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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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How to sell the value of design: An email conversation

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Red Light District - Alex Piechta

As a designer it’s not always easy to stand up for yourself… clients often have demanding requests, tight budgets and due to one reason or another, designers will succumb to taking on labour heavy jobs at heavily discounted rates. This does not have to be.

In this article I will show you how I personally ‘stand up’ for my rates and how I ‘sell’ the value of my design services, which in the end, means a better result for the client and a much more pleasant overall experience for the designer. Below you will find the original transcripts of a conversation between a recent client and myself. By providing this transcript, I hope to provide an example of just one way to stand up & sell yourself as a designer.

It’s also interesting (for me at least) to see how others run their business and seeing an email conversation between a client & designer is a rare insight.

Client:

Jacob,

I hope you are well. I appreciate you responding to me post vacation for you.

I was actually all set and had contracted two separate entities to create a logo, letterhead, etc. for the new direction of the business, at the start of the New Year. However, I have been disappointed and have decided not to use the designs.Therefore, I am looking for a design team – but now have a limited budget after paying these past two firms.

Are you able to do a logo design, with the end result of my business having 4 total variations to use? Also looking for letterhead and business card design. I like things super simple, classic. Clean. Nothing too graphicy or colorful. I am looking at a price at $X,XXX range.

Are you willing to take me on?

Thank you again for getting back to me.

Designer:

Hello XX,

Sorry to hear about your misfortune with the other agencies though unfortunately my price range will be above your budget of $XXXX (more in the range of $XXXX) for the logo design and stationery. I also have other client commitments for the next 2-3 weeks so unfortunately I won’t be able to start until then if you decide to go with me.

If you were having any hesitations about hiring myself as a designer here are some things to put you at peace of mind ensuring your investment goes into the right hands…

  1. My clients come from all different backgrounds – if you notice my portfolio, nearly every logo design is from a different industry… this shows that I adapt my skills, research and process around the client’s needs and industry in a successful and effective manner. I adapt any design brief and ask questions until the real need of the business is discovered.
  2. Understanding my clients background and and business is part of my thorough research process. You can read my design process in full here. This underlying process, as linked, ensures that every client gets what their business needs.
  3. I have had plenty of positive feedback from a large array of clients showing how I adjust and adapt my skills for each project. Read some of my many testimonials here.
  4. I have received numerous awards for my work in logo design and my work appears in design related books world wide. You can read more on my awards on my about page.
  5. If for some reason you are unsatisfied with my work you may still leave without paying the final 50% of the project.

As mentioned before, if you have any further questions, please do ask. I guarantee you will not be disappointed with my work.

Thanks, I hope I have the pleasure of working for you and XX, it sounds like an exciting project!

Hear from you soon.

Client:

Jacob,

I have no hesitation on working with you. You were my first choice. I love your website, I love your designs. There is no questioning that. I have just spent all of my budget on this already. It was hard to free up an additional $XXXX. I can try for $XXXX but it will be hard. If I can get my accountant to free up $XXXX, are you able to work with this? 

You going on vacation, killed me! Haha. But I understand. This has been a nightmare process for me. I have business cards and letterhead that is about to be thrown away – very frustrating.

Let me know your thoughts.

Designer:

Hello XX,

Thanks for your kind words and good to hear you wish to work with me. I do understand your situation with your prior designers, and can feel for you there, however unfortunately as I do not lower the quality of my work, I can not lower my prices, even for situations such as yours.

As much as I would like to work on your project, I can only justify the prices as specified previously. If you wish to go ahead with the work, let me know and I will put together a formal proposal and send over my agreement. Let me know XX. Thanks for your time.

Client:

Jacob,

Thanks for speaking me about this. I am going to get with my people and see if they will free up the cash for this. You are definitely the man for the job.

Client: (2 Hours Later)

Jacob,

I wanted to write and let you know that I understand and respect your firm price with $XXXX. Quality of work is important as is price value. I hope to have this cleared by this week and or look at alternative methods to secure you.

It was really funny. I was just chatting with my cousin, who is a web developer in LA and I was chatting about you. I was showing him  your stuff and we stopped at the Vero logo. XX, my cousin, pulled up an article that you had written. He had remembered that logo and that piece you wrote. He is a fan of your work and said that I really need to make this work. I am pretty excited and doing everything I can with the finances to make it work.

Thank you for your correspondence. My business is so important to me and the new brand direction may identify my group initially, but I hope it helps define my quality in work over the following years. Thanks again.

To cut the story short, in the end the client did work out some more funds (the original “budget” was literally doubled) and eventually signed on for the project. I had stood up for my rates and it had paid off.

