Well now that last week happened and I can do something—anything—besides TWEET ANGRY THINGS INTO THE ETHER—I wanted to pop my face into your box to offer SOMETHING useful in this bullshit world, specifically useful for the people who are not ridiculous Karen-crying into the camera at being maced the second she stepped foot inside the Capitol building during a violent insurrection, as if she had just innocently tried to enter the Lincoln Memorial on a random Tuesday.
^THIS BITCH, AM I RIGHT? Ruined piano scarves forever.
Piano scarf rage aside, I've been informally mentoring one of my friends from college with a new coaching business she's starting, and it has been a HOOT. We've been having the best conversations, and one of the things she asked me about the other day was what to do if and when someone says the dreaded three words every business owner dreads in the crotch of their pants: “You're. Too. Expensive.”
Oohhhhhh, the pain of those words! Your brain is already in pain just thinking about it! People avoid starting businesses altogether because they are afraid of those three little words!
But I've got news for you, lassie: you don't have to dread these three little words any longer. We've got ways to handle those three little words, and I'm going to teach you how now.
Now, this is assuming that you've already done two critical things:
- Set pricing cues on your website in advance.
While it may not be in your best interest to lay out fixed prices if you custom quote work individually, you should introduce pricing signals that help set ballpark expectations. This is so you don't end up on the phone with a bunch of people who, frankly, can't afford you—which has really negative effects on your business. It's not only a time suck that costs you money, but it can also be a massive confidence suck if you start to get a bunch of the wrong people on the phone—and that will cost you money, too, in the form of your fledging self-assurance. Remember: not everybody can afford a penthouse, but that doesn't mean they re-price the penthouse to be the same as a small one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town. My favorite way to subtly introduce pricing cues onto your website is in your contact form—or wherever they're first reaching out to you to inquire. Try including a dropdown menu that inquires into one's budget or “desired level of commitment.” There, you can include a few options and a “starting at $X” price. Naturally if the least expensive option is more than one can afford, it'll signal that perhaps you're not a good fit. (Another way to do this is to simply list “Starting at $X+” on your site, which is also great, but be weary of giving specific ranges like “From $X to $Y,” because psychologically a person always anchors to the lower part of that range, and they'll feel a sense of unconscious disappointment when you quote them higher.)
- Introduced specific guidelines for how the call is going to go.
You always want to be in control of the conversation, and the best way to ensure that is by getting on the phone and making sure you outline how it's all going to shake down: “Great, Harry! So here's our fun-filled agenda for today's call: first this, then this, and then that should give me enough information to be able to devise a couple of options I think will work really well for your specific situation, which I'll send over within 24 hours for your review.” This is my GREATLY preferred method, because it removes the nerves of quoting a price live from the equation during the call so you can literally just focus on the client and what they're actually saying to you, rather than scrambling around, nervous to “make the pitch.” Especially useful for beginners. However, sometimes this might not be appropriate for your business, OR perhaps the client has put you on the spot, mid-call, to answer, “How much is this gonna cost me?!” And then you do get nervous and you state a quote. And then the client responds with “That's more than I expected.” AND THEN YOU'RE BACK AT SQUARE ONE.
So, you're faced with a client telling you that it's too expensive—whether it's over the phone, or via email afterward. What's your move?
Well, most people flinch and instinctively offer a discount. BUT I DON'T WANT YOU TO DO THAT. Offering a discount on the spot basically says that you're full of shit and your prices are just random fabrications—and it also introduces this sensation that you were just trying to price gouge, but here's the real rate. Furthermore, it also may introduce problems in your business if you're offering your services at a rate that isn't sustainable. So I don't recommend that you offer a discount by default unless it's a friend or family or you've got a good reason for doing so.
Rather, there's a better way to make the price more palatable for your buyer while still respecting your rates and your value. All you have to do is memorize the following two sentences:
Why don't we brainstorm some ideas together? What will your monthly budget allow?
These two sentences are magic—and they accomplish a lot that isn't immediately obvious.
First of all, they give you a graceful next sentence besides stammering out an, “Uhhhh, yeahhhh, it's, uh….” Secondly, by suggesting that the two of you brainstorm together, you position yourself as a teammate, rather than an adversary. Thirdly, “brainstorming” goes into solutions mode rather than “well, shit, we're at a stalemate” mode—and 99% of doing business is figuring out creative solutions. Fourthly, by asking “what their monthly budget will allow” instead of saying, “what's YOUR budget,” you remove the shame from the person themselves and allow “the budget” to be the bad guy / broke guy. (This is super helpful for getting clients to tell you the truth.) And last but not least, this final question is going to let them do some talking so you can investigate what they feel comfortable spending.
See what I mean? Those two sentences are GOLD.
But perhaps it's this next part that's the real hero, because its going to allow both of you to get what you want: they get to spend what they were hoping to spend, and you get to charge your fee in full.
Here's the clincher to this conversation: once they've taken back the mic and told you, ballpark, what they can spend each month, your next move is to offer them exactly that.
“Alright, sold! Why don't we go ahead and make that the cost per month then? We'll spread the cost out over time so it's a win-win for everybody. You get a lower buy-in rate, but we'll still recoup the value that we need for the service we provide. So instead of paying two payments of $2,500, we'll do about $400 a month for 12 months. Would that be helpful?”
OF COURSE IT'S GOING TO BE HELPFUL! Your client's going to feel like they hit the lottery: they get to work with the person they wanted to, while still getting to feel like a responsible human being. But more importantly, you can stand in the truth of your value.
Obviously, this is going to vary depending on what you're selling and how you price your work, etc. but it should give you a good idea of how to do the dance. The key here is not in devaluing your work, but in finding creative solutions to provide it at the rate you need, over time. This way, your customer feels like you've done them a huge favor, and you're still collecting your fee in full. The only caveat here is if you aren't willing to negotiate and/or can't wait for the revenue to come in over time, but I've found that in most cases, this is a really nice compromise for the client that's hesitant over the initial investment, but would otherwise be a great-fit client. (And if they're not a great-fit client, move on. The answer to “you're too expensive” is then: “I understand your position. I hope we can do business together in the future. It was great meeting you, and I wish you the best of luck in your search!”)
Remember: it's your business. You get to call the shots. You have the power to change the way you charge and for whom, depending on what's going to benefit you both—and what you ultimately want to do. Some may choose not to negotiate at all, preferring to let the business go, and that's fine, too! But if you can, it's a nice compromise:
Remember, not everybody can buy the penthouse.
But most people who can afford a penthouse, still take out a mortgage.