We’ve all had the sinking feeling upon hearing the words, “I’m sorry, but your price is too high and 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.
Let’s look at some ways to respond kindly but firmly when someone says your price is too high.
How to Avoid Hearing Your Price is Too High
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Before you work up a proposal, and maybe even before you meet with a client, you want to poke them a little on price. That way everyone has some idea of what to expect 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…
- “All my projects start at XYZ, does that sound like what you had in mind?”
- “A similar project came in around XYZ, is that about what you were thinking?”
- “I start every project with an audit, which costs XYZ.* Here’s what the audit includes. 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.)
5 Things to Do When a Client Says Your Price is Too High
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.
Whatever you do, do not start by immediately invalidating what they’ve told you by saying things like, “Oh, it’s not that much money.” The client will feel like you’re not listening to them, and either walk away immediately or double down on their belief that they can’t afford you. Kiss your sale goodbye, jerk.
Do not make passive-aggressive comments about them not valuing quality work or not wanting the results you deliver badly enough. Because you know who no one wants to work with? A fucking gaslighter. You don’t know their life, you don’t know their business. Let them be the expert in what they can and cannot do.
Okay, with THAT out of the way, let’s assume that they truly do not have the budget to work with you.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!)
4. 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.
5. 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.)
16 Ways to Respond When Clients Say Your Price is Too High
Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what to actually SAY in these situations. You’ll find a list below of phrases to use that will help you maintain your boundaries and the client relationship.
Quick note: these starters are intended for conversations with potential clients who are already somewhat interested in working with you. You can use them in your initial inquiry responses, during sales/discovery calls, and in follow-up emails.
They are not designed for:
- getting in arguments with random looky-lous from social media who are never going to hire you
- justifying your life choices with skeptical family members
- price-sparring with “competitors” trying to undermine your confidence by projecting their insecurities and ignorance on you
Some appropriate responses for *those* situations include:
- My price list is on my website.
- I’d be happy to discuss specific pricing further after you book a discovery call and fill out this intake form.
- Kindly fuck off into the sun.
Okay, NOW to the good stuff…
Section 1: Gauging If Your Price is Too High for the Client
At this stage, keep the conversation short and simple. Ask close-ended questions that they can answer with a quick yes or no. This gives everyone a graceful way to bow out if needed, or it primes them to say yes to other questions further down the line. Once you ask, shut up and give them time to answer. Don’t let the silence freak you out.
- All my projects start at XYZ, does that sound like what you had in mind?
- A similar project came in around XYZ, is that about what you were thinking?
- I start every project with an audit, which costs XYZ. Here’s what the audit includes. Would you like to move forward?
- Most of my [project types] fall into the range of ABC-XYZ. Is that range doable for you?
Section 2: Validating When Your Price is Too High for the Client
If a client says no to your price feelers, you MUST validate their belief that your price is too high for them. Why? Because it shows that you believe them and you trust them to be the expert in their own life and business.
If you immediately try to persuade them to spend more than they’re comfortable with, they’ll feel unheard. When that happens, they’ll either double down and insist they can’t afford to hire you. (Ever tell someone, “Oh, it’s not that bad”? How did that go for ya?) Or they’ll withdraw from the conversation. Even if they stay, they’ll wish they were somewhere else. That’s never how you want to start a client relationship.
Again, don’t deliver a state of the union address. Use some of these validation phrases, then give them space to respond. Put your own agenda aside, because you won’t get what you really want until the client trusts you. If they’ve told you a bit about why or what else is going on in their life, work that into the validation organically and nonjudgmentally.
- It sounds like that was more than you were hoping to spend on this project.
- I imagine it’s scary to invest this much money in XYZ if you’ve never done it before.
- It’s understandable that this might be a stretch for you given what you’ve told me.
- I wonder if it might make sense to revisit a project of this scale when [X conditions are different].
- Thanks for being honest about your resources. It sounds like this project is really important to you but the budget isn’t there right now. I’d be happy to send you [referrals, tutorials for DIY, courses, etc.]
Section 3: Offering Options When Your Price is Out of Budget
If you decide you still want to work with the client, here are some options you can consider:
- We can work together to get this done. I’ll do X [the highest-value work] and then I’ll train you/your team how to post/publish/implement/update. I’ll check in with you [every so often] and make sure you’re comfortable taking it across the finish line.
- We can do [X] part now, which will still meet your goals of [insert partial goal] in this way. That will work until [milestone], at which point we can do [Y] part if you want to upgrade/improve.
- I have a course/resource/template you can use to do [part A] on your own. Send that to me within [X time] and I can refine/revise/expand it into [final product].
- I do offer a VIP day/week option that I think would work well for getting [XYZ] done. With VIP days/weeks, I can get a lot done very quickly with less overhead for me, and pass that cost savings to you. Here’s what I think we can realistically do in a VIP day/week.
- If you can get [parts A & B] done ahead of time, I can knock out the rest in a VIP day/week. You’ll get results quickly, and I can pass on some cost savings from the condensed timeline.
- We can space the project out to [Y time period] instead of [X time period] so you’ll have more time to make payments. We can break it into [milestone 1, 2, 3, 4] as long as we can wrap everything up within [X time].
- Because we’ve worked together before and I know your business well, we can do a payment plan of [X amount] up front and [X payments over Y time] after we finish the project. For me to be able to do that, staying with the timeline will be really important, so here are my late payment fee and project reschedule fee policies.
What not to do when someone says your price is 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.