The success of your service-based business will be built on the bedrock of how you answer this one simple question:
Do I want my services to be perceived as economical — or exceptional?
It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I mean, of course we want to be perceived as exceptional.
But positioning your offerings as exceptional is more difficult than it sounds. It takes guts, unwavering faith in your abilities, and an unflagging devotion to producing quality work.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sat down with a fellow creative person and said, “Look, you have to start charging more money. Just do it!”
In today’s post, I’m going to have that little chat with you, right here on Copyblogger. If you’re a writer, designer, or any type of service provider, this article is for you.
Why is it so tough to charge what you’re worth?
It seems like it should be easy. You want to charge more? Just charge more!
But in reality, being more expensive than the average service provider means:
- You’ll lose out on some business.
- You’ll have to keep a straight face while people overreact to your prices.
- You’ll have to continue to believe in yourself even when people look you in the eye and tell you you’re being unreasonable.
- You’ll need to navigate through potentially uncomfortable negotiation sessions.
The first “marketing tactic” many new service providers try is, “I’ll be cheaper than everyone else!”
Positioning yourself as the bargain service provider sets you up for problems that are way worse than having to sit through some tough negotiations.
The pitfalls of positioning yourself as the “bargain” service provider
Bargain service providers attract bargain-hunting clients. And bargain-hunting clients aren’t your best clients. Actually, they’re going to be your worst clients.
Bargain-hunting clients need education
Clients who buy services based on price don’t usually know what they need. They go into the process of contracting a service without a firm grasp of the solution that will take care of their problem.
They expect you, the service provider, to help them develop (for free) the solution they’ll pay you (a bargain rate) to create.
I ran my own design studio earlier in my career. It didn’t take me too many sessions of sitting down with clients who’d never worked with a designer before, holding their hands through the process, and receiving their teeny-tiny checks to realize, “Gee, this would be much easier if the client already understood what I offer!”
Bargain-hunting clients don’t appreciate what you bring to the table
Clients with a healthy budget for your services have developed that budget because they have:
- Bought your type of service before, so they know what it costs
- Worked on projects using the assets you provide (copywriting, content marketing, design, coaching, etc.)
- Seen the value your service provides (that’s why they have a budget for it!)
- All of the above
Bargain hunters, on the other hand, need to be “sold” every step of the way.
Wouldn’t you rather be doing creative work than selling creative work? I know I would.
Bargain-hunting clients view your service as a commodity
Service-based businesses are people-based businesses. And no person I know wants their creative work to be treated like a commodity that is sold to the lowest bidder.
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How to begin positioning your business as exceptional — not cheap
Getting the best possible price for your services starts with the right mindset.
The first person who has to be convinced you’re worth what you’re charging is you.
You must go into the pricing process with the firm belief that you provide a quality service. You have to be prepared to walk away if the potential client doesn’t see the value.
Because after all, wouldn’t you rather earn a nice living while serving fewer clients?
That’s what we’re aiming for here: quality clients who value your work — and are willing to pay for it.
Get your mindset right and the rest will fall into place.
Want more information about pricing your services?
It’s one thing to believe you’re worth it, and it’s another to price your service in a way that protects you from “scope creep.”
Scope creep is the inevitable growth in complexity and time spent on a project that happens when you don’t carefully nail down exactly what you’ll deliver, when you’ll deliver it, and how you’ll deliver it.
This is the first of three articles in our series on pricing your services. We want you to have the confidence, techniques, and tools you need to earn the most you can from your writing business.
In the second article in this series, Stefanie Flaxman teaches you how to ask the questions and get the answers you need to precisely explain what your client is paying for. And she’ll provide some guidance on how to handle it if your project scope starts expanding.
Check out: Service Business Fundamentals
In the final article in this series, Beth Hayden appears on her white horse with simple steps for pricing your service that you can apply to almost any business.
Check out: 5 Stress-Free Steps for Pricing Your Services
Some of our Certified Content Marketers have reported a little “problem”
We’ve noticed lately that some of the writers we’ve certified and are featuring on our Certified Content Marketers page have told us about this little issue they’re having.
Since taking the Certified Content Marketers course, passing their certification exam, and getting featured on the page, their business has exploded.
