Dealing With “I Just Can’t Afford You”

Regardless of what you’re selling, most everyone in business has heard it:

                          “Sorry, I just can’t afford it right now.”

too expensive

No one likes hearing that.  In some cases it might be true. In most, however, it’s not.

What makes me say that? Just look around. Every day thousands of people will pay $5.00 for a coffee, $15,000 for an attorney, or $50,000 for a car. Because, whatever the cost, they’re convinced it’s worth it.

Why will a woman pay $300 for a handbag when she could find tons for a fraction of the price? Because, she’s convinced that the $300 bag is worth it. Even in the cases where the excuse is true, not being able to afford something hasn’t stopped 80% of Americans from buying it.

So, whenever a person says they can’t afford it, it usually means they just aren’t convinced of the value. Which means you have 3 options:

1.) Accept it.

2.) Try to convince them otherwise.

3.) Lower your price.

None are good options.  The best option is to get some professional help to figure out what can be done (now) to more effectively communicate the value and benefit of the product or service you offer.

Take the Macintosh computer, for example. There was a time when it didn’t exist. Steve Jobs and his advertising team had to figure out what they needed to say to convince people that the Mac was worth the money. The rest, as they say, is history.

The fact is, that having a great product is only part of the equation. You then have to make sure you’ve done what’s necessary to communicate those product benefits in a way that resonates with your target audience. It’s not an easy thing to do, which is why savvy people like Steve Jobs sought out the best people to help them. Even with all his marketing talents Steve was the first to admit that he was no marketing expert. It’s why he brought in marketing expert, Mike Markkula, while Apple was still making computers out of his garage.

It’s a good lesson for every small business owner who thinks they:

1.) Don’t need marketing help.

2.) Don’t see the value of paying for the right help.

So, before you react to prospects who say, “I just can’t afford it,” be sure you’re not saying the same thing.

Too Expensive Photo via Shutterstock


John Follis John Follis heads up Big Idea Video, creator of short format, high concept video that captivates and persuades prospects. According to Forbes, 76% of marketers invest in video and make it their #1 marketing strategy. John Follis honed his talents as Creative Director and Co-founder of Follis/DeVito/Verdi, one of Madison Avenue’s most successful, award winning ad agencies.

51 Reactions
  1. Thanks a lot, John.

    I’ll be heading over to Wikipedia to learn more about you now.

    In marketing, sometimes it’s necessary to get help. How others see our business is a lot different from our own view. I know I need help, sometimes, and I ask for it!

    The Franchise King®

  2. It’s important to remember that perception is reality. If the customer doesn’t fully comprehend the value you’re delivering, then it will take education. And don’t forget that no matter how awesome you are, you’re still not the right solution for everyone. There will be people who fully understand the value you provide and still can’t afford it.

    • Good points. A point I didn’t mention is that the “I really love you, but I just can’t afford your price” comment is often a negotiating tactic. It’s a test to see how eager/desperate you are for the business and how much you might reduce your fee.

  3. Some good points there, I like the comment below the article thou “I really love you, but I just can’t afford your price”. Marketing is becoming ever so increasingly important for every and any business, and the word marketing is so dynamic. Targeting the right people at the right time with the right message is the key. Figuring out those three things and actually getting them “Right” will make or break small businesses.

  4. Thanks for an inspiring article. Since I sell a service and not a product, the value/benefits may not be immediately tangible to potential clients. I’ll definitely be needing some marketing advice to communicate to businesses that they really “can’t afford not to.”

  5. These are all very good points. Sometimes even after educating them about value, there’s more work to be done. I sell a service as well, and to compete I had to break up my service into smaller, more digestible pieces for my consumers so they didn’t feel overwhelmed. This was good because it allowed me to show them the benefit/value of each piece along the way. John, thanks for a great post and I will look into Marketing Therapy.

