Making a Cheerful Bid

by AllAmericanBreakfast2 min read27th Mar 20219 comments

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Asking someone for their cheerful price is asking them for the price at which they'd certainly do what you ask.

This opens the door to asking for whatever you want. Prostitution, murder, watching 'The Bachelor' on loop for all your waking hours for a year: what is your cheerful price? The answer may easily be 'I don't have one,' because my emotions can't always be indefinitely swayed by money.

This is easy, though. The harder problem is being asked your cheerful price for something you would be willing to do for money, but where the transactions costs, risks, and trust issues prevent you from negotiating it.

If you ask me my cheerful price for writing a software program, not just the work but my professional reputation is at stake. You might use your cheerful price request to justify asking me for things I'm very reluctant to do, and wouldn't do at a fair or market price.

If your service request is under-specified, you really need to ask my cheerful price to negotiate my cheerful price. How do I know you won't complain to others that my quoted price was unprofessionally high, neglecting to mention and explain that we'd agreed to a cheerful price? What if you keep inflating quality and scope demands after I commit to turn my cheerful price into a merely fair price?

You need enough of my trust in advance for me to be willing to quote you my cheerful price. I need to structure a cheerful price in a way that defends my reputation and accounts for the risk you'll say 'no,' in which case I'll have wasted my time coming up with the offer. These issues can make being asked for a cheerful price feel strangely uncomfortable.

I propose an alternative, the 'cheerful bid.' The one who wishes to pay a cheerful price comes up with a proposal of what they'll pay to cheerfully negotiate a 'cheerful price' for a product or service, with full freedom for either party to walk away from the negotiation at any time.

Here's how it might work:

Alice: Hey Bob, can I pay you $0.25/minute to negotiate your cheerful price to write some software for me?

Bob: What kind of software?

Alice: Careful, Bob, you just worked for free! I want to know if you'd accept $0.25/minute, potentially for several hours, to discuss that with you. During that negotiation we would try to find a price I am willing to pay, and you would feel delighted to accept.

Bob: Sounds weird, plus I barely know you, plus I have a lot of serious fair-price offers that I place higher trust in. I don't think $0.25/minute is enough to get involved in a negotiation I don't really understand.

Alice: I get it. What if I Venmo you $100 in advance right now just to show I'm serious, and I'll pay you $1.25/minute just to negotiate with me, no strings or obligations attached?

Bob: Really?

Alice: Absolutely.

Bob: Sounds good!

Alice sends him $100 and they make plans to negotiate Bob's cheerful price.

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This feels very weird to me and while I'm quite comfortable stating cheerful prices, I'd be quite uncomfortable if someone asked me to "negotiate my cheerful price".

I think it's just a problem (just a massive problem) with the wording, though.

You want to discuss your need with me? Cool. Once I understand it really well, you'd like to hear my cheerful price? Cool. You want to

negotiate

my

cheerful price

? Absolutely not, please leave. <-- those are my reactions to the words

It sounds like maybe you feel the word "negotiate" implies that someone is asking you to to be willing to come down on your cheerful price based on their arguments, which (I would completely agree) fully defeats the purpose. If so, maybe you'd prefer if someone asked to "discuss" or "discover" your cheerful price? That's the sense I'm getting from "negotiate" in this context. (Is that correct, AllAmericanBreakfast?)

Huh, I have strong feelings in the opposite direction!

I think there are a couple different cases here that might produce different reactions.

  1. Being asked your cheerful price for work that’s fairly normal for you and that you’d do for normal market wages. For example, you work as a web designer and are asked your cheerful price for a web design project for a new biotech company.

  2. Being asked your cheerful price for a weird one-off transaction for work that you wouldn’t be willing to do for a “fair price.” For example, the same web designer is asked to do web design for a porn site.

It makes some sense to me that being asked to “negotiate your cheerful price” for #1 could come off as rude somehow. But for #2, I equally think it could be rude to ask them to name their cheerful price, or to engage them in extensive design and price conversations, dangling the promise of a cheerful price at the end that they might not actually be willing to pay.

My cheerful price is sensitive, valuable information, and I won’t give it out to just anybody. Either build trust with me, or offer to pay me to find it out, but don’t ask me to give it to you for free.

My cheerful price is sensitive, valuable information, and I won’t give it out to just anybody.

Wait, what?  That sounds less than cheerful to me.  My cheerful price is quite high for random tasks from strangers - on the order of $10K/day for non-dangerous, non-reputation-impacting work.  I suspect there aren't many cases where someone would want to pay it, but it's neither sensitive nor valuable information.  And of course, it's lower for some tasks, for some people, on some days (and much higher for some).

Some confusion may be coming in the (unstated) assumption that one's cheerful price is a fixed amount.  It's not - it's highly contextual - it depends on what else one has going on, what expected secondary (monetary or non-) costs or rewards might accrue, relationship effects if it's among people I expect to meet again, etc.  

Honestly, for me, in the financial situation I'm currently in, the concept of "cheerful price" isn't very useful.  My decision-making and happiness is far more impacted by non-monetary factors than payments among non-professional interactions.  It's a cute theory, but I expect there's not a lot of value in codifying it very completely.

This post was written after the first time I was asked my cheerful price for a certain activity. I noticed that I didn't have a very cheerful time thinking about what that price would be. I wanted to think more about why. For a piece of work with loosely specified requirements, you might have many "cheerful prices" depending on those requirements. Pinning them down and establishing what those cheerful prices would be, when you don't actually think it's very likely that the person asking will agree to your cheerful price, is not very cheerful work. So to make me feel cheerful, you'd really need to make me feel a sense of trust that you're serious about your offer of a cheerful price.

Absent trust between friends, you can do that with money, by offering to pay me to work out the specs and price for a piece of work.

The concept of a "cheerful price" might be best used in a context of friendship, where the work is easy to explain and aimed at a person who you suspect is happy to at least consider it. But the first time I was asked my "cheerful price" wasn't in that context, and so I wanted to consider the way you'd think about it outside that context.

You need enough of my trust in advance for me to be willing to quote you my cheerful price.

 

plus I barely know you

Are cheerful prices a good idea among near-strangers? The original idea was to address the issue of spending social capital among friends. Here you'd presumably have some trust and knowledge to make these things less of a problem.

Right, I think that’s a more useful context. The first time I was asked was by a new acquaintance, so I wanted to unpack the reaction I had.

I don't have a price for negotiation. If someone has an idea they suspect may provide mutual benefit to both of us, I want to hear it, and I want them to know how willing I am to do that, with boundaries as clear as those of the original proposal. In cases where there may be second order impacts, I will communicate that as part of the conversation of establishing mutual needs and desires.

I'm not sure I understand how this can possibly work.  There needs to be trust in both directions before any agreement (or pre-agreement or agreement to pay for discussion of agreement, or as many levels down as you choose to go).  And if this trust exists, It's often FAR more efficient to implicitly roll the bid/negotiation cost into the final contract.

If Alice trusts Bob enough to pay $100 + 1.25/minute without any defined outcome (or duration; I presume "either party may terminate at any time"), and Bob trusts Alice enough that there's some future benefit to the conversation (not necessary if the money is sufficient and each minute is paid in advance), they should just do the normal dance: 10-minute elevator pitch to give a few more details and firm up the future-value hypothesis, then maybe an hour or two of negotiation of rates and responsibiities, then get to work.  Possibly with additional negotiation, paid or not, about long-term ownership stakes or contract terms.

Basically, with trust, it's inefficient to have the paid-bid phase.  And without trust, they can't even start the paid-bid phase.   There are probably some middle-ground situations where this works and is needed, but I'm not sure I can identify any.