To Discount Or Not To Discount

Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle SpearsA month or so ago it happened again.

One of my contacts sent me the following message:

“Paul, my client would like you to voice two English animations. Both advertise the same product on the same platform, but each one appeals to a different audience. Both scripts are no longer than 125 words. Normally we’d pay you €250 per video, but the client was wondering if you’d record both videos for €250. After all, these things are very short, and this is for the same product on the same platform. Another option would be to offer the client a $150 discount. Let me know how you’d like to proceed.”

What do you think I should do? Should I voice these two videos for €250 or $350, or should I charge the full €500?

Well, the answer depends on your pricing strategy, and on how you position yourself in the market place.

Let me explain.


In front of me I have two 24 ounce jars filled with pickle spears. One is a store brand retailing for about two dollars. The other is a jar of Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle Spears, selling for about five bucks. Both jars contain the same basic ingredient: crunchy cucumbers immersed in an acidic solution.

Why would people pay five dollars instead of two, for ten to twelve pickles, you may ask. The answer is simple. Dave’s spears are distinctly different. His spicy cucumbers tingle your tongue with a signature blend of sweet and heat. They are addictively delicious.

Last weekend I was entertaining guests, and I served Dave’s pickles without telling them. I just put them on a plate. After the first guest took a bite his whole face lit up and he said: “Wow, where did you get these pickles? They are incredible!” Two minutes later everyone in the room was crunching away, and wanted to know where they could buy these special spears.

Yesterday I talked to one of my friends who was with us that evening, and he said: “I had so much fun last weekend. And by the way… those pickles were amazing!”

So, let me ask you this:

Would you rather be an ordinary pickle, or one of Famous Dave’s Spicy Spears? 


Are you a dime a dozen, or do you have something unique to offer? If you fall into the last category, in what way do you distinguish yourself, and how do you convey that to your clients? You see, believing that you’re special doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to prove it.

Famous Dave is a smart guy. He knows he’s got something awesome going, and that’s why he’s not competing on price. He is competing on added value. Added value can be defined as an improvement or addition to a product or service that makes it worth more.

As a voice-over, you add value to a video, a computer game, an ad campaign, an e-Learning program, a bestseller or a major brand. The right voice can bring credibility and authenticity to a message. That alone can be worth millions of dollars, and advertising agencies know it.

You will never see those millions, but I happen to think that you deserve to be well compensated for your contribution. That will only happen if and when YOU value what you have to offer in terms of your expertise, and your experience.


One way to convince a client that what you’re offering is valuable, is by using the link between price and professionalism. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Your rate is more than a number. It is a powerful statement. It says: This is what I believe I’m worth. It is also a way to prequalify your clients.

My rate sheet tells them: I take my job seriously. Lowballers better stay away. Quality clients are welcome. I will treat you with respect, and I will do the best job I can. 

Like Famous Dave, I know that what I have to offer is different. My English has a European quality that adds a special flavor to a script. Those who like that flavor have no reason to haggle.


Now, let’s discuss that discount I talked about in the beginning of this blog post. Here’s my take on reducing a fee. 

1. Discounts are for people who compete on price only, and for clients for whom price is the determining factor.

Here’s a hint: price is rarely the sole determining factor in a purchasing decision.

If clients would buy based on price alone, it would be perfectly fine to take months to send them a poorly made product, right? They wouldn’t dare to complain because you were the cheapest. 

2. But Paul, didn’t the client say that these two jobs combined would be no more than 250 words? Why not give in a little? 

Well, there are two hidden assumptions behind that argument. One: This job is something I could record in a heartbeat. Two: Clients pay me for my time. Both assumptions are false.

We all know that most clients have no idea how long it takes to deliver any length of finished audio. Secondly, I don’t charge clients for my time. They pay for my talent, my skills, and for my experience. They pay me for the added value I bring to their production. 

