Small Business Reality Check: It’s Not Your Responsibility to Save the World.

I’m reading Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”…for the third time. Well, I should say I’m trying to read it again. I’ve tried twice before and each time lost interest and gave up somewhere between half-way to three-quarters of the way through. This time is a little different though. I’m working as a solopreneur now and have gained a different perspective on and appreciation for business and free enterprise.

The primary conflict throughout Atlas Shrugged is between the right of business owners to profit from their hard work and the social responsibility to benefit the greater good. Characters Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden are chastised for applying their smarts and business acumen to the purpose of making a profit. Others find it abhorrent that they aren’t working solely with those less fortunate in mind.

As business owners,  I believe we do have a responsibility to give back. And I know many professionals who donate to charity, host fundraisers, and give of their time and talent through volunteerism. I also believe we have to look out for our own financial well-being and set boundaries around how much we give away.

Sometimes as solopreneurs and professional services providers, we get approached by prospective clients who want to do business with us, but who don’t have a budget to bear our fair rates. I’ve had that happen on occasion and it’s a tough spot to be in. Do you lower your rates to the price point they can afford? Do you tell them your rates are non-negotiable? Do you meet them somewhere in between? Many of the folks looking for a lower rate aren’t simply trying to get your services on the cheap; they’re genuinely cash-strapped as they try to move their businesses forward. You might feel almost obligated to help them. But don’t lose sight of the fact you’ve got your own business to look out for, too.

Some things to keep in mind when a prospect can’t afford your rates…

Could you give them a lower rate by asking them to do something to lessen your time and effort?

For example, I can give a lower rate for ghostwriting blogs if the client agrees to provide topics and bullet points with key details they want included in their posts. By eliminating my time to brainstorm topics and do research, I can give them a more favorable rate. Is there something your clients can do on their own that will allow you to shave some dollars from your quotes?

How far is what they’re able to pay from your quoted amount?

If what your prospect can pay is within the realm of reasonableness, you might consider giving them a break. Seriously think about what you need to charge to stay whole financially and to make sure you won’t feel resentful as you’re working for less than you normally would.

By offering a lower rate, are you being unfair to your other clients?

Will you be chipping away at the foundation of trust you’ve built with your existing clients if you charge significantly less to a new prospect? While all client situations, project specifics, levels of collaboration, and other factors vary, you need to have some consistency in how you price your services. Giving blatant preferential treatment to one client wouldn’t be fair to your others. Of course, maybe your clients would never find out. But why risk it?

Will you be turning away higher paying work by taking on their project?

Definitely think about this! If taking on a lower-paying project will make you turn away more lucrative work, you might want to respectfully decline the opportunity with the prospect in need. It helps to have a list of other professionals in your field who you can refer them to. That gives them options and won’t make them feel completely abandoned.

Reminder: You’re in the business of running your business – not saving the world

As a business owner who knows the struggles of getting started and staying within budget, you’ll surely feel some empathy for prospects who can’t afford your services. It gnaws at me when I have to turn away work for someone who is struggling, and I expect you experience that regret, too. But as a solopreneur with limited time and a desire to run a profitable business, I can’t afford to save the world. Can you?

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

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