Lest you get the wrong idea, I don't buy that clients are wolves preying on innocent agency lambs. When it comes to hiring freelancers and other services, agencies don't hesitate to use their leverage to drive down costs and ask for handouts. Hell, I do it myself. We all negotiate. It's the art of business. The smart agency understands that it's not always about the money and that sometimes it still makes sense to play the game, even when the terms are less than ideal.
Here are some of the favorite lines and strategies that I've heard over the years regarding the fine art of getting something for nothing.
- "If you can do this project for free, or at a big discount, you're going to get more work than you can handle in the future." Often this request is framed in the spirit of "partnership" or of "sharing the risk."
- For sheer enthusiasm, you can't beat, "We're going to do amazing work together, once you help me with this one small project."
- "I'm not sure what the budget is just yet, but it will be significant if you can develop some ideas that we can sell to the executive team."
- I prefer the more honest and flattering approach: "I don't have any money, but I really want to work with you."
- "Shouldn't this up-front strategy work be considered part of your new-business process?"
- "I'd like to introduce you to my boss, but first I want you to develop some 'ideas' that will serve as an introduction to the agency."
- "We'll provide all the content -- you'll just need to do light editing." That's always a nice way to slip in some extra work.
- One, asking for a break on the price at the end of a project. You negotiate contracts not invoices. (To be fair, agencies are notorious for asking for more money once the work is done.)
- Two, conducting a review from a group of agencies to solicit ideas and then never hiring any of them.
- "We're going to do it for category experience," and "This is a great opportunity to build our portfolio" are sure-fire roads to nowhere.
On the other hand, two requests for a price break always get my attention and make perfectly good sense.
- "We'll guarantee a certain amount of work if you can give us a discount."
- "We'd like to sign a one year contract." Commitment, a beautiful word that is music to my ears.
Here's the catch with all of the above. If you want to be smart about money, you need to be smart about people. A bad proposition from one person can be a legitimate opportunity from another. Sometimes, it makes sense to agree to a lopsided deal. Knowing when is the trick. No matter what the request, trust the quality of the relationship and let it guide your decisions. It's the only way to navigate through the murky waters of fees and compensation.