Value Based Pricing: An Interview With Blair Enns
Value Based Pricing is a term that frequently comes up when people talk about service based businesses, but exactly how it works is often a mystery to us designers. In this episode Ian speaks to Blair Enns to learn what value based pricing is, and how it can be used to build a profitable business whilst also providing the best service possible to your clients.
Blair Enns is the author of the highly acclaimed book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, and Pricing Creativity: a guide to profit beyond the billable hour.
Resources & Books Mentioned
- Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns Amazon US | Amazon UK
- Pricing Creativity by Blair Enns (Only available at pricingcreativity.com)
- Built to Sell by John Warrillow Amazon US | Amazon UK
- Pricing on Purpose by Ronald J. Baker Amazon US | Amazon UK
Ian Paget: Designers almost always struggle to work out how much to charge, and like I said, I feel like your recent book Pricing Creativity is a superb guide to help designers price their work effectively. In the book you discuss value based pricing, and a few years ago that was a real mystery to me. I read so many different things, and I never really understood it, not until I read your book. So to start off the discussion, could you explain what value based pricing is, and why you would recommend designers and creatives take this approach to pricing?
Blair Enns: Yeah. So value based pricing is simply charging not based on the inputs of time and material, not based on the market value of the outputs of say the logo, but based on the value to the client of that logo. Logos in particular, it’s pretty hard to assess the impact a logo is going to have, but the larger, the more established the business depending on the category of the business where the brand compete in, you can … There’s some categories where it’s easier to make a discernment than others.
The example that I lead with in the book is the difference between the Nike logo and the Pepsi logo. Nike in its beginnings in 1971 paid a design student $35, US dollars, which is $200 in today’s money for the Nike swoosh. In 2008, Pepsi paid an established design firm a million dollars to update the Pepsi logo. So I kind of explore, well are either of these prices fair? One price is 5,000 times the other price. On what basis were these prices charged? Is the Pepsi logo 5,000 times better than the Nike logo? No, I don’t think anybody would agree with that statement. Do we imagine that it took the designer 5,000 times as long? No. So what’s the basis on which those two prices were arrived at?
We can unpack that, but that’s just one example. I bring it up because the Pepsi example, about the time … I talk about this in the book, about the time that Pepsi Co redesigned the Pepsi logo, they also redesigned the Tropicana pure orange juice packaging. That redesign was a disaster. It hit the shelves and sales plummeted and it took Pepsi Co to restore the old packaging to the shelves, but by then, sales had dropped by $37 million, or maybe it was 137. I don’t remember. It was a lot of money very quickly. If you extrapolate to the best you can with the sales data out there that to the Pepsi brand, if that had happened to the Pepsi brand, it would’ve cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, just on the downside. We’re not even talking about the upside yet. The potential for things to go wrong in the Pepsi redesign was huge. It could of cost the company half a billion dollars.
Ian Paget: I’ve heard about the Tropicana example before as it’s one that always comes up in branding mistake blogs, and it’s a good example of the amount of risk involved with big companies – getting it wrong can cause such drastic losses, but getting it right could bring in huge profits. Anyway, that was a fantastic overview of what value based pricing is, but I know a question I know a lot of listeners will have now is how do you determine the value of a project to a company or individual?
Blair Enns: You ask them. I say it’s not as simple as “What’s this worth to you,” but that’s effectively what you get to. So there’s a framework for what’s known as the value conversation. I include that framework with my spin on it in the book. If you kind of go out into the world and look for a value conversation framework you’re going to find a three step framework. I use a fourth step. My approach is a little bit different because I see pricing as inextricably linked to selling. So I have some principles of selling in the book that are kind of interwoven with the principles of pricing.
The four steps of the value conversation framework that ends with what’s this worth to you, begins with what I call uncovering the client’s desired future state. What is it that you want from this project mister or madam client? That right there, you know how we think about that question, the standard framework would identify that step as uncovering the objectives. What are the objectives of the assignment? I say we need to go further than objectives and uncover what the individual, human being wants, because no matter what you’re selling you are selling to your client a better version of themselves, and we could talk about that, but let’s just keep moving.
