You Get What You Price For


As workers of the web, we are constantly trying to tell clients they get what they pay for. This year I’ve been learning the reverse is also true; we get what we price for.

When I first started Bottlerocket I priced myself low and took every job I could get. Often, that’s what we have to do when starting out. But the fear of having no work seems to drive many of us to maintain that modus operandi long after we need to.

We have high standards for our clients. We want them to understand that the work we do is valuable and they shouldn’t comparison shop for design the same way they would for a toothbrush. But then, as designers, we turn around and do the same thing in the way we price our services.

So many clients try to haggle with me on pricing. I constantly here phrases like, “Can you give us a deal?” or, “Can you come down 10 percent?” I never went to business school, so maybe I’m missing something; but when I go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of milk, I understand that the price is whatever it is. I don’t go to the checkout and ask if they can “give me a deal.”

“But there’s a difference between products and services,” you might say. Not really. I don’t haggle with my mechanic, plumber or electrician either.

I also have clients try to bargain with me about when they pay. I refuse to do Net 60 or Net 30 or Net anything. Payment is due when payment is due. I can’t think of a single service I pay for where I could say, “Awesome, I’ll send you check in 60 days,” and not be laughed at.

It’s our own fault that clients think this way about web work. We accept these attitudes as normal, so they do as well. But it’s not normal. I provide a professional service at professional rates with professional expectations. It is what it is. I’ve politely declined to work with many clients who don’t understand this or aren’t willing to work this way. And my business is better for it.

If you price low in order to get work, then you’ll just have to do more work to make the money you need. And trust me, the higher-priced projects are way more fun to work on. And not because you’re making more money. I don’t understand all the psychology behind it, but clients that pay me a lot also respect me a lot. They tend to understand the value they are receiving and what exactly it is they’re paying for. There is nothing more stressful than working for a client whose no. 1 priority is finding the cheapest price.

One of the biggest factors, I believe, in how clients perceive you is your willingness to walk away. You command the respect you deserve when you’re willing to do that. It seems illogical, but the moment I tell a client “no” they seem to want me even more. Saying “no” gives you an irresistibility factor. It’s kind of like dating, we tend to want the people we can’t have.

I’m not suggesting you be a jerk or start turning down clients hoping the reverse psychology will work. I’m suggesting that you respect your own work and process and be willing to walk away when the client is not on board.

Believe me, the projects you have to bend over backward to get will not make you happy. And I’m not talking about hustle. I’m not talking about working hard and doing the best job you can do. I’m talking about haggling. I’m talking about clients who think they own you and who think you should be honored to fill out their RFP.

I’ve been laughed at so many times because of my rates. And that’s good. If a prospective client’s first reaction to my prices is to think, “He can’t possibly be worth that,” then I know I’m on the right track. Because then I have a chance to explain to them why I’m worth that cost. I get to have a conversation about what their business really needs. It’s not usually what they think it is.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out. A client simply doesn’t have the budget to hire me and we part ways on good terms. More times than not though, those same clients come back to me six months later having invested in something of lower quality that they’re not happy with.

In the end, I firmly believe that you get what you price for. If you let a client know that you will do anything, sacrifice any principle, to get their business, you may well get it, but you won’t be happy with it.

Pricing isn’t the only factor, but it’s a big one in determining the kind of clients you attract. If we want clients to respect the value we bring to the table, we have to price accordingly. I promise, the projects you win without sacrificing your value will bring you much more satisfaction.

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