Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Telling someone what they have to pay for

Hello Polite Readers!

It should come as no great surprise that a lot of the topics for this blog come from talking with my fellow artists and small business owners. When you are the face of your business and you're working through a difficult economy, you really want to impress clients with your professional, polite correspondences, but sometimes it's almost impossible to find the right wording.

Case in point: Sometimes you need to make it clear to a client that they're going to be the one to cover a certain extra expense related to what they're asking of you. There's many situations where this might arise. As a bellydancer, I might charge extra for a gig outside of town to cover my gas money. As a jewelry designer, I would have to charge more for a custom necklace if it was going to require more expensive materials than the similar one in my shop the client was inspired by.

There's a couple of important points to consider when informing your client about the cost of what they want. First, don't ask, state. Instead of saying "Will you be able to..." or "Can you..." you will say "Due to the fact that your party is 100 miles from my studio, I will have to add an extra $30 to my usual fee" or whatever. Also, don't make it about your budget. Never say "I can't afford" or "My finances won't allow." No matter how broke you actually might be, you always want to give the impression that you are a successful artist, and that this is simply your usual policy and that's just how things are in the art world. Your finances are none of your client's concern, they just need to know how much they should pay you.

One more thing to keep in mind: Charge more than what you need to. If you have to travel, it's not just your gas money, it's also time, wear and tear on your vehicle, and the inconvenience. If you have to order special materials, chances are your supplier has a minimum so you'll have to order other things, too, and you might only need 12 beads but they come in packages of 20, so you have to pay for and then find a use for those extra 8 beads. So don't hesitate to roll a little annoyance fee in to anything that forces you to work outside of your normal parameters. Far too often you'll find that these things take longer or cost more than you expected and you end up losing money (whether it's actual money, or loss of time you could have spent on other things you'd get paid for). Protect yourself!

Remember of course to be firm but polite as always. State only what you need to in order to explain to the client why this request will cost more than your standard work. Don't bog them down in details (ie, only say "I will be adding $50 for travel expenses" and not "Gas will cost $20 but there's also the fact that I should really get my spare tire replaced before I make a long drive..."). Also, get it out of the way early on in the conversation, don't spring it on them after they've already made a non-refundable deposit or otherwise committed to the deal. Unless they change the details on you, you're not allowed to change the cost on them.

Do you have an awkward situation you'd like help with? Send it to me at and you could be featured in a future column!