Although there are many ways to handle low client “budgets”, I’ve found being upfront and honest to yourself and your client is the best way to deal with it. You may not get the job in all cases but I can guarantee you that in the long term, you will definitely come out on top. You will have higher morale, have longer to work on projects, thus producing higher quality work and overall, have a much steadier income to work with. What do you think? Do you or would you have handled things differently?

Further resources on how to work with clients

Red Light District Photo by Alex Piechta.


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60 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Courtney Reply

    Awesome. I think you handled that really well, and it’s inspirational to boot. I will try to follow your example the next time this comes up. Thanks for posting!

  • Preston D Lee Reply

    This is a great and very informative post, Jacob. Thanks for sharing! I absolutely love articles about client relationships and the “business” side of design. Thanks for contributing this article to the community.

    I agree, it’s always important to stand up for your policies as a designer as it seems that somehow we are a very “walked-all-over” sort of group.

    Anyway, perhaps your readers would also be interested in a recent article I wrote called

    “Avoid design burn-out by limiting client revisions” It talks about standing up for your policies concerning revisions. I think it would be a nice partner to this article.

    Anyway, I’ve linked to it in my name above.

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience. There’s a lot to glean from it. Best Regards.

  • Leighton Taylor Reply

    That’s good stuff. I’ve found that it’s easy to want to compromise my rates and do work for much less than I would like to, mainly because I want the work and often because I don’t think the client will accept my full rate.

    Usually the best clients are those who aren’t penny-pinchers. If they are so uptight about money that they aren’t willing to pay what you’re worth, they will probably end up being a huge hassle in the end anyway.

    Standing firm on your rates is a great way to filter through the difficult clients and find people that will be easy to work with.

    Also the client will ultimately get a better product, because you will be able to justify spending enough time on the work to do a great job.

    Another important thing to do in situations like this is to stress the design’s value to the client. If your brand identity will help make their company a huge success, an extra few thousand dollars would definitely be worth it!

    Thanks for the helpful post Jacob!

  • Nikki Jeske Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It is the encouragement I need to not let my standards down just because I feel bad for the client. Sometimes I think doing something for a low budget is okay if I just do it once, but more often than not, it’s never just once. Lesson learned. :)

  • Kamila : Darc Vanilla Design Reply

    Great article, something exactly what I needed. It happens that I often came across very low cost demanding clients and sometimes I don’t know how to get it right to explain customer the importance of paying proper price for a quality work.
    This piece will help me a lot.
    thanks

  • Justin : jzane designs Reply

    A great article and some rare insight into client/designer interactions.

    No one will ever think less of you for sticking to your price, if anything they will aim to find a way to work with you when they can afford it in the future.

    Cheers!

  • Martin Lucas Reply

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s really helpful to see the email conversations. There’s definitely content in there I’ll be taking on to my own potential clients.

  • Andy B Reply

    Jacob, great article! It was a true insight to hear all of that. I am currently a college graphic design student and to hear how a true business conversation goes really is inspiring to me. Way to stick it out and I am definitely going to keep this in mind when dealing with clients in the future.

  • Ben Crane Reply

    Nice article! found it through twitter. Have gained a great insight to being more assertive when it comes to costing. I’ll definitely be trying this technique! thanks

  • Nikhil Reply

    Wow! That was fine piece of job.
    Very helpful for me to approach upcoming clients.
    thanks friend for sharing this awesome conversation.

  • Ryan Reply

    Wow Jacob, what a wonderful article. I hate clients like that, they try to hassle you, and then they come to their own sense and realize who you are and what you have to offer. Have had many of those in the photography world. Keep up the great work. Love reading articles like this. Thanks man. Take it easy.

  • Nuno MB Rodrigues Reply

    You do have a point. And it is a sound advice that everyone should try.

    But you do have something to your advantage, you have won awards and you have been “blessed” by having a probably extensive portfolio.

    Sadly not everyone has that in their favor (at least not in the beginning) and that email conversation could have gone the other way. And Yes i do know one must work hard to make a good portfolio.

    Or maybe there is a good market for design where you live.

    What i mean is that your advice is sound and should be followed but believe me when i say that it’s not as easy as wanting.

    Where i work , the market is so scarce that you could only afford to do that a couple of times and then you would be out of work…

    But sound advice nonetheless :)

  • Bridget Reply

    Love this. This is incredibly helpful for me as I am just finishing my BFA in Graphic Design, and I get requests all the time for free designs. It was good starting out but now I need money more than experience! ;) Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Anything Graphic Reply

    Along with everyone else, I agree that this was handled well. Only if their werent XXXX’s would it be perfect! ;-)

    You’re amazing Jacob… That’s all I can really say.

  • Josh Cleland Reply

    Thank you for this very informative article. Great resource on how to keep things respectful during correspondence when discussing price.

  • Carlos Yabar Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Jacob, not too many folks will dare to show information like that.

