Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Much Are You Worth? Pricing Services

REMEMBER: Clients pay you for what you know, not just what you do!

Pricing your services, whether as a web writer, site builder, virtual assistant or some other web-based biz has always been tough. You need to pay your bills but the competition is fieresome - especially when your bidding against overseas outsourcers willing to build a fully functioning (?) web site for $500.

So how do you pirce your services to compete against the low-ballers - the college kids willing to work for jukebox money, the work-at-home parents looking to pick up a few extra bucks each month and the company in Bnagalore that cranks out press releases like sausage.

It's important that all service providers remember two things: (1) clients pay you for what you know and (2) they pay you to deliver the goods on time and above spec. Always over-deliver. It builds a stable client base.

Recognizing the value of and building a long list of dedicated, happy clients is the goal of any web site designer, SEO, copywriter, graphic artist or any other creative type working in the digital matrix. That’s the objective.

And that means talking to potential clients – a lot. Now, if the rent is due tomorrow and you don’t have the proverbial “two nickels to rub together” you don’t have much choice in whether to take a low-paying job from a site owner who “found your name on Elance” or some other site but doesn’t want to pay the $10 fee to post a project on Elance.

Man, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t want to pay the $10 fee, how hard is it going to be to get paid when the project is finished?

I’m a nice guy, but…

at least once a week, I get a call from a prospect who has a lot of questions. How do I do this? Who would you recommend for that and on and on. Now, I’m a nice guy and I usually end up giving away the information the caller asks for in the hopes that it will lead to some paying work down the line.

I want to show the prospect that I know what I’m doing and know how to speak webspeak, but once I get rolling, I’ve given away so much SEO, SEM and site design info the caller either (1) has the answers to the questions s/he had and therefore doesn’t need my expensive writing and SEO services or (2) after taking careful notes during our hour-long conversation, the caller can hand those notes to a much less expensive site designer, SEO, copywriter or other service provider and implement my plan.

The result? After I hang up with these callers I kick myself around the office for 20 minutes, pound my forehead against a (not-too-hard) wall and howl like some crazed, rabid wolf. Oops, I did it again.

So, how do I discreetly tell the prospective client…

…that it ain’t free? That’s a tough one. You want to demonstrate that you know your stuff but you don’t want to educate a potential client out of possible future work. You also don’t want to sound like some spoiled brat, “I know something you don’t know.”

The fact is most clients don’t know what they don’t know. And you have that information. It’s important to make a distinction, here. Yes, you’re paid for your time (though not as much as you think you’re worth) but you’re also paid for what you know.

Went to see my doctor the other day. I spoke to her for less than five minutes on a quick check-up of a procedure done a few weeks earlier. She poked my “owie” with a pencil a couple of times, looked at it with a magnifying glass, pronounced me healthy and escorted me to the door.

Now don’t get me wrong. My doctor (Hi, Jennifer) is the tops. Absolute best. But a couple of weeks later, after my insurance company got through processing my claim, I owed Jennifer and her practice $79.87 – and that was after my insurance company paid it’s itty-bitty bit.

Did I complain? (Well, yes a little, but not because of Jennifer’s bill.) I’m not paying for the office visit (under five minutes) or the pencil poking. I’m paying this professional for what she knows. Four years of college. Four years of med school. A one-year internship and two-year residency. In that time, somewhere, my doctor learned how to poke my boo-boo with a Venus Velvet #2 pencil and give me a clean bill of health.

My attorney charges $400 an hour. It costs me $40 just to wish him a happy holiday. And if I have a legal question, forget about it. I’m paying $40 every six minutes Todd and I speak.

Is it the time I spend with these professionals? Marginally. I mean six minutes out of the work day should be worth something. But the fact is, I’m paying for knowledge not time. This ain’t no Mickey D’s. Clients pay me because I can save them time and even more money. They pay me for what I know.

So, what do I say to the caller with a lot of questions…

…and won’t let me off the phone?

Be polite. Again, most of these callers don’t know the value of the information you provide. Most don’t know you have a $1,000 consulting fee. Most don’t know the difference between an SEO and an SAT, so patience is a virtue when contacted by someone unfamiliar with the world of commercial search engine marketing.

Provide answers but don’t give away the farm. It may seem so simple to you, but to an outsider it’s all geek speak.

Let the caller know you have the answers and the expertise to fulfill his or her needs but don’t give it ALL away. This is your living we’re talking about, and wasn’t there something about a rent check due?

At some point – after you’ve demonstrated that you’re a nice, knowledgeable professional – the questions have to stop and the caller goes on the clock at your consulting rate. It may feel funny but your insider information is your product and you have the right (no, the responsibility) to sell it.

Simply tell the caller that this is your livelihood and that your consultation rate is X number of dollars an hour and you’d like the opportunity to help because you really can solve the client’s problem(s).

Some cold clients will view this as a money grab, and chances are, these tightwads will go elsewhere for more free information. Bye-bye. Ta-ta. So long. But most people (new site owners or soon-to-be site owners) understand the value you, as a site designer, copywriter, SEO or some other digital savant, bring to the equation.

Oh sure, there are other site designers or wordsmiths who will do it for less. A site owner can outsource copywriting by the pound (as little as a dollar a page) but the copy reads like it was written by the Kwiki Mart’s Apu or Gregor from Romania. And you can find a site designer who can build you a site, launch it and hope for the best but, for all you know, your site designer is two pages ahead of you in reading Websites for Dummies.

Honesty is the best policy…

…when dealing with new clients. Lay it all out for them – the steps in putting together a web site. Ask questions. Do they have a secure checkout? How about an insecure checkout? (Just kidding.) Most clients call site designers, copywriters and other professionals with an idea. That’s it, just an idea.

Or, occasionally you’ll encounter the client who’s got 1,000 pages of text on liquid fertilizer stored on his hard drive that he wants you to turn into a website. Wait, did you just hear an alarm bell go off?

Don’t wing it. Develop a rate card or some kind of standard pricing. You can gradually increase your rates as you develop a larger client base of happy customers, but when someone calls, about the only thing they really want to know is “How much?”

And you want to give them an answer – and not one off the top of your head. Offer an hourly fee, a per page fee or a flat-rate based on your knowledge of how long it takes to accomplish a particular task.

Don’t under-value your knowledge. If it takes you five minutes and you earn $500, good for you – especially if the information you provide prevents the client from making a $10,000 misstep.

Once you’ve established the price for services to be rendered, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for an advance. 50% of the total project price is standard with the rest due upon completion of the project to the client’s complete satisfaction. Never start a project without receiving at least partial payment upfront. Without it, the client has no stake in the work and can simply stop taking your calls.

On the other hand, with the client who’s got $5,000 out there as a down payment to build a web site, your calls will go through. And that’s the way you want it.

Love to hear from you. Stop by to see what copywriting, SEO and on-line marketing services I can provide to grow that web-biz of yours.


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