What to Do When a Client Says They Can’t Afford You

by Kathy Mallary

If you want to be successful in business, you have to understand and appeal to your client’s deeper desires. Deep down, they want something, and they want it more than most other things.

When people say, "I can't afford it," what that really means is that they’d rather spend their money on something else, something they value more. People are pretty good at finding a way to afford what they really want. It's almost always about priorities rather than resources.

If your prospective clients say, "I can't afford it," don’t argue with them, and don’t despair.
Instead, ask yourself these three questions:

1) Am I attracting the wrong people?

First of all, check to make sure you’re going after the people who are most likely to want what you’re offering. For example, if you offered to set me up with a lawn mowing service this summer, I’d say I can’t afford it. I bought a new lawn mower recently and have an able-bodied young person hanging around my house. So even though I have the money to pay for the lawn service, it feels like a waste of money. Wasting money is what I really can’t afford.

What I’d really love is a blissful week in a rental cottage at the beach. I can afford that, even though it will probably cost more than the lawn service. And it doesn’t matter how well you “sell” your lawn service to me – I’m saving my money for the beach.

Secondly, beware of mistaking casual window shoppers for qualified prospects. Casual shoppers tend to gobble up your time and free stuff and disappear when you ask “Are you ready to buy?” They are not your best prospects, and treating them as if they are will not change that. Focus on the highly qualified prospects. It’s easy to spot them, because:

  • They are at the point of need/urgency right now; resolving the issue is a top priority.
  • They have already researched their options; it isn't a question of "if" they’ll resolve the issue, but rather "who" will help them do it.
  • They’re intent on moving forward.
  • They place a higher premium on quality and value than on price.
  • They have the financial means to make whatever investment is required.

Aim for the hungry heart of your target market, and learn how to recognize a qualified prospect when you see one. If the person in front of you doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s quite likely that YOU can’t afford to work with THEM.

2) Am I sending the wrong message?

There’s a whole psychology behind effective marketing communication, but one of the most basic things people get wrong is that they use low-budget language to sell high-end services.

If you want to attract price-sensitive clients, by all means, stick with words like "fast," "easy," "affordable" and "discount." And don’t forget “Attention, K-Mart shoppers!”

High-caliber clients, on the other hand, respond to confidence, quality and service. I’m not saying they don’t also appreciate a good deal, but you shouldn’t focus only on that aspect if you want to win their business. Words like "expert," "specializing," "custom" and "guaranteed" convey high-value appeal.

If you want to attract people who are more concerned with quality and value than price, you need to speak their language.

3) Am I selling the wrong thing?

Are you selling inputs rather than outcomes? Time, materials and effort are all inputs. In fact, the coaching process itself is an input. While you’re busy trying to justify the price with more inputs, your prospect is naturally trying to figure out how to eliminate as many inputs as possible in order to keep the cost down.

How you do what you do (i.e., input) is not the first thing to talk about; that comes later. First the customer wants to know what the outcome will be so they can figure out whether it will be worth it.

Examples of outcomes include: Making or saving more time/money, achieving a specific goal, reducing/eliminating a risk, gaining/expanding an advantage, creating or leveraging an opportunity, acquiring/mastering new skills, etc.

Another tip: Don't make price a selling point. When the client says “I can’t afford you,” naturally you feel you have no option but to lower your price to stay competitive.

You can see where that’s going to end up.

Don’t try to match price. Instead, find a way to differentiate based on the value you provide. What’s it worth to the client to have the results they want? What will it cost them if they fail to gain those results? How much time, money and effort could they save by using your signature solution over other, more generic solutions?

Focus on outcomes over inputs, and differentiate based on the higher value you provide, rather than trying to match a competitor’s lower price. Differentiation is where the true value is.


You don’t have to cringe when a prospect says “I can’t afford it” and you don't have to try and persuade them to change their mind about it, either. Instead, aim for the hungry heart of your target market, focus on outcomes and highlight the value that sets you apart. If you do that consistently, you’re far more likely to hear "When can we start?"

Kathy Mallary 
Kathy Mallary is a business development specialist who helps coaches get into high gear with both clients and cash flow so they can make a bigger difference and healthier profits. Get free resources for innovative coaching business models that expand capacity and add to the bottom line at www.spiritspring.com.

1 thought on “What to Do When a Client Says They Can’t Afford You”

  1. Good points! I find that people who say, “I can’t afford it!” are in scarcity mode. I encourage my own clients to choose different language, always.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top

IAC Login