THE FIRST TIME I SAID NO

One of the most important words in business, and also the hardest.

Almost a year before our now-famous fall into debt—before we doubled our prices from $16,000 to $32,000—we were increasing our prices slowly with every client.

say no for a badass brand in brooklyn


Our strategy?

For every client, we went above and beyond, delivering more value than they’d anticipated. By doing this, we were breeding both happy clients and great referral sources, and building our own confidence.
 

Though difficult, we felt optimistic about our price increase every time.

At the moment of our first "no," we were definitely looking for clients. So, I did the only thing I knew to do to find work: I went networking. Luckily I met a potential client who needed a full rebrand with a logo and website, which is exactly what we were selling.

I poured my heart into a beautifully devised, long-ass proposal, rich with benefit statements and fancy design to make them go WOW.

It worked. They loved us. 

But they didn’t like the $16,000 price, so they asked us to bring it down.
 

Be realistic

Now, $16,000 is nothing to scoff at. And this was also the most we had ever charged at that stage of the game. But I also knew that for the amount of work we were doing, we needed at least $16,000. (This is before we had a tightened-up badass process—when we assumed this project was going to take 4-6 months and I had to pay my employees the whole time.)

I told them we could do it for the $13,000 they were asking for, but I’d have to drop a few things from the proposal. They couldn’t make that deal, they said. They needed everything.

We had a couple of phone calls, and they told me they were looking at other companies who were charging even less than $13,000, and they couldn’t justify paying $16,000. But they definitely wanted to use us and we were at the top of the list.

Perfect, that’s exactly where I like to be.
Top of the list and just a little too expensive, but the client wants it anyway.
 

Make the tough decisions

The knot in my stomach tightened, and I politely told them on the phone, “Look, this would be a great project. I know we would kill it for you, and I’d love to knock this baby out of the park. But if you want everything, it has to be $16,000. And if you need to pass and use someone else, I’ll totally understand.”

He said ok, that he was disappointed, and then he hung up.

And that was it. I told Steve what happened, and I just couldn’t go into a project like that. I couldn’t accept just taking a discount before the project even begins. 

I’ve been in this situation a few times, and that’s often the end of the conversation. It’s hard, but I always look at it as dodging a bullet. Though we needed work, it freed me up to find a client willing to pay what the work was worth.
 

Confidence pays off

In this instance, however, that same client called me up a week later. Surprise! He hired us for the full $16,000. I still get butterflies thinking about it. Victory!

Victory because I stuck to my guns. Victory because I knew what we were selling had value, and I wasn’t going to compromise.

Victory because now this project was going to be a breeze. They hired us—the most expensive company on their list—and shelled out way more than they wanted because they knew our work was the best.

And, as long as I maintained control of the situation, this project was going to go smoothly.

By hiring us in this manner, they were also saying that they understood we were experts in our field, and they trusted us. And so, they were wonderful clients every step of the way, and they got great work from us.

Especially because—for them, too—we purposely did way more than $16,000 worth of work. After that project, we doubled our rates. Then, with a few unexpected twists, our story really got going.