client who wants to take advantage is to your benefit. You don’t want that kind of client.

  14. Well many clients do have that magic number in their heads which isn’t realistic. I haven’t reallu came across one yet that really was looking to low ball me and get work done for cheap.

    My thing is when a client do offer you an lower price for something, just lower your duties when it come to the work..just that easy.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  15. I almost never haggle with a client, unless it’s a project I really, really want. It’s less the fact that I’m offended by haggling, but more that experience has taught me that the people who ask for me to work for less are the people who demand more than full-priced clients would. I”ve ended up losing money on every project I’ve discounted.

    • Ooh, that makes me curious to know by how much you’d discounted and for what. I know when I agree to a lower rate, it’s because I’ve calculated the risk and weighed what’s in my favor. I’ve never lost yet, and in several cases, gained some great long-term clients I love.

  16. Having some “flex” in a pricing scheme can be a good idea. LIke you said if the person wants to lower the price beneath where you are willing to go a simple, “no” is all it takes. There is no reason to be offended or angry because of someone who wants to save a few bucks. Either the price is still high enough to be worth your time or it isn’t.

  17. I just had a client ask for a lower price on a web design quote. Normally, these request are few and far between but I emailed the client back and said that I reviewed the original estimate to see where we could reduce the scope of the project to bring the cost down, while still meeting the project objectives. I reduced the number of pages from 25 to 20 which reflected a slightly lower cost and I closed the sale this morning by phone. So in the end, I feel it worked out for both of us.

  18. I worked in Purchasing for five years. My job was to work out deals, negotiate contracts, survey potential providers, call for tenders, and enjoy lots and lots and lots of swag (salespeople love to schmooze you).

    And there was one ultra-valuable lesson I learned during that time sitting on the buyer’s side: Everything’s negotiable.

    🙂

  19. See, now, threaded comments backfired on me today, so I’m going to do this the old-fashioned way for some of you:

    @Daniel, @Joshua, @Traffic, Neil – I have no problem giving a discount if I see something of value coming back to me in return. But when there isn’t (and that’s cool too), then less for less is the next-best compromise: “Here’s what we can do for what you can afford.” In all cases, it’s enough to get that person ahead so that they make more money… and don’t have to worry about budgets the next time they need us!

  20. Another tact to take when clients start to haggle is to ask flat out what they have budgeted for annual web marketing/advertising/development initiatives. If they haven’t budgeted for web development, everything can seem expensive. If we know a client is prepared to spend $1,200 or $12,000 or $120,000 a year it becomes more clear how we can best help them in each case. If we know their budget, we might recommend a completely different solution then the one they’re “haggling” over. I wrote this post last week…

    What Does it Cost to Build, Maintain a Pro Web Presence?
    http://trendmedia.com/news/what-does-it-cost-to-build-maintain-a-professional-web-presence/

    Whatever the price point, getting clients to plan and think in terms of an annual budget and agreeing to work within the budget can eliminate haggling and transition you from discount vendor to strategic partner. Create a budget and the focus shifts from “How little can we spend?” to “How can we maximize the investment? What’s the most website we can build given the budget?”

    • That’s something to think about, eh? I know that personally if someone asks me my budget, I’ll launch the question right back at them. “What does it matter what my budget is?” (IE, it’s really none of their business…) Which is when I get the rates, because they’ll come back and say, “Well, it matters because if you can afford X, I can do this, and if it’s Y, it’s that…”

      I am really, really leery of anyone who asks me how much I have to spend before I even have a rough idea of prices, because it always makes me think they’ll scoop me for every penny I’m worth. I’ve yet to see a service provider say, “Your budget is 2k? Well guess what. I can do it for $500.”

      • Hi James,
        I can’t agree with you on the “what does it matter what the budget is” point at all.

        Given you are men with pens, I’m going to use an analogy from a different industry (the one I’m from). Say you ring up a promotional products company, and say you want to purchase some pens, printed with your company logo. The salesperson asks if you have any pens in mind – you don’t. Do you want metal or plastic pens… “I’m not sure” you say, “I’m just looking at the options”. “Roughly what were you looking to spend per pen” I ask, trying to get a guide as to if I should quote you on a 50c Bic pen or a $50 Cross pen. “What does it matter” you say, “It’s none of your business”.