3. If I were an on-camera actor, and I’d be featured in two videos targeting different audiences, wouldn’t I get paid in full for both? Then why should a voice actor accept a huge pay cut? Does that make any sense? Just because we’re invisible doesn’t mean people can take advantage of us. 


4. The client promised that both videos would be for the same platform, but how can I trust a claim made by someone I’ve never worked with? Clients will tell you anything to bring your price down. What guarantees do I have that these two videos won’t end up on different platforms? Who’s going to check that? 

5. In the beginning of a relationship with a new client you set the parameters. If you accept a certain fee for whatever reason, that becomes your going rate. Don’t blame it on the client. That’s what you’ve trained them to expect.

So, the next time you ask for more money, don’t be surprised if your client comes back with: “But last week you did a similar job for X amount of dollars. Why should we pay you a penny extra?” And you know what? They’re right!

6. If you accept doing two jobs for the price of one (or even less), you’ve just stabbed your colleagues in the back. We are not independent contractors. We’re interdependent contractors. We are connected. A going rate is nothing but the prevailing market price. Every individual pricing decision -big or small- impacts that market. Before you know it, you’re setting a downward trend.

Having said that, here’s where I’m willing to give a discount:

A. When a client commits to a long-term working relationship, and a high volume of jobs. 

B. As an incentive for a client to pay in full upon receipt of the invoice.

Some colleagues are in the habit of giving discounts to charities, but I make that determination on a case-by-case basis. More about voice-overs and charities in my article “Work For Free For Charity?


Listen carefully. You don’t have to agree with me when it comes to discounts. In fact, you don’t have to agree with anything I’m saying in this blog. It’s just my opinion. But if you haven’t thought about your value, your pricing, and about your position on discounts, simple questions like the one from my contact can get you in a pickle.

I decided to charge full price for those two animations, and I told my contact why. Taking a stance means taking a risk, and I ended up losing the animation job to a colleague who was willing to do it for less. But the story doesn’t end there. 

Two weeks later my contact called me again. Working with the cheaper voice-over had left a bitter taste in the mouth of the client, and they wanted me to step in.

“At full price?,” I asked.

“At full price,” he said.

Being cheap often costs more, but some people have to learn that lesson the hard way. I hope you’re not one of them.

That day I went to the post office to send my contact a small thank you gift.

“Does this parcel contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous, including lithium batteries and perfume?” the woman behind the counter wanted to know.

“Yes it does,” I said.

“What’s in it?” she asked.

“It’s a jar of Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle Spears!”

“Oh, those are the best,” she said. “Not cheap, but it’s so worth it!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS The word ‘pickle‘ comes from the Dutch word ‘pekel,’ meaning ‘something piquant,’ and originally referred to a spiced, salted vinegar that was used as a preservative (source.) You should know that I am in no way compensated to promote Famous Dave’s delicious pickles. 

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters

37 Responses to To Discount Or Not To Discount

  1. Pingback: A Controversial Year | Nethervoice

  2. Earl Thomas

    Thanks Paul, very helpful. Once I gave a new client a 10% disc for being a new client based on him selling his client on more video voicing. it receives lots of views and is now my 3rd most viewed youtube video. But i did not get another video from him for his client.
    Now i wonder from your blog a 10% disc for being a new client whethere it is a good idea or not.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Earl, I will often give my new client a 10% discount after having raised my fee by 10%. That way he thinks he’s getting a deal, and I won’t lose any money should anything happen.

    We can only draw conclusion when we have relevant information. If I were you, I would contact the client to find out what’s going on. Keep it positive, and remind him of the success of your video, and of your arrangement.

    Perhaps the whole thing has nothing to do with you or your fee. Some end clients may choose a different studio after having used the one you were working for. A change of account manager or producer could mean another voice talent got the job. There’s always more going on than you and I are aware of.


