Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick two.

About ten years ago, I worked for a non-profit organization in Memphis, and we contracted with a local ad agency to produce some brochures for a  new fundraising campaign.  The agency, the name of which I have regrettably forgotten, was generously donating some time and services to us, and so I spent a lot of time running back and forth between its office and my own, as we developed the brochures.

One day, I noticed a sign hanging above the desk of the graphic designer. It read “Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick two.” 

In other words, you can get good work done fast, but it’s going to cost you. You can get good work done cheaply, but it sure isn’t going to happen quickly. Or you can go the fast and cheap route, but the finished result probably won’t win any awards.

I recently started thinking about that sign when I started looking for additional freelance work. There are a lot of prospective employers who seem to want it all; they want fast, good and cheap. The thing is, it doesn’t really work that way in advertising, and it doesn’t really work that way when it comes to good writing, either.

Now, I know the scary economy may be temporarily altering that reality. Some people–fine, established writers–have decided to work for less money because they really, really need whatever money they can bring in right now. They have to pay the mortgage. They have to pay for health insurance. And they have to use what skills they have to keep themselves afloat. Along the same lines, many companies are struggling, too. Their budgets are being slashed, and they’re having to lay off employees.  Some employers genuinely can’t pay high fees right now.

But generally speaking, you get what you pay for. And I think some people may not have fully grasped that concept. If someone is being realistic, they should realize that getting two out of three is pretty darn reasonable. Fast, good, cheap. Pick two. Maybe it’s not always the same two every time you pick two of the three, but still. You should have to pick two.


About jenniferlarsonwrites

I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. I have a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's degree in English from Rhodes College. I'm a born-and-bred Southerner who spent a few years in Southern California, a rabid baseball fan and a would-be grower of tomatoes. You can also visit me at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @JenniferLarson.
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5 Responses to Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick two.

  1. Natalie says:

    True, true, and I just had a conversation about this not long ago! Are you bugging my phone?

  2. jenniferlarsonwrites says:

    Well, yeah! Didn’t I tell you I was doing a little illegal eavesdropping? 😉

    I’m good and I’m fast. Whether I’m cheap or not is open to debate…

  3. Good point. The only thing I didn’t agree with is the economy causing writers to accept lower paying jobs. My freelance writing business has picked up since the downturn of the economy.

    I attribute it to the fact that many marketing departments don’t exist anymore, but companies still need to market, produce content, etc. It’s a lot more cost effective for these companies to hire a freelance writer and still pay the writer what they’re worth because they don’t have to cover the cost of giving them a desk, a phone, health insurance , etc.

  4. jenniferlarsonwrites says:

    Anecdotally, I’ve found some writers accepting lower-paying jobs. But I’m heartened to hear that other people are having better luck. That’s a good sign.

  5. Heejung says:

    That’s really true…Brilliant!

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