Wednesday, 14 March 2018

We May All Need Fancy Marketing Soon, a.k.a. Distinguish or Perish (in the Battle of Quotes)

They say 'diversify or die'. Today I want to say 'distinguish or perish'.

Clients, even consumers, already mail 20 providers in BCC, asking for a quote, then pick the cheapest or the best blend, according to them. Which is usually very different from what a choice based on professionally relevant criteria would be.

The cheapest is something you can't help, unless you want that to be you. And you don't, because someone's always going to work for exposure or experience if it comes to it. Or for fun. You can't possibly be the cheapest unless you pay them.

But you can help the best blend. The blend is a sweet spot. The sweet spot where supply best meets demand, or so the client thinks. The best fit.

By saying more about yourself, accurately and in an encouraging way if you can help it, you can't convince mass askers. Not often at least. But you can persuade people away from masking. Or you can convince them before they mass ask.

You can make them think that you're the only option, or the best, or just good enough so there's no need to look further.

My personal take is that the less ambitious, more modest target of 'just good enough so there's no need to look further' is a good, solid base to cover before you fiddle with the fancy stuff. First the basics, then the extras — if at all.

We may all need this if the trend for getting multiple quotes, even on small jobs and even by consumers, continues to rise.

That, and, of course, we need to stop gambling our precious time with the 20 other people in the BCC field. Doesn't mean we should give them exactly zero time, though. Nope. There is a war to wage, so there are battles to fight.

It is good to have a canned response in which you state just what your rates would be for the same job in normal circumstances, while refusing to enter the battle of quotes. This is the least you can do to help unteach them the bad thinking habits, such as that they can get a special (i.e. reduced) offer for just asking and for just being them. Y'know, everybody is special, but so is everybody else. And his dog.

Still, show them you considered their inquiry/requirement/need individually, but the size of your fee is based on standard applicable rates.

Else, if they keep only getting responses from people who are prepared to play their game, they'll end up with a distorted view of the market, thinking everybody else is unavailable or uninterested and those who do respond represent the industry opinion as a whole. Which is not the case (or so I hope).

Dear Client,

Thank you for your interest. It is my policy not to participate in competitive quotes. This e-mail is emphatically not a bid.

For reference, my standard applicable fee for your particular request (as specified in your mail) would be XXX.

Always feel free to contact me for a specific quotation or booking. Please, however, keep in mind my policy not to participate in competitive bidding.



Just an example.

If you feel like it, you can consider adding something to the tune of:

Please be aware that due to the low statistical probability of having the project assigned to me out of all of the providers asked for this quotation I am prevented from being able to spend as much time preparing a more tailored quote as is normally the standard of care I give to my clients.

And yes, not a single comma. Be confident. Transmission, not dialogue. And certainly no arguing or pleading. Just remember to turn it into generally acceptable passive-aggressive corpobabble without showing a genuine human side.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Reading Copious Briefs and Reference Materials Shouldn't Be Free of Charge!

Everybody outsources things these days. Even quite internal things. Outsourcing is good because it frees you of all the hassle of the special treatment employees get. And allows you to pay people when you actually need them, not for the entire time of just being there.

On the other hand, more and more clients yearn for the special treatment an employer traditionally gets. They want someone to get to know them, in fact quite intimately (in business terms), to become dedicated to them, to give them one's all, and so and so forth. And sometimes they want all those benefits right off the box, where they take months or years to achieve with employees or some other variety of in-house staff. And they certainly want customized, tailored services.

… But they also want to keep paying only for what's billable or tangible, or just the standard price of a standard service.

Clients sometimes need to be reminded — gently if possible — that outsourcing is for not paying people when you are not in fact using them. It's not some magic of the invisible hand of the market for getting a month's worth of attention for a week's worth of pay and save a ton on costs while reaping all the benefits.

Here's an analogy that also works for services that have rarely been done in-house and thus needed to be outsources but have traditionally been purchased from the market:

If you're buying a single loaf of bread at the standard two or three bucks per, you don't get to mail the bakery a 20-page PDF detailing your absolutely essential, holy inviolable specs. You could get more luck with a custom order, especially  But even a custom order than normally takes them a day will get them to spend a week studying your PDFs. No chance. Nobody's going to eat that cost for you.

High time our clients appreciated this basic fact of life. High time we did.

