How to Deal with Clients Who Want a Lexus Quality for a Hyundai Price

I’m sure you’ve all been there. You have a client that sees your work either online or via a friend or colleague and they just HAVE to have you. Unfortunately, they don’t have the budget of the aforementioned friend or colleague. So, you make adjustments to accommodate their budget and deliver your services accordingly. What proceeds is a conversation something like this:

CLIENT: So, um, we got the album and we noticed that it’s not as big as Susie’s album from her wedding last year.

PHOTOG: That’s because Susie got our top package. She paid for that.

CLIENT: Her album was so beautiful, with leather and all.

PHOTOG: Yeah, I know. She paid for that.

CLIENT: And you got pictures of her groomsmen getting ready. Why didn’t we have that?

PHOTOG: Well, because you only paid for 1 photographer and the groomsmen got ready across town and there’s only one of me. So, I kinda figured you’d want pictures of you, your dress and your bridesmaids vs. a bunch of guys sitting around drinking beer and watching football.

CLIENT: So why did Susie get all that?

PHOTOG: Um…because she paid for it.

If you’re a video producer, you might have had a conversation like this:

CLIENT: So, we saw the video and it’s really not what we were expecting. The video we saw on your site that attracted us to you had a lot of cool motion graphics and stuff.

VIDEOG: Yeah, I know. The client paid for that. When I proposed that to you, you said it wasn’t in the budget.

CLIENT: And that video had a lot of cool locations. Our video has only one location.

VIDEOG: That client paid for that.

CLIENT: And I don’t even recognize the music you used. That other video had a Chris Tomlin song.

VIDEOG: Well, that video was for Chris Tomlin, so, like , we kinda had permission to use it, as it was his video and all.

CLIENT: Can we use a Chris Tomlin song in our video?

VIDEOG: Are you willing to pay for the music rights?

CLIENT: Can we just buy it off of iTunes?

VIDEOG: Um. No. You have to pay for the rights. Are you willing to do that?

CLIENT: Not really.

VIDEOG: Well then. There’s your answer isn’t it.

Okay, admittedly, you may not have had conversations exactly like this, but you may have had conversations where those sentiments were there. Or, if you read between the lines, the client was basically saying how disappointed they are/were that you didn’t give them a “Lexus” when all they were willing to pay for was a “Hyundai.” Notice I said Hyundai and not a Gremlin. Hyundai’s are still very nice cars. You most likely still gave them a very good product and service commensurate with what they paid. So what do you do in a situation like this?

  • Be professional. Chances are this situation will frustrate you to no end. You may have done everything in your power before they hired you to pitch the Lexus package, but they didn’t budge. Now they are disappointed and you feel like it’s not fair. No matter what, act professional. You have to muster everything in you to treat them like any other client, with professional courtesy and politeness.
  • Offer options. Depending on the job, you may have the opportunity to offer options that will get them closer to what they want, while at the same time get paid for your work. Can you do some pick-up shots? Can you upgrade their album? Naturally, charge for this extra work. Sometimes clients actually are willing to open up the purse strings later.
  • Be firm. Do not give in and give them the Lexus without having them pay for it. Some clients may go so far as to “scare” you into giving them extra (e.g. “Well. I’m just going to have to tell all my friends that you couldn’t work with us on this. You won’t be seeing any additional referrals from us, that’s for sure.”) If you get someone like that, trust me, you don’t want their referrals anyway.

I’m sorry I don’t have more advice for you on this. This is one of those situations where if you’re dealing with an unreasonable client, trying to be reasonable may not work. Chances are, even before they hired you and signed the contract, you probably knew they would be a problem client. But you took the job anyway because you needed the money. I can understand that. I’ve been there too. But sometimes, the money just isn’t worth the stress you’ll have later. If a client (or potential client) does not appreciate your work and time from the get-go and is willing to pay you what you’re asking, then they just might not be the client for you. It’s better for both parties in many situations if you just say “Sorry. We may not be the best company for you. How about XYZ Company down the street?”

Final Thoughts

Two final thoughts before we close. First, for the record, I always give my clients more than what they paid for. It’s part of the service we offer to always go above and beyond. I want all my clients raving about the videos we produce for them and the service we give. So please don’t take this to mean that you never give extra. If a client hires me to do $10,000 worth of work, I will most likely do $12,000 to $15,000 worth of work (but I will make the video LOOK like $20,000 worth of work. 🙂 But don’t feel compelled to give a $5,000 client $20,000 worth of work.

Secondly, make sure it’s written in your contract what the costs are for any additional work on revisions. If you haven’t already done so, read my article on the five things every professional creative needs to have in their contracts.

How have you handled situations like this?

Update: Thanks to Steve Lubetkin (in the comments) for reminding me of this funny video that speaks to this issue.

7 thoughts on “How to Deal with Clients Who Want a Lexus Quality for a Hyundai Price

  1. Excellent post. One key thing that I like to do to reduce the frequency of these occurrences is manage expectations at the very beginning. If a potential client is drawn into my office based on work that cost X-dollars to produce, I say thank you and explain why it looks the way it does…fiscally first, talent second ;P A client’s confirmed understanding of the VALUE of the service is key before moving forward.

    1. Very good point Eric. But I’ve been in situations where I’ve done that, made it crystal clear what a client would get for what they are paying, and what they could get if they pay more, and STILL run into this issue. It’s not often, but every now and then. That’s why I suggested that sometimes it’s better off just saying “no.”

      1. Agreed. The point of the first meeting and this exercise is to determine whether the client wants to work with you and whether you want to work with them. It is not always foolproof, but it’s a good habit to manage expectations at the beginning and if moving forward, during and at the end.

        Love your blog, BTW.

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