Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick 2.

Picture_3 Here’s the reality of working with clients, no matter what your business does.

Your client wants it good, fast and cheap.

Guess what — long term, there is no such thing.  Can you pull an all-nighter or scramble  your entire team into overtime? Sure.  Once in awhile.  But in general, our clients get to pick two of the three. 

Michael Libbie, an Iowa advertising guy, tells a similar story over at his blog.  And sadly, the option clients most often want to scrimp on — good.

Fortunately, in the end, most good clients get it.  A microwaved dinner now and then is okay.  But after awhile, you realize you’re not really being nourished.  You want real food.  Food with substance.  And you’re willing to let it cook in the oven for 30 minutes and pay a little extra for the good cut of meat.

But how do you as a business person combat this challenge?

Respect your value.  This is the toughest one of all.  Your  work , product and service is  worth what you charge.  Don’t apologize for it.  Don’t be bashful about asking for it.  And don’t be guilted into compromising it.

Have options for your clients.  Be reasonable.  Maybe they don’t need to Lexus version.  Suggest ways they can still accomplish their goals but perhaps in a different way.

Be okay with walking away.  I know it’s hard to walk away from business.  And scruples don’t feed the kids.  But, if you and a client (or prospect) can’t come to an agreement on the money, I assure you — it is not going to be the only thing you disagree on.  You are not the right fit for every client.  Say it with me….you are not the right fit for every client.

This isn’t about gouging your clients or over-charging.  Try that a few times and watch it bite you in the rear end!  This is about being fairly compensated for your work.  This is about doing good work that yields results for the client and this is also about being nimble enough to turn things around quickly when your client is really in a jam.

Ultimately, it is about balance.  For you and the client.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

8 comments on “Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick 2.

  1. Hi Drew.
    Both my parents ran small businesses. My Dad is a great collector of aphorisms and was one to leave motivational signs around.
    One of my favourites in his place of work was: You CAN have good, fast and cheap. But you can only choose two.

    I’ve always loved it and keep the lessons with me!
    Good and fast is not cheap.
    Fast and cheap is not good.
    Good and cheap is not fast.

  2. patmcgraw says:

    Most clients (and employers) wouldn’t know ‘good’ if it hit them in the face, knocked them to the ground and sat on their chest. That’s because most define ‘good’ as ‘it can now be removed from my To-do list and I can move on to the next item’. Budget/cost is all too frequently top on the list and fast is right up there because the client/employer gets his/her bonus based on ‘productivity’ not ‘profitability’.

    “Give it to Mikey…he gets things done.”

    Done…not done right…just done.

  3. Mark True says:


    You beat me to the punch…this post has been rolling around in my head for a long time, but you made it happen, and made the point so well.

    And, Pat just turned up the volume on a business truth. Budget has become the foundation of most decisions. Sad, so sad.


  4. Katie,

    Your dad sounds like a very wise man. What I think is interesting is that no one wants their clients to do that to them — but everyone wants to do it to their vendors.

    In the end, you really cannot have all three. It would be an interesting pricing matrix to present to clients. Pick your two…


  5. Pat,

    A very valid point that we discuss at our agency too. Some clients do understand and recognize “good” while others really do not.

    Which explains much of the TV advertising we see today.

    The challenge is — can we settle for giving them something that isn’t good because that’s all tehy are willing to pay for. That’s a tough pill to swallow.


  6. Mark,

    It’s an interesting question — would you be satisfied or willing to give a client something mediocre because that was all he was willing to pay for and because he wouldn’t recognize the difference anyway?


  7. Scott Monty says:


    I keep this very phrase on a 3×5 index card over my desk. The challenge – especially for a small agency – is being in the position to have to turn away work, particularly when the revenue is needed. My argument as an account guy is, twofold:
    1) The “soft cost” – that is, the toll it will take on employee morale – is not to be discounted or ignored. It is real and can affect profitability in many ways.
    2) If you compromise early on the the relationship, the client will come to expect it as a rule, and therefore every project, every engagement, every negotiation will be hampered by it.

    You’re absolutely right; respect your value and make no apologies for what you charge. Especially if you shared a rate sheet with a client when you were pitching them. Do they typically negotiate their product and service pricing with their customers? I doubt it. Why should your relationship with them be any different?

  8. Scott,

    I think this is one of the holes that most small agencies fall into. You’re right…the costs are significant.

    But..we’ve all done it. I don’t know about you but every time I don’t listen to myself and make the compromise — I regret it.

    It’s a lesson I hope not to learn again!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *