Are You Still Hiding Your Rates?

Whether you’re a voice-over artist, a photographer or a freelance copywriter, sooner or later you’ll have to answer this question:

Is it wise to put your rates on your website?

I used to be vehemently against it, but I have changed my mind. To give you an idea why, let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Business writer and voice-over professional Maxine Dunn describes herself as a savvy solopreneur. Does she think it’s a good idea to post rates? Maxine:

“No! Definitely not! No way! Never!

What if you had a rate on your website that said you charge $600 for something, but the client’s budget was actually $3000? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Or what if your rate appears too high for a prospective client and you’ve lost the chance to negotiate with them?

I think putting rates on your website makes the client focus on price right away and that’s not what you want. It’s about your value and how you can help them, not appealing to price shoppers. It’s always best to negotiate a rate with a client when you have all the information about a project.”

In an informal poll on Facebook, 88% percent of voice talent agrees with Maxine. 9% was undecided and only 3% (one person!) thought listing a rate was a good idea.

Mara Junot is with the 88%:

“Years ago I read an article about thinking like a pro and not putting a “ceiling” on oneself with listed rates, and it has undoubtedly served me well.

When listing rates up front in the past, I found it was much harder for me to make room for any flexible negotiating of fair fees based on specific factors (…). Most top performers and their agencies don’t even have rates in their vocabulary as far as their website is concerned, so as not to create that pre-determined sense of value, especially for the higher-end consumer.”

SELLING A SERVICE

One argument that always comes back is that we’re selling a complicated service, not a simple product. It’s virtually impossible to come up with a standard rate card because we’re dealing with many variables that can all influence our voice-over quote. To name a few:

  • the medium (radio, television, internet)
  • the market (local, national, international)
  • the length, the nature and the use of the audio
  • the value of our expertise, experience and reputation

 

Furthermore, rates can be determined per project, length of script or per word. Good luck fitting all of that on a neat sheet. It will take several pages to cover all the details. Who wants to read that?

There’s also this golden rule in sales that says:

“Never mention price until value has been established.”

Once the client is convinced of your quality, it’s much easier to negotiate a decent rate.

Then there’s the element of competition. Do we really want to give our colleagues the information that will allow them to put in a lower bid?

CARDS ON THE TABLE

Arno Lubbinge was one of the first Dutch voice-overs with an online presence. He has always been open about his pricing. He explains why:

“I see no reason to be mysterious about my rates. When I do an online search for a service or product -whether it’s a vacation rental, a vacuum cleaner or a handyman, I have to get a good feeling about it and I want to know what I’m getting myself into. What does it look like? What do others think of it? And lastly: how much does it cost?

I tried to translate that in terms of my situation as a voice-over pro. I book most of my voice-over projects without ever speaking to the client in person. That’s why I think it’s important to come across as reliable and to put all my cards on the table. My voice is a valuable investment and my prices and my demos reflect that.

In The Netherlands it’s mainly the so-called budget voices that post their rates. I’ll be honest with you. I am anything but a budget voice. Of course there are clients who won’t consider me because my rates are too high. But you know what? I’ve never been able to convince these folks that I’m worth it anyway.

I’m not afraid of undercharging a client with a bigger budget. Usually, it’s the opposite. People think my rates are quite up there, which is absolutely true.”

PRICING AS A FILTER

Voice-over professionals are by no means unique. We all need to figure out ways to spend our time wisely. In the past, I’ve spent countless hours with potential clients explaining my services and my rates, only to find out that they had a champagne taste and a beer budget. If you’re in sales, you learn not to spend too much time on unqualified buyers. If you do, you will be paying for it. Literally!

A freelance photographer was asked about posting prices on his website. He was tired of tire-kickers:

“If you want to deal with the people who want to haggle, then you shouldn’t list the prices. This can lead to wasted time spent dealing with folks that in the end aren’t going to make you any money anyway. I have found that listing my prices on my site is good for business. I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time replying to emails from people wanting to know prices. When they contact me, they know what to expect.”

Clients can be clueless. That’s why you need to educate them and manage their expectations. If you’re dealing with customers who have no idea how much your service costs, why not tell them upfront? What’s the big mystery? Have you ever thought of the fact that you might actually lose business because you’re not open about your rates?