They can’t handle the volume of work they’re bringing in.
Such a terrible “problem,” right? 😉
It got so bad that we had to create a “Limited Availability” section at the bottom of the page. Click, scroll down, and take a look.
This tells us it’s time to reopen our Certification program so we can train a new group of professional content marketers.
Our Certified Content Marketer training program is for professional writers who want to learn techniques for improving their skills and running a profitable writing business.
We’ll invite a new group of students into the course sometime soon. Sharing your email address below will tell us you want to be notified when the program opens up.
Reader Comments (35)
I’m not a native English speaker. Is the Certified Content Marketers program right for me? If “yes”, how can I be sure that even after completion and certification I will not still be judged based on that ‘tiny’ detail – that I’m not a native?
Pamela Wilson says
We have taught many non-native speakers in past Certified Content Marketer courses, and have certified some of them, too. 🙂
Jelle Annaars says
I can confirm this. I’m not a native speaker and did pass certification. It’s story and structure that count.
And yet, one must be thick-skinned in small markets to quote the fee for services that a business owner knows is the fee needed to cover direct expenses, overhead, and provide a nominal but acceptable profit before taxes. That thick skin becomes particularly handy when co-existing in small markets with competitors who are running “businesses” that are more of a hobby/side-gig than a sustainable business. I work against one such provider in this market. That business — I use the word cautiously — belongs to a retiree who has a good retirement income, is interested in staying busy, and loves helping. Those are all great things but his pricing is truly shocking — it’s barely above zero for services others might charge estimate at more than several thousand! Most buyers do not know his back story and have been now taught that’s “the price.” The end-result when I was asked to give an estimate for a job — not knowing much about him at the time or that he was in the mix — is that my business was referred to, in writing, on FB, as a con artist. That’s a first in my long career. And sure, one can do the PR fix of benefits/differentiation/value emphasis but the words were already planted in people’s minds — people who value word-of-mouth by established residents and who influence others.
It’s a tricky world out there.
Pamela Wilson says
Ouch-ouch-ouch. So painful to read this story, and I’m sorry you went through it. 🙁
The only consolation I can offer is that the truth tends to come out, even if it takes time to happen. I hope that over time, your prospective clients see that you are in it for the long haul and this is a profession for you, not a hobby.
And hurray for thick skins. They’re the armor we put on every day we go to work!
Arlene M. Silva says
Welcome to doing business in Vermont, though I don’t know where you live… so many people come here to ‘retire’ or chill with their trust funds or or or. That means that one may apply for a job or a contract and find yourself competing against a double doctorate who’s willing to work for a dollar a week. I exaggerate but not by much, a coupla dollars a week.
What you ask for your services should be based on the value that you know that you can bring, your experience having delivered that value, and your desired playing field. It’s not just about expenses, etc. That mathematical computation won’t get you far when justifying your price. Your clients expect it to be about them, not about you.
Do your competitive research. Figure out where you feel that you belong specific to pricing, then point your brand to that pricing and value place in the world.
I recommend that you read the book, You Are A Bad Ass, by Jen Sincero. She explains this very nicely.
Best of luck,
P.S. I coach in this arena and spend lots of my time reminding people to value themselves and feel worthy. Deep down, you’ll know what you’re worth. Once you know, don’t be shy about it. Work it!
I know how this is. I offer coaching, and recently had a client ask me to give a significant discount. I did, and almost immediately regretted it. That client was more demanding on my time, and was harder to work with.
Pamela Wilson says
At this point, I see asking for a significant discount as a telltale sign that the client is going to be a pain. I understand and expect some friendly negotiation, but when someone wants you to carve off a huge chunk of your profits, they’re not taking your contribution seriously.
Thanks for the comment, Brandon.
I can absolutely relate to this! I have had to learn the hard way as well. We started off lowering our prices to get clients as we started and now we stick to our guns and hold our prices. I am so happy that you wrote this as it is 100% true and great for people to hear!
I have always found that clients that want discounts, or try to get off cheap are the worst. Even when I was in the Home Improvement business it was the same.
Now that I changed my career, and actually went back to school to do it, I am facing the same problem, but worse.
I have a business optimization service, bringing to it formal education in Investigations, Psychology, and Communications (Marketing).
