Note: This article is a companion post to Marketing Mentor Podcast #380 with Lisa Mullis of Paraphrase Communications. Lisa is a copywriter and designer who helps service-based entrepreneurs look, sound, and sell like the high-value experts they are so they attract better clients, make more money, and have a bigger impact with their work. Download her Value Framework Blueprint here.
Let me tell you a tale of two handbags.
Handbag #1 is 100% leather, dyed blue, with a gold clasp. It’s big enough to hold things like a billfold, a phone, tissues, and a few cosmetics, and small enough to be discreet and fashionable.
Handbag #2 is 100% leather, dyed blue, with a gold clasp. It’s big enough to hold things like a billfold, a phone, tissues, and a few cosmetics, and small enough to be discreet and fashionable.
Handbag #1 costs $135.
Handbag #2 costs $12,000.
Why the huge price difference? Handbag #2 is a Hermes.
Now, this is not a tale about branding, rather it’s an illustration of perceived value. The higher the value of a product or service, the more money people are willing to pay.
But how do you, as a creative professional, identify and then communicate a higher perceived value so you can command and justify higher fees?
What follows is a simple 3-step system, called the Value Framework, to uncover and communicate what makes your products or services awesome. When you raise the overall reputation and desirability of your offers, you can charge more—fees many people will be happy to pay and for which you’ll feel well compensated.
Step 1: Detangle your self-worth from what you charge
Okay, I’m starting off big and deep here. But listen, if you don’t work through this first step, what you do in the next two won’t matter. You’ll forever be stuck undercharging and dismissing your contributions to the world.
What people are willing to pay you is not a reflection of your value as a person. I know you don’t mean to conflate the two but it happens a lot, especially when there’s a lack of self-confidence. How many times have you been afraid to raise your rates worried someone will refuse to pay them? How many times have you gotten up the gumption to charge more only to backfill the service with a lot of overdelivering out of fear the client wouldn’t be happy otherwise? (Hand up—I’ve personally done this a lot.) How often do you apologize right after you share your price?
How much people pay for your offers is has everything to do with positioning and packaging. It’s about what’s important to them, how well your offer fits with their needs, and the sense of urgency they feel to close the gap between where they are and where they want to go. Do you see how these things have little to do with who you are as a person? Pricing is primarily about your prospect. That leads us to the next part.
Step 2: Identify and clarify the value points
When someone buys from you, they’re buying what your product or service allows them to be, know, or experience. They’re buying future betterment. How bright and shiny this future looks, and therefore how much they’ll pay for it, is influenced by three points of value (as mentioned in the podcast):
- Who you are and how you are in business (again, not to be confused with your self-worth)
- Your skills and experience
- The results your clients can expect
Address all three and you’ll put your offer in a very strong position where desire for it supersedes its cost.
VALUE POINT 1. Who you are and how you are in business — story and personality
Who you are in your business stems from your identity and life experiences. These experiences are our stories which have shaped us and influence how we operate in the world. For many people, becoming business owners and entrepreneurs was a direct result of a defining life event. That story could be incredibly compelling or motivating to others and a powerful point of connection. Where do you come from? What do you stand for? What happened in your past that led you to doing the work you do now?
Let’s say as a marketer you worked yourself to the bone for a large corporation to the point of serious detriment to your health which led you to strike out on your own. Now you work primarily with small companies in the alternative health care space, and because of your own journey, you are able to relate to your clients’ prospects and provide valuable insights.
Your personality directly influences how you are in your business. Are you a driven Type-A? Are you a naturally nurturing sort? Do you thrive on deadlines? Are you a visionary or are you really awesome at cleaning up other people’s messes? We all have personality strengths that can directly benefit clients. How do yours?
VALUE POINT 2. Your skills and experience — background and credentials
This next value point is rather straightforward—what do you know how to do and what problems have you solved many times over? If you’re early in your career, you may think you don’t have much experience to bring to bear. But that’s simply not true. The key is connecting the learnings and outcomes of previous work experience to how that benefits your clients now. Let’s say in college you were in charge of all your sorority’s social events which involved organizing, planning, promoting, and drawing a crowd. Can you see how useful those skills are now in your role as a social media manager?
