Ah, clients. We adore them; they keep our business going. However, there are situations with potential or existing clients where they make requests and you're a little unsure of whether you can or want to fulfill them. You may wonder what is considered the norm or if the request is uncommon. Today, I'll share three common (but rarely discussed!) awkward asks from clients and how I have handled them in the past. I'm also going to share advice and scripts on how to respond to these situations so you might want to bookmark this page to come back to!
I also want to say that there are no set rules. You have the autonomy to make decisions for your business and projects. You can do whatever you want. Just because I’m sharing how I deal with these situations, doesn’t mean you need to do the same.
Three Things to Remember Before We Dive In:
- A yes to something once does not mean you're going to say yes to that same request again in the future.
- It doesn't really matter what someone else did with that same sort of request because your situation is not the same as their situation.
- Weigh the pros and cons of your options and regardless of what decision you make, make it because you want to, not because you're pressured by this potential client or the current client or you feel like you “have to.”
I also want to say if this feels helpful to you, I cover this extensively in Booked Out Designer, so check that out here if you are interested!
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE NOW:
First Awkward Ask: The Friend-ish Discount
First up is what I'll call the "friend-ish" discount. This request might go something like, "Hey, we went to college together, so I was wondering if I could get a friend discount?" or "I'm a friend of your cousin, she referred me to you. Can I get a discount?" Another common one is, "Want to try a website for your Uncle Kenny for free to get your first client?" It's the dreaded request for a friend discount or when someone mistakenly assumes you're friends because you're acquaintances or share mutual friends.
So it is actually very common, especially in the early stages of your business. But it doesn’t really go away either. Just two weeks ago, I received one of these requests, so they still come in regularly, regardless of how long you've been in business.
Here's my first piece of advice on this matter: If you want to offer a discount to a friend, a friend of a friend, or a family member, go ahead and do it. However, keep in mind that it's not obligatory. I would suggest making the decision on a case-by-case basis rather than implementing a general policy where all friends receive a fixed amount off a certain package. In the early stages of your business, it might actually be a good idea to offer a discount to friends in order to gain some initial clients.
I know some people might disagree with me on this, but I personally think it's a great way to get client experience as long as you know what you're getting out of it and the discount makes sense for both of you (and you think they'll be a good client). Not every friend is the same. So your Uncle Kenny might be an awful client that you immediately regret working with and you might know because of your relationship that you don't want to say yes to that. But maybe your friend from college who you weren't that close to is able to be respectful and professional with you and might be a great person to say yes to.
My Experience Offering a Friends Discount
I have two stories for you where I've personally experienced this. One of my first branding projects was for a close friend's father. I offered my services at a very low fee, almost for free. I had known this client practically my whole life and the project turned out to be a great success.
I could tell even by the way he approached me that he would be an excellent client. I also made sure I got what I wanted out of it - a strong testimonial from him and a valuable portfolio piece for my new business. I also gained experience in running the systems of a branding project which I hadn’t really done before. The decision to work with him was so beneficial as it helped me secure higher-paying clients in the future.
And I'll also mention that one of my early website projects was done at a steep discount compared to what I would have normally charged. It was for a friend from college, although we weren't particularly close. It was a WordPress website for her blog, and she was just starting out as a blogger. It was a great experience and a good decision for me. I don’t even think she asked for a discount but I gave her one!
With that said, as I mentioned earlier, I recently found myself in more of an Uncle Kenny situation (no it wasn’t an Uncle and no his name wasn’t Kenny lol). I declined the request for the kind of design work they wanted, but I did offer to connect them with a designer from Booked Out Designer.
A Script for Responding to Friends Asking for a Discount
Let me share a script with you, in case you find yourself in a situation where you want to decline offering a discount.
It’s so great to hear from you! How have you been?
I’d love to chat with you about your project needs. My package ranges from $x to $y depending on your exact needs. I don’t offer discounts though.
I’d love to chat with ya if you’re interested in working together. Here’s a link to schedule a call with me.
Or, if it's a family person and you already know you don't want to work with them, you can simply offer to refer them to someone else instead of discussing a discount. It’s OK!
Second Awkward Ask: The “I’m Very Popular” Request
So, this might be a really blunt way to say it, but it basically sounds like, “I have a lot of followers. Could I get your product or service for free or at a discount in exchange for exposure?”
I know they probably wouldn't phrase it like that, but it's essentially an influencer type request if someone has a large following. And believe me, requests like this are more common than you think. The influencer world is massive and still growing, especially with the popularity of TikTok and Instagram.
I looked up stats on this, and currently, according to a recent article from July, the influencer industry is valued at $21.1 billion. The article also mentions that 82% of marketing departments have a budget for influencer marketing, with most companies spending less than $50K annually.
It's a thing—you can choose to embrace it in your business or not. When influencers have a large audience, they often receive freebies in return for social media exposure. They might even get paid to promote things like branding, website, photos, copywriting, bookkeeping, or salon visits. Literally anything is possible.
