How to properly value your time with Doug Dolan

| 39-min read

If you’ve ever spent too much time on a proposal, episode #453 of the Marketing Mentor Podcast is for you.

Today I bring you Doug Dolan, a communications strategist and writer (and one of my teachers). 

In his typically self-deprecating way, Doug outlines his strategies for how to properly value your time and make sure you capture it in a proposal so you actually get paid for it when you win the project (which you will if you have taken my Domestika course, Writing a Winning Proposal).

Doug shares so much more about how he thinks about not just pricing but about valuing your services, how to customize a proposal (which I originally learned from him) and how to figure out what to say in those awkward moments with clients and prospects, including when a client balks at an initial quote or increase. 

As for the Baby Step, Doug suggested taking a look at how detailed you get in your quote or proposal and to be sure you “go granular,” not just on the deliverables but especially on your process. 

This helps establish the rationale for your pricing, which makes the whole process much less stressful for you.

So listen here (or below) and scroll down to read the transcript. 

 

(If you want to learn more about how to strengthen the money-side of your business, join me and my favorite freelance experts at the 2nd Annual Creative Freelance Summit on September 14-15, 2022. It's all online! Details here.)

Want to hear more from Doug? Listen to:

If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Transcript for Marketing Mentor Podcast #453 with Doug Dolan

ilise benun

Hi there. This is ilise benun, your Marketing Mentor. And this is the podcast for you if, and only if, you are ready to leave the feast or famine syndrome behind, and I mean for good.

If you know me, you know I don't do hype. I especially never say, "I'm so excited," about whatever it is. However, I'm making an exception because on today's episode, I really am excited to be talking with one of my favorite people. Someone I've known for many years and from whom I've learned so much about so many things especially, but not exclusively, business-oriented. He doesn't like hype either. That's one of the things we have in common. So, I won't go on and on about how wonderful he really is. Just the facts ma'am.

So today, I bring you Doug Dolan. He's a communication strategist and writer who shared so much about what he's learned and how he thinks about not just pricing, but valuing your services, how to customize a proposal—which is something I originally learned from him, and how to figure out what to say in those awkward moments with clients and prospects. We laughed a lot. I hope you love this conversation as much as I did. So, listen and learn.

Hello, Doug. Welcome to the podcast.

Doug Dolan

Thank you. It's a privilege to be admitted to the Marketing Mentor Center. So, thank you.

ilise benun

And I should say, ‘welcome back to the podcast,’ because this is not the first episode we've done together, although it has been a while, right?

Doug Dolan

Given that we were both using rotary dial phones last time, I think, yeah, it's been a bit.

ilise benun

And before we get too much further, please introduce yourself.

Doug Dolan

I knew you'd do this to me. I'm a communications strategist and writer, sometime arms dealer, but I usually bury that until the second meeting. I work with a lot of different types of clients, usually senior leaders, CEOs and those sorts of folks of many different kinds of organizations, trying to figure out what their story they're trying to tell themselves is, for starters, and then what they want to tell other people to inspire them or educate them or persuade them about something. 

And as you know, because we met back in the day, I started out as a partner in a design communications firm and then went into a solo practice in 2008, and find it easier just to be a free agent, consulting and working with a lot of other kinds of creative firms. But technically, a solo act. So that's probably not even beginning to explain what I do, but it's a start.

ilise benun

It's a start. And that's all we want from an elevator pitch, right, is the beginning of a conversation.

Doug Dolan

That was an escalator pitch, I believe. [Laughter] If you want elevator I'll take another run at it. But let's go with that.

ilise benun

No, I like the escalator. I'm going to borrow that. I'm going to steal that and integrate it, which, we'll get to this at the end I hope, but I've been doing that from you, with you, for many years, and that's what often people comment on. But we'll come back to that.

