Why We Charge More: An Open Letter to Future Clients

Mark Busse – 2 Comments

It’s true: we’re not the most inexpensive design firm. Why should we be? I can’t imagine how we’d do what we do best while trying to focus on being cheaper than our competitors.

We’re often asked by clients to rationalize why they’d pay us more than the next guy for a project. One answer we give is “reduced uncertainty”, as in the knowledge that you’ve spent a premium on a team with the experience, process and motivation to live up to the standard set by the agreed to budget.

So when I read Win Without Pitching author Blair Enns’ blog post Why I Charge More with his generous offer for us to use it as our own, I thought it would be a good addition here:

Dear potential client,

The more we charge you, the more pressure we put on ourselves to perform for you.

The client who grinds us on price is the least satisfied. He gets less attention from us and is most likely to be pissed off at us. And we don’t really care, because to be honest, we resent him. The very fact that he is on our roster reminds us that we’re part prostitute. For him, we’re doing it for the money and as it isn’t very much money we’re not troubled by not doing it well. He pays us a paltry sum, we perform poorly, he gets angry and we resent him. We can have that type of relationship if you like.

The client who pays us the premium gets our best work. He’s the one we wake up in the middle of the night thinking about, wondering if we’re doing all we can to earn his money. When he calls, we jump. Hell, we call him first. We take pride in moving his business. We try to make ourselves indispensible to him. We imagine that he winces when he opens our bill (he doesn’t say), but he thanks us for all we do for him. He’s the one we worry about.

We’re great at what we do, but if someone hires us without giving us the resources (money, time, access) to do a great job, it’s easy for us to rationalize poor performance. When a client gives us everything we ask for, he removes all the obstacles to a high quality outcome. There’s no way for us to rationalize anything less than perfection.

There is no greater pressure than the pressure we put on ourselves, and the only way you can add to our own sense of pressure is to pay us well. Yelling won’t do it. Neither will threatening to pull your business. Our deep sense of obligation comes from you paying us well enough to dispatch all of the excuses. Then we have to prove to you, and, more importantly, to ourselves that we are as good as we say we are.

So, we’ve given you our price and it’s the price that we need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will we work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with us? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want us to be that type of design firm and you want to be that type of client.

Let’s just understand each other before we get started.

If you’re a designer and reading this, this is but a taste of the kind of wisdom we’ve been given by Blair Enns in recent years. You can find out more about his approach to business on his website.