So there’s a brand that you want to work with. You let them know the price, and they come back with “we really like your agency, your work, and want you to do the project… we just don’t have the budget allocated for the price in your proposal”. What do you do? Let’s assume you’ve done your job in negotiating the best you can, and it legitimately seems to be a matter of budget. Here’s a personal experience that may resonate with you.

There’s a non-profit organization that’s doing a lot of good for the community and they need help launching their public-facing brand, which we both determined should include:

  • Brand strategy
  • Brand identity
  • Brand messaging
  • Website design 

I love their cause and am excited to work with the organization. They felt good about me, and want us to be their agency. It’s a lot of work, and in their preliminary board meetings (before they solicited proposals) they determined a budget that they can allocate to getting the brand off the ground. The problem is their budget is half the cost of the proposal that was submitted. The president of the organization came back after speaking with the board of directors and says “the board can’t allocate the budget you’re asking for”. 

What I gathered from this conversation was:

  • The President was going to bat for me on behalf of the board
  • They did their due diligence and obtained 3 quotes
  • Ours was the highest but they understood why because our work was superior
  • They were willing to settle for a “sub-par” agency if needed, but really didn’t want to
  • They were hoping we could come closer to the price they originally accounted for in their budget
  • The president was being very transparent with me and voicing that they wanted us as their agency

Here is a summary of our conversation from this point:

  • Me: How solid is that preliminary budget that the board determined?
  • President: It was pretty solid in the beginning, and is still now. We have some room to move, but not really close to what your cost is and I don’t want to offend you. Is there any way you can work with us?
  • Me: The thing is, I lead with my best price. That’s our minimum level of engagement for taking on a project like what you’re wanting us to do. I definitely don’t want to compromise our quality by removing any deliverables or skipping any part of our process. So this will be a matter of me just biting the bullet on the cost. However, I think we can work something out that can be a win-win. Do you guys receive donations and sponsorships?
  • President: Yes – we partner with many community leaders and businesses who donate to the organization and we promote their business.
  • Me: I can’t do 50% of our proposal, because at that point I’d be paying out of pocket to do the work. However, what I could do (but I’d want to get confirmation that this is within the realm of possibility) is offering up to a 30% discount, but it would in the form of sponsorship. This means you’d promote our business to the same extent as the other organizations who donate the equivalent amount that you’re saving. Do you think the board would be open to that?
  • President: I think I may be able to get a majority vote with that proposal. Can you send it over?
  • Me: For sure – but what I don’t want to happen is I send an updated proposal with this stipulation, but it’s still rejected because it’s still a lot higher than your allocated budget. Here’s the thing – I want to work with you. I love the work you’re doing, and God has blessed me to be able to do what I do for brands that make a difference. I believe you’re one of those brands. Don’t tell the board this, but I don’t want money to be the primary issue that prevents us from working together. If you’re confident that we’re the agency that should take on the project, let me know what the board says and we can see about working something else out. But for your own information, our costs are typically pretty solid and are set at the rate they are to deliver the quality of work we are proud to stand behind.

The president took that information to the board, and let me know within the hour that they were excited to work with us and are prepared to cut a check for the deposit and schedule Discovery. 

I don’t recommend doing this for every client. I have to ask myself a few questions:

  1. Is this a brand I really do want to work with?
  2. Am I confident that this truly is a money issue? Or is it an issue of perceived value?
  3. Can I reasonably and responsibly take on the project at a reduced rate? (Can I afford to take on this project at that rate without compromising my process, the quality, or the other projects I’m working on?)
  4. Is there anything they can offer in exchange for the offset price that I want or could benefit from in the form of trade?

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear your feedback or questions.