Doug Dolan

Yeah, my lawyers told me just to be cautious at the start of this conversation, so I'm going to be really respectful of their instructions. That's good. [Laughter]

ilise benun

And the reason we're talking is because you and I were chatting a couple weeks ago and you were talking about how you capture the time that you spend and recover the time that you spend on projects before you get paid, before you're hired. And I thought you had some really interesting perspectives on that, that my listeners would appreciate. So that's what I want to talk with you about. How does that sound?

Doug Dolan

Yeah, sadly right after I said all that, I fell and hit my head, so you're going to have to prompt me a little bit. [Laughter] But no, I do remember the conversation. It's a topic close to my heart, so fire away.

ilise benun

Yeah. I mean, maybe we can think about it or talk about it in terms of any specifics, not saying who we're talking about, per se. But, when you are working with a prospect or trying to pitch a project, if you even think about it that way anymore, or scoping out the needs of a prospect, you spend time, right? How do you approach that? How do you get started with that? What is your process?

Doug Dolan

So I start the meter, in effect, and I actually do use one of many apps you can use for this. I use Office Time, but I just like to keep track of how much time I'm spending on something. 

It's not that I have a cab driver mentality about everything I do for a client, but it's more for my education, especially when I first started doing it. Because you don't really notice how much time you spend just getting ready and thinking about stuff and researching. 

So I have that as a gauge, and I do keep track of everything that I put into even the introductory sort of conversations, preparatory to a pitch, or certainly developing an actual pitch and all that stuff. But I guess I'll go back one step because the context for this, from my perspective, came when … I think I was just doing this intuitively, arrogantly, greedily. I thought my time has a value and I should capture it.

But I was in an online conversation, probably a dozen years ago, with a bunch of people in a design organization that I work with. And somebody just raised the question, "Gee, do you guys bill for meetings?" And I thought, "Oh, this must be a younger person." And I'm like, "Of course you do." 

And then the voices began chiming in and people were saying "No," or "Yeah, but only partly." And then it went to a larger conversation around ‘what do you get to bill for?’ And there was one school of thought that you simply start billing in your mind or accounting for your work hours when you have InDesign open and you are actually designing something, or in my case, I have Word open and I'm actually writing something. 

And there was not consensus on this, but it was going across age groups, or at least what I could infer that were age groups—different seniority in the business. And it was illuminating, because I thought, "Gee, I don't think I'm just this weird, groveling person who wants to grab every minute."

But I think where it comes from is there’s a kind of unease among creative people that our time gets to be billed as readily as a lawyer does. We're always envious of how much lawyers get to charge. It's not just about the dollars; they capture every minute. But our work is somehow different than that. Or a therapist. Everybody knows that the therapist gets paid for the full hour, which for them is 50 minutes, must be nice. We don't tend to think that way, but I think we should. 

That was sort of a circuitous route back to your question. So I will start taking note of how much time I put into something, and when I build an actual quote for the job, I start with a line item, not shared with the client but just for my edification, how much time have I put into this already? And how much more will I put in, in advance of getting the gig?

Am I going to get that money back if I don't win? No. But it's instructive. It can be a good warning sign that I'm 16 hours into prepping for this thing, and I've heard there's like ten other people competing for it, and they just found out that I did some time in the penitentiary, so my odds are diminishing. Maybe 16 hours is enough. 

And in a better case scenario, you do win, and you have captured that time as well. If it's an hour or two, and you write it off to business development, great. But as you know, it can take a long time to win a job. 

And I don't think that once you've won something, you should start off in the accounting side of your business with a loss. So, part of winning is, "Oh good. All the time I put into thinking through their particular problem and getting to know them, and showing that I understood what they're trying to do, and here's why I think I could help … That's coming back to me. I invested here and it's going to be captured in the quote." So I build it in, quietly.

ilise benun

Quietly, exactly. So it's a line item on your end of the bookkeeping, but not necessarily on theirs.

Doug Dolan

That's right.

ilise benun

And is it based on whatever you consider your hourly rate to be, and does that change? And a corollary

question, is there a maximum that you will spend if you're trying to get a project or a client and not go any further? Or is it case by case?

