It has been asked: Is discounting your rate ever justified? The answer is “yes, but not usually.” We have all been faced with the dilemma: Should we offer a discount in order to get the job? Or because the potential client is a student? Or [fill in the blank]? The answer is not easy. I begin where I always begin when it comes to rates — with the effective hourly rate (EHR). Discounting a rate is like setting a rate in that you must first know how much you have to earn to keep yourself afloat. It is neither very smart nor does you any good to earn less than your required EHR.
Many years ago I would have said that it is better to have some income than no income. That was in my days of not applying business practices to my business and not realizing the potential of my business. The truth is that it is not better to have some income than no income. It is only better if that income meets your required EHR. Note that I am speaking of required, not desired, EHR. I learned quickly that rather than take on work that was below my required EHR I was better served spending my time marketing myself, trying to find work that would meet my required EHR. This is also true when it comes to discounting my rate.
I never discount to a rate that is below my required EHR; I want to be able to pay my bills, which is something I will not be able to do if I do not meet my required EHR. There are several factors at play. First, before discounting my rate, I need to be earning overall more than my required EHR, and preferably close to my desired EHR. It is that difference — the difference between my earned EHR and my required EHR — that is the negotiable area.
Second, the client needs to be a repeating client. It does me no good financially to provide a discount to a one-off client, even if I think that client will tell friends and neighbors how great I am. The reason is that the one-off client will also tell friends and neighbors what he paid and the friends and neighbors will be expecting a similar discount. For repeat clients, especially institutional clients, I am willing to consider a discount because I know I can make up for the loss on the particular project on future projects or because it is worth my while to charge a little less in exchange for a larger volume of work. Which brings me to the third point.
Third, volume discounting is reasonable as long as the discount does not go below my required EHR. In the case of a volume client, I always keep in mind my Rule of Three (see “The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three“) as it will do me no particular good to have a lot of business that I am losing money on. But volume clients are what I want because such clients assure me year-round profitable work. In a sense we have gone full circle. Discounting one’s rate is acceptable in the circumstance that doing so does not bring the rate below one’s required EHR.
Where most of us part ways is with the other requirements. Usually the argument is that
- it is a new subject area for me that I want to explore
- the client is poor
- the subject matter of the project is one that I am very interested in
and other similar “reasons.”
The first question to ask yourself is this: Are you a business or a charity? If you are a charity, then these reasons have some merit; if you are a business, these reasons have no merit. As a business, you need to earn enough to stay in business and even to earn a profit. Why remain in a business that cannot provide income sufficient for your needs?
The second question to ask yourself is this: If I undertake this project, will it preclude me from taking on a higher-paying project? If it will, then it should be avoided. Why take on a project that costs you both money and opportunity?
The third question to ask yourself is this: If I take on this project will I have the time and money and energy to market myself to better-paying potential clients? If no, then don’t take on this discounted project. Discounting is fine when you are in a position to do so, when your business is such that whatever loss you will take can be made up for. It is also fine when it is connected to volume. But under no circumstance is it fine to discount below your required EHR, which means you must have calculated your required EHR beforehand. (To calculate your required EHR, see the five-part series “Business of Editing: What to Charge.”)
One thing we haven’t considered is the worth/value of your editing. I consider myself a highly skilled professional. My services can make a difference. How valuable are those services? The more valuable they are, the less willingly they should be discounted. I differentiate my services by the price I charge and the quality I provide; discounting takes away that differentiation. And it becomes a slippery slope: If I discounted today, why not tomorrow? The consumer will neither understand nor accept the fine differences we use to distinguish among projects and clients; if my price was $x yesterday, the consumer expects it to be $x today and on both days expects high-quality service.
Are there times you can discount? Yes. Are there times when you should discount? Yes. The way your recognize those times begins with knowing your required EHR and evaluating whether giving the discount will further a legitimate business interest. In the absence of either, no discounting should be given, and under no circumstance should a discount result in an EHR below your required EHR.
Richard Adin, An American Editor