Never Let Your Ego Get in the Way of Your Wallet
When I first broke into magazine writing as a 24-year-old freelancer in 1997, I assumed that all editors and publishers wanted excellent writing. You know … a narrative that’s crisp, uses active voice, eliminates fluff.
But I had one new client who seemed to love passive voice. And he was willing to pay me well to produce what he wanted.
I found this out after he edited my first article; I hardly recognized it. Although the final product wasn’t horrible, it didn’t reflect me.
So I called my mentor. “You won’t believe this! My name is on the article, but this guy has changed it to crap. And to top it off, he wants me to write more for him. I don’t think I can do this—if he wants crap writing, then he needs to find someone else. He’s going to make me look bad.”
After I finished my rant, I expected my mentor to back me up. “That's right! You need to preserve your reputation, stand up for excellence.” That kind of stuff.
But what he said has stuck with me ever since.
“Sean, never let your ego get in the way of your wallet.”
“Your objective is to build a freelance writing business that supports your family, right?”
“And this client pays you well and is otherwise good to work with, except that he likes passive voice?”
“And when I taught you how to study publications, I taught you to analyze the style of the articles they buy because that’s the style they would be looking for from you. Remember?”
“O.k. Yes. I remember.”
“Then if he wants passive voice—and that’s what he buys—then give him passive voice.”
Those words saved me from making a rash decision that could have hurt my business.
I kept my mouth shut and wrote for that client for about a year, applying the style he liked. And that income helped me grow my business to where I eventually could afford to move on to other more lucrative opportunities.
FAST-FORWARD TWO DECADES ...
I submitted a proposal to a prospect who was referred to us.
Their response via email: “We think you’re the best fit for this project but would you consider reducing your fee [by over 40 percent]?”
O.k. Let me hit the pause button here for a moment.
When you're asked to cut your price, how do you tend to react?
Most of us do one one of two things:
1. Get offended. “What? No way! If these people don’t value and respect what we have to offer, we can just move on.”
2. Fear loss or rejection. “Ugh. I hate this. But if we don’t cut our price, we won’t get the business.”
In either scenario, what we’re really doing is trying to protect the ego.
THE POWER TO PAUSE
But what if we considered a third option? What would happen if we applied my mentor’s advice, “Never let your ego get in the way of your wallet”?
Before we unpack this, let me provide a foundation for why I think his advice works.
It’s found in Stephen R. Covey’s perennial best-seller "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," where he writes about the fundamental distinction that separates us as humans from other species in the animal kingdom: “Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”
In other words, Covey is saying that we’re not slaves to instinct, indelibly programmed to react in certain ways depending on the stimulus. We possess what I call the Power to Pause, so we can evaluate our options and choose the optimal response.
So, let’s go back to the proposal example. The stimulus is the prospect’s request to lower our fee. And my gut reaction was to get offended.
But, when I tapped into the Power to Pause, I considered what my prospect might be thinking, which changed my attitude toward her and the situation.
"You know, she's not trying to offend me—she's doing her job. She's looking to get the maximum value for the best possible price. When I'm in her situation, don't I do the same thing? And I'm not intentionally trying to disrespect the vendor, right? I have a business to run and need to get the best value."
At the same time, I couldn't justify lowering my price and still feel like the deal would be a win-win.
So, what's my play?
I responded with a gracious tone that it wouldn't make good business sense for me to accept her offer and provided her with an alternative vendor who might be able to help her:
Thank you very much for your quick response.
I understand completely. Unfortunately, with my existing workload and the amount of work this project will require for me to do a great job for you, I wouldn’t be able to justify a lower investment. I’m sure you understand.
One option that might be able to help (and I’ve referred people to) is: [link to vendor]. I’ll try to think through anyone else in my network who might be able to help, as well.
It was an absolute pleasure meeting you, and I look forward to keeping in touch.
Thank you for the privilege to serve you with my proposal.
I received an immediate reply, asking me if I would consider a slightly higher offer (although it was still 30-percent lower than my proposal).
Here was my response, again striking a gracious tone and providing rationale for my price:
I really appreciate you reaching out to me on this and wanting to work with me.
I’ve reviewed the project scope again to see how I might be able to help; but here’s my challenge:
Normally, for this type of project and scope, I would charge [higher than proposed fee]. This is because it takes a lot of research and work on my end to [achieve objective for client].
However, in this case, I priced the project lower [at my proposed fee] for two key reasons:
1) You were referred to me by a great long-time client.
2) You provided me with your initial content, which gives us something to work with to help with our learning curve.
Since I would also need to shift other client projects around to hit deadline for this project, I really can’t justify further reducing the fee. I’m sure you understand.
If we can make the [originally proposed fee] work, per the project scope and terms, let me know and we'll get rolling.
If this is out of budget range for now, I completely understand.
Thank you again.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the end, we got the business at my originally proposed fee. And moving forward, the client came to respect the value that we offer. But had we not heeded my mentor's advice and tapped into the Power to Pause, we would have either regretted accepting a low-margin deal or unnecessarily punted on what turned out to be a win-win opportunity for us.
Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business.
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