  6. Thanks, Nikki. Like you, 90% of small business owners say they need and want marketing help. And about 80% of them will then say they just can’t afford it 🙂

  7. Martin Lindeskog


    Thanks for an inspiring, uplifting and insightful post! As an experienced purchaser I was happy to say that our company wanted to afford the best quality, price and lead-time, from our suppliers. Now, as an sole trader and certified networker, I have to learn how to package my social media services and then market them in an effective way, in the same way as I say that I can help my future clients.

    I have hired an advertising agency that will help me with the “red thread” (as you say in Swedish for an integrated approach, implemented through the whole organization). The first thing was to come up with a new business card based on my EGO logotype and blog banner, pointing out my 10+ experience of social media. I will set up a new site in Swedish (, based on the created brochure material (A4 paper size divided in 6 pages / sections) and integrated with social media tools so you get the interactive side of an up-to-date web presence. The ad company will also help with a presentation template (Keynote & power point) that looks like the business card, brochure and web site.

    After this journey, I will be able to reach out to my potential new customers and get my old customers, business partners, ambassadors, and referral partners to recommend me to others that will be able to understand my true value. 🙂

  8. It looks like everyone has already said what I wanted to say, but nonetheless this was a very great post and a small business owner should also know that there are several ways to add value and outsourcing is a great option when you don’t have all the right tools.

  9. Great article John! A smart marketer once said, price is what you pay, value is what you get. If the price doesn’t equal the value your service or product delivers you have some work to do! If you can do a good job communicating the value you provide through all marketing pieces, selling your service shouldn’t be an issue.

    Half the battle is speaking to the RIGHT audience, with the RIGHT message, using the RIGHT media. Once you get all of those elements in place, the rest is just details.

  10. Good additional points made by all. Thanks.
    BTW, here are some of the folks who DIDN’T say they can’t afford us:

  11. Really insightful article John. It is funny how much time we can spend trying to convince others to spend money on a service that will increase their profits in the long run while doing just the opposite ourselves!

  12. I think this is one of the most insightful posts I’ve ever come across today. Great points, too!

  13. Not only was your article insightful, but your replies to the comments are as well. Thanks for the reminder to always seek out the best people.

  14. Well this is for sure..without good marketing strategy no one will know about your product. Marketing is as necessary for business as oxygen for a human life, without this no survival.

  15. Thanks for a great article, John.

    We should never forget that it takes money to make money. The more we put into our products and services, the more we will get in return, especially if we are careful and do our research on how we should invest our ideas and with whom. Thanks for also working “equation” into this. The synthesis of a good listening creative force and a thorough, organized client is what makes the marketing process successful. It’s always a team effort that requires time and a solid investment for a winning campaign. Cutting cost (corners) only wastes time, energy and money. Copper can never make gold.

  16. Thanks John. I hear that people just can’t afford me sometimes, typically after taking an hour or so of my time, so I’m glad others are too. One thing that’s helped me is to develop some free tools to step them through creating their own optimized blog posts and SEO web pages. This gets them farther down the road themselves, so they only have to bring me in for the heavy hitting stuff. People think they should be able to write their own stuff, but as in any field, seo content is a specialty. I credit Bryan Eisenberg and other SM marketing gurus for advising we all give, give, give. It’s helped me, and reduced resentment. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing, Suzanne. What you say is especially true in a marketing, consulting or other service business. The question always is, how much to give away.

  17. Great piece of advice John, and thanks for bringing such a motivation for some of us that are struggling right now to get off the ground a startup project or any consultant business

  18. Very true. I have met a lot of small business owners during time, who don’t want to spend the money on marketing, because they only see it as a cost – not a revenue multiplier. I guess they have just bought too much crappy advertising during times, and by that gotten scared of spending money on it.

  19. Awesome points. Unfortunately I had the wrong view at one point, seeing marketing as just a cost and not so much an investment. It was a huge mistake. As soon as you shift your view of your marketing to something that will give you a return and multiply your success, it gets way easier.

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