So first you uncover the desired future state, and then you uncover the metrics, which might sound like … Well now that I understand what you want at the conclusion of this project, what are things that we can measure to prove whether or not you have achieved the things that you want? So you start with desired future state or objectives. Then the metrics, what are the things that we will measure? Then you get to value. If we were to accomplish all of these things, what’s this worth? You can measure worth. The two simple economic forms of worth or value are revenue gains and cost reductions, and then there’s a third area known as emotional contributions to value that’s a really … Things like risk. Risk before it’s played out, before it becomes an economic thing is actually an emotional thing. The way you feel, your sense of what this will do for your career, what’s important to you in working with a designer?
All of these things can be factored in, but if we just stick to the economic forms, you’re … Again the first step is what is it that you want? What’s your desired future state? The second step is what will we measure to prove that we’re successful? The third step is what’s the value to you and the organisation of us hitting these metrics? Then the fourth step is, well what would you pay for that value? Then from there you set the price. I’m fond of saying that the value conversation, and that’s the four step framework for the value conversation, is where value pricing theory goes to die, because to do … I just laid out the simple framework, but to do it well you actually have to completely let go of the solution.
What that means is I need to be able to navigate those four steps without even thinking about what I would do for the client. Then once I get a price, then I can go back to my studio, or maybe in certain situations you can do it on the spot, and I can think about A, what my costs would be. So if the client said that they would pay 10,000 pounds for this, then I can spend about whatever the math is in your firm, 5,000 pounds, 7,500 pounds, 2,000 pounds. Then once you have your costs, then you start thinking about what you would do for that price. That is almost completely backwards to how most of us think. You get an email or a call from somebody come to speak to me about this identity project and you’re automatically jumping to the conclusion about the identity and maybe the associated items that are going with it. You’re automatically thinking about your prices that you might charge based on historical or based on the inputs on which you usually charge, and you’re jumping to all of these conclusions.
The hardest thing to do in moving to that highest level of pricing, of value based pricing, the hardest thing to do is to let go of the old behaviours of jumping to conclusions about solutions, and then making all kinds of inferences about costs and price from there. The proper steps are as I just laid them out. You begin with desired future state, then metrics, then value, then you ask, “Well what would you pay for this? If I could do this, what would you pay for this?”
Ian Paget: You explained that so perfectly. That’s such a good explanation, so thank you for that.
Blair Enns: You’re welcome, and that won’t be enough. It’s not an issue of just knowing what to do. I’ve just given you the framework, and most people listening to this, that won’t be enough for them because that value conversation is something that you need to learn. You need to essentially fail through some value conversations. So most people get the framework. They try it and they find it difficult in the beginning because they do leap to conclusions. We are referencing that historical database that we have in our minds of everything that we’ve done before and leaping ahead to what we might do this time. So it’s a real art to let go of the solutions and let go of the possibilities of what might be, and to intently focus on the client and what they want and what the value of them achieving that would be to them. Then allowing yourself to think about solutions.
Ian Paget: I know from personal experience even though I’ve read your book, actually applying that value based conversation into your process, it takes time to kind of accept the way that it needs to be, especially if you got used to kind of almost having a product and knowing how much time it typically takes and how much would be a nice amount of money to make on it. It’s a really hard thing to transition over to, but I mean in terms of actually growing your business and making it profitable and kind of offering a fair service, I think learning a value based conversation is definitely the best way to do it.
I can’t imagine a better way of doing it, and I think in your book you do have fantastic frameworks so that you can kind of open up and read through it and plan your own conversations. I just think it’s definitely the best way to do it ongoing, but like you said it just takes time. I know myself, I’m not there. I’m still struggling to kind of accept that I can do it this way. Yeah, that’s gonna take time, so I think you’re totally right with that.