Some of the issues were brought up in the article; I think the perceived value is the biggest one. Do these people not understand how much time and money we have spent learning and practicing these things?
That’s my rant, thanks for letting me vent, have a great day!
Pamela Wilson says
We’re always happy to provide a place for a thoughtful rant, Randy. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
From the business perspective there are two ways to set your fees. One is cost-plus and the other is value-based. Once you get clear on these all of the questions you may have like “Am I worth that?” will dissolve into thin air. And you will be able to quote your fees with confidence.
Bob Bly says
I miss Mofo this time as well.
I wrote a bog plost about your usage of Mofo.
Thats my opinion, still.
Pamela Wilson says
Thanks, Bob! You’re thinking of Joanna Weibe’s post, 6 Proven Ways to Boost the Conversion Rates of Your Call-to-Action Buttons, which was an instant classic the moment we hit publish. 🙂
Martin Saposnick says
Your advice is appreciated and should be required reading for any service provider who looks to provide quality service…..and who is really interested in helping clients.
A service provider, coach, or consultant must understand that It’s important for a prospective customer to understands the what, how, and why they need to act in order to grow their business.
For a bunch of clients in my past the job was easier if clients knew what to expect. At that time we call them deliverables and milestones. An English translation: here’s what you’re going to get and here’s what will be accomplished, in what time period,…..Oh , and, of course, here’s what you must budget for the services that will be provided!
Sounds easy? Makes sense? Should be obvious.
Often a “technician”, someone who excels in his craft …..a carpenter, psychotherapist, a butcher, an insurance agent etc…….,does not necessarily excel in managing, selling, copywriting, financial planning, or marketing. Why should they?
Building a business must be systemic.
Your approach is “right on” and I look forward to reading the next articles.
Author, Digital Architect
Pamela Wilson says
I agree about systems, Martin. I think people associate setting up systems with product-based businesses, but they might be even more important for service-based ones.
Atiqul Bari Chowdhury says
This article series is a much needed one as I just started my content marketing service business in Bangladesh. Big clients here are still chasing likes n comments on facebook. Blog is something they unsure about. And landing page, what on earth is that!
Yet after series of cold emails and months of folllow-up, I managed to convince two fmcg giants. But they both are unaware of the value, and hitting hard on price.
I need a decent portfolio to build n grow my business and so offered them a trial price for three months. The deals are not yet closed. But I guess it will be soon. My biggest fear is, will I regret offering a trial price.
Pamela Wilson says
Good luck, Atiqui. Fast-moving consumer goods is competitive! I hope it goes well for you.
Abid Kunda says
Real eyeopener. I think we get what we deserve. If we charge higher fees it may seem like we are losing business in the short term but I think in the long run people will see the real value of the service you provide and how it differs from all those bargain deals out there!
Pamela Wilson says
Abad, I think we get what we think we deserve.
Terry Lee says
This is one of the points I make in the chapter on Price in my book Business Fits.
Jayne Bodell says
I think this is the hardest point to remember when first starting out. The first instinct when seeing a job posting that you can do is to jump at it. When you take the time to figure out what the hourly rate would be if you did the job and realize it comes out to minimum wage, you have to let it go. Thanks for the reminder.
Pamela Wilson says
You’re welcome, Jayne!
M. K. Zeppa says
This article applies to physical product makers as well…if you under price your work you are definitely going to have a problem when it comes time to add staff to help you make the work that your “cheap” pricing has helped you sell…oops now we can’t make a profit.
On the other hand, sometimes a client simply can’t afford your fees but would like to work with you for whatever reason anyway. Sometimes a client has no idea if you can deliver the desired results for those fees. I’ve worked with folks who charged x but failed to deliver x value, and I’ve worked with folks who charged x but delivered x-squared value.
Don’t sell yourself short. But, its not always easy to do that.
Louis Borrego says
Its insane. How are you guys able to know exactly what I need to read? This article hit me at a moment in time where after failing to close three consults in a row, I began to consider lowering my prices.
Scope creep is something that’s been happening consistently. Mostly I don’t mind since I want to make my clients as happy as possible but some do take advantage and being a start up business you are always walking that anxious tightrope of fear of losing a client for whatever reason.
I’ll stick to my guns and look forward to the rest of the articles.
