I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger button today.


Q: A prospective new client is asking for a highly discounted rate for their new logo with the promise that I’ll get all of their design work in the future at my full fee. Does that sound like a good deal?

A: Sounds great! Now get it in writing.

This toxic request is almost as common as people asking for unpaid pitches. A potential client has come to you with the promise of rivers of work if you can just do this first piece of work for them for cheap. Or for free. Or for exposure. Or for what the hell ever. No matter what it is, they want the best work you have to offer, and they want it for less than the rate you would otherwise charge.

Tell them that you want it in writing, or tell them where to find the door.

You do not want clients whose first interaction with you is to attempt to use your enthusiasm and your optimism against you. That’s no way to build a lasting relationship, and they know it.

Now, so do you. (You are welcome.)

I have been in your position and I have said “yes” and undertaken mountains of work at a discounted rate like a damned idiot fool. In the hope you don’t have to learn this the hard way, I will now tell you one of the most important things I have learned in my career.

Never discount current work against future orders. The future orders never come.

Repeat that to yourself. Understand what it means. I want you to tattoo it behind your eyelids so you see it when you sleep.

The people who ask you to do this aren’t asking you because you’re the best; they’re asking because your work is acceptable and you are suggestible.

If you don’t want to kick them out of your office, there’s something else you can do that will sort the wheat from the chaff. Tell the prospective client that you’re as confident in their business as they are, and that in fact you’re so confident in fact that you’ll offer a discount on all your future work — as long as they pay you your full rate on the first job. From a financial perspective, it’s a no-brainer! All future work on discount forever, as long as they can find the money for the first project in full? Any serious business person would max out their credit card for a deal like this. But they won’t; instead, they’ll make their excuses and leave.

This is not a request people often make of established firms, yet it is established firms that will eventually get the work that you have been promised. These firms will not discount, and they will tell the client to rebrand and to start afresh. When small companies become big companies they get boards of directors, they get lawyers, and they get layers of management. Those two cool women who sold you their vision of “Uber, but for French Bulldogs”? Once they get funded you’ll never actually talk to them again, because they have people to deal with this stuff now. Even if they wanted to keep their promise to you, they probably couldn’t.

There are other ways to fill out your folio. Slitting your own throat is none of them.

When people ask you to discount like this, what they are really asking is for you to compete against yourself. These are clients you would prefer your competitors to have. Let them have them. 💋

Ross Floate works at Floate Design Partners and he loves it when people are honest about project scope and project budgets. He finds writing about himself in the third person really really creepy and I am never doing it again.


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