Working in a price sensitive service industry

Hi! I work in the market research industry. We get business by pitching against other agencies for work. It’s necessary to invest a decent amount of time and effort into pitches that may not result in any business. Most agencies have similar sorts of capabilities, so who wins the business comes down to the quality of the pitch and corresponding price. Many clients are very price sensitive – sometimes we’ll find clients willing to invest more, but most times price is a key factor. So the tendency is for agencies to be very price competitive…we estimate the costs involved as tightly as possible and with minimal buffer. But market research projects are prone to unpredictability – unexpected weather, news events, a minor technical error can all quickly result in escalating costs. The tradition is not to bill by the hour but for the agreed cost of the project and some clients require a lot of support which is not billed for. I’m reluctant to set too strong boundaries around my time because that risks loosing the client in the future. I’ve worked in different firms and it’s always the same – the time and money allocated to complete a project is very rarely enough to complete it – so staff are needed to work a lot of overtime just to deliver an adequate result on budget. I’m so fed up of this model, with scarcity permeating every aspect of every project. It only functions on the assumption of unpaid overtime. I’m at the point of quitting the industry. Is there any other approach I could try out before quitting?