A copywriter put it this way:

“When you yourself are shopping for something, don’t you find it irritating when you can’t find a price? Aren’t you inclined to walk away and find someone who’ll tell you what you want to know? I’d answer Yes to those questions, and I have a strong hunch most potential clients (looking for a freelancer) would do the same.”

The owner of a transcription service added:

“When I’m looking for a service I will generally look at lots of different websites to compare prices. If there isn’t a price list I usually don’t bother with the company because I assume that their prices are high. It is also a lot more effort to contact a person to find out their prices.”

But what about the argument that you might be losing money by posting your rates, because a big budget client could be willing to pay way more?

Narrator Jeffrey Kafer isn’t buying it:

“If my rate for something is $300, then that’s what I charge. I don’t charge more if the client’s budget is higher. When I walk into a grocery store to buy bread, the cashiers don’t ask me how much is in my wallet and then charge accordingly.

I actually have a rate calculator on my website that covers all kinds of different types of projects. Once they fill it out, I follow up with an email.”

MORE THAN MONEY

Let’s keep one thing in mind. Just because we’re talking about rates doesn’t mean that price is always the predominant factor in the selection process. Maybe it is for low-budget clients, but that’s not the crowd I wish to attract. The clients I usually work with pick me because of the way I sound and for my ability to interpret their script. Most of them are willing to pay my going rate and if they’re not, they’ll find someone else.

Should we still be worried that a rate sheet might scare potential clients off?

Piehole is voice casting site based in Ireland run by Priscilla Groves and James Kennedy. In a recent blog, they discuss reasons why some of us land a job and others don’t:

“For most people hiring a voice over, they’ve put a lot of effort into this production. It’s more important to get the right voice than haggle over 50 quid.

When it comes to voice-over gigs, the majority of the time it’s someone in the middle price range who wins the gig (you know the way you never order the cheapest wine on the wine list, same thing). The law of averages says that you have the best chance of being “average,” so just knock out your quote and don’t think too much about it. The only thing you don’t want to be is the bottle of plonk. Everything else is ok.”

LESSONS FROM THE POOL GUY

You already know where I stand in this discussion. I’m with Marcus Sheridan. Marcus used to sell fiberglass pools until he became a successful speaker on sales and social media. In a recent article for the Social Media Examiner he writes:

“People like to know how much stuff costs.

That’s just the way we’re all wired.

Notwithstanding, the majority of businesses around the world have elected to skirt the subject of pricing on their websites for a variety of reasons, the most common being fear of losing a prospect before he or she ever contacts the company.

And although this “hidden approach” may have worked in marketing 5 or 10 years ago, I’m here to say that today’s consumers don’t like their core questions to be left unanswered. Furthermore, if we are truly to embrace content marketing and the essence of social media, we must learn to embrace every question consumers ask our company.

In other words, if your customer is thinking it, you should be addressing it. This transparent, common-sense approach is the essence of successful modern-day marketing.”

Here’s my take-away:

Lesson number one: Think like a customer. If you’re not posting your rates because you believe it might cost you business, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re probably acting out of fear. As I said in my previous blog: a winning website is never about you.

Lesson number two: Being open about rates attracts business. Because Sheridan didn’t beat about the bush and started addressing the cost of his pools, traffic to his website skyrocketed. Transparency is a good thing. Customers appreciated the fact that he was open about pricing. 

Lesson number two and a half: Listing rates is good for SEO. My voice-over rates page is one of the most visited pages of my website. Once people land on that page, they tend to stay a while. 

Lesson number three: Be proud of your price. Your rate is a statement about the quality of your product. You offer great value for money, don’t you? Why keep that a secret?

Lesson number four: Fear paralyzes. Confidence gives you wings. 

THE PERFECT RATE SHEET

With a fiberglass pool there are hundreds of factors that can determine the ultimate price. When it comes to voice-over rates, there are also a lot of variables that go into the mix. What to do with that?

When shopping for services, most customers like to get a sense of how much things will cost. That doesn’t mean you have to give them a definite number.

Should you decide to be more open about what you charge, I recommend you build in flexibility by either giving a price range or by listing starting rates.

That way, potential customers have a ballpark figure and there’s still room for negotiation. In other words, give potential clients an idea what a project could cost and not what it eventually will cost.

Isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a multilingual voice-over professional, coach and writer. His blog has been voted one of the most influential voice-over blogs in the industry. He's an expert contributor to Internet Voice Coach, the Edge Studio, the International Freelancers Academy and recordinghacks.com.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters

29 Responses to Are You Still Hiding Your Rates?

  1. Paul Strikwerda

    Low paying customer = high maintenance customer.

    I think you’re on the right track with your website, Andi.

    Here’s to clients with champagne taste and a champagne budget! Cheers!

  2. Andi Arndt

    What great timing, Paul. I am just today looking at reconfiguring my website. My goal is to make sure that all of my rates are at minimum union scale, so that if/when I join SAG-AFTRA it will not be a shock to my clientele. And I completely agree about not being the “bottle of plonk”–when I declared a project minimum a couple of years ago (and it was paltry, let me tell you) I lost exactly two clients. I’m sure those reading this will not be surprised to hear that those two clients were also my two most high-maintenance customers, whose projects took disproportionate amounts of time for the lowest pay. Thank you for the food for thought – I’m not sure I’ll post specific rates, but I’m a huge fan of the new-client-minimum, with current clients grandfathered in, if necessary.

  3. Christoph Walter

    I have a rate card on my website. It only covers standard rates, but that’s the least I can do to give clients the chance to check whether my service might be within budget range or not and in case it is not whether it might make sense to try to negotiate or not.
    And I totally agree with Jeffrey Kafer – I only ask for the clients budget if they tell me my rates don’t fit in. Then I can ask myself if I could meet their budget. But I would never ask before just to give them the highest price possible.

  4. Paul Strikwerda

    Here’s the thing: would you like them to roll their eyes as they look at your site or after you’ve spent time explaining your service and your fees? You’ve got to address your rates sooner or later. It saves me time and aggravation to do it sooner.

  5. steve hammill

    …been thinking about this a lot lately.

    I’d like to find some tactful way to say, “You can’t afford me” to scare away the tire kickers and make the players grin.

    I’ve considered a blanket: SAG-AFTRA rate * 1.65 plus studio and production fees.

    My thought is that something like that would make even the players roll their eyes.

  6. Paul Strikwerda

    We do have an amazing community and I am so glad you’re part of it, Maxine!

    Different voices have different opinions. The debate about rates goes on. LinkedIn groups are discussing it. Facebook groups are talking about it. Tweets are going back and forth.

    I’m getting feedback from graphic designers, translators, photographers, producers and many other freelancers.

    Not everybody’s ready to publish their fees and that’s fine. We’re all realizing our dreams in our own ways.

    Like you, I’m happy to inform, entertain and -hopefully- inspire.

  7. Maxine Dunn

    Hi Paul,

    I just love your article! Thanks so much for writing such a cogent and balanced missive on this great topic. (Thank you also for including me in your blog!)

    I appreciate the different opinions here and it’s very interesting to read the varying points of view.

    What really struck me when reading your article (and the subsequent comments) goes deeper than the topic at hand though. What really hit me was how incredibly lucky we all are!

    I know I’m digressing a bit, but your analysis of this topic here is a great example of how wonderful it is to be a voice actor. To be a creative entrepreneur. To be self-employed and running our own show. We are in charge of how we run our own business and we can basically do whatever we feel is right for our business! We don’t have to get “approval” from a boss or a committee or have someone watching over our shoulder to make sure we do things according to someone else’s agenda.

    We’re in control of our own destiny in our entrepreneurial efforts, and that’s really the beauty of being a voice-over artist. But the icing on the cake is that we have access to an incredible amount of help, feedback, advice, and wisdom (your article here being a prime example of that). And we can mix that valuable input with our own ingenuity, opinions, and ideas, and create the exact business that we want.

    Thanks again for such a valuable article and for all the wonderful information you offer so often.

    xox
    Maxine

  8. Ken Budka

    Great topic and some excellent insights Paul – I appreciate your efforts. Perhaps you can shed some light on why rates for local vs. regional vs. national projects can be so different or why a 30 second radio spot vs. a 30 second television spot might be wildly different depending on the market, etc. I recognize the potential for exclusivity exists and our hands may be tied for further work with these clients or competitors for a short period of time.

    At the same time, like the grocery store analogy earlier in this post, a loaf of bread is what it is, not based upon how much you’ve got. A 30 second spot takes “x” amount of time to record, edit and produce. Perhaps it’s that old “hourly” employee-like thinking vs. focus on value delivered as an owner of your voice-over business.