Personally, I love the idea of collaborating with influencers for product companies. However, it becomes more challenging for services, especially those that take longer than a day and involve high costs and workloads.
For instance, giving an influencer your custom jewelry valued at $50 in exchange for a TikTok or Instagram post is different. It's a whole different story when you gift them a $10,000 branding website that took you four months to build for free. Or when you offer your bookkeeping services worth $500 a month for an entire year, as a gift. It's also different when you shoot their entire wedding for free. That's another level of generosity beyond a product exchange.
4 Things to Consider Based on my Experience with Influencers
I've never been asked to create a brand new website for someone for free, but I have been asked to do a big discount because of someone being an influencer. And I said no, and ultimately didn't even do the project to refer them to someone else. I felt good about it because I didn't really like the way it was going to start, but that does not mean it's the right answer for everyone.
First, I suggest avoiding offering the service entirely for free, particularly if it has a value exceeding $1,000. Instead, consider providing a discount without completely waiving the fee. If you decide to proceed, make sure to clearly outline the terms of the exchange.
Second, and this is a HUGE one, ask yourself if their audience would actually buy from you.
For, imagine you're an interior designer in Dallas and come across an influencer who also resides in Dallas. They think they’ll be able to bring you in tons of new clients. However, you need to look at the data. Maybe you’ll discover that only 10% of their giant TikTok audience is even located in Dallas. Will that really help you?
Another example would be if you offer business-to-business services like web design or copywriting, but their audience consists mainly of stay-at-home moms or individuals with nine-to-five jobs. That might not be super helpful to you. I think too many service providers overlook this when entering into influencer deals.
Third, look at engagement rates and also other platforms they have besides “the big one”. How much are people actually engaging? Are these followers real? As someone who has done influencer type deals, people shortchange the other things (like the person's email list, their podcast audience, their website blog traffic, YouTube channel, etc). If you are considering working together, I would just try to look at them holistically and see what other things you could leverage with them besides just their TikTok following (or whatever their “big” platform is).
Then the final thing to consider is getting very clear on what you're getting in return (and have a contract with it). Don't just let it be, “I'm going to do this $5,000 worth of work for you for free and you're going to post about it”. Get clear: how many stories is it? Is it a reel? Is it a TikTok? Are they going to mention you on their podcast? How much exposure are you really getting?
Third Awkward Ask: The DIY-er Discount
This one is more likely to happen during a project instead of before like the other ones. Clients may ask if they can cut certain expenses to save money. Some common examples include: skipping the engagement photo session for wedding photographers or designing their own service page for designers. They may ask “what if I don’t need the strategy call?” or “can I sub ___ for ___?”
I do have a more definitive thought on this final awkward ask than I did for the other two. SMost of the time, I think you should say no to this and educate and empower the client with why it's a no.
I don't recommend showing potential clients an itemized costing sheet either. If you break down the cost of each component, it's likely that they will start negotiating discounts based on specific items. For example, if you mention that a logo is worth $500, typography selection is worth $100, color selection is worth $200, and brand guide is worth $100, clients may ask if they can get a $200 discount if they choose their own colors.
The same can happen if each additional website page costs $400, they may try to find pages that they can design themselves or have their assistants handle, in order to reduce the price. This is not ideal because you likely aim to provide a consistent level of quality throughout the entire project.
I know photographers run into this a lot too when including an engagement session with a wedding package. Clients may try to negotiate a discount by forgoing the engagement session, thinking that its value is the equivalent of the session cost. However, for photographers, the engagement session is often complimentary and serves as an opportunity to get to know the clients and ensure comfort in front of the camera before the wedding day. It’s important to have!
How to respond when people ask for a DIY discount
I have two options for responding to a request like this depending what it is:
Option 1: In order for me to provide the quality you’re used to seeing with my other clients, I sell this package in its entirety. I want to take this off your hands and give you an amazing brand/website, and me doing the whole thing for you is how we accomplish that.
Option 2: I can totally skip that part of the project if you prefer, but the price will stay the same because that’s complimentary to the service.
Here's a recap of three key points to remember the next time you encounter an “awkward ask”
- Saying yes once doesn't commit you to saying yes again in the future. You have the right to decline requests from both new and existing clients.
- Don't feel compelled to follow what others have done. Just because someone offered free services or worked for exposure doesn't mean you have to do the same.
- Consider the pros and cons of your options and make decisions based on your own desires, not out of pressure from clients or a fear of missed opportunities. Remember, the notion that you'll never have another chance if you decline is simply untrue. Don’t make decisions with desperate energy.
Okay, that's it, friends. Let me know if there's another awkward question you'd like me to discuss in a future episode. As I mentioned above, in Booked Out Designer, I cover many more awkward questions in the full lesson. Let me know if you want more episodes like this!
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September 26, 2023