Playing hard to get – is it a legitimate marketing technique?

by OFER TIROSH 12/10/2015

Life as a freelancer can be tricky, particularly when it comes to second-guessing your clients’ perceptions of you. One area that is key to get right is how available you are – or at least, how available you seem. 

Should you always say ‘yes’ to your clients, no matter how busy you are, or should you play hard to get and let them know that you are doing them a favour by fitting in their work when you are almost fully booked up, even if you’re not? And if you do play hard to get, where should you draw the line? 

The yes man

One approach is to say ‘yes’ to each and every client, regardless of how busy you may be, and then work out afterwards how you are going to get everything done. This is almost the direct opposite of playing hard to get. 

On the plus side, this can leave your clients amazed at your organisational skills in always being available to help them and appreciative of your responsive nature. However, it can also lead to late nights and to clients expecting that you will always drop everything and developing unrealistic expectations. After all, you have the right to take a holiday every now and then without clients contacting you in the middle of it and expecting an instant response! 

Playing hard to get

The opposite way to approach matters is to play hard to get. Let clients know that your availability is limited and that you are in much demand because you are so great at what you do. 

The advantages of this method can include increased fees, if clients are desperate for you to fit in their work, and a client base who feel grateful that you have found the time to include their work in your busy schedule. 

On the downside, clients may feel that they are a burden to you and that your constant business means their work won’t be given the proper time and attention it deserves. It’s a delicate balance to strike!

The best approach

As with so many business matters, the best approach is generally one that falls somewhere in the middle. The key is getting to know your clients and then tailoring your marketing activities, including playing hard to get, to each individual client. Some clients will be prepared to pay more for you to fit them in when busy. Others will immediately look elsewhere for another freelancer. 

To get to know your clients better, why not engage them with a quick survey? You can gather valuable data with just a few well-chosen questions. Offer a prize (perhaps a free hour off their next bill?) in order to inspire them to complete the survey. If you ask the right questions, then your effort should pay dividends next time you have to respond to a particular client – you will be responding in a bespoke fashion based on knowing them better, rather than just based on a randomly chosen approach that may or may not work!  

Playing hard to get can reap serious rewards, but only if it’s done correctly. Understand your clients in order to make this approach work for you. 

Final thoughts

Do you play hard to get with your clients? Is it better than always seeming available? Let us know your thoughts via the comments. 

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