  • Donna Vitan Reply

    Way to stick to your guns Jacob! IF only we all had the balls and the background to back it up! Thank you for the inspiration.

  • parrish ruiz de velasco Reply

    this helped me so much.. ive always found giving out prices to be a bit awkward and i would occasionally go down on my price, but your so right.. i am valuable and worth every penny.. i have the tallent that THEY need.

    kudos!

  • Kyle Scollin Reply

    This is a really wonderful post. I loved it. It can be difficult to stand up for yourself and your prices, but really you can end up getting a really great gig for a really great price.

  • Lasitha Rajakaruna Reply

    Awesome Post jc,
    Thanks a lot for sharing with us.
    :)

  • paul Reply

    Very helpful article. Thanks for sharing!
    I will try and use these techniques, because I too tend to lower my rates, lack of self confidence, I suppose.

  • Lindsay Reply

    GREAT article. I hate to see so many designer flak on their policies because they believe the work is going to dry up.

    If you are one of those designers who does that then you should consider really having someone look at your portfolio and understand why you don’t command the market the way other designers do.

    I like to think that I am the middle of the road on my prices and I NEVER lower prices using the same tactics that you do. I do not have any awards, but I believe that my portfolio speaks for itself. I have enough work that I do turn away jobs regularly and that is a true blessing, but I believe that there is a reason for it.

    Designers who can do this are designers who work really hard to create an image for themselves and market themselves in a way that they attract clients who want good design – NOT just a logo.. And generally they come to people like Just Creative because they saw their work and realize why its better because lets face.. the internet is FULL of cheap logo farms.. so don’t think that your clients haven’t looked at those. If they see no difference in your logos and the cheap logos of coarse they will haggle on price.

  • Jeff Archibald Reply

    Jacob,

    Great post – interesting to see how your conversations go. I agree with Leighton as well – the clients who try and talk you down are almost always a nightmare to work with. However, some clients are new to working with designers and just don’t know the value of the services. In instances like these, it’s definitely good to educate the client.

    As with everything too, it comes down to the quality of your work. If you have impressive work & happy clients, you can use these to your advantage to justify your costs.

    Thanks for another great read.

  • Emily Reply

    Awesome article Jacob!! This is just what I needed to read. I work in a very small downtown with small businesses who don’t like to spend much money for good designs. So, I really liked what you said, “as I do not lower the quality of my work, I can not lower my prices, even for situations such as yours.” I’m definitely going to use that line! Great tips as usual!! Thanks for posting!

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Nikki, Courtney, Kamilla, Justin, Martin, Andy, Ben, Nikhil, Bridget, Josh, Carlos, Donna, Parrish, Kyle, Lasitha, Paul, Emily,
    Thank you for your comments and you’re welcome, glad the article helped!

    Preston,
    I also find it interesting to see the business side of design, something that is often overlooked in blog posts. Thanks for the link to your other post, you make some valid points though I do believe revisions should still be stated in a contract, at least for peace of mind.

    Leighton,
    I’ve just started to really feel the burn of taking on too much work, (combining both full time and freelance) so it has been even more important for me to stand by my rates… I only have so much time in the week. And nice point about stressing design value to the client.

    Ryan,
    It’s not so much about hassling, but rather just doing what comes naturally to most when it comes to money; bargaining. But like that old saying goes “If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

    Nuno,
    The portfolio is the linchpin of a designer, if you don’t have a strong one, how will a client know what type of work you produce? This is what you should capitalise on even if you do not have awards or other collateral to back it up.

    Anything Graphic,
    Pricing is not something I discuss openly on my blog, my apologies for this.

    Lindsay,
    Could you please clarify this sentence: “I NEVER lower prices using the same tactics that you do.”

    Like any profession, if you are good and/or can market yourself well, you’re most likely going to have some form of work coming in.

    Jeff,
    Like I said to Lindsay, if you are good and/or can market yourself well, you’re most likely going to have some form of work coming in. I also agree with you about clients being new to working with designers, even more reason to educate the client (even though I hate saying that).

  • Maicon Sobczak Reply

    Very instructive post. I learned a lot! Very thanks.

  • Vin Reply

    A good post. I don’t want to take anything away from that.

    I do want to point out that asking people if they’d handle it differently will not produce any sort of real discussion when you reveal that despite the conflict the result was a positive outcome. Most people are results oriented.

    A more interesting post, would have been to cut off the post at your last email (“Thanks for your kind words”) and leave everyone hanging, generate discussion on the post and then reveal the results in a follow up.

  • Kiren Reply

    I think you did a great job handling that Jacob, stand your ground! I recently had someone contact me and was responsive, up until I told him how much I would charge, then the e-mails suddenly stopped. No biggy, there’s always next time I guess. Gotta stand that ground…

  • rupam Reply

    Hi Jacob
    Thanks for your post.Its awesome.
    We waiting more post from you.
    Thanks again.

