An American Editor

June 5, 2013

Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”

Perhaps the toughest issue to deal with as an editor is the prospective client (or existing client) who contacts you about a project, asks for a quote, and says, “I can get it cheaper!” Dealing with such a statement should bring out the editor’s professionalism (and business savvy). I discussed the matter of cheap pricing previously in The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly. Now it’s time to discuss pricing in the face of resistance.

The most common responses are to tell the client about your experience. “I’ve been editing this type of manuscript for 30 years. Can the other editor match my experience?” Or to relate how happy your clients have been. Or any number of other general responses that don’t really highlight why you should be hired at any price.

The second most-common response seems to be an attempt to lower one’s price to bring it in line with the lower price the client says another editor quoted.

In both instances, I think the response is the wrong response.

Under no circumstance, once you have quoted a price, should you lower the price (subject to an exception discussed later). If you are not worth the price you quoted, why did you quote it? If you are worth the quoted price, why lower it to less than you are worth? And why would you start a bidding war with yourself — a war that you can only lose and even lose repeatedly, once the client learns that all it has to do is say “lower your price” and you jump to do so. I make it an absolute rule never to lower a price once given, except in the circumstance to be discussed later. You may be a great editor, but I am the greatest of all editors — and I let clients know that in many ways, not least of which is that I do not lower my price.

If the client insists, I suggest that it would be best for them to hire the other editor and call me when the editing needs fixing.

The exception is this: when I also reduce the services to be provided. In other words, I make pricing a companion to services: more service equals higher price; less service equals lower price. But even then, there is a limit to how little I am willing to do and to how low a price I am willing to quote. Which brings me to the nonfinancial response.

Years of experience is a great selling point, but it doesn’t mean anything in the face of a client’s budget. What does matter are the services to be provided. My first response to the client is, “Do you have the quote in writing?” If yes, which is the usual case in these e-mail-negotiation days, I ask for a copy of the quote. (At this juncture, I haven’t said yes or no to whether I will lower my price, so the client still has hope.) I am usually provided with a copy and then I start on my rebuttal. (When asked why I need a copy of the quote, I say I need to verify the terms and conditions of the price I am being asked to match or beat so that any quote I provide matches those terms and conditions. Although not said, I also want to verify that the person who made the quote is capable of delivering the promised quality and work.)

If I’m dealing with a prior client who should be familiar with my work and pricing, I ask why, knowing my pricing and having this quote in hand, did they contact me for a quote. What I want to do is draw the client into admitting that they like my editing and would prefer that I do the work than to hire someone else. This is important because it starts to draw the client toward my way of thinking about fees.

If this is a new or one-shot client, I have to take a different approach, so I ask what is most important to them as regards the project. Is it cost? Quality of the edit? Experience? Something else? If the answer is cost, I stop the discussion and suggest that they try someone else. I tell them that I take too much pride in the quality of my work to denigrate it by lowering my price to where I cannot justify taking on the work or would earn so little that my only concern would be getting the project done. If they ask for names of other editors, I tell them that I do not know any professional editor whose quality of work or pride in that quality is such that they would be willing to match or underbid the quote they already have and that I make it a policy not to provide names of nonprofessional editors whose work I cannot vouch for.

If they give me an answer other than cost, then I ask about what services are included in the other editor’s quote. Rarely are those services spelled out — the client doesn’t know what is included except “copyediting” or “editing,” which can mean anything. Usually the quote reads “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc.” If the quote is based on an hourly rate, I also ask if it includes a limit on the number of hours (usually not), and what happens if the editing is not done when that limit is reached (definitely never spelled out).

Once I have drawn all this information out of a client, I can begin my “defense.” This is where a professional editor can shine. Explaining what is included and what is not included in editing helps the client define precisely what work the client wants. As I go through the various options and the client says yes or no, I begin to build a quote. What I want the client to grasp is that, when the client hires me, she knows exactly what services she will get for the money. There is no gambling on what will be done or not done.

Importantly, it makes the client a part of the quoting process. If the quote is still too high for the client, I can now say, “If we eliminate this service, the price would be $xyz.” It is picking from the buffet and creating one’s own version of editing.

I also only quote a project or per-page fee, never an hourly fee. I explain to the client how this can save them money and is competitive with that lower bid they received. More importantly, I explain that it assures the client that a complete job will be done and that no additional money will be paid by the client to have the job done and done right.

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor. I try to get a client to compare apples to apples, which the client cannot do with a quote that simply says “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc,” especially not if the quote is based on an hourly rate with no limit to the hours and no explanation of what happens should the limit be reached with the editing incomplete.

There are other things I do as well, but the important point is to be professional and make the client see the value of hiring a professional editor.

How do you deal with the client who says, “I can get it cheaper!”?


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