One of my favorite Yiddish words is schnorrer. While it means beggar or sponger, it’s essentially a cheapskate who wants to chisel you by getting something for nothing.
There is nothing wrong with potential clients trying to get a bargain by negotiating fees. I often discount fees as long as potential clients ask and it’s reasonable. The problem is that you have to draw the line somewhere because your work and effort deserve to be compensated. I think what makes someone wanting a discount and being a schnorrer is that the schnorrer doesn’t care how insulting they are. A perfect example is selling sponsorships for That 401(k) Conference. If people book multiple events and ask for a discount if they are a new sponsor, I don’t have a problem with discounting the $1500 speaking fee per event. Yet when a plan provider invited me for lunch to their private club and said he only had a budget for $250 for my $500 supporting sponsorship, I took a pass. Don’t invite me to your private club and claim poverty.
Dealing with chiselers is part of the business, but I think you have to draw a line and realize that there are times you can’t make a deal with a chiseler because their offer might be insulting or just too low and you know you will always have to deal with them, every step of the way.