Fast, good, cheap - pick 2

“You can have it fast, you can have it good, you can have it cheap. Pick any two.”

If these are words for independent communicators to live by – reflecting the value of what we do – why do so many of us buckle when a prospective client balks at the price we propose?

A lively discussion about how to respond to “low ball” clients was just one of the benefits of attending a meeting of the Halton-Peel Communications Association (now called Communicators Connection).

Members and guests came away with great advice from panelists Renée Brisson-Khan, graphic designer and owner of RBK Artworks; Donna Papacosta, writer, podcaster and owner of Trafalgar Communications; Val Sanna, graphic designer and owner of Ignition Design & Communications; and Diana Spremo, PR specialist. Anne Von Rosenbach, writer, video producer and owner of AVR Concepts, moderated. Here are some of the tips:

On contracts

  • Always use some form of contract — at the very least, an email or letter — spelling out agreed-upon terms, especially with a new client. Include the phrase “as agreed.”
  • Define the scope of work, timelines, copyright and usage rights; limit the number of revisions.
  • Make sure the client understands his/her responsibilities and the need for timely response to meet deadlines.
  • Include a line limiting how long your proposal is valid; 30 days is a good number.
  • Spell out the strategic value you bring to the work and how that will benefit the client.
  • Specify whether long distance calls, mileage, courier and other incidentals are included or not.
  • Define payment terms, including billing a percentage up front and at intervals throughout the project. Include a “kill fee” for projects cancelled after you’ve begun work.
  • Get a deposit, especially with new clients. As Donna pointed out, “No one does custom work without a deposit.”

On setting/raising rates

  • Use a project rate, which doesn’t penalize you for working quickly and efficiently. Track your time to check how that converts to an hourly rate.
  • Package your services, which may more clearly show the value of what you offer and reduces the focus on price per hour.
  • Consider the PITA (pain in the …) factor and build in extra time for a demanding client.
  • If you think you’re charging “just enough,” you probably aren’t; add 20%.
  • Raise your rates with new clients.
  • If you quote a fee and the client accepts it without hesitation, you know that next time you should charge more.

Dealing with clients who think your rates are too high

  • Never accept a lower rate than what you’ve quoted just to get work; it devalues what you do.
  • Offer a compromise, where you charge a lower fee but reduce certain aspects of the job.
  • Explain the value of the work and point out additional services included in the price.
  • Show how your rates reflect your experience and are competitive within the local market.
  • Decline the job, but offer to refer the client to a lower-cost alternative in your network.

The panelists agreed they might work for less than their usual rate for charities or causes they believe in; for a colleague or friend; to raise their profiles, try something new or get a great portfolio piece.

Other advice

  • If the client doesn’t pay as agreed, use friendly reminders. Make friends in the client’s Accounts Payable department.
  • If you subcontract work, a 15% markup is standard to cover your role as project manager.
  • When people ask if you’re busy, don’t give the impression that you don’t need/want more work.
  • Put daily and weekly marketing activities on your calendar and keep to them.
  • Keep a lid on unproductive time by turning off mail alerts and limiting time on social media.
  • Listen to your gut. Never let anybody push you into accepting a job you don’t feel comfortable with.

The event was a reminder for the independents in the room of the importance of networking groups specific to what we do, like HPCA and IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators. These groups help strengthen our business, broaden our networks, introduce us to like-minded people, and get us out of the office. A great deal all around, I’d say!