100% Quote Acceptance Is Bad

Having your quote accepted or chosen all the time can be a source of pride, but that's misguided.

It does not necessarily mean literally everybody and his dog agrees you're the best.

If you think they believe're the best bang for the buck, that's closer to it, but not yet there.

Unless your quote is outside their spending limit, the decision comes down to two things:
  • how much value they get for what they pay
  • the alternatives (BATNA) and the cost (or bother) of pursuing them
All of these factors are subjective. They depend on personal tastes, needs and circumstances.

If everybody always agrees you're the best choice regardless of the entire range of subjective differences, this means your pricing is 'objectively'[1] a bargain by a large margin. So large it always outweighs all other factors in the judgement, no matter who's judging.

Next, if nobody ever complains about not being able to afford you, it not only means everybody can afford you easily (which is not bad per se, if that's your mission), it also means nobody will even try pretending otherwise.

… Which means, most likely, you're charging way below your league.

If nobody can ever undercut you, most likely you're the one doing the undercutting. Ooops!

Perhaps you just forgot to give yourself a raise. For ten years or so.

[1] Intersubjectively, but let's not go there.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

It's Good to Cut Down on 'No' and 'If', up to a Point

First off, if you know me at all, you'll know I'm not one of the folks drinking the kool aid of client this client that. Where I stand is yes, we provide a service, but we don't need to make a circus of it, and there's no need for getting hysterical about it. We provide a specific service, according to our specific talents and skills and professional training, to the best of our ability and with the client's best interest in mind, but that's it. For example just because lawyers are service providers doesn't mean they should be ready to provide the service of cooking lasagna al forno or grooming a cat just because the client demands it. That's plain silly, and we should quit wasting our time listening to that nonsense. We should also consider the source where that nonsense comes from, especially whether it isn't a large buyer or intermediary.

That said, as practitioners we're there to solve or mitigate problems — specific problems within the scope of our profession, not general problems, but solve problems still — and not to create or exacerbate them. And most of our clients genuinely need some help and are genuinely somewhat clueless about getting it, rather than having totally unreasonable ideas (which I'd link more with interest-driven industry/market influencers trying to effect a wide change — such as bringing an entire formerly proud profession to heel — than the average individual client in a specific, concrete situation).

For certain professions this gets trickier because they are less at liberty to deny their clients, but most of us are entitled to at least a certain comfort zone. Still, this doesn't mean we should totally never expand it or go out of it for a client — especially when what the client asks is something reasonable for a client to ask and the pay is reasonable.

I bet the client's life isn't easy either, more likely than not being the provider of some other goods or services, or employee thereof, who also has to put up with people. And with problems. And with complicated requests. So let's make everybody's life just a little easier by not making it any harder than it has to be, and especially if we adhere to a system of beliefs or values that places importance on being there for people and helping them (most religions and philosophies do, it's just that their practitioners don't always remember).

Another thing is clients react — and we can't expect them to rewire their brains to stop reacting to the disappointments that happen to them in our business relationship, not any more than it would be possible to do so in, say, a romantic relationship. It's only up to a certain point that excuses can substitute for actually being there for someone.

The clients' or prospects' 'systems' register the displeasure or inconvenience or stress associated with being denied or left without help, or helped only grudgingly. They may understand, of course, but the damage may still be done. All the more so, even a perfectly valid excuse doesn't count the same as actually being there for them, not any more than we'd be entitled to a fee we didn't earn.

Besides, sometimes you just lose a lot of time pointlessly arguing about something that isn't going to change or fighting battles you can't win. Sometimes, of course, you have to go on the record expressing your firm and repeated opposition to a bad strategy or self-destructive move, but most situations don't really belong in this category. So it's probably better to avoid doing or taking unnecessary damage and instead save the relationship or help it grow. Relationships are important. Even to lawyers. ;) And time is money. That goes for stress too, if you're going to need time to destress later.

Next, it's probably not worth it pointing out all the small things and demanding recognition or payment for them. Chances are they're already being noticed and appreciated and working toward a greater, immaterial deposit of goodwill that it would be a waste to cash in for relatively small monetary rewards, or — less consciously — enjoyed as a smooth, hassle-free client/user experience that it would be a shame to waste.

Thus, a lot of the time it's just better to grin and bear it — if there's no harm, just bother, and if ethics are not at stake, which is the titular 'point'.

