Handle Discount Requests Like a Freelance Pro

No matter what you charge, some clients will always ask for lower prices. Don’t take it as a sign your rates are too high or that you have to charge less than you’re worth. They’re just looking for a deal. That’s good news: you are in a better position than you might think. Because these clients request a discount because they want to work with you.

Here are the most common reasons clients ask for discounts and how you should respond:

1. «We don’t have the budget.»

Companies with low profit margins or no income at all (e.g., startups) think this is a valid reason to ask for a discount. The solution is simple:

«Ask what their budget is and put together a package around that.»
David Boland, Freelancer

To build this package, find out how much they are willing to invest. Get a clear picture of how much a company stands to make by using your services.

Next find out which deliverables are not necessary to reach your client’s goal and suggest removing them. Do this after you’ve talked to them and have an idea of what their business goals are.

If they are not willing to change the scope of the project, the problem is not their budget, but their attitude. This tells you a lot about where the relationship could go. You should consider walking away.

2. «You are more expensive than others.»

Yes, you are. There will always be someone who offers a lower price. But less expensive freelancers often don’t provide the same value as you. If price was the only thing a prospect considered when hiring a new freelancer, they would go with the lowest offer. But they didn’t go with the lower offer, they came back to you.

When a prospect says your rates are too high, they are failing to see the value of what you provide. This gives you the opportunity to show why you’re worth your rates. Don’t consider this the end of the conversation. There is a reason they want to work with you.

Instead, communicate why you are the right person for the job. Explain your expertise and experience in that field. Tell them the results you’ve gotten for past clients. Include soft skills like reliability and timeliness.

3. «You will get exposure.»

Prospects often use this phrase to appeal to a freelancer’s ego. This statement shows how little these clients understand what you do. Your reply is simple: “I get just as much exposure for paid projects.”

Remember: You can’t pay your bills with exposure!

4. «We will give you more fully paid work later.»

This is a giant red flag. Don’t believe it. Discounting your first project creates a dangerous cycle. If you continue work with this client, they will always expect a discount because they got one the first time.

«Nobody becomes a loyal customer before having seen results!»
Mania Mavridou, Freelance architect and interior designer

Your goal should always be to establish a profitable long-term relationship. Clients who offer higher rates for upcoming projects often pull this trick with every freelancer they hire and never come back after getting a deal on the first one.

Should you ever provide discounts?

There is an appropriate time to provide discounts. The main reason to have a discount strategy is to give an answer when a client asks for one. “I provide discounts as a reward for long-term clients” sounds better than “No discounts, sorry.”

The discount doesn’t have to be grand. It doesn’t even have to be reachable for that particular client. The goal here is to have a “yes” in your pocket when it comes to this question.

In my case, I don’t give any discounts for the first 40 days of paid work. After that, I give a discount of 5%, but only to clients who ask for it. So far, loyal clients haven’t asked and the ones that wanted a discount in the first place never brought that much work.

If you decide to offer a discount because you really need the work, you are doing yourself a disservice. You are spending time on a low-paying project when you should be working on securing a lucrative one.

By offering a discount strategy like mine to your most profitable clients, you position yourself as a professional who values long-term relationships.

From an emotional standpoint, it’s not easy to say no the first few times you get a discount request. But it becomes easier every time you stand up for yourself and the value you provide.

About the author

Jonas accidentally started his freelance career at 12 years old when his neighbour hired him to build a website. Two decades later, he has worked at many agencies, cofounded a startup, continued working as freelancer and builds ValueTime to help freelancers understand their business numbers.
5 Responses
  1. Excellent points, Jonas!
    You outlined the most common red flags and how to deal with them.
    Unfortunately, prospects who are looking for discounts using cheap tricks, like devaluing us and our work, are going to be the most difficult clients, who’ll give us a hard time and still won’t ever seem satisfied.
    Sometimes it’s wise not to work for them at all!

    In many cases, instead of discounts, we could offer options to our clients.
    Different packages or services they can choose from, according to their budget and desires. This way we can all be happy!

    Thanks for quoting me!

  2. Really very well said Jonas. The only thing I maybe could add, is that another reasonable case for which someone should have a discount policy, is to be a completely newbie freelancer/startup, just to be competitive and have the chance to build an elementaty portfolio that he/she ‘ll later use to approach the bigger ‘fishes.’ Cause it’s very hard to be the ‘new kid on the block’ out there…:)

    1. Got your point. But please don’t think that you can charge (the same) clients fully, when you gave a discount first. This client will always expect a discount.

    2. Agreed. These first clients will always wait for a discount. But if you manage to walk on and go beyond the ‘newbie’ phase, hopefully soon you’ll be in the position to have many more new ‘well paying’ clients.

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