How I Get My Price In The World Of Chance Negotiations

When starting out in this industry, the most difficult aspect for me was negotiating a price.  I would constantly flip-flop between under valuing my artwork, to pricing myself out of the clients range. No matter how I tried, I could never create a standard pricing structure that left my clients as well as myself happy.  A Vegas slot machine had more consistency than my pricing system. Nothing is more unprofessional than an artist that can’t price their work.

I would start out with a price in my head, but as soon as I told the client, they would start wearing me down.  The price was either too high for their budget, or they would counter by adding more work to the job. Either way this encouraged me to start pricing my work higher knowing I would be bargained down anyway.  This is a losing mentality that devaluates the artwork in both the clients and artist’s eyes.

This problem came to a peak for me 25 years ago living in Florence, Italy. After being consistently “schooled” by both tourists and locals on my pricing, the shop owner took me aside and taught me a pretty cool negotiating trick. I like to call it “Price Variant Bartering” and it changed the way I do business in every way.

I still start out with the price I need for my artwork, let’s say $500, but now I modify it as the base for the “Price Variant”. Instead of giving a single price like $500, I give the client a range of $600-$750. At this point the client will no longer argue the price down, but proceed to select a price within the offered variant. I have now successfully distracted the client’s desire to underbid.  The negotiating is now controlled by me, but with the client making all the choices.  I get more than the price I needed and the client has negotiated an excellent bargain. Win.

In the past some of my clients would justify bargaining me down by saying they didn’t have the money when they really did. With the price variant, the only clients that will say they don’t have enough are the ones that truly don’t. If they have the money, curiosity will compel them to ask the difference between the two prices.  If they don’t have the money, the choice becomes invalid. On the other side of the coin, I have clients that so liked my sales pitch for the higher variant that they actually upped their bid to receive more work.

Here is the simple breakdown of the steps involved in “Price Variant Bartering”:

  • Establish the minimum price you will accept and add 20%:  This price needs to be what you want, more than just what you need. The 20% is for the small stuff you forgot to add in.  If you are comfortable with your price you are not asking enough.
  • Create the Pricing Variant:  Be sure it is not too small to matter, nor too large to scare them away. For example $500-$750, $3500-$4000, etc.  The larger the variant, the larger the pricing gap.
  • Let the client do the negotiating:  If the client has to create their choices they will always be in their favor. If you create the choices they will select the ones offered. Don’t over-talk the deal. Answer questions, but never push a hard sell. The person of power in a negotiation is always the one willing to walk away from the deal.
  • Explain the pricing difference:  Inform the client how additional techniques, details, materials, etc. can be added as the price increases. (You can also speed up deadlines by increasing the price). Everything is negotiable, but always negotiate up.
  • Get everything in writing as you close the deal:  Negotiations can be complex. Be descriptive, specific and have both of you sign the work order/invoice. It’s not just professional, in many industries it is the law.

Do your client and yourself a favor in the future and try the “Price Variant” on your next negotiation. It has worked well for me and I have yet to have a single complaint from a client.

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Craig Fraser