And for the sake of clarity, being expected to turn into a generalist all-purpose personal assistant where in fact you have a specific job such as lawyer, translator, designer etc. reaches that point. Likewise, if your freelance job description actually is personal assistant, then being expected to fill in for specialists such as doctors, lawyers, translators, designers, copywriters etc. and deliver the same results without the benefit of full training.

Don't Flat Out Refuse to Negotiate

Flat-our refusals are usually bad for business. The fastest and most assured way to gain nothing at the negotiation table is to leave it, or leave early. Then, the deal is lost and with it quite possibly the entire relationship of the parties, because the goodwill is depleted, and from a dry spring no water will flow. And both your crops need the water to grow.

This is why people often grant concessions just so the other side could save face and both could save the relationship. Naturally, this is often abused (by those who game the 'system'), but the point still stands: flat-our refusing is generally bad for you.

As much as we may all be tempted, there are better ways of responding (however less epic) than:

Dear Client,




… without actually having to give them what they ask.

The short version is don't give it to them but still suffer through the process. The long version will take a bunch of paragraphs, so how about you go grab a coffee? This post isn't going anywhere and will still be here when you come back.


For starters, don't be extra stingy with your time. If they need five minutes or one or two additional e-mails to decompress, give them that. There's no need for you to put on a hard face and give them a hard time, either — not getting their way is already hard enough.

More importantly, it's always possible that the fine folks you negotiate with have enough authority or sway (you know the saying about the head and the neck) to see the deal followed through but still have to comply with certain policies and procedures without bending them more than they perhaps already are. Show them some understanding, and you'll have a friend — and chances are a mutually beneficial agreement every now and then.

Let's say they are required — thanks to the inifinite and indisputable wisdom of some policy-maker up there who has five doctorates but can't tie his shoes —  to never accept the first offer but always negotiate, notably because many people will in fact give in at least an inch, so in the grand picture this will work for them, at least from the balance-sheet perspective (though perhaps failing to see the potential negative impact of aggressive panhandling on the company's goodwill in the long run).

So, if failure to negotiate a lower fee is the one thing they need in order to pay your fees and be done with the circus, then why not give them just that? And sit through the ordeal. It won't kill you, it'll make you stronger.

Just keep declining politely, expressing some compassion with their position and citing the existence, if not the details, of some objective factors influencing your decision or forcing your hand. Even if that's something like:

My fees are already on the lowest level I could realistically accept after lengthy negotiations. So, in essence, you're getting the whole benefit up front to save you and me some time. Unfortunately, this misses all the adrenaline.
(Here, you rationalize how you can't go any lower, and you let them know that they are already getting the best possible outcome, hinting they shouldn't feel less satisfaction with it just because they didn't have to fight you for it. Mentioning that you respect their time is a gentle nod to tip the scales and make the refusal effectively not a refusal but an explanation hinting that perhaps they're getting more than they were asking for. In the end, the tension is resolved with comic relief.)

Depending on the situation you could add something to the effect of: 'and to treat all my clients equally and fairly whether or not they decide to negotiate,' but I'd be careful with that because a lot of companies want preferential treatment and favoured status (even MFN) regardless of not having done and not intending to do anything to deserve it. We do live in uniquely narcissistic times. For others, however, notions of equality and fairness will be of top importance.

And try to dissociate the poor souls from the policies and superiors that make them do things they wouldn't normally think about. In some cases it's a good idea to let the little people know you aren't blaming them for the big people's screw-ups. And even if the little people do screw up, show them some patience; we're all human after all. Especially in the little-people league that the bulk of us play in anyway.


Exception: Time wasters abound. It's good to learn to spot them, and most people eventually will, though it may take years. Even so, you generally don't lost that much time by simply reiterating your proposal and using more than two or three abrupt words to say that you won't be going any lower. Just don't get involved in a lengthy discussion rehashing and rebuffing the same old arguments, don't leave too many openings, and so on. Don't be chatty, but don't leave the table just yet. Just keep your time investment and especially your hopes down to the absolute minimum you won't regret spending even if nothing comes out of it — which is the almost certain outcome when your initial positions are too far apart.

Still, avoid unnecessarily alienating your contact. Even when the boss's budget ideas are patently unrealistic, the secretary or assistant will sooner or later end up working for someone who is more reasonable or fill the same position when the old incumbent goes up or out. Practical experience teaches that does indeed happen, and people remember their past contacts.

