How do I decline to negotiate against myself?
January 27, 2014 4:17 PM   Subscribe

HugeCo (not their real name), a once-major freelance client of mine hadn't sent me an assignment in over a year. They recently asked for a quote on a job, which I submitted. In response to my quote they're asking me to describe everything I need to do to complete the job to justifies the price I quoted. I need a script to refuse that request, while being positive and moving the negotiation forward on a more productive tack.

How should I respond to the following email? (I have modified this slightly to anonymize it.)

Hi under_,
We're still going over cost internally – I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. It would be helpful to get a description of everything you need to do to get the $main_thing done to justify the cost. Same for the $optional_add_on.

I worked for HugeCo a whole bunch for a couple years, then less and less until nothing last year. My rate with HugeCo had not changed in 7 years.

They had me do a quarter-day job last week. Before accepting I informed them of my new rate, and they said that was fine.

There are no friendships on the line, and I'm not looking for a conflict, I just seems like they want me to negotiate against myself. If they had someone else cheaper they'd already be on it.

I've done so many jobs for HugeCo like this, and I know precisely how much time will be spent
- re-asking questions
- nagging them about promised materials
- waiting for the one critical guy in the chain that never responds to an email on the same day he receives it
- the number of last minute changes
- the starting and stopping and starting and stopping
- and starting and stopping
- And More!

Oh yeah, it's a rush job, lots of details remain undecided. I'm fine with all that, I know how it is, but I factor it in.

Perhaps most importantly, I'd like to get this project. I could move on price and if they had asked directly or pitched a lower price we'd be further along right now. Instead they've asked me to justify my price which really feels like a bullshit passive aggressive tactic.

I'm thinking of saying "If I knew what ballpark you were looking at I might be able to help you economize." or something like that.

Sorry, this is a rush job, I'd like to respond to the email by 5:15 PST (GMT -8:00)

posted by under_petticoat_rule to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"This quote is based on my gut feeling and 7 years of doing business with you. Part of my ability to offer a competitive price like this to you is our long-standing relationship and my experience with your business processes. If I have to stop and do a breakdown, I will need to add the cost of doing that to my bid."

And make it clear that "the cost of doing that" isn't just hours times rate, it's hours times rate times the chance that you might waste the time doing the breakdown and not get the job after all.
posted by straw at 4:23 PM on January 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

I've been a freelancer for 5 yrs. To be honest, if someone did this to me, I would be tempted to drop them because if they pressure you to take less $, you will lose when the normal paying clients come along but YMMV.

However, why not list what you need to do? I don't know what you do entirely, but as an example (and keep it brief):

-Write report
-Admin (teleconference, emails)
-Art work (finding pictures)-
-2 revisions

Now if they want to negotiate, have them come back and say "we will do the art work." Don't let them take away the admin since you know them. Or if they want to cap it at one revision, let it be that.

I have had success just saying, "The price for it is X." and that's it. Don't sign a contract if not. They are under the gun too. It is the ones doing this that are painful in many ways for me but YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 4:29 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dear X

My quote was made on the basis of an analysis of the costs of many previous projects. Providing a detailed task-by-task breakdown for this particular project is possible, but it is likely to be a lengthy and expensive task. And in my experience it is likely to be less accurate overall than my professional judgement.
posted by pipeski at 4:32 PM on January 27, 2014

Best answer: They aren't necessarily asking you to reduce your fee - they're asking you to define and defend it. Could just be some new bureaucracy on their end that they need in order to get the project approved by someone higher up. Unfortunately needless hoop-jumping is getting pretty common these days at HugeCo type places.

Explain in simple terms how you came up with the number. If it is based on estimated hours worked, and a sense of how long things usually take with them based on 7 years of prior experience, then say that. Maybe break it down very generally into X hours for meetings, X hours for development time, X hours for revisions, X hours for testing, etc. If that's not enough, ask them to be more specific about what they want from you. Don't volunteer anything about reducing the cost until they specifically say that's the issue holding the project up. Cross that bridge when you come to it. It might be coming, but I don't think you're there yet.
posted by spilon at 4:36 PM on January 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

I see nothing in your description that suggests they want you to negotiate against yourself or that they are going to offer less than your usual rate. You don't really know why they're asking. There may be a new person involved in the project who wants a more detailed quote, or any number of other annoying yet plausible reasons. Why not take 10-15 minutes and throw together some quick bullet points? Alternatively, just politely refuse and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having been on both sides of the table, this seems like a reasonable request, and an easy one to fulfill. They're asking you what you're doing, not just what the end result is. This should be simple enough; bullet points or a similar list should meet the need.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:56 PM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've frequently made this request, and frequently responded to it. Sometimes it is needed so that the person who wants to hire you can justify things to someone higher up on the food chain internally.
If they didn't specifically ask for hours then I don't know that you even need to do that. Although it can help ground things. In my opinion a good response breaks your work into about 4-6 broad but significant components (either parallel or serial tasks) and then allocates an appropriate number of hours to administrative and overhead associated with the job.
And, absolutely include a statement that this is a general attempt to break down the work, but that your quote is given based on experience with them and similar clients and the specific time spent on certain tasks will likely vary within the limits of the overall quote.
posted by meinvt at 5:02 PM on January 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ask for the details they haven't provided yet. Explain that because they haven't provided all the details you've built in a safety margin.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:22 PM on January 27, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks! I have sent a reply with a general overview of the main components and a statement about how my 13 years of experience back up my assessment of the job (7 years ago was my prior rate increase, I've actually worked with them since 2001).
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Instead they've asked me to justify my price

