March 10, 2023
“I’d love to work with you! Can you help me out with a ‘friends and family’ discount?”
“I can’t pay, but the exposure you’ll get is priceless!”
Oof. You were already struggling with feelings of imposter syndrome inside your business, trying to convince yourself you’re worthy of the rates you’ve set for your work.
And then someone comes along and validates all of those deeply rooted fears. Their seemingly benign request communicates to you that you’re not worth it with their asks for a discount — or worse, for you to work entirely for “exposure” or “to build your portfolio” (i.e., no money).
If you’ve ever been there, or that’s where you are right now, know my heart is with you. I’ve been there many times myself, and it just sucks.
Let’s also be real here — you feel even more defeated and frustrated when the person who’s asking for you to work for less (or nothing at all) is close to you, right?
Then you’re not only sad, you may also be feeling angry and resentful. And you have every right to feel that way. Your friends and family are supposed to be the ones who support you the most, and (hot take alert 🔥) that means they should relish the opportunity to pay full price for your work, because they see your value.
They should be the ones lining up on day one to root for you and pay the prices you’ve set for what you do. So, when someone close to you, who you think believes in you and should have every interest in pushing your business forward, walks through the door with an expectation of discounted or free work … “frustration” doesn’t even come close.
Suddenly, you’re struck with the painful realization that maybe this person isn’t actually willing to show up for you the way you may have shown up for them in the past, or that they don’t really see the value in what you do.
But the spiraling often doesn’t end there because, if you’re anything like me, that’s when you start to question yourself …
“Am I the bad friend?”
“Am I the ungrateful relative?”
“Am I the greedy business owner?”
These negative trains of thought are deviously enticing, because they reinforce all of the worst beliefs we carry about ourselves — but they’re not true.
And here’s why …
You set your prices. You can raise them or lower them however you see fit, whenever you wish. If someone tells you your pricing “should” be lower, they’re wrong. You don’t owe anyone your time or talents, and you certainly don’t owe anyone your time or talents for free.
You also the right to work for free whenever you want. But that’s the key right there — that is your call alone, not someone else’s to make for you. For example, I’ve made decisions throughout my career to take an opportunity at a discounted rate, because something about it was worth more to me than the monetary value I could have received.
Is this going to lead to a better outcome than my hourly rate? Is this opening the door to a relationship that I genuinely believe will provide meaningful ROI in the long-term?
That said, I do have very specific feelings about discounts … yes, it’s time for another hot take alert.🔥
When you feel sincerely moved to potentially offer a discount, I want you to consider a different strategy — instead of removing cost (discount), add value.
For example, back in my wedding photographer days, when I would have a friend come to me to ask for a discount, here’s how I would reply:
“I don’t offer discounts but, instead of six hours, I’d be happy to do eight hours of photography coverage at the same price!”
What I love about this approach is that you never dip below the rates you set for yourself, so I’m also never diminishing the value of my services. It’s a powerful bit of psychology because I feel there is a huge difference between lowering your rates (discount) and giving a gift (a value-add).
Again, this is your business, so you can run it however you’d like! If you love discounts, I’d encourage you to think about this approach, but I’m not going to hold you back.
For me as a wedding photographer, I loved this approach because I knew I was never going to drop below a certain amount to work a wedding day, which would allow me to also pay my entire team fairly. On top of that, when I took this approach, I still always felt appreciated and respected and fulfilled in the work (and the client relationship). I didn’t feel as if I devalued anything.
But yes, you can work for free. Yes, you can give a discount. Yes, you can add more value to a package without charging more for it. You could do any of the above.
The key is that you need to feel confident in making that decision for yourself, and not because you’re feeling bullied by the “shoulds” from others about your pricing. You shouldn’t be pushed into something out of fear (especially when it comes to your pricing). Make those decisions as a confident business owner who knows you’re worth you rates, and don’t allow questions from others to derail you.
“You nothing less than an extraordinary experience when you work with me — the same level of experience I offer to all of my clients. To guarantee that, I am unable to offer discounted rates.”
“Let’s discuss what services/deliverables matter most to you and see if we can prioritize those to work within your budget.”
“I would love to better understand the scope of the project and the desired outcome so that we can hopefully align around what is possible to accomplish within the budget that you have set aside.”
“I am honored that you love my work. Unfortunately, due to the scope of the project and the budget allotted, I won’t be able to provide you with the experience that you are looking for. Let me recommend a few other businesses that are more competitively priced.”
“I completely understand that cost savings are a priority for you. I would love to refer you to a colleague who would be better suited to take on this project and meet all of your criteria as described above.”
“If cost savings are your highest priority, I completely understand, and I may not be the best fit. I would love to refer you to one of my trusted colleagues who is more within your budget.”
“I’m honored that you want to expand our work beyond the original project scope. That’s exciting. Can you give me more details so that I can adjust my previous proposal?”
“Thank you for the opportunity. I believe an additional X hours are needed to achieve your new vision. Would you like me to send over an updated proposal or bill you hourly?”
“Wow, that sounds great. I would love to accommodate that request. Since it is beyond the scope of our initial agreement, I will need to adjust my hours to set aside additional time. Let me work on getting you an updated proposal.”
Yep, that right there is a tough love question that may feel a bit out of left field, but it’s a question we need to unpack. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got your back! We’re going to unpack it together. Sometimes we accidentally create the conditions for others feel OK asking us for discounts … without even realizing it.
For example, when you don’t have your pricing on your website in a way that’s easy to find and understand, someone may show up to a consultation with you thinking that a discount may be possible. When you don’t talk about your pricing (a nuanced topic I promise is coming for another day), you telegraph to someone that your pricing may be up for debate.
Another common trap is to accidentally discount yourself before someone even asks. Seriously, if you’re already feeling insecure internally about your rates, you may find yourself offering discounts before someone even asks for one.
Either consciously or subconsciously, you want to get ahead of any pushback that your pricing is too high. Or, you’re trying to avoid a scenario in which the business you believe you need walks out the door over cost.
Back in my pint-sized Natalie days, I used to have such bad social anxiety about making new friends in school that I would practice introducing myself and asking someone to hang out in the mirror. I would even practice asking out boys in the mirror! It sounds cheesy, but trust me, this kind of practice will help you.
I mean it, you need to practice saying your pricing out loud and with confidence.
Because, let’s face it, you likely need to build your confidence in this area, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. None of us were trained on how to have these types of conversations as a new business owner, which is why I wanted to create this content for you in the first place. These are tricky conversations to have, but they’re so critically important to have, as well.
As an independent business owner, you’ll undoubtedly run into discount requests that may spark some negative feelings for you. Keep in mind that, for the most part, people ask for discounts either because they think it’s OK to or they have a genuine need — in fact, they may be in a potentially embarrassing situation where your grace is needed.
Still, it is your business, and you need to act like it. Do what you can to mitigate those conversations — talk about your pricing on your website with clarity, and practice talking about your rates with confidence. Then, in the moment, approach those requests with kindness. Assume positive intent, but don’t diminish the value of what you do.
© 2023 Natalie Franke