Mercy to the Wolf Is Cruelty to the Lamb

Woah, what an attention-grabbing title. So what do I mean by 'mercy', and who is the wolf and who is the lamb?

I'll give you a straight answer, right away: mercy is cheaper (a.k.a. 'better') rates or other special concessions, the lambs are people who really need help, and the wolves are people who don't.

Now on to the titular claim. Your resources are limited. If you spend them, you won't have them. So it would be wise to keep tabs on who you spend them on.

Thus we've just covered the basic thought of this post, but if your time resources are not too limited today, how about you stay with me a while longer and we'll give it more thought? A lengthy post is coming, let me warn you.


No matter what you do, you can't work more than a dozen-odd hours a day, every day, or you'll die. This is a fact of life. Your time is limited, unless you can clone yourself. You can't afford to stop working for money and go wholly pro bono, unless you've got heaps of savings or a hefty passive income. Or a generous rich spouse. Chances are 99 to one that you have none of it.

… Hence, just like almost everybody else, you have to work for a living, and work hard indeed, restricting your ability to help others free of charge. Simply put, your pro-bono resources are limited. Make sure they go to whose who really need them, not just those who want them.

And here's the obvious truth: the needy people need them; the cool people, or the loud people, or the pushy people, in most cases don't. So it's them or them that you can help; the needy or the stingy (or pushy). You choose.

Yes, there are situations in which it's appropriate to waive your fees for someone who makes more than you do. I've done that too. But those are typically noble causes — such as assisting the victim of a vicious attack or insidious smear campaign — not the causes of rich cheapskates who just can't or won't man up and pay normal rates just like everybody else, so they start inventing excuses and buttering you up or threatening you, whatever works, stick-and-carrot style, just to avoid parting with money they don't absolutely have to part with but by all rights should part with, just like everybody else who gets a service or product.

I'll give you a real-life illustration. Some people — and perhaps it has happened even to you, so don't get offended, just ponder — will haggle with the poor people selling eggs or flowers or whatever on the pavements of big cities but then proceed to leave a lavish tip in the luxurious restaurant or at least trendy bar they go to. Or they'll decide they have no money to spare on that kid who needs a transplant or the old lady who can't pay for her medicines, but they still, somehow, have enough to buy everybody a round at the local pub, full of able-bodied people with jobs and incomes.

It's the same in translation, law practice, design work or whatever else it is you do. If you feel the need to work pro bono — and of course you should — or, shall we say, semi pro bono, as in 50% off on compassionate grounds, then pick your recipients wisely

I suppose it's probably better to be generous with at least someone than no one, so showing some compassion to your B2B clients is not a bad thing. In fact it's a good thing. But are they really the best target? And among them, not the ones with noble causes and friendly policies and strong sense of social responsibility but simply the ones who'll harangue or cajole you about rebates they don't need?

If you keep pleasing them or caving in to them, you won't have the resources to help those who really need it.

Here, allow me to reiterate and emphasize that I don't mean denying your help when they need it. By which I mean objectively need it and need it more than your other paying clients or prospective pro-bono clients. And allow me to reiterate and emphasize that the decision is yours to make.

… What I want to say is that it should be a decision, not an excuse for just giving in when they ask.

And for the record, granting them the discount on condition that they will donate the difference to a charity is always an option. It's better than just giving them the discount anyway.

Oh, and don't think they'll appreciate you for the caring and giving and helpful soul that you are when you cave in to their sweet words, nope. It doesn't work like that in real life. They're trained to do that, and the objective is to save money for their company by reducing the spend, not to establish good interpersonal relations based on reciprocity (although you'll inevitably meet some exceptions). And for the umpteenth time, if they're much richer than you, then they don't need you to charge in on a white horse and save them from their financial predicaments, nope.

… But enough's been written today, so — lest I start writing in circles — let's just stop here. Hope I've managed to give you some useful perspective, and naturally better still if we were in agreement right from the start.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Non-Financial Terms

When it comes to fees, a lot of clients are price-conscious, cost-averse, addicted to bargain hunting or just have their hands tied.  Or they are just simply maximizing their profit by minimizing their spend because hey, they can. And if we keep budging, then they will surely know they can. A lot of us budge too much; sometimes, however, there really is little you can do. However, just because you can't get better rates from your prospects doesn't mean there's literally nothing you could do to make your life at least a little less miserable.*

(* Sorry, spring depression.)

