Ask Ted: Is my price to high?

by Ted Leonhardt

ted leonhardt Chuck had summited a proposal and, aside from acknowledging that he’d received it, had heard nothing from his client contact, Robert.

Chuck asked,

Quoting  begins Ted, I’m worried that my price was too high or that they’ve found someone else to do the work. Also, I don’t know if they’ll need me to do five interviews or twenty. I do know that the project needs to be done for a mid-June presentation to the senior guys in Rome. And that’s a fixed date Quoting  ends

“Cool!” I responded, “I love fixed, unavoidable dates. First, you’re perfect for this assignment. I wouldn’t worry about them finding someone else. Look, two weeks have gone by. You’d have heard if they’d found somebody else. In any case, there’s an easy way to find out what’s going on. Ask.”

Use the right channel

“So, Chuck, does your relationship with Robert use Skype, email or text messages? I know he’s nine hours ahead.”

“We started out on email and FaceTime but since I spent all that time with him in Rome we now use IM as much as anything.”

“Okay we’ll wake him up with IM and see what’s up.” Together, we composed the first text to say:

“Hi Robert, I’m getting concerned about time. I know you have that June event looming. Have your decided how many interviews I’ll need to do?”

“Notice that my message assumes that the assignment is yours. Also, I’m reminding him of the deadline in the spirit of helping him. My ‘concern’ is clearly in his best interests.”

“Let’s see, nine hours ahead, he should still be up, let’s send this first message now and see if he responds.”

Chuck pressed send and we waited. And yes, moments later we got Robert’s reply:

“Sorry, Chuck, last week was crazy. I’m on it.”

“Wow, it worked! Okay, we’re on. We’ve got the gig. So, Chuck, let’s follow up with another text to add a bit more urgency with a human touch.”

We composed the following:

“I’m a new father and will need to schedule help for my wife while I’m away.”

This text reminds Robert that his relationship with Chuck has a personal level as well as a professional. It also reminds Robert that Chuck is a kind, caring person.

Robert didn’t respond instantly to this second message. But the next morning Chuck awoke to this follow-up message from Robert:

“Chuck, I just spoke to Fred, good news your framing is acceptable. Let’s talk tomorrow. 5p Rome work?”

So now we have the assignment, the next step will involve refining the scope, nailing down the dates and the number of interviews. Naturally, they could still push back on the costs. But, that June deadline is out there providing all the leverage we’ll need.

And then

And sure enough, the next day I got the following email from Chuck.


Hi Ted,

Robert called to say his boss, Fred, wanted my day rate to be lower — 
matching Allison’s, which they said was $1,000. (Ted, I think you 
remember that Allison and I teamed up on that assignment we 
did for Fred three years ago).

Robert needs to get Fred’s approval but will be funding it from his 
own budget. He told me that with my travel expenses (which he 
estimated at $5K) on top of my $37K fee the proposal was too expensive, 
but he would be happy if all together it were kept under $37K. I’m 
fine with that. Now that I’ve spent some time studying what I’ll 
need to do for them, $37K will be fine.

I am planning to keep my day rate at $1,500 but to knock a couple days 
off so that with travel my proposal totals just under $37K.

Robert will be OK with this. These fees are coming from his budget, so 
Fred should be okay too. Hopefully Fred will not balk at me keeping the 
day rate. Lowering my day rate seems like a bad precedent going forward.

My concern is that Fred could make a sticking point out of the day rate 
and try to get me to lower it after I have reduced the number of days. 
I think I’m in a pretty good position because they need this project to 
be completed before mid-June for that senior level briefing, so I don’t 
think it will fall apart.

Any advice?



Hi Chuck,

Respect. The most important thing to come away with in any negotiation is respect. Here's something you can say if they continue to push back on your day rate:

"People choose to work with me because they respect my skills, knowledge and achievements for them and others. They pay my day rate out of respect and because they know that I will produce the results they need. In turn, lowering my day rate for you would be unfair and disrespectful to my clients who do pay my rate."

I’d use the above on the phone with Robert. And remember June is coming up fast. They have no real alternatives to using you.


The result

Leonhardt Robert was happy with the travel compromise, smoothed over the day rate issue with his boss, and Fred gave Chuck the go ahead. The lesson: when in doubt ask. But ask in a manner that is clearly in your client’s interest and, if possible, connect on a personal level. Someday Chuck may tell his new daughter that she helped seal a deal that moved his consulting career to a new level.

Thank you Emily!



GO Others from Ted Leonhardt

Design management consultant Ted Leonhardt, formerly global head of Anthem, has penned a series of columns dealing with business issues facing emerging designers. This is the first of the series of five pieces, which explore: How to land a brand design assignment, learning to negotiate, getting a job at the firm of your choice, and taking control of salary negotiations. We Thank Ted for sharing his knowledge, and for contributing to the benefit of all DTG readers! Catch up with Ted at his web site : ; while you're there, enjoy Ted's Blog

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