Why I won’t compete on price

Image source: Unsplash

I’m not a hard-ass. 

Okay, I am a hard-ass. 

But I’m not a bitch. So I don’t turn down quoting opportunities to be brassy or spiteful. I turn them down when the rate is so laughable as to waste my time entirely.

Or when the job sounds horrible. 

Or the prospective client is rude. 

Or it’s a government RFP with no real scope and payment on ‘approval’.

But you get the idea. 

Here’s my thinking: 

With 15 years in business, great clients, and a busy work schedule, I’m not the right writer for the job if you have what I perceive to be an unreasonable budget. 

And that’s because my business policy is not to compete on price

I get that, sometimes, budgets are small. But what I don’t get is clients who pretend that small budgets aren’t small. That annoys me. 

I recently got a call from a would-be client. It went like this (specifics tweaked to protect the guilty party):

He: [Excited and upbeat] Howzit, I’m Ozzy. I work for a national media company. We’ve checked out your website, we like what we see, and we want you to blog for one of our three sites monthly. In time, you could do all three!

Me: Fab, Ozzy. Happy to. How long is each post?

He: [Still chipper] 500 to 1000 words.

Me: Okay. And how frequently?

He: [Boastful now] 3 times a week, so 12 articles a month. And there’d be two of you – we have a copywriter already – so 24 monthly pieces in total. 

Me: [Yoh, these guys must have a very active blog.] Cool. Sounds interesting. 

[I go on to ask questions about their current blog topics, what kind of briefs they give, expected turn-around times, whether or not research would be required, and the extent of organic SEO they’d like. From the answers I can tell that it’s going to be skimpy briefs, a lot of research and significant SEO.] 

He: [Casual] So Tiffany… what would you charge to do this for us?

Me: I have a base rate, but for this much work I’ll gladly discount it. Can you give me an idea of your usual spend on this sort of thing?

He: We pay 30 cents a word.

Me: [He must mean US cents. Not ZAR cents.] Sorry? 

He: 30. Cents. Per. Word. 

[I do a quick calculation. That’s R3600 per month for 12 pieces of copy, at a princely total of R300 each, including all research and basic SEO.] 

Me: [Dumbfounded] Okay, Ozzy. I’m going to be honest with you, because I don’t want to waste your time. My per word rate is R5 ex VAT. I sometimes discount for volume, to R4.50. But I don’t work for less than R4 per word, which is almost 15 times what you’re offering here. 

He: *crickets*

Me: Are you there?

He: Yes. 

Me: You okay, Ozzy?

He: [Irritated] Yes. But… You’re a freelancer. And we’re in a recession, so I’m surprised you won’t do this for 30 cents per word. Our other writer will. Plenty of writers will. Surely 3k a month is better than nothing?

Me: [Also irritated, but trying gamely not to let it show] Ozzy, I’m not a content factory. I provide quality writing based on sound research and proper time spent, and I charge accordingly. Just over 3k a month for what you need – to be honest – isn’t better than nothing, because I could be making R30k in that time. Please drop me a line if your budget changes, as I’d love to help you. But I’m not the right fit for this project.

He: [Grumpy] Fine.

Image source: Unsplash

I predict more *crickets*.

Ozzy’s never going to call me. Ever. And that’s a good thing. Because I’m not prepared to negotiate from that starting point. 

I’ll not compete on price. 

Really good service providers are seldom very negotiable on fees, because there’s enough demand for the services of good people. 

And when there isn’t demand, hypothetically, that time can be spent marketing, studying, or fine-tuning admin and systems. Regardless of what the economy might be doing. 

So what’s the bottom line? It’s this: Know your value. And if you’re good, experienced and a pro, don’t allow clients to pay you peanuts. Because you know what taking peanuts makes you, right? (I won’t use the m-word here.)

A version of this article originally appeared in Tiffany Markman’s Bizcommunity column.

Tiffany Markman gives good advice on freelancing. Want access to it?

Join Tiffany’s newsletter community by sharing your best email address, and get tips, tricks, info and advice whenever she has value to add.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


4 Responses

  1. I love this. I’d also love your thoughts on whether it’s the same across all professions as this question keeps popping up on copy-editing and proofreading rates. I agree with and take your stance, but many of my colleagues seem surprised.

    1. Nice piece! The half a loaf thing might apply in extreme circumstances, but even then it is no excuse to exploit people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *