Have you heard that you should “claim / stand up for your value” ?
Let’s look more deeply at this…
How much is your value?
How much are you worth?
$25/hour? $150/hour? $500/hour? $10,000/hour?
If other people charge more, are they worth more?
Words matter: they shape how we see ourselves and others. Connecting our fees to our “worth” is an unhealthy comparison.
Are you worth less than someone who charges more?
Truth: You are worth infinity.You are a precious human being whose odds of being born are 1 in 400 trillion!
“Charge what you’re worth” was perhaps started by some high-priced coach who needed to justify how much they’re charging you.
I have seen many people raise their prices (because they’re “worth” more!)… and then what happened? They saw their business decline.
So let’s stop using the word “worth” in connection to our service fees.
Consider this truer, more practical idea:
“Charge based on the market rate.”
It makes sense to set your price based on what your clients are expecting and seeing in the marketplace.
Look at your niche mates and what they’re charging. Then look at your own needs, and your reputation in the marketplace. Price your services accordingly.
Then, based on the market’s response, you might need to change your pricing.
There is such a thing as perceived value. If you have a more premium branding and copywriting, people are usually willing to pay more.
However, before we all rush to rebrand ourselves as premium / luxury, we need to consider whether our branding is authentic to how we wish to show up in the world?
For example I prefer to be minimalistic and “among the people”… a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” Luxury branding is not for me. However, for others it may feel authentic.
Let’s look at another common idea:
“Charge what the market will bear.”
Economics teaches us to charge the maximum amount that our clients will tolerate…
Let’s flip this around and apply The Golden Rule — You are my market, my potential clients. How would you feel if I charged you the greatest amount you could bear?
This is what some high-price coaches and programs do. They charge as much as they can get away with.
Their justification: “If you pay more, you’ll take it more seriously and get more results.” Really? Or are they using it to justify their own self-enrichment? The truth is that most people who pay for high-priced programs don’t get the results promised. I’ve written about this before: Beware of expensive business trainings. (Although the opposite can also be true: charging too low can make it appear that you’re desperate, unless you explain why your rates are much lower than others in your industry.)
I used to do all this. I used to teach it, too. I’ve also worked with many colleagues who operated from this mindset.
This is how business is supposed to work, right? Everyone is supposed to be out for themselves. The sellers should charge more, and buyers should beware…
I stand for a more caring vision of business: what if business owners had compassion for their customers and the customers truly wish to take care of the business too? We can run our businesses this way. We just need to remember that it’s not how most businesses are run.
Another common lie:
“Charge not for your time, but for the value you provide.”
So, if you’re a marriage coach who helps people avoid divorce, how much is that worth? Or an occupational therapist who helps someone recover their ability to work. How much value is in that?
These results could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s ridiculous to price your services “based on the value you provide”… and your potential clients will think so too.
Higher Prices = Higher Quality?“
People have the idea that if it costs more, it must be better than a cheaper version.” People will think that, until they try the product and are disappointed… and then word of mouth spreads.
When you charge more, people expect more, and are more quickly disappointed. When expectations are high, you are in danger of underdelivering.
When you charge less, however, people expect less, and are delighted when they receive great service from you. This brings positive word-of-mouth. They’ll talk to their friends about what a great deal your service is!
Take a deep breath.…and remember that we are all in this together..
Let us aim to operate our business to bring forth a more compassionate world.
A few years ago, I underwent a personal transformation, and it resulted in a profound shift of intent and motivation. My business priorities changed from “more profit” towards authenticity, service, and fulfillment.
I no longer want to charge “what I’m worth” or “what the market will bear.”
I charge based on Enoughness and Compassion.
Do I have what I need?
And, can I work on lessening my financial needs, finding fulfillment in my (inner) life, and in serving my community?
My current financial reality is that I live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities, and for personal reasons I need to stay here for now. If I lived in Mexico or Thailand (which I might do one day!) I would charge far less.
Even so, I already charge less now than many peers at my level. I’m grateful to be able to do so.
Should you charge less than your peers? It depends on your needs, and your reputation.
Your audience might feel that you are so unique that you cannot be compared. This is why I always advocate for getting better at your authentic content marketing. Can you authentically, with integrity, position your service next to higher-priced peers? If so, then you should, because it’s true.
Compassion in Pricing
Besides Enoughness, I try to integrate Compassion into my pricing. We’ve all had the following two experiences…
Experience 1. We want to buy a service, but we see the price and we think “Wow! That’s expensive.” As we think about making the payments, we might feel stressed.
Experience 2. We love a service, and we feel the pricing is so affordable. “This is such a good deal! I would happily tell others about this service!” We feel relieved by their pricing… grateful… and we become advocates of their business. This is reciprocal compassion at work: the seller charges compassionately, and the buyer feels they want to take care of the business’ well-being, by adding gratuity (an expression of gratitude) or by spreading the word.
Let’s aim to give our audience that experience — “What a great deal!”
Although everyone needs to come to their own thoughtful pricing, this is my overall guidelines if you are wondering what you should be charging:
Charge Less until You Have a Waiting List.
Consider the range of prices that you’d feel fine charging for now. What would be the minimum that would meet your needs? Charge at the lower end of your acceptable range. People will come to see that your service is such a great deal. You’ll get clients more easily.
By having lots of clients, you’ll improve your skills quickly because you’re getting more experience!
Once you have a waiting list, then it makes sense to raise your rates. Your waiting list might dwindle but that’s OK. Serve new clients at the higher rate. Once your waiting list grows again, raise your rate again if you’d like.
This is how you can authentically and realistically raise your rates without compromising your client load.
Gradually raise your rates until you have a sustainable livelihood, a balanced schedule, and a rate that is still compassionate for your clients.
Important also is to remember that our 1–1 service does not need to be the lowest-price thing we offer. We can also offer books, workshops, or group programs for lower prices, which may then give the audience that feeling of relief and gratitude, while still giving them the benefit of our work. See my recommended business model for solopreneurs.
The bottom line — separate your service fees from your “worth”. Aim to charge from enoughness and compassion. Build a clientele and audience that feels deep gratitude for your offerings.
Thanks to these MasterHeart Group members who helped me uplevel this article: Heather Tobin, Krista Bauer, Ilse Noppen, Angie Evans, Captain of JaceHR, Ruth Toledo Altschuler, and Kim Marie.
(Article was originally written in 2018, updated in 2020.)
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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