I work on the other side, hiring agencies and freelancers to complete work for my large multinational. Frankly, to me, this request is not at all unreasonable - and if a contractor refused to elaborate, I would basically take that as the agency telling me that they don't want the work, for whatever reason - and I would look elsewhere.

There are a number of reasons I want a detailed breakdown:

1) So I can understand where the bulk of the work is going to be, so I can either help streamline it, or set milestones/timelines appropriately.

2) Because I have a set budget, and work needs to come in under it - I cannot get any more money, not matter what.

3) Because I have been given a budget, but could swing a way to exceed it IF I can make a good case for the value/quality of the work.

4) Because I have a new manager or finance person who has not worked with agency before and can't/won't take their estimate on trust and experience, and need details before signing off.

5) Because our Byzantine frigging expenses policy has changed, and now I need more/different information to submit my request for approval - or finance has come back asking for more info. If I approve expenses without following guidelines I can get official warnings that will impact my end of year performance review.

6) Because I don't understand the costs or proposal; don't see the value of them; think the workflow/timeslines are bullshit, suspect the agency is trying to fob me off with some bullshit cookie cutter solution/they haven't actually listened to or bothered to make a proper response to my brief - so a detailed look at proposal will reveal this immediately.

7) I'm genuinely curious/interested.

These are some, but not all, of the reasons I need a detailed response to my brief. It shows that the agency has listened to me, the client, and are taking me seriously. If they respond seriously, I believe the work will be serious; if they give me a mickey mouse response I am not being taken seriously, and I will look elsewhere.

Do not move on price; outline the work you will do and sell the value of it. See what their response is and then adjust, only if necessary. It's a dialogue - don't close off the dialogue, or you will lose the work. Good luck,
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on January 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

All my HugeCo-type customers (and many of my smaller ones who do some sort of structured budgeting) require Statements of Work with at least bulletpoints, if not Microsoft Project project plans. And that means I can put all my assumptions, requirements, and limitations in there and they have to sign off on that too.

I don't think they're insulting your integrity or questioning your expertise, I think they're just doing controlled project accounting. There shouldn't be any reason to be defensive.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:47 PM on January 27, 2014

A few years ago, I used to do freelance illustration and requests of this nature were pretty common. As such, I don't find it particularly unreasonable. You can go into as little or as much detail as you want (and they can ask for clarification if the provided isn't sufficient) but I'm curious as to why you feel you shouldn't have to justify your price to your potential employer.

Were I HugeCo, I'd be very put off by a contractor failing to provide a detailed response after a request for it and would likely assume they are trying to hide the fact that the work doesn't warrant the quote provided. As a result, I'd simply find another contractor.
posted by stubbehtail at 5:49 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer people who wonder why this request seems strange to me, I have never been asked to justify my price for anything with HugeCo before. I've been asked what I think something will cost to get done, and then we move forward. Before now I've always just worked hourly for them. They've certainly never asked for a quote from me before.

This is a division in a huge company that has its own slow processes for doing the kinds of things I do, except they often need things to get done on a much less glacial timeline than their own internal capabilities permit. These kinds of things are generally pulled together ad-hoc without much in the way of official process. This is not a formal brief that's being sent out by an agency. It's more of a "Hey, does anyone still have under_'s phone number? He's our guy for this type of job, right?" kind of thing.

Also, no one has ever asked me to justify (or explain) my pricing without going on to try to wheedle, cajole and even insult me into reducing my price. The majority of my non-freelance working life has been in sick systems, to the point where it's hard to imagine someone asking such a question for legitimate or benign reasons.

I sent a brief reply as per the answers I marked as "best," sketching in the top level tasks and got a "Great, thanks, that really helps, I hope to have good news soon" reply, so it was very helpful to have that perspective. It seems my HugeCo contacts just lacked the institutional memory to understand the components of what seems to me to be a pretty straightforward job of a type we've done together plenty of times in the past.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Before now I've always just worked hourly for them. They've certainly never asked for a quote from me before.

This is key information. When you're working hourly they pay you based on the time you put in. When you're working from a quote they need to know what goes into that quote. That's a totally normal part of an estimate. You might want to be alert for other changes to the working relationship, as in, are they still on the hook for time and materials if you go over what you quoted due to their communication failures, change in scope, a mis-estimate, whatever?
posted by daveliepmann at 11:55 PM on January 27, 2014

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