Doug Dolan

Probably case by case. I have an hourly rate that I like to get irrespective of what I'm doing. I know that some people have a matrix, so if they're doing this kind of strategic consultation work as X and actual creative execution as Y… I find that, it's not that I don't understand the difference, and maybe one part of my brain is overtaxed more on one kind of work than another, but I feel that time is time. Come up with a rate that makes sense. The gradations that I pay attention to are more to do with who is this for?

A couple of people in hoodies with a great idea, just starting a company, I'm not going to bill them the way I would with a major bank or some other multi-billion dollar corporation who can afford to. I'm not trying to fleece the latter, I just know that their budgets are more generous. They're more used to paying consultants that, and they put you through the mill too, so it's worth it. So there's a variation in what I will put against an hour, internally. I never charge by the hour to a client, it's always by project, which is a topic for another day.

ilise benun

It is, but let me just interrupt you there for a second because I just want to clarify and underscore what I think I heard you just say, which is that your value is not necessarily based on what you're doing, but, or and, for whom. So a lot of how you decide what to price at is about who's paying.

Doug Dolan

Yeah. I think I have a basic notion of what I feel my time should be worth and I've arrived at that through magic and happenstance and watching what other people seem to be doing. That's my constant. 

If I vary it, it's not that, oh, not-for-profit work takes less of me or it's a different kind of thing that I shouldn't charge as much for in terms of what I'm actually doing in my time. It's just what's reasonable for them. But it's kind of a discount from my basic ask of myself. 

I'm not thinking I'm going to work differently for these folks, ergo it's $50 an hour less. It's more, I'm willing to come off my ideal hourly rate in light of who they are and that they're strapped for cash but they've got a really neat idea and I want to be helpful, or they are helping indigenous people get educated in Canada and they don't have any money, so I'm going to help them. So it's based on that.

My golden mean price per hour that I like to have as a constant, that doesn't change. If I put, let's say, my rate was $10 an hour, this is dangerous … my inbox will be flooded with offers after this. 

If I were saying $10 an hour and I put 20 hours into getting to know a client and pitching to them, the first thing in my crib sheet for preparing a quote is going to be $200. I want to get that back if I can. 

Or if I don't, to your point, does it ever vary? Of course, I don't have a max, but if something just looks like it got pretty big and it's not going to show up as a line item, but it just might tip the balance the wrong way in terms of where the total ends up, I'll dial it back a bit. But what I find helpful is I know that I'm doing that, and I find a lot of colleagues, when you talk about that phase of quoting, they're just spit balling or throwing a dart. And I like to actually know.

I'm giving back some of this time that I normally would want to capture in light of the fact that it's too much to ask for, just now. It might be sticker shock for the prospective client, or it looks like a good relationship could come out of this, it'll work itself out in the fullness of time. 

So then I'll take that $200 and I'll dial it back to $150, because again, it's only going to show up in the bottom line, they're not privy to this decision, but I think it's a good call. So then I will take it back. But no, there's no particular max.

If I'm worried about hitting a red line on how much time I've put into trying to win something, I've got bigger problems than just getting those dollars back. It's like, "What are you doing, Doug?" It sounds like this is becoming a job disguised as a get-to-know-you pitch, and some clients do try to do that. They like to keep going in the preliminary conversations, and next thing you know, they decide to go elsewhere or, "Sorry, we just had a talk about our budget. We're going to do this next year." But in the meantime, they absorbed a lot of ideas and IP that you kind of wish you could get back.

ilise benun

And how do you prevent that from happening?

Doug Dolan

I usually find a diplomatic way—and just to be clear, it's not coming up weekly, but it does occur. I find a diplomatic way to say that “this is the kind of thing we're going to be tackling together. This is the job.” I'm pretty blunt about it. “Now you're talking about the job, so if we're doing this, great, let's roll up our sleeves and really do it.” And usually, people are appreciative of that. 