        So, now I’m stuck. Unless a budget gets discussed, how do I know what options to quote you, since your requirements are so vague. Of course there are other questions that can be asked, but I’d be much more easily able to match up your budget with my various services to come to a solution that suits both buyer and seller if the buyer will be a bit more open.

        The same can apply to consulting – with a client vague on requirements you can match the amount of service you offer based on how much they are looking to spend.

  21. I publish my rates for my stained glass, but only as “as low as” prices. I don’t usually go too far up on price, but there is a big difference between a 3 ft window with 75 pieces of glass and one with 450 pieces… I’m priced so low that others in my niche market in different and more common mediums are charging 3X as much as I am. But that’s why I get 10X the work that they do. Though I’ve found that pricing myself too low actually hurts me because people don’t think they are getting value, just a deal. Plus most of my business is word of mouth so I can’t be fluctuating without ticking some of my customers off! It’s all about balance for me. I would rather get more work for less money than just do 3 pieces a year! I like my work and the more I do the more people see it and the more work I get!

    As for haggling, I don’t mind people asking me, just as long as they are respectfull. I had one guy try to buy a piece for pennies on the dollar. I politely told him to find an artist in a 3rd world country instead.

    • “As low as,” or “as little as,” or “starting at” is a great way to publish rates but still leave room.

      Also, stained glass is awesome. Kudos to you.

    • Micah,

      I think that’s a great idea. It leaves people with a starting point so they know if you are going to be anywhere near their budget.

      -Joshua Black

      • Hi Joshua,
        I take a different view. I don’t like to quote prices, because until I really understand what you need, and what value it brings to you, I honestly don’t know what it costs to deliver. I guess it depends on what type of product or service you sell to a large extent. Some products and services do have a set fee, and I guess it works well in those situations.
        Cheers,
        Daniel

  22. I love the direction of this article. It really helps to de-vilify (If thats even a word) haggling clients. Here is my 2 cents.

    I get clients that want a lower rate all the time. I’ve found that by giving them suggestions on how to pay for the marketing pieces I design for them, it usually seals the deal without having to haggle. For example, many clients want flyers for events, but never think to find sponsors. Once I mention how this has worked for my past clients, they do it and pay the quoted price.

    When the options I present to them are not possible, I will usually offer a 10-20% discount if the client pays up front for design work. This helps them get a better deal, and eliminates issues with delayed payment, non payment, and accounts receivables at the end of the project.

    Granted, I will only give a discount if I’m low on projects or if I really want that particular client in my client list.

    Word of caution for newbies… Beware of just giving a reduced rate, especially on the promise of more work or recommendations. Thats the oldest trick in the hagglers book.

    • Now that IS a good idea! “If you did X, you’d actually bring in Y, which means what I create for you is an investment.” That’s showing value before the buy, and that’ll go a long way.

  23. I think that freelancers should never be offended when someone asks for a lower rate. Keep in mind that freelancing means selling your skills in a huge marketplace that reaches the four corners of the World Wide Web. In this borderless world where everything seems flat, you need to learn how to negotiate. Instead of getting offended, I try to give prospects the benefits of paying me for the rate I quoted and if they still don’t find value in it, I just walk away. I believe what worked for me is showing my potential clients what they are really getting for their money and then, they will come to see that what I’m asking is not really that much – considering the long term benefits they’ll get out of my work.

    • This is a very good point, Ajeva. $100 in Canada isn’t the same as $100 in another country, and the reality is that there are some people who work for pennies (in my view) that do excellent work. We’re competiting in a global market, and many buyers are well aware that they could hire the guy in Thailand over the guy in Australia for the same work and at a cheaper rate.

  24. I love the haggle. It actually gives me a chance to help a client understand how much they’re actually getting in return for their dollar.

    When they request a lower rate I offer options by taking away services. More often than not, the clients opt for the whole shebang at the original quote with a new understanding of the value of their investment. The few who actually choose less services, get less.