Blair Enns: Yeah, there are levels, though. Really I see three levels of pricing success. The first level, you wouldn’t consider pricing success but it’s allowing you to run your business and that’s charging based on the inputs of time and material. The second level you might consider to be kind of using progressive pricing techniques. In the book, I talk about … I’ve got a series of … The book is broken up into principles, rules, tips and tools. In the rules, I have six rules, things that you do every time. If you just followed a couple of the rules like offering options and anchoring high, those aren’t necessarily specific to value based pricing, but you could just follow those two rules and you’ll probably start making a significantly larger amount of money based on that, and you still won’t even be pricing based on value.
So as I was writing it I was imagining well some of these rules are really easily applied and as you start to see some success then maybe you get some courage around the value conversation. If there’s one thing I really would love people to do … As the author I felt like this was my greatest responsibility was to get people to commit to trying the value conversation enough times, to kind of fumbling forward and getting through the difficult, awkward ones to that next level. If you can get to that place where you become a master of the value conversation, your entire world will change. Your business will change. I think mastering the value conversation, that four step framework I just gave you, I think that might possibly be the most valuable skill in all of business period.
I think there might not be a more valuable skill than that. If you think of this social equivalent, like the personal, social setting equivalent of the value conversation. It is that person that you know, that maybe you don’t see very often and when you meet her … I always think of a friend of mine I haven’t seen in years. You meet her. The entire … ‘Cause she’s so intently focused on you, how are you, how are you doing, what have you been up to? You have this maybe short conversation. At the end of it you think, “Oh, what a wonderful person. I love her so much. It’s so great to see her.” Then a little while later you realise, oh my god, I didn’t learn anything about her. The entire conversation was about me. She was so focused on me and keen to hear what I was doing.
You think of that scale, and if you can translate that into business, that’s what we’re talking about here, because the goal of value based pricing isn’t really to charge more. The goal of value based pricing is to create an organisation or a business or a personal habit if you’re a solopreneur, of being intently focused on the client and what the client wants, her desired future state and how you can help her. So if you follow that framework and you begin to master it, you will become that person who’s so intently focused on the client that you’re not thinking about what you would do until you uncover her desired future state and the metrics and the value and get a sense of what she would pay for this. Then you can start thinking about solutions.
If you can do that, the world is your oyster. If you’re a solopreneur, you’re starting out and you’re just in the logo design business and you master the value conversation, you’ll see that you go from designer to entrepreneur in a journey that you weren’t even expecting, because letting go of the solutions opens you up to seeing different types of solutions when you finally do allow yourself to sit down and think, “Okay now that I understand what she wants, what measure, what this is worth to her, what she’s willing to pay, now I can think about costs and solutions.” You’ll start to see solutions that you hadn’t previously considered. Then that’s the moment when you realise that I’m no longer a designer, I’m an entrepreneur.
Ian Paget: I like how once you know the value of it to them you can kind of tailor the service towards them. It’s not specifically always about making more money, but obviously it is the best way to start increasing your prices as well. Then you mentioned about the presenting options. I know one of those options should be a high priced anchor, the second one being the option that you want them to go for, then a third would be a lower priced version. What’s the reason why you’d recommend to present options like that, and how would you go about working out what those options would be?
Blair Enns: Yeah, that’s a big question. There are a few reasons why you present options. The biggest one is, any time you present a proposal with a solution and a price, you’re essentially putting your client in a take it or leave it situation. You will have had to have done your homework very well, and probably guessed well, at what’s really important to the client, and how much risk they want to take in the marketplace, and how much risk they want to pay you to make it go away.
Those are some reason why you present options, but the biggest reason you present options is the client’s brain isn’t wired … If you put forward a proposal for a ¬£5,000 logo, you’re asking the client to answer the question, “Is this logo worth ¬£5,000?” Their brain isn’t wired to answer that question without context. I prove this through a couple of images in the book. You have to buy the book to see the images, to see what I mean. When I saw one of these images, that’s when the light went on for me about the subjectivity, the value, and the importance of options.