If someone is genuinely just trying to get something for nothing, then that's a clarifying moment, and then you find another diplomatic way of saying, “I don't think I'm the right person for you.” I can't tell you that's happened very often, but it has. But it's more of the former, where you just let somebody know that … sometimes it's more out of zeal on their part than some rapacious idea they're going to grab something for nothing. 

So you just point out to them, "I'm glad you're into it. It looks like we work well together, but now we're straying into the part where we are engaged and doing it. So why don't we get that sorted and absolutely, let's keep this conversation going."

ilise benun

Right. And the reason I'm pushing a little bit on this point, also, is because you've been at this a long time. Other people who either haven't, or maybe just haven't figured out how to handle that conversation—which is sometimes part of the money conversation, get stuck, giving too much, over delivering, and missing the moment where they could have said something diplomatic about, “Now we're straying into the actual job,” right? 

Because you, as the provider, need to know where that line is, even if it's not a straight line or it's blurry sometimes. But you need to be really clear because, as you said, they are perhaps just really excited and want to keep talking and don't know where the line is.

Doug Dolan

That's right. I wouldn't say that having a metric, like a dollar figure, is the whole story, but it's a helpful marker. That's one of the reasons I do it. I'm aware of how could I quantify the degree to which I may be getting close to or over that line. 

But the one thing I would say, and I do say this to younger colleagues who are talking about this very topic, in orchestrating that diplomatic moment, however it's executed, you don't have to take a deep breath and say this is the part where I confront them with what they're doing. 

It's not adversarial. It shouldn't feel that way. It should be more a recognition, "Hey, look at us. We're really getting into this. This is great. It bodes well, doesn't it?" 

I'm improvising, I don't think I would ever specifically say those things, but it's something in that spirit like, "Look how we are doing this together."

Even flagging to them that, “that feels promising. We seem to have a good vibe going here, we're both excited by this. I just want to point out that it's the job, isn't it? Why don't we get the formality sorted out and then we can really just keep going here?” That is a different feeling to it than pointing at someone saying, 'Well, you see what you're doing? You see what you're trying to do? Now you're trying to get something out of me?" [Laughter}

Even if that were true, they're not going to appreciate it, and largely I would say, it's not going to be true, so you're just going to tick them off.

ilise benun

I love that Doug. This idea like, "Hey, look at us, look how well this is going so far." And I think "That bodes well", is a fine thing to say.

Doug Dolan

Yeah, although as you play it back, it sounds like I'm Mickey Rooney. "My parents have a barn. We could put on a show." It's not “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It should just be more implicit in what you're saying. 

But I do think it's like saying 'we' instead of 'I', and stupid little mechanisms like that help. "Look what we're doing here. We should decide for sure whether we've got an engagement together, and then carry on.” So yeah, the gee whiz part, if that's how it sounds, you know me well enough, it probably doesn't really get executed that way. I'm not good at the gee whiz.

ilise benun

Now you also implied that sometimes, in the fullness of the project or the relationship, there may be time to recover some of that money from early on that you couldn't put into the original proposal or scope, perhaps. And so I want to talk a little bit about how that happens, because I do see this happening often with a project or a client who, yes, you get going on something and then it becomes clear, I mean, some people call it ‘scope creep,’ right?

Doug Dolan

Yep.

ilise benun

Other things are going to come up. And so, you will have to, or you will have the opportunity to, maybe is a better way to frame it, to say, “Oh, this is not within the scope. So, let's talk again about money” or … I'm curious how you handle that.

Doug Dolan

So one critical piece, which won't shock you because you probably do it too, is a very detailed quote. Not detailed to the point of being pedantic and tedious; you're not going to itemize every movement you make every day. But pretty granular, so that anything you think is a discrete step, especially steps that can creep… 

So you got an overall scope creep. But if the conversation later revolves around just that notion and a pretty bare bones quote, it's going to be you trusting that they've noticed the same thing as you've noticed. 

