There are good clients and there are bad ones.
At first it seems like we all lived in this grey area where it was hard to tell the difference. But the clearer you get on your ideal client and the more confident you are in your work, the more distinct that line becomes.
And you know what I mean by bad ones, right?
The ones who skim over the important bits in your email. The ones who keep changing their mind about what they want. The ones who are flat out rude. And the ones who haggle with you on price… every step of the way.
The bad client that haggles with you on price is a choosy beggar.
What is a choosy beggar
Remember that fun phrase “beggars can’t be choosers”? Well, it’s pretty damn true. Let’s break it down.
As the proverb implies, if you don’t have many options (due to money or other limited resources), then you need to be content with what is offered — or work hard to increase your resources.
Unfortunately, not everyone lives or does business by that proverb. And it seems like freelancers, creatives, and service-based businesses run into these folks all the time.
Are you dealing with a choosy beggar?
It’s a term I discovered years ago thanks to the internet rabbit hole that is reddit. If you have the next 3 hours free and want to see some ridiculous requests, dive right in.
The problem with choosy beggars
There will forever be debate about the potential value of giving away free work. Choosy beggars, however, never deliver on that promised future value.
Having the confidence to name your prices and stick to them is already hard. Figuring out how to politely, yet firmly stand behind them is another.
Saying yes to a bad client only brings more stress and problems. Which is how we each learn to say no to the ones who don’t value us and aren’t willing to pay our prices.
Signs you’re talking to A choosy beggar
1. They haggle with you on your quote
Every client will want to talk about money; you can’t make a sound business decision without digging into the financial implications.
And that’s a good thing. You want to work with clients who create thoughtful budgets and stick to them — they’ll probably stay in business longer and are therefore more likely to be a repeat client.
But there’s a huge difference between inquiring and haggling.
Inquiring indicates an interest in learning. Someone inquiring is asking about the price, why it is priced that way, and what it includes, so they can gain new understanding.
But haggling indicates a perception of dubious value. Do you think your work’s value is flexible depending on the person you collaborate with? Or did you thoughtfully select your prices based on your time + the expected effort, years of education, ongoing training, and overhead costs, and the current market conditions?
Negotiation is good. Haggling is horrible.
A prospective client might suggest an alternative price that excludes aspects of the project previously quoted — that’s negotiation.
When you’re negotiating, you’re each considering what’s important to one other and suggesting solutions that work for both sides. You are considerate of each other’s time and show respect for each other’s needs throughout the conversation.
Haggling, on the other hand, is persistent and veers on the combative. If it feels like someone is persistently encouraging you to make concessions that are meaningful to you or accept offers that feel worthless, then you’re not negotiating… you’re haggling.
2. They ask for discounts with the promise of future work
Oh, the promise of future work is so alluring!
When you’re building a portfolio, growing your client list, and trying to establish yourself, all you want is the guarantee of future work. Who wouldn’t want that?!
Choosy beggars hint at (or explicitly promise) future work, but only if they get free or steeply discounted work from you first. They say they need to see what quality of work you provide in order to ensure that you’ll be a good fit, but when you are there’s a mountain of work (and money) coming your way.
But why would they suddenly be comfortable paying you more after you’ve offered up free or discounted work? They’re not. This is not a high-volume or bulk discount, because you’re not assured of that future work.
And your portfolio should serve as the quality of work you provide. Not free work, spec work, or highly discounted work.
Choosy beggars who promise future work in exchange for hefty discounts now are testing you. They are pushing to find out how much they can get for their dollar. They’re operating as a business after all, they need to make a profit.
But you’re a business, too. You need to make a profit, as well.
A proclamation of future work is not guaranteed, so be careful in deciding to whom you grant concessions.
3. They offer exposure in lieu of payment altogether
To anyone establishing their business and growing their client list, exposure feels like the next best thing to future work.
And choosy beggars know it.
Yes, building a positive reputation is important to fledgling business. Heck, it’s important for a well-established business — just look at the social media feed of any major brand that’s toiling in bad publicity.
But your reputation is based on how you work.
You get a good reputation by responding to emails quickly, delivering on time, doing good work, and caring about your clients. And your clients who get this kind of experience from you will come back and refer their friends — who are all willing and able to pay your prices.
Getting visibility for you and your work is just one of many ways to attract new clients. But if you’re going to pay for it (by not charging or not charging as much) the “exposure” you get should be significant and measurable.
And I don’t mean 10k followers on Instagram measurable (or significant). Exposure should dramatically increase the traffic to your website/portfolio, skyrocket your social media following, or bring you qualified leads directly.
You probably already know the brands in your industry that can do that for you. Anyone else offering you “exposure” will need to back up their claims with evidence. And be sure to evaluate their offerings.
And remember: followers don’t equal eyeballs. Just because they’ve got that many accounts following them doesn’t mean they have that many people viewing their content, let alone engaging with it.
If your goal is to have someone else’s audience engaging with you and your work, consider the results you could get from them at worst case scenario, then decide what you would pay for that.
That is how much you discount — or don’t — for exposure.
How to reject a choosy beggar
You might run into a handful of cases during your decade-long career where it makes sense to discount your work or bend your boundaries a bit. But at least for a bit, you’ll be wading through choosy beggars.
Knowing how to respond kindly and firmly will help you build a positive reputation as someone who is friendly, but isn’t going to kowtow to others when it doesn’t work for you.
Below are a few ways to reject a choosy beggar… nicely.
I’ll update the slider if I’ve missed anything. Just share in the comments where you get stumped by a choosy beggar and I’ll add it as a new scenario.
What’s the hardest thing about saying no to a prospective client?