underbidding

Right On The Money

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 9 Comments

This is the conclusion of a 3-part series on how to price your services as a freelancer. Click here for part 1 and click here for part 2. 

When Max walked into the warm conference room, he saw two files on the table. On one if them he recognized the name of a competitor. The other portfolio had his name on it. He knew instantaneously what he was up against.

Only a few weeks ago, he had lost a contract to this rival because their bid had been 30 percent lower. Had he just made a big mistake by coming out here in the midst of a dangerous winter storm?

“John Jarvis,” said the CEO, as he walked in. “You must be Max. I’m afraid it’s just me today. I live a few blocks from the office and practically no else dared to come out in this terrible weather.”

Jarvis sat down and took a sip of his coffee.

“Max, when I heard that you were on your way, I only had one thought: This guy must either be totally crazy or totally committed. But looking back on how you’ve handled this opportunity so far, you don’t strike me as insane. On the contrary. You hit all the marks of someone we’d like to work with. All of them, but one.

First of all, you clearly know the value of personal connections. Not once did I receive a generic email or an automated answer to a question. It was clear from the start that you were the go-to person that would not work for us but with us.

You made an effort to get to know your client and his problems first, before coming up with a solution. You learned our language and you translated your ideas into terms we could easily understand and relate to.

Third:  you consistently showed us that you could meet all deadlines and manage a project efficiently, even though we were only in the beginning stages. As you know, delays are usually costly. Not once did we have to send you a reminder. In fact, you were the one following up with us!

Now, as you can see, we’ve narrowed our choice down to two offers. Both companies were invited to present their proposals today. Only one showed up. I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’ve had to chase the CEO of the other company down to get his final plans here on time. It was his secretary who sent a response. This morning I found out why.

I’ll be honest with you Max. Your rival made us a very tempting offer that was 35% below your estimate. It was much more in line with current market prices for your type of services. We’re not talking peanuts here, but about a significant amount of money. So, here’s my decision.

Max held his breath. He knew that he had done everything he could to win this contract, but he had been down this road before. There was a lot at stake.

The CEO picked his rival’s folder up from the table; looked at it for a few seconds and threw it in the trash can.

“Congratulations Max. Welcome aboard!”

He went on:

“In this business we don’t really care too much about resumes and infomercials, but we certainly do our homework. I know some of the other people you’ve worked with in the past, and I‘ve seen what you have done for them. Every penny spent on you was a fraction of what came back as a result of your involvement. As they say:

Quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten.

And do you know what impressed me most of all, Max? Not only are you committed and conscientious, you know what you bring to the table and how valuable your services are. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just your competence that sold me Max. It was your confidence.”

His startup coach had been right. Max remembered the day his mentor took out a big black marker and wrote on the flip chart:

A fair price is a price you believe in… plus twenty percent.

“I know you, Max,” his coach said. “As an entrepreneur, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”

“And what might that be?” asked Max, puzzled.

“You’re not motivated by money,” answered the coach.

“Let’s face it. You’re creative. You’re an artist. You want to contribute. One of the reasons you’re so good at what you do is the fact that you’re absolutely fascinated by it. It’s a magnificent obsession. You want to be the best you can be in your field. It’s that powerful internal drive that gets you up in the morning.

You don’t do what you do just to pay the bills. You do what you do because it matters and it is meaningful. To you, the ultimate reward is in the result, not in the remuneration.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Max wanted to know.

“Well, it’s what made Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the history of mankind,” said his coach. “As far as we can tell, he wasn’t motivated by money when he came up with Facebook. Sir Richard Branson didn’t open up his record store to make millions. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple because he wanted to ‘make a dent in the universe’. Jobs once said:

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

The challenge is to channel that passion and turn it into a profitable product people want to buy.

Now, here’s another basic human need: the need for autonomy. Most people want to be able to direct their own destiny; make their own decisions and create their own future. In one word: they want to be FREE.

The most dissatisfied workers are the ones that are being told what to do. They have uninteresting, low-paying jobs and no hopes of ever escaping the rat race, other than winning the lottery.

In order to gain autonomy, having an interesting, purposeful job is not enough. Being able to contribute to something greater than yourself is nice but not enough. Without money -or with very little of it- we operate in survival mode, focused on taking care of our basic needs. Without money, we’re dependent, we struggle, and we’re stuck.

You might be the most promising painter of your generation, but you need money to buy canvas, brushes and paint. You need money to rent a studio and promote your art. You want to be able to take trainings and hone your skills. The better you become, the more you will require: more expensive canvas, better brushes and the highest quality paint… a bigger studio. Someone’s got to pay for that!

