Clueless: Talking Pricing with Clients Who Just Want a “Small Job”

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Pricing design work can be a challenge when clients want "just a small job."

Photo by Fabian Blank

Don’t you hate it when a client says this? “This is just a small job. It shouldn’t take too long.”

Whether they are aware of it or not, this is code for: “I can’t afford to pay much for this, so it couldn’t possibly take long.”

To me, that’s a red flag.

I’d much prefer a client who tells me directly they don’t have much to spend and asks what I can offer. Then, at least, you can negotiate.

So whenever a less-than-ideal client starts a conversation about a project this way, here’s what you can say, “Actually, what you’re asking for is more involved than you imagine. So let’s talk about your goals and we’ll do our best to offer an affordable solution.”

I must admit that I also am guilty of this when I am the client.

A designer recently told me that my PPT deck needed a new look and feel. I know to take that kind of advice when it’s offered to me. So I hired Maureen Adamo to work on it, with this thought in mind, “How long could that take? Isn’t it really just one slide with a few variations? What could be so complicated?”

This may sound like I don’t appreciate or value design, but it’s not that at all. It’s just that I don’t know what’s involved when pricing design work.

In other words, I am the “Clueless Client” (from my “Problem Clients” presentation given at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference) with a simple case of wishful thinking, often rooted in a tiny (or non-existent) budget.

Because what the Clueless Client is really saying is, “This can’t take too long because I don’t have much to spend.”

You see, when I don’t have a big budget to spend, I pray the project won’t take too long or cost too much. (Although by now I know better than to say this out loud to a designer.)

I think this is what may be happening when some of your clients balk at your pricing.

But if a client doesn’t understand your process, or isn’t aware of how much care and thought you put into your work, then they will have no problem convincing themselves there’s nothing to it. That’s how they become “problem clients.”

I think it’s actually your responsibility to cure them of this. And although you can’t avoid it altogether, one way to counter it is to use your own content marketing to educate your prospects about what’s actually involved in the work you do. (Case studies are a great way to do that—here are mine.)

And while you can’t control their wishful thinking, your marketing will go a long way to making them a little bit less clueless.