    Most of what holds us back or propels us forward revolves around fear and the scarcity vs. abundant mentality. The more work you do, the more ground you cover, the more testimonials you generate and the larger the stable of repeat customers you build through these relationships.

    At the end of the day, clients will work with you again and again because of your relationship, reliability, the quality of your work and the value you provide.

    Ken

  9. Paul Strikwerda

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, Olivier. I used to operate the same way.

    These days, I often find myself in the same position as Arno. I rarely get the chance to “talk” to clients and negotiate. In most cases, the internet killed that option.

    People shop online for refrigerators and they shop online for voices. They want to know how much they can expect to pay without having to jump through hoops.

    Just as most of us hate to talk about money (most being more than half), most clients hate it too.

    My rate feet has simplified the process.

    Of course I will lose clients because of it, but those are likely to be lowballers anyway.

    Once again I agree with Jeffrey: the union has worked out a rate structure that is open and clear. There’s not reason why we can’t and why we shouldn’t.

  10. Paul Strikwerda

    Thank you, David. I’m pleased to aim and I aim to please.

  11. Paul Strikwerda

    You’re a man of many talents, Jeffrey! My new website is going to be WordPress based. Perhaps someone can write a rate calculator plugin.

  12. Olivier Lecerf

    It is always a pleasure to read your blog, Paul, and to participate.
    You ask an excellent question. And a big big big problem for VO and freelancers. Problem of ethic and problem for our freedom. Personnally, I think we have to adapt at client. Adapt us at his budget and adapt us in fonction of the product. I explain me. For me, it is not the same thing than to record a Voice Over for a web video for Coca or Disney than for a small company which searches to do know his production. The big companies website are more “visited” than the smalls, their audience in the world is not really the same. It is like the VO National rate for USA and the VO National rate for a small country like France.

    And like Maxine, I prefer to speak/negociate with a client (even if it is maybe a lost of time, sometimes) rather than he goes to see elsewhere. First, because we learn to know us. And second, because, with this first contact, we can work after with other bases. He knows my rates according markets of his customers and their products. He also knows that I can adapt me.
    In this way, the things seems to me more clear.

    For example, on Yesterday, I received an offer by a client with which I yet don’t work. He offers me a very low budget for a web video. So, I explained him that, in france, we pay a lot of charge and taxes, and with his budget, I will get a handful of peanuts in my pocket with this budget. And I say him my minimum rate for this kind of work. He answered me that he understands and by the future, he will think about that to negociate a higher price if his customers want my voice.
    This kind of case is usual for me.
    And other thing, at numerous times, customers offered me a price lower than mine. And I asked that it is not possible to work together with this price. So, I proposed my real price, and often, I got the job… with my price !
    So……

  13. David Sigmon

    And yet again, a bulls-eye. Thank you Sir Paul.

  14. Jeffrey Kafer

    I wrote it myself so it’s pretty crappy code and it’s hard-coded specifically for my website. So it’s not a matter of simply handing it over. I wish it was as cool as something like a WordPress plugin, but it’s not.

    That said, you can buy off-the-shelf forms that might do the trick.

  15. Paul Strikwerda

    I think that was a very calculated move on Jeffrey’s part. I want one too. Perhaps we can get a discount for ordering a few :-)

  16. Pearl Hewitt

    Great discussion Paul, as usual. I am planning to redo my website later this year after attending VOICE 2012, rerecorded my demos and updated all my information. I’m thinking pricing may be a thing to consider. I do have a set rate sheet that I send to customers once they have given me particulars of their project. I like Jeffrey’s ‘price calculator’ and would like to learn more about that. I want one now!

  17. Paul Strikwerda

    Thank you Lee. In my humble opinion you made a smart choice to put your rates on your site, though I’m sure not everyone will agree with me.

  18. Paul Strikwerda

    “The Kafer Theory” sounds like the title of a new novel. Perhaps we can find a suitable narrator to read the book to us! Preferably one with a rate calculator on his site. Does anyone come to mind?

  19. Lee Patterson

    Hi Paul,
    I enjoyed your blog. I recently added my rates to my website and listed them as starting at.. It has been a nice addition to my site.