You might think it’s mundane, but one way we express how much we value things, is by putting a price on it. Rumor has it that super model Heidi Klum‘s legs are insured for $2.2 million, but one leg is insured for $200,000 less than the other because of a scar. 

What I’m trying to say is this: money is a means to a beginning. That beginning is called “autonomy.” As long as you lowball whatever it is you’re offering, you’re telling the world that you don’t believe that you’re worth a penny more. That’s not the road to independence. It’s a road to nowhere.

In 2008, Dara Torres became the first woman in history to swim in the Olympics past the age of 40 in her fifth Olympic games. On July 5th of that year, she qualified for the finals in the 50-meter freestyle breaking the American record. In the finals she broke that record for the ninth time, winning a silver medal, only one hundredth of a second behind the German girl who won the gold.

The hours and hours of resistance stretching and time in the pool played a huge part in this phenomenal achievement, but it didn’t win Dara the medal. She won because she believed she could do it

You might not operate this way, Max, but people tend to not value things that don’t cost them much. That alone should be reason enough never to devalue your talent.

If you want your business to grow, you’ve got to start thinking long-term. Today you might be offered a dream deal. But what about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?

Not only do you need money to cover costs, you need it to invest, to expand, and to contribute. Passionate people have a tendency to be stuck in the now, absorbed in the moment. But even those who have reached the top will tell you that you need to think ahead if you want to stay ahead. If you want to manage your career, you have to learn how to manage your money.

“But what if a client can’t afford me?” asked Max.

“And how would you know they can’t afford you?” countered the coach.

“Well, because they’d tell me!”

“And you always believe what clients tell you?” asked the coach. “Oh please… The two oldest excuses in the book are not enough time and not enough money. Time is something all of us happen to have the same amount of. It’s how we choose to use our time that matters. Not having enough money is a comparative deletion: compared to what?

If you’re stuck in the middle of a snow storm and you absolutely need to be somewhere, are you going to nickel-and-dime the only driver who’s willing to take you to your destination? It boils down to this: what’s it worth to you? Does the added value or benefit outweigh the cost?

The more valuable your product or service and the greater the need for it, the more leverage you’ll have to name your price.

Listen to me Max. Never assume you know how much or how little a client can afford. You don’t. Do your homework instead. Ask questions. Make your offer as relevant as you can… not to you, but in the eyes of your client. Make it irresistible.

Think about all the objections they might throw at you. Be prepared to answer the most difficult question they could ever ask you. It may never come up, but if you have an answer to that question, you know you can handle anything else that comes your way. That’s how you prepare for negotiations!”

“Max, are you okay?” asked John Jarvis.

“For a moment it looked like you were lost in thought.”

“I guess I was processing what just happened,” said Max. “Thank you so much for choosing me. I couldn’t be happier!”

“Well, the feeling is mutual,” said Jarvis. If all of this works out -and I don’t see why it shouldn’t- we’re looking at long-term cooperation. And by the way, call me John.”

Max stood up from his chair.

“Can I ask you something, John?”

“Sure, Max. Shoot.”

“Just out of curiosity… you mentioned that my competitor didn’t hand in his plans on time, and he wasn’t here today. Any idea what happened?”

“I know what happened,” answered Jarvis.

“His secretary told me this morning that his company went under. Apparently, he had a tendency of over-promising and under-delivering. His work looked great on paper, but in reality, he couldn’t meet minimum quality standards. Because of his aggressive pricing, the money that was coming in wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat.”

Jarvis put on his winter coat and said:

“But let’s not worry about that, shall we? Let’s just say that Karma is alive and well in this country. More importantly, we need to get you home safely. I can’t afford to lose you at this stage of the game. We’re barely out of the gates. Let me call our driver. He’ll take you to a hotel near the airport. This storm is not going to last forever.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Max. “There should be someone waiting for me outside.”

“You mean that black SUV in the parking lot?” asked Jarvis.

“Yep, that’s my driver,” replied Max. “His name is Anatoly but his friends call him Stoly.”

“That’s not your driver, Max,” said Jarvis.

“What do you mean?” asked Max.

Jarvis smiled as he opened the door. He shook Max’s hand and said:

“Don’t give that man any tips. I paid him a fortune. Stoly works for me!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


The Power Of Pricing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 23 Comments

Snow stormSNOW EVERYWHERE… and Max was in the thick of it.

His client was expecting him within the hour, and he was all dressed up but couldn’t go anywhere.