I proved that the client’s brain needs context. They can’t say, “Is this logo really worth ¬£5,000?” The question their brain is wired to answer is, “Which of these is the best option?” So for them to answer that question, “Is this worth ¬£5,000,” they have to go away and make a comparison. That’s one of the reasons why they invite bids from other designers, or they’ll compare it to what they paid you previously, or they make other comparisons. By putting forward options, what you are doing is you are effectively controlling the comparisons. You are enabling the client’s brain to answer the question that it’s wired to answer, which is, “Which of these is the best value?”
You might have the ¬£5,000 solution. You might have the ¬£2,500 solution. Maybe they said their budget’s 2,500. You might have a ¬£15,000, or even a ¬£50,000 option as the anchor option, and you would begin with the anchor. The reason you begin with the anchor is, this is Nobel Prize winning science, there’s the idea of anchoring is that the first piece of information on a subject affects our ultimate decision or outcome, our final thinking on that subject. So you begin with the high anchor.
This is, I think, intuitive to most designers, because if you’ve ever presented multiple options to a client, and you’ve presented a really risky or way out there option, often you do that not to sell the risky option, but to make the next most risky or risque option seem safe. You do it for reasons of context.
It’s the same thing with pricing. You lead with the anchor. The job of the anchor is not to sell that most expensive solution. It’s to make the other ones look less expensive. So you lead with the anchor, and then it doesn’t matter really how you do the other two.
It’s important to have three options, because there’s a principle known as extremeness aversion, where people tend away from the extreme options toward the safe options in the middle, so they’re most likely to end up in the middle. This is a bit of a generalisation, but you can think of your three prices as the expensive anchor is designed to actually shock and push the client’s comfort zone a little bit, the middle option might be where you want to end up, and the cheapest option is the one that maybe meets the client’s budget.
Now, Ian, you asked about how do you come up with the three different options. This is in a design practice, pricing is more art than it is science. I gave you a rough framework for that. The anchor is just a really big one. The middle one is where you want to end up, and it’s probably higher than the client’s stated budget. The lower one’s the stated budget. That’s a rough enough framework for the time that we have to talk about it here.
Ian Paget: I know when it comes to pricing, a worry that I always have, especially with this, is that I might potentially price too high and risk losing the client to another designer who’s quoted less. I know when it comes to logo design, there are a lot of people out there that do go just by price. I was wondering, how can designers overcome this fear, so that they do price correctly?
Blair Enns: Well, if you go back to the Nike versus Pepsi logo, and you have, one is 500,000 times a multiple of the other. As you know, I think we all know, at least, of stories of firms, of companies paying millions of dollars or pounds for a logo. We know that you can go get a logo for ¬£5 or $99 in the United States. The range is essentially infinite. It’s funny how you, in your mind, have a very definite idea of the range that’s fair. Somebody else, in their mind, has a completely different range, based on different ideas of what they think is fair or what the market value is. They’re just completely mental, I mean psychological.
I think the first thing you need to recognise is that the biggest barriers to charging more are actually in your mind. What you’ll do is … Like if I could just predict … If you don’t read my book, I can just predict your pricing success over the next 10 to 20 years of your career, which is you charge X today. At some point in the near or middle future, you’re going decide, “You know, I think I’ve mustered up the courage, and I think my work is good enough that I can charge 1.2X.” You’ll muster up the courage, and you’ll finally put forward a proposal for 1.2X, and it might not be the first one, but maybe it’s the first one, the client buys it and doesn’t flinch. Then you’ll think, “Wow, okay. This is great. It’s a whole new level. It enables all these other things in my life.” You’ll cruise along at 1.2X, which is the new X. Then you’ll go through the same thing again. Then you’ll do it again. You’ll just repeat that pattern over and over.