Pamela Wilson says
Louis, you’re not alone in your struggle with this — that’s why I wrote about it. Pricing is a perennial problem for business owners, especially when they’re new (or newish) in business.
I’m glad you found it helpful. I think you’ll like the upcoming articles, too.
Lisa Cropman says
A timely post Pamela. Even with 5 years copywriting experience under my belt, I still can get tripped up when prospects ask for more for less (especially when work is think on the ground). Only today I was asked whether my fee could be stretched to cover a whole website revamp rather than just the home page which was their original brief. Their website was 34 pages! Once you realise that a prospect undervalues your time to that extent, there’s really nothing for it but to say, ‘see ya later’.
Pamela Wilson says
Wow, Lisa: that one takes my breath away! I hope you feel really good about that “see ya later.” Sounds like it was the perfect response.
Emilia Emanuela Tanase says
What a useful article!
Would you please solve one more problem for me? 🙂
I am an 18-year old student interested in copywriting. I am already writing for a few low-paying clients on Upwork, but I cannot write copy like you do. I lack experience and training.
Do you think I should enroll in this course?
Considering my young age (some may say), will it help me write like you do?
I truly admire each writer at Copyblogger, and I’ve been lurking at this course for a while. But since I don’t have much money, I want to know if it can help an ambitious teenager accomplish her writing goals.
Pamela Wilson says
The Certified Content Marketers course is for people who are already writers and want to learn advanced content marketing techniques that will help them in their careers. So I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit for you right now, unfortunately.
We have been talking about creating a beginner-level writing course for years. If that comes to fruition, you’ll hear about it on these pages!
In the meantime, keep reading Copyblogger and practicing your writing. Writers get better through practice — the more you write, the better you’ll become.
Nice article. Your explanation is just fabulous. Choosing a perfect pricing of your service is definitely be the tough task. Thanks for these meaningful words.
Tim Ludy says
Great post Pamela!
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to double your rates immediately. Almost everyone charges too little.
Another good test is if you haven’t lost business because your prices were too high, they’re probably too low.
Appreciate the post, thanks!
Christine Parma says
You hit the nail on the head with this article! Yes, bargain-hunting clients are almost always more demanding to work with… and then many service-based entrepreneurs don’t even earning enough to cover the bills, much less build a thriving business. Mindset is HUGE… this is a big one that I work on first with my clients. If you don’t believe in the value of what you do or aren’t comfortable charging higher fees, when you tell the potential client your fee, it will often come out as a whisper, a question instead of a statement (I charge $2000?) or will just sound “weird”. The prospect will sense that you’re not confident and will be much more likely to say no or ask for a discount.
Another pitfall I’d add is that once you get known as the bargain-basement provider, it’s hard to change your brand positioning. Walmart will forever be known as a low-price retailer even if they tried to break into a higher-priced market. As a service-provider, you also have to consider the impact on your brand, credibility and reputation of the prices you charge. Do you want to be known as the Walmart or Neiman Marcus of coaching, for example?
Then there’s the issue of perceived value: charge cheap prices and people assume you’re either low-quality or too good to be true. Higher prices are usually assumed to be justified by an inherently better quality of product or service.
To help with pricing and to support the higher prices charged, set client expectations and establish firm boundaries, package your knowledge into a program (system) with specific steps and a highly-desirable result. This is exactly what I help my clients do so that they can confidently charge higher fees with integrity, get their clients better results and build a thriving business doing what they love.
Way too many knowledgeable and competent service providers are under-charging for their services, which in the end serves neither them, their clients or the greater good. If you want to BE in business and STAY in business so you can help people doing what you love, you MUST charge high enough fees to build a thriving business that serves both you and your clients (otherwise, you simply have an expensive hobby in many cases!).
Pamela, if you, Stephanie or Beth are open to guest contributors for this series, I’d love to participate!
The word “cheap” is usually associated with bad quality. So, you’d rather not place your services as cheap. But, I admit it’s usually hard for me to negotiate my price.
Suz Martin says
Can you refer me to a book or site that gives real market pricing? As .25 – 3.00/word low, $1-5/word average, and so forth, or maybe $100 per 300 word blog/article for someone fairly new to freelancing but not writing.
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