There’s a saying, very old and true – or at least very true, if not quite dating back to antiquity: Fast, cheap, and good: pick two.

You can have something quickly, you can have something great, or you can have something for not much money, but you can very rarely have all three.

This saying is useful in a lot of situations, but it’s particularly apt when it comes to freelancing – and it’s a great simple mantra to keep in mind when you’re pricing your work or setting project terms.

Clients, understandably, want quality. They often want things finished on a tight deadline. But they sometimes forget that these things come at a price, and their reluctance to pay our rates or pressure to work faster can make us question our reasoning. It’s easy, when a client balks at your rates or wants you to turn around a project with unreasonable speed, to feel like maybe you ARE setting your prices too high – or that maybe you’re too slow.

That’s where fast, cheap, and good comes in.

When a client questions your rates or is trying to rush you, ask yourself why they’re interested in you in the first place. Why do they want you?

Well, presumably, they want you because you’re great, and your work is awesome. That’s the good part. Your clients are already lucky to have you! It’s true that you could conceivably do fast, cheap work, but you probably can’t make it fundamentally bad.

So take that as a given – that’s one leg of the triangle down. Your clients’ only options when working with you are good and fast or good and cheap.

But is good and cheap really an option?

Presumably, if you had all the time in the world – could do a project entirely on your own schedule, with almost no client pressure – you could lower your rates a bit. But in 99% of cases, your client has deadlines. They’ve got a timetable they’re working with. Eliminating fast is probably not viable.

You’re good and you turn in things on time – and that means you’re worth it.

We’ve eliminated all the other options; you’re good, and you’re fast.

That means your clients need to compensate accordingly, or risk shoddy work from another freelancer – or losing you to a competitor.

This saying is helpful not only for setting your initial pricing and project parameters, but also for adjusting terms from one project to another.

Does your client want something really fast?

Think about charging a rush fee to prioritize their project above your other work. If they’re really that desperate to get it done fast, they’ll find the money – or they’ll figure out a way to live with your original deadline.

Does your client want something that’s particularly difficult to do? Do you have a special skill that they really need?

That’s the good. Make sure you set a realistic deadline for yourself, and charge at a level concordant with the skills you possess. You’ll be worth their investment.

Does your client want a break on pricing?

Step carefully with this one, but carefully consider the ease of the task they’re setting, and consider asking to push back deadlines. They want it a bit cheaper? Miiiight be okay – but only if you make sure you ask for flexibility in terms.

Next time a client is pushing back on one of these issues, repeat the old saying: Fast, cheap, and good: pick two. Breathe in, breathe out, and stick to your guns. Odds are, you’ll be happy with what your new mantra manifests.

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