You do great work that delivers a big improvement for your clients. The last thing you want to work with is clients who don’t respect your talent and want you to do everything for next to nothing.  Why should you?

Here are some telltale things that clients say that indicate they may want you to work for free or for peanuts and here’s what to do about it.

Before I start though, let me say that sure, budgets are tight in many industries. That’s a reality – absolutely. The key though is, it needs to be win-win. Your client wins and you win too. Not win-lose.

1. “I only have a small budget but I will have a lot more work for you in the future.

Possible translation #1: I will promise you lots of future work because I want you to do this project for next to nothing now. Even though I intend to refer you extra work in the future, it may or may not happen.

Possible translation #2: I am not 100% convinced that you can deliver results for me, so I want an inexpensive way to trial your services first.

The key here is to probe further with the client and find out more about the potential opportunities moving forward. If it’s a small project and you can see that there’s a genuine opportunity for future work, sure, it is worthwhile giving your client the opportunity to ‘test you out’. If, on the other hand, it’s a massive project and they’re wanting a significant reduction in fees, it begs the question, is the promise of possible future work  worth the gamble?

2.It’ll be great exposure.

Once again, you’re trading your time for a promise of something that may or may not happen in the future.

Time is money. Chances are, if you factor in the time you’re devoting to the client FREE or at a reduced fee, you could have spent that same amount of time prospecting activities that guarantee to increase your exposure, without their help.

Having said that ‘pro bono’ work, on rare occasions and with the right ‘very large’ client, can pay off but these situations are few and far between.

 3. We’d like to see what ideas you have first.

Clients say this for one of two reasons:

  1. They’re not 100% trusting of your ability to deliver and they want to see examples of what you’ve done. This indicates that you haven’t demonstrated enough value in your initial communications with them.
  2. They’re shopping around and they want to pick your brain for free then use your ideas without paying you.

Either way, doing work on ‘spec’ is a no-go zone. Even if the client does go ahead, you have ‘trained’ them into only paying for something once you’ve done it and if they like it – regardless of whether it works or not.

You’ve started the relationship with a lack of respect.

Interestingly, the proof is often in the pudding. Whether the client likes or dislikes your work has very little do with whether it’s going to work when its implemented.

 4.“I can’t pay much but I’ll give you a great testimonial when it works

If you get a result, your clients will give you testimonials anyway so there’s no need to drop your pricing simply to secure a testimonial.

Having said that, this can be a really valuable exercise when you initiate it for the purposes of getting testimonials in the beta-testing phase of a new program or product.

5. OR “I can’t pay much but we can introduce you to a lot of influential people who have big budgets.

This may be true however if you’re great at what you do, it isn’t a reason to be bribed into reducing your fees.

Instead, offer the potential client a lucrative referral fee for future work they refer your way. That way you’re getting paid what you’re worth AND the client is recouping their investment in your work even faster through the referral fees. Everyone wins.

6. I could get my assistant to do this for free, however I’d like to work with you. 

This is a warning sign that the client doesn’t value your work or the results you deliver, or your track record.

7. This will be a super quick project for someone with your talent so there’s no need to make the proposal complex.

After you’ve done a dozen or so revisions you’ll soon see that what your client’s view of ‘super quick’ and what yours is are two entirely different things. That’s why it’s important to always specific precisely what they’ll receive for their investment.

8. Just send me a quick quote. Don’t go to too much trouble.

The client isn’t 100% committed to spending money on the project or they don’t have an urgent need, and they’re just looking around for options just to see what’s out there. Simply putting together a quick proposal for that client isn’t the best solution. Instead, spend time getting to know them. Find out more about what their needs are, what’s working for them right now and what isn’t, as well as time frames. This will give you a better understanding of how qualified the client is.

9. I’ll pay you a percentage of profits

I have heard this 100’s of times from potential clients over the years. This indicates that the client is a start-up, has very little money to spend and wants you to gamble your time on whether their venture will be a success or not.

Here’s the thing …

While getting paid on performance is potentially awesome and I have done it on some occasions, in 9 out of 10 situations it isn’t worthwhile.

Here’s why:

You give your valuable advice or create your magical piece of creative. The client then starts getting leads coming in, but their sales process is ordinary.

Or – they use your words and then go and have someone offshore create a juvenile design that looks unprofessional and they don’t get any leads.

Or – their targeting is off and although the piece or the advice you may have given is gold, it isn’t reaching the right target audience.

Or – numerous other factors weigh in which are outside of your control.

Having said this, pay for performance projects can work:

  1. If you have a retainer;
  2. If it’s an established product with a track record;
  3. If you have ‘control’ over how the product is sold.

Question for you: Can you think of any other telltale signs?

Feel free to share them in the comments below.


To find out more about how to end the struggle with price-sensitive clients and start attracting high paying clients who are a joy to deal with, download a copy of my book, “Consultant Marketing Secrets: Double Your Income FAST Using This Proven 5 Step Plan”.

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