This was the account he had been grooming for months, and today was D-Day: Deal or No Deal. Snow or no snow. He had to get out of that airport.

“This is the worst snow storm we’ve seen in decades,” said the dispatcher. “No cab driver is going to go anywhere today. I’m afraid you’re on your own.” Max headed out anyway. Perhaps he could hitch a ride with one of the other passengers that was being picked up by brave friends or family members.

As the snow was coming down, visibility was at a minimum. All flights were canceled until further notice. Just as Max was about to head back inside, a black SUV came out of nowhere, and stopped at the pick-up spot. The driver rolled the window down:

“Need a ride?”

“How did you know?” said Max, as he hopped in. “I have to get to my presentation. Are you here to pick somebody up?”

“No one in particular,” said the driver. “But I’d be happy to take you.”

“Well, that’s awfully nice of you,” said Max. “Thank G-d for Good Samaritans.”

“Dream on,” said the driver. “It’s going to be one hundred dollars. Cash only.”

“You must be joking,” replied Max. “They said a cab would cost me no more than ten.”

“Well, why don’t you get a cab then?” asked the driver. “I’ll go and rescue some other grey suit in a hurry.”

“I’ll offer you 50,” tried Max.”

“Listen,” said the driver. “You look like a smart businessman. You and I, we don’t run charities. We’re both entrepreneurs. We see an opportunity. We jump on it. We take risks. Today I am risking my life and my car just so you can get to your meeting. That must be worth something, don’t you think?

“How about 60?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” said the driver. “My economics teacher taught me: ‘When something is scarce, it becomes more valuable.’ You have a major problem. I am offering you a solution. No one else will. If you want to stay, you’ve got to pay.”

“70?”

“Think of it this way,” sighed the driver. “This meeting you want me to take you to, must be important, right? Otherwise, why bother? Is there a lot of money at stake?”

“You got that right,” answered Max impatiently. “I’ve got one shot to seal a deal.”

“Well,” said the driver, “It’s none of my business, but what’s 100 bucks compared to the money you’ll bring in after that contract is signed?”

“Alright,” said Max as he took out the cash. “I get it. Now, drive!”

While the SUV was battling the elements, Max looked at his chauffeur and said: “I gotta give it to you, man. You know what you’re worth, and you’re not afraid to ask for it.

Some ten years ago, when Max started his freelance business, he had had such a hard time putting a price on the service he was providing. To help him focus, his startup coach had asked him a couple of simple questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a pro?
  2. Do you want to run a for-profit business?
  3. Do you want that business to grow?
  4. What are the costs of running that business?
  5. What’s your break-even point?
  6. How much do you want to make?

In the past, Max had always treated his services as a hobby. That’s exactly what it was. There was no plan. No purpose. Just a passion. He spent hours and hours helping people and never worried about what to charge. That is, until he lost his day job, his benefits, and his security. Perhaps this was an opportunity to turn his hobby into a real business. That’s when things got serious and complicated.

“Here’s the good news,” smiled his coach. “You’ve got clients, don’t you? I mean, you’ve been helping friends all along. If you want to turn your hobby into a genuine profession, why not start close to home. You obviously offer something people want. You already have a market… Go for it!”

“Here’s the problem,” said Max. “I never really charged my friends anything. Most of them gave me pizza and a six-pack. I can already hear them say:

Why would we ever pay you if we can get you for free?

“Good point,” admitted the coach, and he went on: “My brother is a computer geek and he’s crazy about technology. But if he would do every single friend ‘a favor,’ he’d be fixing broken laptops all day and night and not make any money. Free pizza does not pay the mortgage. Besides, I don’t think he’d make the guys happy who repair computers for a living.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not okay to help out a friend in need, but as soon as people found out that my brother knew how to fix a computer, everybody wanted to be ‘friends’ with him. He had to draw a clear line between real friends and those who were well below the rank of Facebook buddies. That’s what you have to do too, Max. No more giveaways. From now on, you run a business; not a charity.

One of your jobs as an entrepreneur is to manage your client’s expectations. Let me give you an example. If you take on a project you know you can easily do in two days, tell your client you can get it done in three. Guess who’s going to look good when you hand it in 48 hours later?

That way you not only create the expectation that you can beat a deadline. You’re also showing your client that she’s a top priority, and that you really know your stuff. Meanwhile, you’ve allowed yourself an extra day should anything unexpected come up. Does that make sense?

Pricing is one of the most important tools for managing your client’s expectations, as well as your bottom line. Your price point sends a clear signal to your market:

This is what I am worth.

