I always ask, “How much do you have budgeted for this project?”
I call this “looking in their wallet” before bidding. I also ask them, “When is your deadline for submission to a printer or web launch?”
Then I ask what they are looking for. If they have a low-budget, I steer them towards a low-budget solution or tell them how to do it themselves on-the-cheap. It never hurts to turn away cheap clients. It ruins future business opportunity.
While getting paid to build your portfolio is appealing (learn while you earn), it’s even better for your business to build “example” pieces for your portfolio of the kind of stuff you really want to do.
Pricing is a statement of self-confidence and credibility. Clients almost always want design for less until you point out the quality just won’t be there. They want speed of delivery, quality, and low price. They can chose any two but not all three.
Once you do something for “cheap” for a client who is cheap or broke – you have set a precedent and future expectation. Once the word gets out you’re “cheap” that reputation can stick for a long time. Most of our new business is from referrals.
While working as a purchasing agent – many eons ago – I negotiated prices on a daily basis.
Prices can go up slowly (resistance) and down fast (we’re having a sale.) This interpreted means always start high. This may cause sticker shock with the client. It’s sometimes called “the art of being unreasonable.” If you set your price position high and theirs is low, you come out at a negotiated price that is much more to your advantage somewhere in the middle of those two points. This is commonly referred to as “not leaving money on the table.”
There have been times where I didn’t want to do a project very much because I was busy. So I deliberately bid double my regular fees (they don’t know that because my price list is private and mine alone.) Surprisingly, they said, “Excellent.” That reply told me I could have gotten even more because of their perceived value of how difficult the project was in their mind.
If clients don’t complain or whine a little about your fees then the price is too low. You cannot please all of your clients all of the time. You know you really blew a bid when they want to pay you in cash on the spot. That’s an indicator of too much cheapness and you have probably accepted a bad deal.
Generally, we as designers like making people happy. We’ll work very hard for little pay and no “thank-you” to build something beautiful. This makes us susceptible to being bullied on prices. We feel bad when we don’t get a job. We are too hungry. We have to compensate for that weakness with good pricing strategy. Never discount your work if it isn’t asked for. Keep your prices up. You can work half as hard and have some time for other activities.