Whereas if you've got a lot of bullet points, even on a relatively straightforward job, I will have a pretty discrete breakdown of all the pieces, within reason. And then the things that I can point to later and show where they went awry. 

But part of building that detailed quote is putting in reasonable time for yourself. And I always throw a little bit of buffer on the end, like most people do. I like to add in a thing that is called “biz,” just like business that I can't define at the stage, and it always gets used. So if in a perfect world, it gets used capturing that other preliminary time that maybe I couldn't weave into the quote without having the price get too high, but lo and behold, we were pretty efficient, kept it on track. And my buffer now gets allocated to the other part of what I was hoping to recapture. In other cases, that may not happen, but at least you had a buffer. 

But the other thing I would add, in terms of time, I definitely think that—and this goes back to that conversation I joined and have since heard others repeat—that it's hard to bill for the part where you're just thinking. And I don't agree.

I mean, back to lawyers and other people who are more traditionally associated with billings that are really nailed down and specific to every moment … Well, they're billing for the time they think, pondering about what are our options, here? Well, I think that's the case. 

So, if I'm on a subway and I'm typing into my phone a few notes toward an idea, or just sitting and thinking about it. Or if I go for a run—some of my best headlines and theme lines come at our weekend place where I run along our country road. It's my magic creative shop. So, I don't want to lose the fact that I'm choosing, on my run, to think about a client's problem and come up, on a good night, with a solution for it. That's me working. So I want to be paid for that, but I also want to be remembering that part when I'm creating this detailed quote I was talking about.

So I'm putting in some time for, not just the meetings, not just with what I know it takes to iterate a brand narrative and then some high level messaging, and then a CEO speech, or whatever the deliverables are. 

I'm thinking about: I'm definitely going to put in five, six, eight, ten, whatever hours against just thinking this through, trying things that don't work, wondering. And so, if that is captured properly in the quote, it means when it comes down to cases later, like, has this thing crept? I'm not looking at all this extra time that's sloshing around and I wish I could get paid for. I've thought that through already. 

So then if it's still going over where we should have been, it's far more likely that I can point to, “Hey, you remember that part where we said I was going to talk to three members of the C-suite? Well, it turned out to be seven. And for every one of those people, there's an hour, and there's another hour of prepping for them, and another hour of transcribing, debriefing, whatever. That adds up.”

I wouldn't get that granular in explaining it. But I would say, “See how it said three CEO and two C-suite members, in-depth interviews and briefing? Remember how we changed that?” So that's a thing, that's where we crept. And I'm only trying to get that back. We can put a price on it that sounds reasonable to them, we hope. And I'm not in that nebulous world of trying to explain that, ”You don't understand. I went for several runs at my cottage and I had this really neat idea and you should pay me.” That's my problem. But I'm not feeling wounded by the fact that I forgot to put in that time for that kind of thing. And on top of that, they saddled me with more work, and now I've got this messy negotiation. I try to keep it pretty crisp, if I can. I mean, does it always work? No, but I try.

ilise benun

Right. And just to clarify, did you say, “in your proposal, in your scope of work, you have a line item that says ‘biz’?”

Doug Dolan

No. No. They don't see that. That's me.

ilise benun

They don't see that. That's you. Okay.

Doug Dolan

I have prices alongside all of my line items. Wherever possible, I put a total on my quote and nothing else. Now that's because I'm a different kind of consultant. If I'm part of a joint pitch, as I frequently am with video production companies, web designers and you name it, then yeah, then we're a little more broken down. But even then, if my work has to be broken at a consultative phase and then a creative development of X deliverables and so on, I like to have as few price lines as possible. 

I don't know if that's a rule that I would be endorsing for the world. It works for me because I don't relish the idea of talking about, “Well, this thing here is $500. Why can't that be $450? And this thing over here...?” It's like Walmart pricing kicks in. I don't want to be doing that. I just want to say, if it's a $10,000 job, then it says $10,000 at the bottom of the page.