    Lee Patterson
    President
    LDP Production
    http://www.ldpvoiceover.com

  20. Cliff Zellman

    Excellent. I really appreciate the “both sides of the coin” approach to this blog. I also tend to lean on the side of the “Kafer Theory”. Being on both sides of the glass, when shopping for talent, I like a starting point. Well done Paul and thank you for your efforts! Every comment here is valid, and like my Grandfather used to say, That’s what makes horse races”.

  21. Paul Strikwerda

    Hear, hear, Jeffrey! I agree 100%: It is our job to uncomplicate the lives of our customers… at any rate!

    Marc, I take it as a compliment that you’re going to revisit the rate-on-website issue after reading my post.

  22. Jeffrey Kafer

    I don’t buy the “too many factors” argument. AFTRA has their rate card public and they have many more variables than an individual will have. if they can do it, you can too.

    I can count on my hands, the number of times someone has filled out my rate form, gotten a quote and then disappeared without responding to my follow-up emails. If the budget is too high, they tell me and we negotiate. If I’m charging less than they hoped, then even better, because that means THEY’LL COME BACK!

    This isn’t rocket science, people. Give the client what they need to make the best decision. Don’t make them jump through hoops. Respect their time.

  23. Marc Scott

    I just wrote a post about this on my site last week. In that post I explained that my rates aren’t posted because there are simply too many variables to consider to create a “standard” rate card. As you mentioned, market, length, medium, etc.

    After reading this post though, I feel like I’m going to end up revisiting the debate again, because my biggest struggle has always been thinking like a customer. I know that I walk away from anything online when no rates are posted. So why would I expect potential clients on my site to do anything different?

    Lots to think about. Great post.

  24. Paul Strikwerda

    Happy mulling, Andy!

  25. Paul Strikwerda

    It wasn’t my intention to change minds, Meredith. We all need to do what we feel comfortable with. Here’s one thing to consider.

    Because there are so many variables in our business, clients get easily confused. As the head of your sales department, it is your job to take away the confusion, one way or the other. Confused customers are not ready to buy. Sooner or later, the issue of price is going to come up anyway.

    There are many businesses that claim to be “special” in a sense that it’s seems impossible to put a simple price on a project. There are too many details to be worked out. So many variables to take into account. Yet, in our field the Unions have done just that. Jeffrey Kafer has a rate calculator on his site.

    I chose to put “starting at” rates on my site. That way, clients get a ballpark number and I can still be flexible in my pricing.

  26. Paul Strikwerda

    A rate card is a filter. No filter is perfect. Some people will look at your rates and ask for a discount. Others won’t even bother to look at them and still ask the dreaded question: “How much for a voice-over?”

  27. Andy Bowyer

    Great insights as always Paul. This little VO guy has some site-design things to mull over now.

    Thanks.

    ab

  28. Meredith Orlow

    I like your blog Paul, but my mind isn’t changed. There are too many variables when it comes to pricing and my “price range” list would be a mile long. Often times recordings that will be used for multiple projects (ie: radio, tv & web) have a different bulk pricing structure than just web or just radio. Market usage is yet another consideration as well as how long the spot will run. My rate for a TV v/o spot running along the East coast for the next 6 months would be very different than a web v/o used for the next three years or an industrial used in perpetuity. I find it easier to explain this to clients after they have provided the job parameters, it reduces confusion. I work as an on-camera actor as well and agents never provide the rates for their actors on a website or price sheet, there are too many variables.
    Voice Over artists aren’t selling an object, we’re selling a service. I recently hired someone to clean my house and they weren’t able to give me an estimate until they saw my house and understood exactly what rooms were to be cleaned, if windows were included, how many bathrooms, etc. I think that’s fair and reasonable and doesn’t mean they’re hiding their rates. It’s a free estimate and it happens all the time, and it works best for me in my line of work as well.

  29. Helen Lloyd

    Food for thought again Paul – and you’re right – if I can’t see at least an estimate of a price of something I want to buy … I go no further…. mmmm … time to re-write the website methinks!

    Fear is the thing that holds people back I am sure … but actually, being up front about your rates gets over those horrible ‘what is your rate’ conversations that I loathe! If your client already knows your ballpark figures then that conversation is about fine tuning the rate for the specific project and is therefore much less stressful… I am convinced (I think)!

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