I met with a potential client today and part of their opening gambit was how they were looking for revolutionary work delivered within a tight timescale, and if the work could be done at a reduced rate then they’d be able to send a load more work our way.

Let me distill this for you. They were saying that they wanted work that was fast, good, and cheap. And if the work was fast, good, and cheap enough, the reward would be the offer of more work that is fast, good, and cheap.

This was the shortest pitch I’ve ever been in. I tried to explain the value in creating a nurturing ecosystem where all parties benefit and grow from their relationship, and they wholeheartedly agreed… as long as the work was fast, good, and cheap. It was time for a sharp exit.

Let me be clear about this, these people are evil and their work is poison.

It’s not unusual to encounter people like this, I know I’ve met plenty over the years. Let me be clear about this, these people are evil and their work is poison. They are douchebags of the highest calibre, and they are infinitely more toxic than even the strokers that run out on you without paying their invoice.

The first thing to understand is that it is impossible to create work that is fast, good, and cheap—from your perspective. If you do work that is cheap and fast, it is inevitable that it will not be of as high quality if you had more time or budget.

The first thing to understand is that it is impossible to create work that is fast, good, and cheap

The accurate, but overly simple deduction when considering the fast, good, and cheap trifecta is that it is only possible to deliver on two. If you agree to deliver fast, good, and cheap then something will have to give, and it’s never the value of the job, as the type of clients that push you into accepting fast, good, and cheap never agree to an increase in fee under any circumstances.

This leaves you with fast and good. If you’re determined to hold onto fast (or more likely are being forced to be fast) then you will be left with two options. The first option is to sacrifice the quality of the work in order to meet the deadline, and often you will get away with this as making the best of a bad situation.

But if your client knows her stuff, you won’t be able to cut corners when it comes to quality. This is the worst-case scenario, with you being held to deliver a quality of work within an unreasonable timescale. Something has to give, and the only option you have left is price, resulting in you having to invest more than planned on a job that already had a low profit margin, often to the point of you making a loss on the job.

This kind of work is easy to find, but it will emotionally and financially destroy you.

Now you are paying a client to do work you grudge, within a timescale that delays you from working on other, more profitable projects. This kind of work is easy to find, but it will emotionally and financially destroy you. It takes courage to decline new work, but recognising that it is better to do no work, than toxic work, is vital to your happiness and prosperity.

I mentioned above that this is an over simplification, and by this I refer to both the analogue, and relative nature of the three factors. Delivering ‘good enough’ can be the difference between a job being delivered fast and cheap enough. When good enough is perceived as ‘not doing one’s best’ it is shameful, but this is a fallacy.

This was ludicrous—we’d paid a supremely talented illustrator to create something nobody would ever see.

I distinctly remember our creative director waxing lyrical about the architectural illustrations that Russell Bell did for us for The Chicago Spire, and how if you could zoom in far enough you could even see the coin slots on the pool tables. This was ludicrous—we’d paid a supremely talented illustrator to create something nobody would ever see.

The analogue nature of the quality of your work means there are shades of grey between good and bad. Add to this that you are likely to be more critical than your client of what is good, and we can see that there is a point on the good/bad sliding scale where increasing the quality of the work will have no discernible effect on the client, and will either make you too expensive or unprofitable.

Simply put, if you need to work weekends to meet a client’s tight deadline it just can’t be cheap.

This allows us to bring logic into play. If we set a lower limit on the quality of work we are prepared to create, i.e. we are not prepared to do bad work, then we can see that the only variables are the speed and the price. Simply put, if you need to work weekends to meet a client’s tight deadline it just can’t be cheap.

If, on the other hand, your client is prepared to wait until you have some down time between other projects then by all means cut them some slack on your fees. For what it’s worth, I’ve found the clients that are flexible with timings have proved to be the most rewarding to work with, and the most likely to become long term partners in that nurturing relationship.

As for the pricks I met with today, their project is very appealing and I would love to have it in the portfolio. As a result some poor fool will take them on, but at the end of the day they will all end up hating each other, and the parasitical client will move on to find their next victim.

Good riddance.