When a client says, "Geez…that's really expensive!"

A student in my online course asks, “What do I respond when a client comments that my rates are really high?” Good question, student! Because if you’re running your business the right way, someone, someday, and maybe even lots of people almost every day, will think that you’re too expensive. Which leads us to rule number one of pricing: If no one ever thinks that your rates are too high, that means that they’re too low. Or at least that you could be charging more. Also remember that numerous wise people who have gone before you (in my case, my accountant) have commented something like “Your rates should make people sit up and take notice, but not jump across the desk at you.” Point being, as long as you have enough work, you want a decent percentage of potential clients to find your rates expensive.

But back to the question: what do you say to the sticker-shocked client? Well first, what is the client actually saying? Note that in this example, the client did not say, “You are an imposter and you’re not worth what you’re charging.” You may have heard that, but that’s not what the client said. So, let’s say that you’re on the phone and the client remarks that your rates are high/expensive/more than they planned on spending. What do you respond? Nothing. Zippo. The client did not ask a question; they simply made an observation, so you don’t need to say anything. All the client did was make an observation: that is more than we planned on paying, for example. But no one likes a big, awkward silence in a conversation, so you can either make a non-committal utterance (“Mmm?” “Mmm hmmm”), or you can quietly and slowly take an extremely deep inhale/exhale breath, to give yourself something to do while the client mulls it over.

Let’s say this happens over e-mail, and then you have to actually respond. Or it’s on the phone, and in addition to the “that’s really expensive” observation, the client actually asks if you can do the job for less. A few options:

  • In my opinion, the best defense is a factual one, like “Your project sounds really interesting and I’d love to work with you. But to be honest, I’m busy all the time at my regular rates, so I cannot offer a discount at this time.” You’re simply telling the truth in a respectful way.
  • Ask, “What budget did you have in mind?” If the client is honest about their budget, this gives you an idea of whether you’re 10% different or 90% different.
  • Educate: tell the client something like, “I agree, high-quality work is never inexpensive. Also, translation might be more time-consuming than you realize if you haven’t worked with many translators before. For example, your 10,000 word document would represent at least a week of work for me, and I would be working entirely on your project during that time.”
  • Be a little snarky. Not that I’m advocating this, but it’s an option, like “Then you might need to find someone whose experience is more in line with your budget.” I do sometimes tell potential clients, “To be honest, I don’t know any professional translators who work for that rate.” A potential client once asked me if I charged “for the little words,” and I responded “Only if you want them translated.” I don’t want to get sarcastic or condescending on clients, but I think that with certain people, a little humor can work.
  • Negotiate on factors other than price: if you do honestly want to work with this client but the issue is their budget and they’re not budging, find non-financial factors that might make a difference. How about a really long deadline so you’re not tied up for days/weeks with their project? Do they produce a product or service that they could offer you for free, as a trade for part of the translation fee?

Wise readers, any other thoughts here?

24 Responses to “When a client says, "Geez…that's really expensive!"”
  1. Giovanna Lester (@cariobana) October 29, 2014
  2. Esteban October 29, 2014
  3. mcltheblog October 29, 2014
  4. Paula Arturo October 29, 2014
  5. Jen Metcalf October 30, 2014
  6. Melanie Di-Costanzo October 30, 2014
  7. Natalia Aleynikova October 30, 2014
  8. Claire Harmer October 30, 2014
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  11. EP November 1, 2014
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    • christinedurban November 4, 2014
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