  3. Paul Garner

    Nicely done, as usual, Paul! Love that you pointed out that the client isn’t paying for our time, but our skills, talents, and experience. Amen to that, brother!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Paul Garner: Thanks for the praise, Paul. Of course I take into account how much it would take to e.g. complete the narration of an audio book. However, that’s just a small part of the equation. Just like a pianist isn’t getting paid for the time he or she is on stage performing a concert, voice actors charge for everything they bring to the table that allows them to be good at what they do. We’re not a commodity.


  4. Victoria FitzGerald

    Hi Paul, What a great article. It really works for every type of job out there and I can relate to it very much.
    At first I was scared of the prices I was charging for one of my art prints and so I offered discounts and sales but no one bought anything! I have now committed to a price I am happy to ask people for because I know it reflects quality and the care I have taken to make it.
    I want to attract people who love something unique and handmade and not someone who looks for the cheapest print out there 🙂


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Victoria FitzGerald: Kudos for sticking to your prices, and for the way you have defined your market. Your pricing tells buyers that what you have to offer is valuable. If you respect yourself, chances are that people are more likely to respect you.


  5. Pat O'Neill

    Thanks for the great article, Paul. It can take a lot of will power for one to stick to his guns on this. But it pays off in the long run.

    And it’s not just the VO biz, of course. My wife, who’s a graphic designer, has the same issue all time.

    If a client wants to respect the end-result of his own product, he has to respect those who work for him.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Pat O’Neill: We sometimes forget that there are so many fellow-freelancers who are in the same boat. Journalists, software developers, photographers, architects. The list is endless. In a decade or so, freelancers will be in the majority.

    Sticking to one’s guns means walking away from a bad deal. I wish more people would grow a spine, and do it!


  6. Kelley Buttrick

    As usual Paul, you are absolutely right on the money! Thanks for another great post. P.S. I often send my clients Athens-made Phickles Pickles which are close to $8/jar and worth every penny.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you Kelley and Perdita. Kelley, I haven’t had Phickles yet, and I guess I should hire you one day to find out what they taste like.


  7. Perdita Lawton

    A brilliant blog as usual Paul, you make so much sense and with food metaphors you’re always going to capture my imagination and attention 😉 Best wishes from across the pond


  8. Frank Eriksen

    I have a long form narration client that I’ve discounted my fee for. It has worked out in the past because there was a lot of work. I recently did a 4 hour narration for him and billed according to my rate card. Well, he was shocked. I said, the reason I’m billing at full rate is this is the first time you’ve called me in over a year. That’s not volume work.

    One way to deal with this discounting based on volume of work is to get a contract. In the contract it should state that if the volume of work drops below a certain level full rate will be applied retro-actively. Or you can ask to be paid up front. They probably won’t go for that, but then again, if they’re serious they will.


  9. Frank Eriksen

    IMHO, clients haggle over price because they think or know it’ll only take me a fairly short amount of time to produce their script. Most Ad Agencies bill on “time spent” on a project. So they always think “Time Spent”. As Voice Over Artists, we need to let our clients know that we don’t bill on”time spent” (unless it’s long form narration) we bill for usage of our voices. And if they want to use our voice to sell this product/service the cost is $________ fill-in what you charge. And as Paul said, don’t budge from that price. One bit of advice… When they say there will be a lot of work if we discount this first one – know this – there never is.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Frank, you’re absolutely right. Never fall for the elusive carrot. Stick to the project you’re negotiating.

    I like what you said about creating a contract for a long- term commitment. Some colleagues also work on retainer.


  10. Derek

    Times is still tough in the recording business here in Italy, and customers asking for discounts has become the norm. I think what you said is spot on: as interdependent professionals, we should not be entertaining the idea of discounts: it’s usually the clients who lose out anyway – how many times have they had to eat humble pie and ask to have the job re-done? Good blog mate! Derek.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, Derek. As a consumer, I often try to get a better deal, so I can’t blame my clients. But as professionals it is our job to educate clients about what the job is really worth. Most have no idea how much time and skill is involved to do what we do.