Like it or not, there is a clear link between perceived quality and price. Otherwise, every wine connoisseur would drink Beaujolais out of a box, and Pottery Barn would be out of business.

Remember this: Your fee structure will help you attract the kind of customers you want to be working with, and the type of jobs you are shooting for. At the same time it will weed out the folks that cannot or will not afford you; the ones that are most likely to give you a hard time anyway.

Here’s the deal, though: Your fee must be backed up by experience and expertise on one hand, and by a realistic sense of your value in the market place on the other.

Simply put: Be an expert and do your homework. Don’t just pull a rate out of a hat. That’s lazy and crazy. Find out what the competition is charging. Then ask yourself: “Do I want to charge more, less, or the same?”

“I can’t imagine it’s that simple,” said Max.

“It’s not,” answered his coach. “Smart pricing decisions require at least three elements:

  1. Facts about your own cost of doing business
  2. The client’s evaluation processes
  3. Competitive activity

I know you really care about your work, Max. To you, it’s much more than a way to pay the bills. You’re an artist and somehow, some artists (and clients) believe that there’s a clash between creativity and cash. Doing what you love should be enough of a reward.

I don’t think Andy Warhol or Keith Haring would agree with that. Being creative and being commercial can go hand in hand, and since you’re in business to make money, let me give you a simple formula:

Profit = sales volume x price – cost

Have you ever heard of Hermann Simon? He’s a German economics professor and one of the leading experts on pricing. Together with Robert Dolan, he wrote a book called Power pricing: how managing price transforms the bottom line. He calls volume, price, and cost “profit drivers.”

Simon says something very interesting:

“The customer’s willingness to pay is not determined by the costs of a product but by its performance and resulting value to this customer.”

In other words: when people get a haircut, they conveniently forget that they’re also paying for the rent the salon’s forking over every single month, or for the training the staff receives so they can make every teenage boy look like Justin Bieber.

Clients don’t care about your costs.

You should.

That’s why you have to figure out the answer to this question: How low can you afford to go? What is your Price Floor?

A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold. In the long term, the price must obviously cover the full costs of a product. Otherwise the seller cannot make a profit and will not survive. Volume never makes up for selling below cost. 

Every year, tens of thousands of self-employed people file for bankruptcy because they made one big mistake: they followed a dream and forgot to run the numbers. They are what I like to call ‘under-estimators’. Literally.

Knowingly or unknowingly, they started selling below cost in an effort to drive out the competition or even out of ignorance. Some started giving their work away for free, hoping to get exposure and attract business. Last time I checked, my local baker was handing out free samples but never entire cakes. And between you and me: he doesn’t strike me as a marketing genius.”

“Speaking of prices… a friend of mine just bought a brand name watch at a price that was too good to be true,” said Max. “It turned out to be fake.”

“Were you surprised?” asked the coach.

“Not at all,” said Max. “You get what you pay for.”

“That’s right. In part, price is about perception. That’s probably why your friend wanted to buy that Rolex rip-off in the first place.

Professor Simon puts it this way:

“Price is the economic sacrifice a customer makes to acquire a product or a service. The customer always compares this sacrifice with his perception of the product’s value. (…)

“In essence, a customer buys a product or a service only, if its perceived value -measured in money terms- is greater than the price. If selecting from several alternatives, the customer prefers the one offering the highest net value, i.e. the greatest differential of perceived value over price.”

Go to any tattoo parlor and see for yourself how much pain people are willing to suffer in exchange for the pleasure derived from a name, permanently painted in the perforations of their delicate flesh. Years later, they spend a fortune burning out their ex-hubbie’s initials with a laser beam… turning the man in question into an ex-boyfriend, once removed… But I digress. We were talking about perceived value, weren’t we?”

“You’ve mentioned volume, price, and cost,” said Max. “How exactly does the market factor into this? Isn’t a certain price ultimately the result of the interaction between supply and demand? That’s not something I have any influence over, is it?”

“Great point,” smiled his coach. “First off…

*          *          *         *         *

THE BLACK SUV slowly made its way through the winter weather.

“Care for some hot cocoa?” asked the driver as he pointed at a thermos.

“Yes please!”said Max.

“And help yourself to a muffin too,” said the driver. “This might take a while.”

“Well, you certainly know how to treat your customers,” remarked Max.

The driver smiled. “Always exceed your client’s expectations. That’s my philosophy.”

“Will you pick me up when I am done?” asked Max.

“Of course,” said the driver.

“I love return business!”

Click here for part 2.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: It’s been DUMPING snow at Heavenly… via photopin (license)