Building New Client Relationships

I’ve had a few chats lately with friends in both photography and other artistic professions about this topic so I thought it was worth writing something about it from my perspective.

One side of working with a new client is building good communication. The better it is early on, the quicker clarity can be reached. It’s basically like planting roots: if you start right away, they’ll grow strong and deep.

The most difficult areas when working with a new client is the discussion of money. I think this is pretty common with most people, where we feel uncomfortable both expressing what we value ourselves/our work at, and hoping we don’t price ourselves out of the job.

Sometimes, and this seems especially true with new clients who want video projects, I’m asked to provide a second quote that gives them a break on my initial price. They only budgeted so much they tell me and can’t afford what I’ve proposed (a rookie mistake on their part, but that’s for another post). I can understand this from the perspective that video projects/budgeting is still new to many people, and clients are still learning the workflow and basic budgeting. The question becomes how to handle it if I say yes.

Here’s an example of where things went wrong on a recent project. I agreed to a heavily discounted budget last year for a new client, doing so because I was psyched to be working with them and hoped to work together year after year moving forward. However, I made two mistakes here: I didn’t make clear along the way how discounted the budget actually was, and I also didn’t put that into the contract. It would have been simple to do: in the cost breakdown, put in all the line items at full value, total it, then add a % discount line, with the final total under that. This way moving forward, everything would have been in black and white, written directly into the contract, there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings or memory loss.

When I didn’t do that, and a new project came up recently, there were expectations on their part that I stick to the budget level from the previous year. It’s funny how things went at this point. No matter how many times I explained it, they had an ingrained memory of things only costing X, and the discount I gave them just didn’t register loudly enough to them to take into consideration. The way they remembered it was more of a driving force than what actually happened.

In the end I walked away from the project because I don’t think it’s fair to continue to give discounts project after project to the same client. Once is fine under the right circumstances, but after that I feel undervalued, under appreciated and taken advantage of. When a client decides they are really after lowest price project after project, then I feel I’m not the content creator for them because I value quality, and quality comes at a fair price.

Discounting your services can work to prove yourself to a new client and build that trust that’s needed to win future work with them. Just remember to make it all very clear and spell it out in the contract. A discount shouldn’t be a way for a client to negotiate your rate down and standardize it that way for future work. Just as you’re giving a discount to get something in return in the future, your client shouldn’t take that for granted and should appreciate the effort you’re making, they should be grateful, and should reward you with future work based on your initial sacrifice.

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