If someone really needs to know, it's got a couple of phases that they can sell it up the chain more readily that way, then I'll try to do, “Oh, here's the $4,500 and here's the $5,500.” I think that's really advantageous. 

So to your question, I know exactly what I want all the constituent pieces to add up to, but I don't share all of that. I think it's, if I win on one, then I know I've got something to apply to another. And I’m just doing my own little math game on paper in my world. It doesn't have to be part of the relationship.

ilise benun

And it also sounds like you're saying, ‘it all comes out in the wash.’

Doug Dolan

Yeah. Or it doesn't, and you've got a very good audit trail of your own failure. 

No, I think it largely does. It takes the confidence that we all gain over time to bring up the awkward points when they come up. But at least you've documented in your own head. 

Just because I'm holding stuff back, it isn't because I don't want to be transparent; my quotes are completely transparent. I can speak confidently about how much more something took versus the line item that they've seen, and even put a price tag on it. I just don't want to have the entire ecosystem of Doug's arcane pricing rules, part of the conversation; just simplifies it. But yeah, it all comes out in the wash usually with a reasonable client. 

It's not often that I have ... in fact it hasn't happened in quite a while. I better knock on wood and then your microphone won't like it. 

It isn't often that people balk at the notion of paying any more for something. They're sometimes disappointed because they didn't want to, but if you've done it right, they see the point.

And if it's a relationship-ending moment, that's really too bad. But from my perspective, that can often be a ‘tell’ anyway. If something is a, I keep inventing numbers here. If something's a $50,000 project and I bring it in at 57, we've been on a six-month journey together and I can point to a whole bunch of things where it crept, and that's it for them and they signal that, ‘gee, if you do this to us, Doug, I don't know if we can work together.’ Well, that leverage is meaningless to me. Then, if that's how you think, and you can't imagine how something could have crept up and I'm even documenting it a bit for you, and that's enough of a number change for you for it all to be in question, then we have some other kind of problem here that isn't just about money.

And it doesn't come up, frankly, very often. And when it does, it's just, you can get caught up in the immediacy of money negotiating and not step back a little and say, ‘well, wait a second. Do I even want to be working together if they think that way?’ So that's usually exit time.

ilise benun

Beautiful. All right.

Doug Dolan

Yeah.

ilise benun

As I suspected, we could talk forever about these things. So maybe you'll join me another time, but I do want to ask you one more question, which is actually just something I have been asking everyone, lately. 

So just thinking through all the things we've talked about, I like to give people a baby step that they can begin with to start moving in the direction of the types of things we're talking about here if they're not doing anything like this and really struggling with some of these issues of valuing their own time and then putting that information out there to prospects and clients. So, I know I'm putting you on the spot and I don't know if that's your specialty, Doug, but what baby step would you suggest?

Doug Dolan

My specialty is being put on the spot, not necessarily with baby steps. [Laughter]

I would go back to doing a detailed quote, which might produce some eye rolling with some of your listeners, but I do find it comes up. I regularly team up with people and we have to amalgamate our quote and put it together. And I see how people do things differently. And I'm sometimes surprised at how they don't go as granular as I would. Or they go granular on really specific deliverable items, but not on the process items, and on the consultative pieces that are often greater sources of creep. 

So, I typically would say, start with that. Get a really good idea, and not granular for granular sake, but just think about what are the steps that could … especially the ones that could grow and you may have to point to later. 

It's good discipline. You know, then you've been really clear. If a price is higher than you thought it was going to be, and you're worried about it being higher with the client, that's always a bit of a tricky dance we all have to do. But let's say it's within the band, but the high end of the band, my usual counsel is, “well, go for it.”

If that's what you think, if you have been honest with your appraisal of your own time, then just don't blink. That's what it should be. And the benefit of having done a more detailed quote is two-fold. 