    Regards
    Rupam

  • Lindsay Reply

    Jacob – i think i should have punctuated that sentence better.
    “I NEVER lower prices using the same tactics that you do.”

    Should have read
    I never lower my prices for my clients using the same tactics that you used

    I must been light-headed from all of the coffee i drank yesterday.. aha. I meant to say that although I don’t have awards under my belt yet, I do explain the value of my work and the reason I charge what I change and so on.

    I have only lowered prices for family, and thats because its family and I have to – i ALWAYS – however – send them an invoice for the total amount it would have cost with the discount taken so that they understand what the real value is though

  • Bryan McAnulty Reply

    Great post Jacob.

    Although this was not the case in your situation, often times when a business comes to a designer looking for a “deal”, that business does not understand the value of branding and professional logo design. This is not the type of client a designer would want to work with. It’s important to hold your price because in the end you will get better clients, have more fun and make more money. I’m sure this article will help many new designers.

  • Nicolas Franz Reply

    Excellent post, Jacob! Something that I want to Highlight is the fact of how important is to have the right tools when your selling your experience and work. I mean: a good portfolio, testimonials, awards, as you showed in this great article.

    How is it going in Carrot C.?

  • Lise-Mari Reply

    Great post! Often hard to get through with your inital budget, and nice to see a positive way of standing up for your rates as well as selling your self!

  • Jeremy Davis Reply

    Very insightful post, but I have one question.

    You mentioned in your initial response to the client that they could only pay 50% if they weren’t happy with the designs.

    Do you always mention this when first dealing with new clients? If so, do you get burned often because of it?

    I’m assuming that if they don’t like the designs you don’t actually give them any original files that they could use, just that you’ve put 100% of the time and effort to only 50% of the quoted price in return.

  • Rob Loukotka Reply

    I totally agree, stand your ground. Generally the clients that don’t value your time monetarily, won’t value your time as a person. All of the extra revisions / bad relationships I’ve had have been with low-budget clients.

    If you can have a really open conversation about prices, and be honest about the value of your work, then you’ll do really well. My absolute favorite clients have been people who can afford to really let me explore all of the best options available. It never seems to be about the money, it’s just better to work with people who value you, and respect you.

    Plus, the more clients you have with higher budgets, the more time you have to think about their needs.

    I know it’s hard for freelancers who are starting out, but good clients bring more good clients. Bad ones bring more bad ones.

  • Jonathan Butterworth Reply

    This is a great article Jacob. Sometimes it is hard to stay firm on prices. I will have to use this technique next time something like this comes up.

  • Nicole Foster Reply

    Wow, that was handled very well and very professionally. I need to learn how to do that :P

  • Fery Reply

    Nice and useful post Jacob..as usual! It’s helpful to me to see the conversation between You and Your client. I think this kind of clients is not so rare. Thanks for the post!

  • Barnabas Nagy Reply

    It’s really nice to read such a conversation. None of my clients would stand up for quality versus low price. I had 150 leads and just few won with huge discounts. I’m broke and will leave this industry.

  • Alyssa Reply

    Jacob – thank you SO MUCH for posting this! I often feel guilted into cutting deals for acquaintances but always regret it afterwards.

  • Kierin.M Reply

    This will definitely help me in the future. My biggest problem is when i get clients who are students or have a small firm and have a very low budget.
    I often feel guilty or bad for charging them a fee that is already underpricing my work.
    I end up working for very little.
    Wondering what to do

  • Dejan Reply

    Just came back to read this great article one more time. There’s a lot to learn from here… Sometimes even when I lower my price client emails me with “I didn’t think that price will be so big for this job” …

  • Veronica Reply

    Wow, had this site bookmarked awhile back, came back to read again, after giving a client a cost for a job and unfortunately they found I was too expensive. Felt bad but stood my ground and didn’t nego. Thanks for article, reassuring

  • Louis Goeing Reply

    I dugg some of you post as I thought they were very beneficial very beneficial

  • David Reply

    Awesome post. This is very useful information. I’m going to apply it right now with a couple of projects. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mark Ford Reply

    Hi Jason. Just found you via the 1stwebdesigner site.

    This will be really helpful for me. Currently I dont entertain any form of bartering from potential clients. They get an abrupt no and are told my price is my price. I’ve always felt that whilst I’ll lose some business with the clients I could have swayed but I’ve probably saved about the same time by not wasting time with those that will just go with the lowest priced designer.

    Now I’ve seen you detail this the way you have I guess it doesnt take so much time to convinve people you are right for them. I’ll be giving this technique a try from now on and hope to be reporting a 100% rise in sales in a month or two!

    Cheers!

  • Ricardo Durski Reply

    Very nice post!
    But could the space between the lines be more generous?
    Just a designers comment :)


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