When Negotiating A Project Fee

There are ways to strong-arm a highly competent Freelance professional who is ready to give a client his/her best work into accepting less than that Freelancer’s proposed project fee.  So many desperadoes are willing to work for pennies and that can make it difficult for those whose work quite simply is more valuable because s/he brings expertise and work ethic that ensure the project work will be flawless and client expectations will be met.  Those qualities should justify almost any project fee.  But sometimes, clients like to low-ball.

What do you do when s/he who would be your client tells you that you charge rather more than others for the same work? Remember that the best defense is a good offense and start justifying your pricing strategy from your initial contact with the prospect. Continuously model professionalism and expertise that separate you from the hoi polloi.

Remember also that Rule Number One in the consultant’s bible is to never cut your price. Not-for-profit organizations can receive a 10%- 25% discounted rate, but under no circumstances do you lower your hourly or project fee for any client.

Instead, add in a modest service upgrade at no charge, to make the price more palatable.  You can also scale back the work and that would be associated with a fee reduction, but one does not do the originally requested work for less money.  If the client becomes adamant about receiving the original project specs at less than your proposed fee, then find the courage to walk away.

I know that billable hours may not be falling out of trees, but you cannot participate in a race to the bottom.  Do not get sucked into competing with online Freelance service mills.  Read on and learn to create your rebuttal.

Exhibit your expertise

Clients get what they pay for and pay for what they get! Let prospective clients know that when you are hired, a task can be completely handed over to you and you will own it. Furthermore, you are willing to use your expertise to make suggestions that might improve the quality of the project deliverables.  You are a first-rate service provider who is dependable, responsive, talented and trustworthy.  Your work is done correctly the first time and there will be no need for either micromanaging or do-overs.  The client’s role in completing the project will be much lighter and that adds up to value.  These practices and competencies are reflected in your project fee and hourly rate.

Reveal your responsiveness

Especially when an important deadline looms, reassure your prospect that you are prepared to work hard and ensure that project milestones and the deadline are met.  You understand that sometimes, late nights, weekends and holidays must be at least partly devoted to work.  Your admirable work ethic is reflected in your project fee and clients who are in a hurry find your fee structure reasonable.  Your project fee includes timely communications, responding to feedback, generating ideas and more.

Demonstrate your dependability

Clients can be confident and relax when you are on the job because they know and trust your work, attention to detail and diligence.  You make life easier and allow the client to attend to other duties while you manage the project.  Project work is reliably completed as requested and within budget.  Your clients look good to their superiors, peers and direct reports.  No one winds up with egg on their face when they hire you.

Trot out your testimonials

In addition to your LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements, you no doubt will be able to supply client testimonials from one or two satisfied customers who will speak on the record with a prospective client.  If you have one or two client success stories on your web site so muh the better, as these are case studies that detail the client journey and spell out the wonderful work you can do.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Mike Tyson (left) by Milo threeoneseven for ESPN (date unknown)




Your Big Client Bid Strategy

Freelance consultants have to be nimble and resourceful in order to compete successfully and that is especially so when in pursuit of a big-league client.  Winning a big client is tremendous validation,  but when swimming with whales it is essential to take precautions and maintain as much control over the process as possible.   It would be disastrous to do what is second nature to many small business operators and Freelancers: whatever it takes to get the job in and whatever it takes to get the job done.   Pursuing important clients with big contracts out for bid takes a more sophisticated approach.

When assessing and pricing a big  contract,  the project fee attached to your proposal carries much weight,  in more ways than one.   Bid too high and you’re knocked out of contention.   Bid too low,  a common practice of Freelance consultants and small business owners,  and one of two impressions will be made:

1.   That you are perhaps unqualified to do the work because you’re selling your services for too little money,  or

2.   That you’re desperate for business and probably ripe for exploitation.

To both convey the image of a capable and experienced professional and ensure that you make money on the project,  be sure that you thoroughly understand what will be required to fulfill the contract and your ability to do so.   Job costing and cash flow projections will need special care.   Will you need extra expertise for some aspect of this job,  or perhaps an extra pair of hands in order to meet the timetable? 

Realize that big projects for big clients mean big accounts receivable and there can be a downside.   Be honest about how much money you can afford to have outstanding,  even if  payments are received on time.   Help yourself by requesting 20% – 35% of the project fee up-front and due within 15 days of the contract signing.   Set up a payment schedule in your proposal that ensures you’ll be able to pay any subcontractors and also yourself on time.

Freelancers and small business owners often compete on price,  but one is advised to avoid dangerously low bids in order to get work or add a marquis name to the client list,  only to receive very little profit from the project.   Michael MacMillan,  founder and CEO of MacMillan Communications of New York City,  focuses on selling personal attention and customized PR strategies to his clients and providing more bang for the buck.   “One of the advantages of being a smaller organization is that you’re more efficient because there are fewer overhead costs.  We are able to apply more of the project fee directly to account work”. 

According to Jeffrey Bolton,  managing partner at the accounting firm Daszkal Bolton LLP of Boca Raton, FL,  the key to evaluating whether to pursue a big client is to ask yourself  how important that account will be for future business growth and whether the project work fits into your strategic plan,  even if you don’t make money on it.  “If you’re trying to build a reputation,  that foot in the door is necessary,  but you must have an institutional mind-set when taking on a big client and not a mom-and-pop mind-set”.

Thanks for reading,