One of the first things I discuss with clients is their pricing. In nearly all cases, their prices are set too low to create a sustainable business they won’t grow to hate.
When I ask how they feel about their pricing, I get a range of reactions:
“They are ok, I guess.”
“I don’t think anyone would pay more.”
“I need to raise them, but I’m scared I’ll lose my clients or no one else will hire me.”
It isn’t unusual for my clients to even be reluctant to talk about their prices!
Why? Why Is talking about our prices and money taboo? Why do we feel the need to apologize? Why shouldn’t we be just as proud of our pricing as we are of the work we do?
Why we aren't our ideal client
Let’s break it down and examine the pieces. First, it is easy to imagine ourselves as our ideal client. After all, we love what we do, right! We’d be a perfect client! But! In most cases, we aren’t our ideal client at all. Take a moment and jot down the differences between you and your ideal client.
As an example, I love SEO and social media, so it wouldn’t make sense to hire someone like me to do what I do because I enjoy it and it is fun. My clients, on the other hand, would rather hand it off to me or have me help them through it.
I’m not a fan of most online courses, but one of my most popular “products” is my Build Your Marketing Muscles (an online course)!
On the other hand, I’m not a very crafty person, so paying an artist for their creation or paying someone to create a costume for my youngest is not only a great way for me to spend my money, it makes my life lighter and less stressful! And I have the added benefit of supporting another small business.
Remembering that we aren't our ideal client, especially when we're starting out and charging too little, is vital. I think it is even more important if we’re already coming from a place of money scarcity and feeling as if any sale is a good sale.
Can you "give back and still have a business?
My clients have good hearts and a desire to reach out to people who couldn’t normally afford their services. This is a wonderful thing, but in many cases, it isn't sustainable and is a fantastic recipe for burnout and exhaustion.
A good client doesn't want you to exhaust yourself! In fact, they need you to take care of yourself because they believe you are good at what you do (after all, that’s why they hired you, right?)
Can you still “give back” and have a business? Absolutely! But consider waiting until your business is stable and you have a clear idea of your boundaries so you can give back in healthy, long-term ways. I give myself permission to offer some free work in the form of consulting here and there, but draw the line at social media management because it is so time consuming.
Yes, I completely understand the desire to make what we do accessible to everyone, but you can't be so kind to others that you are damaging your health & relationships by running yourself into the ground trying to serve everyone.
You don't control someone else's finances
We need to let go of the guilt or responsibility around whether someone can afford what we do or what we sell. If someone can’t afford us, that’s ok! It doesn’t make us a bad person for sticking to our prices just as it doesn’t make them a bad person for not being able to afford what we offer. It just means they aren’t our customer (right now). If what you offer is worthwhile to someone, then they will pay it. If not, it isn't worth it to them and that isn't anything we have control over.
I doubt a Land Rover salesman feels bad that I'm not a Land Rover customer - no matter how much I want one (ok, I don't actually want one, that was just the first car name that came to mind!).
You must cover business costs and expenses
You also need to think about the cost of running your business. Those costs include taxes and expenses and that can really add up! If you aren’t covering those very basic things with your pricing, while still leaving enough left over to live on, you won’t be able to sustain your business. Or you’ll grow to resent it because it costs more money to run your business than you make.
How do you stand firm in your pricing?
Be clear around what you offer and the process. If, like photographers, your work involves a lot of behind-the-scenes action the client may not see you’ll need to be extra clear around the benefits and upfront about the amount of work you do on your own to get the end result the client loves.
Focus on the quality of your work and the benefit to the client.
Believe in yourself and what you bring to your client – not every client will be the right fit, but you can be the perfect fit for the right client.
Practice saying “These are my prices and I’m happy with them.” – yes, you’ll feel silly at first, but that is all you need to say to someone questioning your prices and your value. You don’t need to pull out a spreadsheet, a Venn diagram, and give them an hour lecture on how you arrived at your prices (no matter how tempting it is!)
Finally, and this is going to sound a little out there, but stay with me!
Imagine your business is a tree with deep roots that are well cared for and strong. When someone complains about your pricing, imagine it is like a gust of wind. Imagine your business tree swaying in the wind as the gust of wind passes by.
Neat image, right? No harm to the tree, no harm to the gust of wind – it just wasn’t a good fit right now.
Do you see your customers as flat demographics or as real people?
If you are too caught up in creating a “client avatar” you may be missing the chance to connect with the real humans behind those numbers.
What is a client avatar?
Sometimes called a persona or ideal client, this is just an idealized version of who you want your clients to be. Most client avatar worksheets focus on you seeking and understanding your clients’ needs (or “pain points” which might be one of my least favorite terms ever). While it can be helpful to tease out your clients’ demographic information for yourself – especially when considering something like Facebook advertising (which has impressive ad targeting abilities), it is equally as valuable to approach it from a perspective of which clients are the best fit for what you offer.
For example, if you sell couches, you could say “I can sell to anyone! Everyone needs a couch!” This is true in an extremely broad sense. Most of us DO need couches at some point. However, you can’t sell to someone who doesn’t need a couch, doesn’t like the kind of couches you sell, or is opposed to couches entirely, and thinks only chairs are suitable for sitting.
By eliminating a few types of people, we’ve just narrowed down your audience a bit, right? Now you can say “I sell couches to people who need the kinds of couches I sell.”
Now we’re getting a little closer, but that still isn’t terrifically helpful to you.
But if we dig deeper, we can move closer and examine the kind of ideal client you are excited to see. At this point, take a look at which clients make you happy, energized, and thrilled to do the work you do. What common elements do they have? What is it about working with them that makes you happy? Which customers make you leap out of bed in the morning because you can’t wait to work with them?
Continuing our couch example, let’s look at the types of people who would be interested in buying a couch AND who would also be your ideal client:
Are they young families looking for something durable, yet comfortable? Maybe you love working with families and helping them find something in their budget.
Are they people who love interior design? Maybe helping people pull together all the pieces of home décor is fun for you.
Are they someone looking for unique furniture? Maybe you are most excited to work with someone looking for the perfect piece regardless of cost.
Are they someone who asks lots of questions? Maybe educating clients is something you love to do!
Obviously, your answers will vary depending on what you sell and your own personality. They may even change over time!
We can also flip this around and look at the types of customers you aren’t excited to see. What kinds of customers drain you? What types of interactions aren’t worth a sale to you? Which customers make you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head?
Are they someone who is consistently rude to you or your staff?
Are they someone who drags out the sale process, but never decides?
Are they someone who makes demand after demand?
By avoiding those kinds of clients (or sending them to someone else), you can enjoy your work more as well as leaving space in your schedule for clients you are excited to see!
Yes, it can feel scary to set boundaries and stand up for ourselves, our time, and our business. Deciding there are some clients who aren’t a good fit for us can feel scary. What if we refer them to someone else and no one comes to take their place?
The next time you are tempted to segment your clients into little boxes, turn it around and look at it from the perspective of “who do I want to work with and what do I want to do” rather than “who will give me money” (and don’t get me wrong – money is awesome!).
Are generic client avatars helpful? They can be! But you don’t have to know every detail of a fake person’s life to connect with real people. Strictly following a client avatar worksheet may also inadvertently cause you to miss a great client because they didn’t fit into your predetermined client mold.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.