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Why I don't compete on price

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, nasty or spiteful. I turn them down when the proffered rate is so laughable as to waste my time entirely.
(Or when the job sounds horrible. Or when the prospective client is rude. Or when it’s a government RFP with no real scope and payment on ‘approval’.)

Here’s my thinking:

With 12 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 as) an unreasonable budget. And that’s not because I’m expensive - I’m usually somewhere in the middle - it’s because I’ve taken a business decision not to compete on price.

Disclaimer: 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. To illustrate, only this week I got a call from a would-be client. It went like this (specifics have been tweaked to protect the un-deserving guilty party):
    • [Excited and upbeat] I’m Ozzy. I represent a national media company. We’ve checked out your website, we like what we see and we’d like you to blog for one of our three sites monthly. In time, you could do all three!

    • Absolutely, Ozzy. I’d be happy to. How long would each blog post be?

    • [Still chipper] Between 500 and 1000 words.

    • [Really? That’s uber-long for blog posts.] Okay. And how frequently?

    • [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, total.

    • [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, turn-around times required, whether or not research would be required on my part, and the extent of organic in-text SEO they’d like. In a nutshell, it’s skimpy briefs, a lot of research and significant SEO work.]

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

    • Well, I have a base rate, but for this much work I’d gladly discount it. Could you give me an idea of your usual expenditure on this sort of thing?

    • We pay 30 cents a word.

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

    • 30. Cents. Per. Word.

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

    • [Dumbfounded] Wow. Ozzy, I’m going to be honest with you, because I don’t want to waste your time. My base per word rate is R4 ex VAT. I occasionally discount for volume, to R3. But I wouldn’t work for less than R2.75 per word, which is almost 10 times what you’re offering here.

    • *crickets*

    • Are you there?

    • Yes.

    • Uh – you okay?

    • [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 other writers will. Surely 3k a month is better than nothing?

    • [Also irritated, but trying not to let it show] Ozzy, we’re not a content factory. We provide quality writing based on good research and proper time spent, and we charge accordingly. Just over 3k a month for what you need – to be honest – isn’t better than nothing. So drop us a line if your budget changes, as we’d love to help you. But we’re not right for this.

    • [Grumpy] Fine.
Ozzy’s never going to call me. Ever. And that’s a good thing. Because I’m not prepared to negotiate from that particular starting point. I’ll not compete on price. On quality? Sure. Strategy? Sure. Experience, expertise, even (depending on my mood) kneel-at-clients’-feet service. Fine. But not price.

Why not?

Really good service providers are seldom 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 peanuts. Because you know what taking peanuts makes you, right? (I won’t use the m-word here.)

*Note that Bizcommunity staff and management do not necessarily share the views of its contributors - the opinions and statements expressed herein are solely those of the author.*

About Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a highly opinionated copywriter, copy editor and writing trainer who has worked for over 300 clients worldwide. She hates misplaced apostrophes, old-fashioned business writing and the word ‘revert'. She loves generous paragraphing, art, skulls and black coffee. Read more at TiffanyMarkman.co.za, email , follow @tiffanymarkman on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.
Comment
Tiffany Markman
Yes, I'm commenting on my own piece. Because I'm intrigued and amused by Bizcommunity's disclaimer regarding not necessarily sharing its contributors' views.
Posted on 8 Mar 2016 17:20
Anonymous
I was wondering if that was standard or not!
Posted on 10 Mar 2016 19:20
Damaria Senne
I learnt the hard way that having no work on the horizon is much better than having low-balling clients. Working for peanuts is exhausting, demoralising and takes up the time that could be better spent marketing or if push comes to shove, working on your own projects. Pretty soon you don't have resources to look for higher-paying work because you're bogged down with "at least it's something."
Posted on 15 Mar 2016 16:06
Damaria Senne
I tried t respond to the post but the system kept bouncing me out. Anyhoo, trying here :)

I learnt the hard way that having no work on the horizon is much better than having low-balling clients. Working for peanuts is exhausting, demoralising and takes up the time that could be better spent marketing or if push comes to shove, working on your own projects. Pretty soon you don't have resources to look for higher-paying work because you're bogged down with "at least it's something."
Posted on 15 Mar 2016 16:08

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