    Lowering rates without taking away services suggests that rates are randomly assigned to projects. That’s quicksand.

  25. Great post and discussion. I just thought people might be interested in these two posts I wrote on negotiation for freelances – to help handle the haggling process.

    http://www.abccopywriting.com/blog/2010/01/11/negotiation-for-freelances-part-1-of-2-preparation/

    http://www.abccopywriting.com/blog/2010/01/12/negotiation-freelances-part-2-of-2/

  26. I’ll admit to being flustered each and every time this happens. It’s just my personality. I hate discussing fees, and I hate negotiating even more. This is one of the many personal weaknesses my undoubtedly super-successful freelancing business is just going to have to bulldoze to reach its full potential. Plain and simple.
    My personal opinion: if I can adjust the requirements of the project to get it to fit within the client’s budget, I’ll do all I can to make that happen. If doing so would sacrifice quality and cost me anything in reputation, I stick to the high road.

  27. In most cases a client haggles because you have not produced the value in your work. While, it is true some clients simply love to “haggle”, fact is when you create a true value proposition for your services the client, in many cases, feels like he is getting a good buy for the money, and you are happy with your fees.

    Never sell your services for less than what you consider “fair value”.

    One last point, why not offer a price guarantee, although most clients will never use it, it does create another value proposition in you!

    • Couldn’t agree more, Bill. While it doesn’t always hold true, a lot of the time value hasn’t been articulated to the customer. It may be there, it’s our job to demonstrate how much value there really is. That’s where the real fee is.

  28. This past week I went rounds with 2 clients haggling over price. For one client I reduced the price, but also reduced the deliverable. The other client, I’m sticking to my guns… I’ve been working really hard educating them on why the price is X and why I can’t go any lower. I’m 95% there.

    One thing I have learned since starting my own business is: ABC, “Always Be Closing”. I get clients all the time calling (or emailing) me asking questions. When I get these calls, I tell them I’ll work-up a proposal and send it over. This simple technique has landed me a lot of additional work.

    By the way, I love the idea of publishing rates. It does weed-out those who can’t afford you, and brings better leads.

  29. I think that freelancers should never be offended when someone asks for a lower rate. Keep in mind that freelancing means selling your skills in a huge marketplace that reaches the four corners of the World Wide Web. In this borderless world where everything seems flat, you need to learn how to negotiate. Instead of getting offended, I try to give prospects the benefits of paying me for the rate I quoted and if they still don’t find value in it, I just walk away. I believe what worked for me is showing my potential clients what they are really getting for their money and then, they will come to see that what I’m asking is not really that much – considering the long term benefits they’ll get out of my work.

  30. I have a few thoughts on this:
    1. Haggling over the price of an object is one thing, but haggling over the cost of the service with someone who then has to write about you and describe you in your best light is a little awkward, in my humble opinion.
    2. When someone haggles, it’s usually the tip of the iceberg of problems. On the few occasions when I’ve (foolishly) agreed to lower my rate, those clients proved to be difficult to please at every stage, and I invariably regretted my decision to try and help them. This left me with the firm “never again” sentiment.
    3. I post my fees clearly on my website, and if you missed it, I include them in my first reply to your inquiry, so there’s no excuse to waste your time or mine. If you don’t like what I charge, please move on to the next provider. We’ll both be happier.
    4. I can’t in good conscience lower my rate for the haggler, while charging full price to everyone else. To those who do it: How do you justify that and how do you explain it to a client who finds out you charged Joe Shmoe less for the same service?
    5. Of course there are always exceptions, and if you’re an existing loyal client and you approach the haggle with sincerity and a truly valid reason, I might be compelled, but only if we already have a rapport and only if you are offering some incentive in return.
    6. I read a comment above by a poster who said she inflates her rates to allow room for haggling. In my opinion, that contributes to the problem. I can’t tell her how to run her business, but I disagree with this practice. We aren’t selling used cars. As professionals, we should respect ourselves enough to set a fee and stick with it. I personally think if you play with hagglers, you are losing credibility.
    R.

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