If you’re in mid (or even late) -career transition and what you’re doing now seems very different from what you did before, know there’s always a throughline. There is always a connection between the things you pursue professionally and even between these things and early life experiences. When I started copywriting after years of only doing graphic design, the throughline wasn’t hard to find when I stopped to think about it: a love of language in all its forms (I’m also a huge music buff). If your throughline isn’t obvious, consider what aspects of your collective work experiences seem to be on repeat. What things do people come to you for over and over? What types of environments or personalities or problems do you tend to gravitate towards?
VALUE POINT 3. The transformation your clients experience — results
The third value point is the most important one, the results you get your clients. What can people or companies now be, do or have because of working with you?
Start by jotting down all the short-term advantages someone has when using your service or product. These are the benefits. For a web designer who focuses on mobile-first responsive design, a benefit for her client is the ability to give customers a consistent user experience across all devices. A photographer who has partnered with several local hoteliers can offer his clients beautiful locations for brand photoshoots that they don’t have to source on their own. For an agency owner who specializes in branding for startups, benefits for clients include the efficiency of the process due to deep vertical expertise and having a one-stop shop for everything they’ll need for a professional presence.
Next, think beyond the immediate wins to the long-term outcomes. What do your clients experience over time? Consider mental, emotional, physical, financial and other quantitative gains. Also note the degree to which your clients have to be involved in the delivery of these outcomes. Often the less work the client has to do, the higher the perceived value.
Now let’s look at how benefits and outcomes come together. For a health coach, a benefit might be the pounds lost, whereas the outcome is a longer, healthier, happier life sustained by the positive habits formed during the coaching. For a copywriter, a benefit for his clients is having words that sell; an outcome is the clarity and confidence they experience which permeates all areas of their businesses. For a portraiture photographer who does on location staging, a benefit is being able to walk right on “set” with little prep; an outcome is having beautiful, tangible documentation of an important life event that can be passed down generations.
When you combine benefits and outcomes, you paint a powerful picture of transformation. The more thorough and specific you are when describing results, the more relatable and concrete they will feel. You’ll also hit upon more value points that your prospects really care about.
Step 3: Match value points to priorities
Value is entirely dependent on a subjective opinion about what matters most to each prospect or client. It’s less about your inherent worth, because there is some degree of value in all things, and more about their priority.
I would never pay $12k for a handbag, but I have happily spent that much on a health coach. This doesn’t mean I think Hermes bags are awful. It simply means sporting luxury brands is not a priority to me but my level of health and fitness is.
You will never be able to address the value of your offers in a way that everyone will appreciate equally. Instead what you want to do is learn what each prospect’s specific priorities are every time you have a conversation about working together. That will lead you to understand your value to them.
When talking with a prospect, here are a few guiding questions to help you discover their true priorities:
- How urgent is this project?
- What is the most important aspect? Price? Quality? Familiarity?
- How will you know the project has been successful?
- How involved do you want to be?
Once you know what they care about most, you can match their priorities to certain value points of your offer. This will help them understand how well your work can meet their needs which naturally increases their perceived value of your offer. For example, one photographer’s prospective client might care most about having lots of shots to choose from. Another prospective client cares more about variety of locations and feels overwhelmed by the idea of having too many photos to choose from. Both prospects value custom photography, yet when the photographer emphasizes different aspects of his service according to priorities the perceived value in strengthened in each case.
The Value Framework enables you to capture and communicate the robustness of what you do and strongly connect your offers to the transformation your prospect is seeking. This makes your offers so much more attractive which makes them easier to sell. So here’s a recap of the framework:
Step 1: Detangle your self-worth from the money you charge
Step 2: Identify and clarify the value points
Step 3: Match value points to priorities
Follow these steps and you’ll be able to charge more without guilt and fear pushing you to undercut your earnings with unnecessary overdelivery. You’ll be able to reclaim all that money you keep leaving on the table when proposing project fees. You’ll no longer be competing on price alone because you’ll be able to demonstrate a significant return on investment. Most importantly, you’ll gain the confidence and margins to make a bigger impact with your work.