Number one is they can see you're not just saying, ‘do this thing for client: $10,000.’ It's a page of bullet points how you've thoughtfully taken them through a process that they may not have been through or haven't thought about it, what it entails. So, you can point to that, if they don't see it for themselves, that's why it's $10,000. 

And then the other half of the two-fold is, if there is some sort of objection, you have the ability to take something out and point to a thing that, “Okay, we could put less attention on that. We could have one less creative presentation. Maybe I won't go and meet your board of directors” or whatever it might be. 

Then you're taking something out, as opposed to saying, “My $10,000 was so arbitrary that now that you're pushing a little, I can turn that into eight.” It makes you look desperate for the business and do we have a rationale? 

I never want to do that. I never want to give somebody some money back, because it calls into question, what did that price mean to begin with then, if it's so easy for this guy just to knock it down? So that, again, if you've gone into some detail—and I'm not talking 11-page government documents. Just be more robust in how you describe what you do.

It is a much easier conversation to say, “Well, if ten is too much, why don't we just leave out this part?” More times than not, they'll say, "Well, I don't want to leave that part out." And you end up getting your ten and it's all good. But at least they see why it's ten. And if something's coming out, like I say, you are not conceding with a wink like, "Yeah, that ten was taking a shot there. I would've been happy with eight." I don't ever want to be perceived that way. 

I want them to feel that I'm not grudgingly giving them a lower price, but it has to be anchored in some kind of change of the scope, at least on paper. You may end up doing stuff you didn't want to do later for your $8,000 bill. But that's going to be something you rationalize because you're deeper in, you want to keep the relationship. But you don't start off with somebody feeling that your pricing model is arbitrary.

ilise benun

I have so many …

Doug Dolan

That's a very long answer for someone who wanted to get the hell out of the conversation.

[Laughter]

ilise benun

No. And I actually have three other thoughts that I'm going to going to try to capture before I let you go.

Doug Dolan

Okay. I will give you some short, snappy answers. I promise.

ilise benun

Let's see. So one thing, just connecting back to the emphasis that you put on the thinking that we do, or the wondering, or the running—all of these things that are part of the process before you start doing the thing that you think you do, which is the doing. I want to say, I think part of the problem is people think too concretely about what they do. “Oh, I'm a writer, so as soon as I start writing, that's when the meter goes on.” And you're saying, “No. Value the thinking part of whatever you do as part of what you do,” and that, I think, is a good baby step in the direction of pulling together the scope that you're talking about.

Doug Dolan

Yep.

ilise benun

And then …

Doug Dolan

That was a short answer, wasn't it? I just said, “Yep.” [Laughter]

ilise benun

Yes. That's good. Perfect.

Doug Dolan

We're doing great here.

ilise benun

And then when you started talking about, ‘be more robust in how you describe your process and what you do,’ that reminded me, oh my God, I had a memory of—and this I could go into much detail about, but I won't—of when I first started working with you. You met me through How Magazine. 

I think you must have read one of my columns there and you called me and I worked with you at your firm for a couple of years. And one of the things I remember most clearly was the first time I saw one of your proposals. It was so customized to the client about what they needed and how you were going to help them solve their problem or reach their goals. And that has actually, I don't know if you know this, kind of become the foundation of how I teach how to customize writing a proposal.

Doug Dolan

Well, that's good. I'll look for the royalty check on that.  [Laughter] 

Yeah. But it's instinctive, at least it was in the beginning, but there's been enough corroboration that it's appreciated and you appreciate it, and that means a lot to me, but so do clients.

ilise benun

Yeah.

Doug Dolan

And they notice you've taken the time, and it's elementary. It's like when your parents telling you before your first job interview, “Do your homework.” But it's just showing that you have thought about them and reflecting it back. That is true.

ilise benun

Let's see, how do I say this?