  11. Abbe Holmes

    Thanks so much for your timely article Paul.
    As always, put with such clarity and reason.
    Your take on the extraordinary $ value to advertisers of having the right voice to deliver their message, is one that no advertising exec could argue with.
    I’d like to create a link to this blog in my next newsletter because the information is so relevant, in a world where discounting on voice fees is beginning to erode hard won rates structures.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Link-away, Abbe. Your newsletter always contains valuable information, and that’s why I am a subscriber. Have fun in Atlanta!


  12. Tracy Lindley

    Great post! Plenty of people discuss the danger of discounting rates, even for new VOs, but these are some great reasons for avoiding the temptation. Thanks for sharing your observations and experiences!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Glad you liked this one, Tracy. My added value is always higher than my rate!


  13. Rick Lance Studio

    When I’m asked to discount with a new client I say, “How about I give you a discount on the NEXT project and I’ll charge full price for this one”!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    And Rick, does this strategy work?


  14. Helen Lloyd

    Yum – pickles … double yum to proper pay and holding out for it.

    Well said again Paul … thank you.


  15. Sally Blake

    Love it !! I hope lots and lots of voice talents read this article. Thanks Paul !


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Sally. One way to make sure colleagues read my stories is by sharing them with others. Repost, retweet, and rejoice!


  16. Paul Boucher

    Paul, 100% on *every* single point! Flawless business logic and good sense. You should record that and it should be played as sleep learning for every prospective newbie to the business – never mind some of the professionals who feel forced to compete on price when they shouldn’t. If any monkey could do it, there would be no professional voice over industry to begin with. 🙂


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Perhaps I should record these blogs, Paul B. There might be a market for that. However, in my experience, those who need it most are least likely to seek and follow advice. As I said to Anthony: I can’t give eye-openers to the willfully blind.


  17. Paul Payton

    I personally don’t like pickles, but I loved your article – its content, style and logic – and conclusions. It’s yet another reason that, unlike the other (few) blogs I read (industry and recreational), I always check out every post you make.

    Stay warm on this cold day!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Your words are so much appreciated, Paul Payton. Thank you for being such a loyal reader, and all-round great guy!


  18. Maria Makis

    Thank you for your beautifully reasoned and very helpful article. Your insights are amazing.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Maria, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to read my blog. I’m so glad my insights were helpful. Enjoy the pickles!


  19. Anthony Gettig

    Superb article, Paul! I especially like how you said we are “interdependent” contractors.

    I recently turned down a national DRTV voice job, with multiple phone number tags, because the guy only wanted to pay $200. Sadly, someone will do it for that price. I wish I knew who so I could send them this article.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Anthony. I share your sentiments, and that’s why many people “accuse” me of preaching to the choir. Well, that choir is growing in size each day. Having said that, some people just won’t hear my message.

    The other day I left a voice-over group on Facebook after the moderator removed a thread about services like Fiverr. He felt we had no right to offer feedback to voice talent using Fiverr. Well, I cannot offer eye-openers to the willfully blind.


  20. Helen Moore-Gillon

    Brilliant article Paul…

    I find that sticking to my guns on pricing has really worked for me. Like you say, they are paying for my talent, my skills, my experience… not to mention my amazing mic and soundproof room!

    You really do have something interesting and thought provoking to say in your blog every week… Thank you!


  21. Ted Mcaleer

    It must be a thing that Famous Dave’s are loved by all, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t just love em.

    The comparisons and parallels in your lesson are not only understood, but comprehended on another level by relating it to a simple jar of pickles… AH but not ONLY a jar of pickles. But I ask you…Can they translate? 🙂 Great one here!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Do they have Famous Dave’s pickles in Spain, Ted? If not, I’ll treat you to a jar or two when you come to America.

    Helen, thanks for stressing those points. Professionals invest a lot of money in building a business. They’ve got to price for profit to survive and thrive. Pros are collegial, and they think about the long term. It’s the only way to success that can be sustained.


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