  • By extending the deadline you can reduce overtime. You will have more time for other projects, CPD, sleep, or hey, free time. When did you last have some?
  • By smartly downsizing the project you can make more money per hour while staying within the same total.
  • By eliminating parts that don't require your personal involvement or getting your client to assign support staff, you can achieve a very similar outcome and also position yourself as an expert whose time is valuable and not a resource to dump chores on.
  • By putting pressure on payment deadlines you get paid faster. Notably before they change their mind about paying you or run out of funds.
  • By demanding advance payments or dividing the project into milestones or several smaller separately billed projects you can mitigate non-payment risk and out-of-pocket expenses.
  • You can also reduce non-payment risk by explicitly restricting their rejection rights (especially important under the (not so, from the service provider's perspective) fine old contractual law of England and Wales).
  • By asserting your moral rights and possibly demanding some form of promotion you make sure you at least get some exposure and perhaps catch bigger fish in the future.

All of these things matter.

And now some negotiation points:

  • Securing concessions you don't really need — or withholding concessions you don't mind granting — can help you pace the negotiation for a better final outcome, or at least save face and avoid appearing too soft when you don't have too many options.
  • Apart from overquoting your fees, you can also start from less advantageous non-financial terms and use that as the ground you eventually concede.
  • Notably defeat the urge to pack your standard offering to the brim with goodies and extra stuff. Some people will always want something better than your first proposal; leave some room for that. Make sure clients know and appreciate what they get, to mitigate the desire to ask for more.
  •  Negotiate when you don't have to just to train for when you do have to, notably when you're already almost decided to quit. Test their limits or try something new, just to learn more about negotiating.
And always remember that decision-makers with limited budget authority can still make your life easier in a lot of other ways that they get more leeway with. A lot of managers are mostly left alone to run their departments, sections and teams as they see fit, as long as they exceed their spending limits; use this to your advantage.

Your Someday Terms

My eyes played a trick on me several days ago (EDIT: I wrote this post in January). I received an e-mail titled 'Your "someday" items', coming from Ed Gandia's website, which I'd subscribed some time back in the ice age, but for some reason what I saw was 'Your "someday" terms'.

Ironically, this little hallucination perhaps relates to something to something I read in a book Gandia co-penned ages ago with Steve Slaunwhite and Pete Savage (The Wealthy Freelancer, which you should read if you haven't yet), though I'm not sure my subconscious process was as complex as that. I probably thought simply of contract terms.

In any case, the old something was a very sensible piece of advice, reflecting the law of growth: even if you can't be too fussy about what projects you take right now, you should still have a target list of standards you want to be your bottom line one day.

When I saw 'your someday terms', I thought not so much about essential terms, such as rates and deadlines, but about more terms-y terms, such as copyrights, moral rights (including credit), payment deadlines, acceptance and rejection, corrections, liability and so on.

You may be in the fortunate position of already having exactly the terms you want. Most people are not.

I invite you to see that, in terms of progress, rates aren't the only thing that should or could go up. So are your reputation, your professional standing and your work comfort and satisfaction, not to mention liquidity and stability. All of these are affected by the terms of the contracts you sign and POs, specs, instructions and other rules you accept as binding. Hence it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on rates.

The easiest example I could give you is difficulty. Chances are difficulty raises the bar so high that few people can compete, so there is less price pressure. Normally, however, it's much more likely that a text that pays 20% better will also consume 80% more time, because it's so much more difficult. Thus, it's certainly possible to give yourself a nominal raise and seemingly defend it but start making less money in the end result. The same is true about other things than the difficulty of things you do or the time it takes you to do them. We'll visit some of them in a separate post soon.

Knowing what terms you want is the first step to getting there — sooner or later, eventually, and if not exactly there, then at least a little closer. Remember not to deny yourself the small steps just because you can't make the big leap right now.

There is a reason I didn't say 'ideally' — this is a long-term project that might well never see its target fully achieved, but don't fret. The easiest way not to move anywhere is to stop walking. Any step you do make makes your life at least a little easier.

Please see my next post about non-financial terms and meanwhile let me just introduce the suggestion that clients who are not in a position to make your life easier budget-wise could still make your life easier in other ways, so just because you can't get better rates doesn't mean you can't help some other things.

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline. Th...