7 Reasons Why Freelancers Should Not Discount

With value pricing for design and illustration projects, I am able to custom-tailor my services and fees to fit each client and project. But even with the ability to customize, it happens that a client asks me to discount. Discounting does not pay my mortgage nor allow me to continue in my work. Nor does it allow me to serve my other clients well.

If I end up not working with a client, that’s okay. I’ve learned that saying no to low-paying work is better for my well-being. There’s a psychology to being paid what you’re worth and to not feeling compromised or taken advantage of. I speak from experience here.

I have identified 7 solid reasons why you should never discount:

1. You can’t increase your fees later on. Once fees have been established, it is unlikely that a client will allow you to raise rates on future projects. There is an expectation that you will always discount your work as an ongoing courtesy.

2. It reduces your ability to control your reputation. You won’t be able to charge appropriate fees with clients who are referred by the clients you offered discounts. I experienced the misfortune of a prospective client expecting the same discount I gave to the client who referred them to me. When word spreads about your low rates, you won’t be able to charge what a project is worth.

3. It lowers the value of your expertise, experience and creative effort. Getting to where I am and being able to do what I do in the way I do it took a lot of time, rigorous training and experience. I sure it’s the same for you. If I discount my fees, I discount my history and value to the client in my own mind and especially in theirs. If my client is working with an expert by contracting me, reducing my fees does not support an expert-level of service or problem-solving.

4. You are not selling a product. You serve clients and charge professional fees. You contract your creative vision and expertise to create visual assets that help your clients succeed in their business goals. When buying things, I look for sales and use coupons (a form of discounts). I want to get the best deal possible on a product. When I can’t find a deal, then I’ll pay full price. But I am not creating products. I provide valuable services to fellow business owners at a high level of expertise, craft and  knowledge. That service results in visual or written intellectual property.

5. You reduce your profit. Creative freelancers are owners of creative services businesses. While we love our work, we don’t engage in it solely for the fun of it. We have business overhead and marketing expenses just as our clients do. We have a break-even revenue amount each month that we need to meet. We also have a profit motive: We want to make money.

The best clients don’t ask for discounts. They understand the value you create for them and are willing to make the investment.

6. It creates more work. In my experience, clients looking for a bargain end up being the most demanding. Those who don’t want to pay much want much, and will attempt to micromanage or add to the scope of the work without providing additional compensation. Another point to this is that, if we offer discounts, we have to work harder to get more projects in order to cover our business costs and make a living. We end up working harder.

7. It devalues the entire profession. Yes, there are designers and illustrators who will work for free or practically free just to get a job. But they’re undercutting the value of design and illustration as a whole, and harming the entire profession, not to mention their own futures.

Charge what you’re worth.

Don’t over-value or under-value your work. If you are unsure how to value your work, find a mentor who has experience in the kind of work you do and ask them to guide you. And be willing to say no to projects where you will lose money. It’s one thing to be paid $500 for a project that requires 10 hours of your time, and another if it requires 20 hours of your time. Saying no to undesirable projects frees you to pursue and accept ideal projects from qualified clients.

The best clients don’t ask for discounts. They understand the value you create for them and are willing to make the investment.