We’ve all had the sinking feeling upon hearing the words, “I’m sorry, but that’s out of our budget…” 

It stings especially hard if you’ve already plowed several hours (or even days) into meeting with the client, researching solutions, and writing up a proposal.

Test them on price before you give a firm quote.

Which is why it’s important to poke them a little on price before you do all the work necessary to provide a firm quote. 

You can do this without feeling gross or leaving money on the table by saying things like…

  • “A similar project came in around XYZ, is that about what you were thinking?”
  • “Will you faint if I told you my projects start at ABC?”
  • “I start every project with an audit, which costs XYZ. Would you like to move forward?”

(Note that for the third option to work, your audit/entry-level offer needs to be proportional to your project pricing. So you can’t price your audit at $50 but have your projects start at $1,000. That’s too big of a price jump for the $50 audit to tell you anything useful about their willingness and ability to spend $1,000.)

What to do when a potential client says you’re too expensive

But let’s say you float a price, and they say that they can’t afford that. 

Now, I will say that a lot of times, the amount of money isn’t the true objection. They may have that much available, but they don’t see the value of spending it on this project. Sometimes those objections can be addressed through the sales process, sometimes they can’t, but that’s a topic for another time. Let’s assume that they simply do not have the budget to work with you.

Figure out what you want.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether you still want to work with this client on this project. Some projects are only worth taking if you’re getting paid well to do it, and that’s okay! In fact, that’s smart, because if you agree to take on a project for 20% less than you wanted, you’re giving up the opportunity to work with someone else who might pay your full price. 

If you don’t want to accept a smaller amount of money, then thank them politely for sharing their business needs with you. You can provide referrals to other service providers if you have them, or just wish them the best.

If you still want to work on this project with this client, there are ways to proceed.

Modify the scope of the project.

The first solution most people reach for is to reduce the scope of the project. Maybe you offer to create social media content and the client is responsible for getting it posted, since that is a simple, repeatable process that you can teach them. Or you build out the homepage of their website and then create a template they can use for the rest of their content pages.

Make sure that you are still setting the client up for success with the parts that they are going to do on their own. If you’re going to skip certain parts of the process for now, make a plan for how to fill that gap and how to update that later. You always want to deliver the outcome that you promise, so be sure to manage expectations about how things might look and work differently if the client will be DIYing part of it.

Offer a condensed timeline.

A decent part of any project fee is the time spent on customer service as well as the opportunity cost incurred during the project. A 6-month project will require you to keep the project up and running (at least mentally) that entire time, and/or say no to some other opportunities for the project duration.

You can reduce some of that time and opportunity cost by condensing a project into a VIP day or week. Offer a set amount of time to accomplish a set scope of work. After that, you’re all done. The VIP day/week has the added benefit of placing the responsibility on the client to get the most out of the time they’ve paid for. When they know they only have a day or week available to them, they’re more likely to get their homework done on time, respond quickly to communication, etc. (Make sure you make your expectations about this clear from the beginning!)

Offer an extended timeline and payment schedule.

The other option is to expand the project timeline and the corresponding payment schedule. Instead of a 3-month project, turn it into a 6-month project and give them more time to pay. This works well for clients with tighter cash flows who can make the money needed to pay for the project but may not have it all at once.

Be very careful with extending the timeline. Often, longer projects can take more energy than shorter projects, especially if you’re working it in between other projects. You’ll need to build in some time to get yourself and the client back up to speed on something you haven’t touched for a month. I suggest treating an extended timeline like a series of VIP days or weeks to minimize the amount of task switching necessary. I would also tie payments to specific milestones so there’s no confusion about what is supposed to be done when.

Offer a payment plan.

The final option is to give the client the option to pay off a portion of the project fee after work is completed. I recommend offering this only to clients with whom you have worked before, or otherwise trust to respect your boundaries. (I actually would not necessarily recommend doing this with friends and family.)

What not to do when someone says your prices are too high

The one thing I don’t want you to do is lower your prices without modifying the scope or timeline. Your prices are what they are for a reason, and you don’t need to justify that to anyone.

Want to figure out if your rates are high enough to meet the goals you’ve set for yourself? Download my free rate calculator to see how much you’re actually earning based on what you charge.

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