Tired of hunting for budgets as if they were unicorns? A few weeks ago I wrapped up our commercial pricing guide which is a great reference IF you can get a paying client. As many of us know, sadly, that can be a pretty big IF. Here are a few strategies to help you turn a client with no budget into a winner!
I work with a lot of small businesses. I find this to be very fulfilling work. It genuinley brings me joy to meet with enthusiastic new business owners who have grand ideas and the gusto to take on the world. There is something very energizing about that and maybe it will keep my mind young as I inevitably grow old. I say maybe, because along with the energizing effect, there is also the frustration of an overwhelming wave of potential clients who do NOT have a budget.
Earlier in my career I used to get quite frustrated at the lack of appreciation for our industry and craft. We have all seen examples floating around the web of artists cracking under the pressure and retaliating with scathing emails and the sort. Is this really the best approach however? Over the years I have found that many potential clients actually do not have a budget. They are not trying to leave money off the table and they are not trying to screw you over. They are simply a small business looking to stick around long enough with what little capital they have in a capitalist world. Being a new business owner is as tough a position as being a starving artist, because really, they are one and the same.
More often then not, I find that when I am contacted by clients who lack a budget, they are not so much seeking a free service but a solution. They may not be asking for a solution initially, but whenever it is presented to them, they are always grateful for it. I want to give you examples of 3 solutions that I offer to a client with no budget. Not all clients will take you up on the offer, but some will, and that to me is always better then flat out shutting the door and losing out on an opportunity.
The payment plan is always the first offer I pitch. Commercial work can get a little expensive sometimes. Creative fees and licensing costs can really add up and for a new business it can be VERY hard to part with that kind of money up front. Many of these small businesses have very tight operating budgets and even minor deviations can wreak havoc.
As fellow business people we can be a little understanding. A client who sticks around is more valuable to us then a one time project anyways. So if all it takes is to break up their expenses and have them pay it off in equal installments over the course of 6 or 12 months, then that is a small inconvenience with a potentially great reward. Your client will be forever grateful that you could be so accommodating.
Putting your client on a payment plan will require you to draft up some paper work to state the terms and conditions of your agreement. You need to do this in order to legally protect yourself in case of non-payment. If you are unsure of local laws regarding this matter it is best to check with a lawyer before you put pen to paper.
Another solution which you can offer to a potential client is a straight trade. Think back to the days when you used to play in school. Every schoolyard across the country has some form of trade happening. Maybe you traded baseball cards, maybe it was pogs, or maybe you were just trying to get rid of that terrible lunch your mother had packed for you. Whatever the case, if there was something you wanted, you tried to trade for it. Unless of course, you were a bully, shame on you then.
Now that we are older we tend to focus on monetary compensation but bartering can still be a viable solution and a chance to challenge your negotiating skills. You can get entirely creative here. For example if you are currently spending $200/month on eating at restaurants, you can barter with a new restaurant owner to host you for dinner once a week for the year. The restaurant owner has his pictures, and you benefit from some delicious food that you would have been spending money on anyways.
Other examples include free printing services, free web design, or even borrowing clothing for lifestyle and editorial shoots. Most clients have SOMETHING to offer otherwise they wouldn’t be in business. If what they offer benefits you in some way see if you can strike up a trade for each others products/services. It is a great way to cut your expenses and the client can cut his as well.
Become A Silent Partner
This is a drastic solution but my absolute favorite. Some clients won’t have a budget. Some clients can’t even be put on a payment plan. Some clients don’t have a product or service I need. Do they have ANYTHING I might be interested in? How about a stake in their company?
If you are approached by a client who doesn’t have a budget but you absolutely believe in them and their venture it may be worthwhile for you to become a silent partner. A silent partner is generally one who invests in the company but has no involvement in management. I generally choose to be a silent partner because I have little to no desire to manage other people’s companies. This doesn’t mean that I am completely unaware of how it is being run but I choose to abstain from day to day operations because I have my own business to run. Instead I make an investment and sit in the shadows collecting my return.
In our case, when we say investment, we do not mean it in the monetary sense. We are adding value to the company through our creative input. Our photography work in exchange for a portion of the company.
This is a slightly more involved process. As a potential new partner you are entitled to full disclosure and will need to do your due diligence and research about the new client. You will need to figure out the volume of work you are required to produce for the client. The percentage you take as a partner needs to coincide with your creative input and the valuation of the company.
Unlike the other methods, this one won’t have much instant gratification, but it has the potential to pay off big time in the long run. Going this route is a bit like playing the stock market. You can’t just do this for every client, just like you can’t invest in every stock, and hope that it takes off. It is a game of patience, research, and smart investing. Pick the right clients as you would the right stocks and watch them grow. It can be quite exciting to see the effect your work has on a growing brand and to be part of the initial boom.
One famous example of such an arrangement was between Facebook and graffiti artist David Choe. David did a graffiti mural in the Facebook HQ back in 2005 and was offered shares of Facebook which at that time were the equivalent of the value of his work. When Facebook went public it was reported that those shares issued to David Choe had an estimated value of $200 million.
Partnerships are very serious legal business and this solution in particular requires a very specific set of terms and conditions. In these situations it is best to consult a lawyer in your area who will understand the full scope of such agreements.
It’s Not All About The Money
What I hope you can take away from this article is that it is not always about the money. It’s very easy to get fixated on chasing checks and filling our pockets. We are so eager to play the starving artist card when things don’t go our way that sometimes we forget to see our clients in a more human and compassionate way. If we can get as creative with our compensation as we do with our work, we will plant the seeds for long term success. Next time you have a client who has no budget, don’t turn them away immediately, but rather try one of the above approaches. You might be shocked to see the responses.