posted on Apr 14, 2018

What To Do When A Client Can’t Afford You

What To Do When A Client Can’t Afford You

by Justin Adams

Performance Tip#673

When the Client Can’t Afford You

**Disclaimer: the following tips are geared toward private clients and small businesses. Likely these tips will get you laughed at by large companies unless you have an established relationship**

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down.

You are growing. You are taking commissions. But now you’ve run up against a client that is interested but can’t afford your rates. You tell them what your services are worth and they tell you what their meager budget is for their big project.

Fear not brave art warrior! There are some solutions. Advocate for yourself. No one else will (well, unless you have an agent).


1) Know Your Worth And Be Confident:

You are a business after all. Act like it. You may not be the best but sure as shit you’ll do your best.

2) Attract The Right Clients:

Make sure you’re going after the clients who are most likely to want what you do. If you paint mechs, don’t ask D&D for a cover spot. Also, generally speaking, the work you mostly do will likely be the work you attract.

3) Send The Right Message:

Speak and write to them like a professional. Present yourself like an art executive. Seriously. Be the guy at the Lamborghini dealership, not the guy at the used car lot with amber tinted glasses and sideburns. Avoid terms like “cheap”, “bargain”, “fast”, “affordable” and the like. Use words like “high value”, “quality”, “expert”, and “guaranteed”. Screw ‘fake it til you make it’ crap and BE A DAMN PROFESSIONAL.

4) Stay Away From Inputs and Focus on Outputs:

Inputs are: time, effort, materials, etc.

Outputs are: making/saving money/time, reducing risk, gaining advantage, creating opportunity, etc. Therefore get the conversation away from what they might be spending and turn it toward what will happen; how their project will grow and benefit.

5) Don’t Make Price A Selling Point:

When you hear “I can’t afford your rates” often times it is a matter of priorities rather than resources. When something has been prioritized to be at the top of their list usually a person will find a way to afford it. Don’t immediately respond with lowering your rates.

“But I might not get the gig!!” you say…Yep. That might happen. But it is your sole duty as a business to champion for yourself. But this has some flex to it. More on that in a bit.

6) Don’t Persuade Them To Raise Their Rates: 

The conversation may take a nose-dive if you go hard on convincing them to pay more. You can try it but with a first time client I personally wouldn’t go that route. Instead focus on the value of the outcome you promise and how your approach provides an advantage. Focus on what its worth to the client to have the results they want. Get them to understand they are investing in the future of their project when in working with you (i.e. seeing it as not losing money but creating an opportunity to make more revenue for them).

7) Sandwiches: No not a veggie stack with mayo on rye. Though that sounds really tasty right now…

If you are not familiar it’s a way to say something that may be received poorly by “sandwiching” it with something good before it and something good after it. This is more about the general architecture of how you deliver what you’re going to say. So for example, the first part of your response is thanking them and telling them how excited you are. The next part is making it clear that what they can offer is below your current rate. The last part you explain as I mentioned above, the benefits of working with you, the advantage you bring, and the promise of a fruitful outcome.

8) Duck Duck Goose Method: 

Ok, so not all people are familiar with this game. If you don’t know what it is, just look it up. I’m already tired of typing. Anyways…the method looks like this: You meet the client and they tell you what the gig is and what they can afford. You make it plain as day that your rates are X. Take that gig at their rate (duck #1`). If you work with them again, take that gig at their pay scale while again making it clear what your actual rates are (duck #2). If you get with them a third time use the above tactics to raise your rate to what you want it to be. Perhaps you will compromise somewhere in the middle or perhaps you will stick to your original fees. The point of this is to try and build a relationship. And always deliver your top value art and never let your quality slide.

9) When All Else Fails, Walk: 

“See you later bro! I’m telling all my FB art buddies you suck!” Just kidding. A last thing you can do, especially if you think their project is cool, is to link them up with another creative that has some skills but may not mind a lower budget. This tactic has you focusing still on the needs of the client.

Two outcomes from this: 

1) the client finds someone to work with within their budget.

2) once again the client finds themselves unable to afford the art services.

In the latter case it potentially would allow them to realize that they weren’t financially prepared to develop their project in the quality they intended.

An added bonus to passing jobs to other artists is that it strengthens your overall network, strengthens your bond between you and your art buds as well as you and the trust between yourself and that client. I firmly believe that what goes around comes around. In doing this from time to time, you set yourself up for the same treatment down the line.


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