Doug Dolan

Oh God.

ilise benun

Often people tell me I have a knack for knowing what to say when, and for coming up with the language that they wish they could come up with themselves. And I say, “Yes, but I've learned from the best. And I just want to thank you, Doug, for being one of these people that I've listened to over the years, just literally, I'm listening as you speak. And it's so beautiful and well articulated. And I'm sure our listeners have noticed that too, but I'm just putting a little spotlight on it as a way to say ‘thank you for,” I don't know, “just being who you are in my orbit. And I've so appreciated learning from you.”

Doug Dolan

Wow. That's really nice thing to say. I'm gobsmacked. I have no answer. I guess that was my answer.

ilise benun

[Laguhter] That's okay, because we didn't have time for you to have an answer anyway.

Doug Dolan

So I'm opening an online pharmacy and I can share with your vast audience the same meds that I'm on that allows this to happen. No, there's no trick. 

ilise benun

[Laughter] Oh my goodness. All right.

Doug Dolan

No, that's very kind of you to say that. It's just, you do something long enough, things start to flow.

ilise benun

Yeah.

Doug Dolan

But I would say one last, unsought, bonus answer. I don't think it's about being somebody who has a thesaurus in their pocket and this glib facility for saying the right thing perfectly. I think if you always come back … it's so fácil to say this, but I will anyway. Just make it about them and not about you. 

If it's a problem, if it's about the price, it's about scope creep, or if it's about your enthusiasm for wanting to do something, just keep it. If it's constantly about them … First of all, people love to hear about themselves, love to think that you care about them. But it's also, it makes the thing you say feel much more apt and ‘wow, he really had a good answer there.’

Maybe it was well phrased. Maybe it wasn't. But what I would find, more often than not, really resonates with people is you weren't thumping your chest. You weren't saying, “Well, here's how I always do this.” 

If it begins with, “You know, I can tell by what you've told me so far, that this is really important to you.” Or, “I noticed that your company's been going through a lot of changes and I really think that … that's why I was suggesting X”... it just changes everything. 

You get a lot of confirmation in the moment and nodding and appreciation, so you get more confidence to keep talking smoothly. And if there's a trick, that would be the trick. Just when in doubt, start talking about them first and the words may not be, like, ‘Churchillian,’ but they will be good enough. And they will appreciate that you're making it about them.

ilise benun

Oh my God. Churchillian? [Laughter]

Doug Dolan

Yeah. I got to get that in. I meant to say ‘chinchillian.’ I was referring to the furry animal, but you can edit, can we? [Laughter]

ilise benun

No, we're not editing anything!

Doug Dolan

Oh God. Okay.

ilise benun

All right. We will continue this conversation in the future. No doubt. Thank you so much, Doug.

Doug Dolan

Thanks a lot. Thanks for indulging me.

ilise benun

I think you might want to listen to that more than once, because there's so much to learn and so much wisdom in each of Doug's ideas. I know I will. 

As for the baby step, Doug suggested taking a look at how detailed you get in your quote or proposal, and to be sure you go granular, not just on the deliverables, but especially on your process. That way, if you need to negotiate and reduce your price, which sometimes happens, you can point back to your list and find something to remove. 

Doing this also shows that you have a rationale for your pricing, that it's not arbitrary, and that your change in the price is anchored in some change of the scope. That should make the whole thing much less stressful for you. So try it.

So, did you learn a little something? I hope so, because that's how this works. One baby step at a time. Before you know it, you'll have better clients with bigger budgets. Speaking of better clients, they're probably not going to fall in your lap. That's why I keep hawking my Simplest Marketing Plan. If you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, it is not too late to start. The Simplest Marketing Plan has six case studies and six lessons about how to use the three most effective marketing tools. You also get three different planners, plus access to the free monthly Office Hours group coaching session, where you'll meet other creative pros who are practicing what I preach and taking control over their business and their life. Find it all in the Marketing Mentor shop at Marketing-Mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.

Related Marketing Ideas

  Back to blog