My very first proposal as a new small business was to a medium sized law firm for a specific, short-term project. I was one of five bidding for the work and was not the successful consultant. However, it was an excellent exercise in going through the whole proposal process – writing the proposal, creating the cost estimate, being invited for a presentation with the client, the email “thanks, but …” notification process. It’s one thing to be the supporting party for a larger business and quite another to be doing this for my own livelihood.

Early last week they called me and said they had terminated the contract with their initial consultant and were starting from scratch. Would I be interested in updating my proposal and cost estimate? I asked questions about the scope of work and timeline (unchanged) and reviewed my proposal, cost estimate, and their timeline. It would be challenging, but I could meet their deadlines with some juggling of my work/life balance. I updated my cost proposal with really minor tweaks in hours and resubmitted it. While I would really wanted to do the project, essentially 6 weeks of preparation time has been lost that will have to be made up during the holiday season. I felt the modest increase in hours and price was fair and reasonable.

One of my biggest struggles with being self-employed has been saying no to new work or holding a firm line when clients or prospective clients try to bully me on fees. I am improving in negotiating without short-changing myself, but remains a huge, ongoing challenge for me. Since submitting my updated proposal and cost estimate, I have either talked to the business manager handling this by phone, email, or text every single day, including over the weekend. They are a for-profit business and need to extract the best price possible, but I am a for-profit business as well and need to make a reasonable return on my investment. Within hours after receiving my new submission she requested a 10% reduction in my initial cost estimate because I have 6 fewer weeks to work with. I responded that the cost change was minimal and is because I have 6 fewer weeks to work with and their expectation is the same scope of work to be completed in the time remaining. I went further to explaining this is not a flat-fee bid but more a not-to-exceed contract amount, and if she could guarantee me help with some of the preparation, I would be willing to entertain the reductions she requested. And back and forth, back and forth. For DAYS.

While I still really want the project, I am far from desperate for the income this work will generate. My cash flow and income projections for the balance of 2015 have me well ahead of my base, and I have other work scheduled for the first quarter of 2016. We have a phone conference this morning to discuss the project and see if we could come to an agreement, and my stomach has been in knots about it for days. She is a very shrewd and saavy negotiation and has this aggressive demeanor. The vibe I get is that if I do not stand my ground now, she will walk all over me with complete impunity in our future interactions. Coming to terms with my desire for the work and dealing with this woman … it has had me burning a lot of brain cells.

This morning while working out, I suddenly accepted that I do not need this work. My little business is thriving and profitable, I have plenty to do and still have room to get adequate sleep, exercise, have fun. What I told her I could and would do the work for is very fair, and I see no reason to increase my job stress without getting paid adequately for the headache. Once I made that decision, everything else seemed to fall into place. Exercise movements I have been struggling with this week suddenly fell into place and worked for me. It was like a gray and foggy day that suddenly clears and the sun shines through. I can walk away from this; my business will not fail and my world collapse. If anything, I will be absolutely miserable if I accept a cut in contract ceiling AND potentially have to deal with a micromanaging harpy. If that’s the case, I should get paid at least my regularly billing rate.

Until I finally figured out how I would deal with this matter, I had no clue how much it had been coloring the rest of my days.

I started this post at 8:30 this morning and let it ruminate in my drafts folder. My conference call was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., and after 20 minutes of conversation, negotiating, and a final hard push to accept the cut in compensation, we ended with me staying firm on the price and willing to walk away from the project. She was somewhat frustrated – I could tell and she told me so – yet in the end she conceded that my points are valid and the firm is the party unwilling to compromise in return.

Within 10 minutes after hanging up with her, she emailed me formal acceptance of my proposal as written as well as a contract for signature. I guess the exercise is not just toning and building muscles in my arms and legs; my backbone and resolve are also getting stronger.

9 thoughts on “Business fog and when sunshine returns

  1. Good for you for sticking to your guns. I’m sure it helps to stay stronger when you are in a position to not have to have the work. That’s where I don’t think Id’ do well having my own business. I am not a negotiator and let people intimidate me easily :/

    1. Negotiating is one of those skills I have to actively work at and practice. It’s definitely not easy for me either. Must be the accountant/introvert in us.

  2. That is excellent for you! Although you probably should have asked for even more given the very reduced time frame – but baby steps! It is important to know your worth and even if you weren’t as busy as you are taking that project on at a lower cost would have reduced your chance to get better work or market appropriately. Also, do you know what the issue was with the other contractor so you aren’t blindsided by the same issue? It aways amazes me how clients think they told you “everything” but forget to mention some issue that is the equivalent of dealing with a pile of poop.

    Always remember/expect that others will learn if you cut someone a deal/give in on pricing and expect a similar cut.

    So excited for you!

    1. I did ask, but since I’m already familiar with the other organization, I am not at all surprised by the outcome. They work on a principal of “buying” engagements and then hit the client up for more money when past the point of no return. Only this time, they played their second favorite game of bait-and-switch with the guy contracted to do the work.
      Baby steps indeed. I did well to increase my fee for the shortened timeline … and the headache that dealing with a demanding client always brings. 🙂

  3. Well done! It’s a tough thing to do. This time the project came through. Sometimes they won’t. But your need to be principled and consistent is the same.

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