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How to deal with clients who shop around on price

by Rachel Smith
01 February 2019

There’s a silver lining to knowing a LOT of freelance journalists, or content writers, or copywriters. To being in numerous Facebook groups, or on Twitter, or chatting every so often on LinkedIn. You learn very quickly about clients who shop around. That is, clients who don’t care much about your credentials – just the lowest price they can get.

This is very different from being motivated to finding the right copywriter or journalist or content producer because you like their work, are impressed by their testimonials, and think they’d be a good fit for your project.

It’s about a bargain-basement, cost-cutting race to the bottom that is a) disingenuous and b) wastes everyone’s time.

best price guarantee stampClients who shop around: red flags

Sometimes the client will reveal they’re seeking the lowest price outright by saying something like, ‘I’ve reached out to a heap of writers for quotes on this job and wanted to get yours too.’ (Gee, don’t I feel special.)

Or, they might just request your rate card and you know they’re just lining all the rate cards up on a table and saying, ‘Let’s go with Mary! She only charges $30/hour! SCORE!’

Some clients do a combo of something I like to call the ‘Rates + Free Copy Approach’.

The client might say, ‘We’d love to see your rate card / quote for this project AND at the same time can you please write 300 words on this topic so we can see whether your style would work’.

This has happened to me twice over the past month – the exact same email sent to a number of copywriters. We all knew each other and because freelancers often compare notes, we quickly twigged. (Whoops.)

How to handle a client who only wants low rates

  1. Get more information. Ask how they found you – LinkedIn? Google search? If your website is SEO-optimised up the wah-zoo and they found you because they plugged in the right keywords and your name popped up, that’s a great sign that they’re interested in more than just what you charge. (You know, like your skills and experience.)
  2. Check them out. It’s generally easy to determine if a company is in start-up mode and bootstrapped to the hilt; chances are they won’t have a massive budget for your services. But be aware that price-surfing clients will come from large blue chips who should by rights have a decent budget. With the latter, at least you should have a better chance of negotiating upwards.
  3. Ask how they work with / hire freelancers. If they say, ‘We usually find people on Fiver or bidding sites’, that’s a red flag that they’re looking for a bargain. It might be that they used those sites, got burned and now realise you get what you pay for. However, unless they actually say that outright – be cautious.
  4. Be firm about the ‘free trial’ thing. I’m a cynic and always think ‘free’ trial copy can be used on the final site – but that’s not why I don’t do it. I’m a professional, I’m busy and I feel like my work should speak for itself. I feel the same about writing an article on spec. It’s okay (sort of) when you’re starting out and need clips; not so fine when you have 10 or 20 years experience. Saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m too busy to do free trials for prospective clients. Happy to do a paid trial or send you some targeted clippings / direct you to previous work I’ve done that’s similar to your project’. Plus, if you’re good at what you do you should be able to adjust your tone / style to different projects.
  5. Don’t spend ages on a quote or proposal. If you do decide to quote after getting an inkling that the client is price surfing, a short estimate is fine. Spending hours on a proposal when you know a multitude of other writers may be doing the same thing and the client is just after the lowest quote anyway is just a waste of your precious time.

Have you been at the mercy of clients who shop around? How do you handle it?

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
Find us!

2 responses on "How to deal with clients who shop around on price"

  1. Kelly says:

    Another way to deal with this can be to send them a quote request questionnaire. If they’re not willing to fill in 5-10 questions about their project to help you determine whether you’re a good fit for your project then chances are they’re not going to be willing to pay anything other than the lowest price they can find.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Yes, agree Kelly – you see very quickly who’s serious about their project when you do this!

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