You’re really only just overcoming your own mental hurdles, and maybe as you go, the size of your clients is increasing, and that’s a good thing and it allows you to move faster, but you can just skip levels of this, levels of this, from moving away from what you think is a fair price, to what the client thinks is a fair price. Learn to master the value conversation, and have the client tell you what the price is. If you hear a price that’s really low, if you use these other rules of offering options and anchoring high …
Let’s say your sense of the range of a logo today is 1,000 to ¬£5,000. You conduct a value conversation. The client says, “Well if you do all these things, if we accomplish all these things, I think a logo would maybe be worth ¬£500.” You’re thinking to yourself, “Okay well I actually think, based on the conversation that we just had, it would be significantly higher.” You can lean into that difficult part of that conversation, or you can go away and say, “Okay. I’m going to come back with some options on how we can help. I’m going to see if I can’t … 500’s lower than what we typically charge. I’ll see what I can do for ¬£500.” You might come back and say, “Let me start with the most elaborate option. It’s £7,500,” or whatever the price is. The anchor, there’s no boomerang effect to having a high anchor, so the price can be as high as you want, but it sets the tone for the conversation that follows, and it frames the other prices.
In your $7,500 option, you would include a lot of the things that you uncovered in the value conversation that were important to the client. We really need to think beyond, it’s rarely is it the same project over and over, because different clients value different things. It’s the first principle of the book is the subjectivity of value, and the first rule is to price the client, not the job.
One client might just want to brief you, and go away, and have you come back with a logo, or with three options and pick one. Another client might want you to learn about things about their business. They might want weekly reporting, or even daily reporting. They might want to be involved somehow more closely. Another client might value not being involved at all, just as I said at the beginning, just briefing you and having you go away. It’s really important for you to uncover what’s important to the client. There’s a killer question. I won’t give it away here. In the book, there’s a killer question to help you do just that. I think it’s the best question in all of sales. But you uncover what it is that the client values beyond the core service of delivering the logo.
Airlines are a great example. The core service, when you buy an airline seat, a ticket, the core service is transportation from A to B, but if you get on that plane with 300 other people, you look around, you realise 300 people have probably paid over 200 different prices. Some people at the front of the plane have paid 10, 20, 30 times more than people at the back of the plane. Everybody’s pretty comfortable with it. That’s because beyond the core value of transportation, some people have given more to get other forms of value, like extra legroom, like extra baggage, like access to the lounge, like higher quality service. These things are important to some frequent travellers, like me. Then some people have chosen to give up all of those things to make the price lower.
You want to apply the same principle to your clients. That’s how you come up with different prices for what others might say is, “Well, it’s just a logo.” It’s not just a logo. The logo is the outcome, but there’s also the entire experience, and I priced, I put together these different packages based on what I felt was really important to the client. In your high anchor, you might include all of these things. They might even go beyond logo design. It might go to the stationery application, the application against the key touchpoints of the brand, but it might be about the experience, it might be about you traveling, it might be about the reporting and the account management and the oversight that was included, et cetera.
The cheapest option might be, if it’s ¬£500, maybe it’s, “We’ll give you five hours of design time.” The cheap option, if you choose the ¬£500 option, it’s, “We’re going to design it for five hours, and we’re going to present two finished logos, and you pick one, and then that’s it. We’re done.” If a client is low-balling you on price, you can say, “Well, I can meet your price, but for that price, here’s what you get, and here are all of the other things you give up.”
In the middle option, at say ¬£1,500, you might say, “Forget about time. We’ll just come up with five rough concepts. You’ll narrow them down to two. We’ll finish the two. You’ll select one. It might even include these other things, and we won’t track time.”
Then the high level option can be whatever you can imagine. That’s where you become an entrepreneur. You uncover some things that are really valuable to the client, and you include them. You might say, “Well, beyond the logo, you’re going to need this applied to all these other different touchpoints of the brand, so we’ll include all of those in option three.” If they choose not to do them because they have a cheaper resource, or they don’t want to do that right now, or whatever, that’s okay. The anchor price has served its purpose by making the prices of the other options look less expensive in comparison.
Ian Paget: That’s an amazing explantation again. Now, I know when it comes to these options, since reading your book, I’ve kind of started planning what I believe should be my different options that I would probably start to offer and potentially tailor to the specific client’s needs. I’ve been umming and ahing about this, and I know it’s a conversation that’s often asked by different people in the communities online. Should designers publish their pricing options on their website, or should they wait until the customer’s actually got in touch? What would you advise to do in that situation?
Blair Enns: Yeah, I discuss this in the book. The answer’s no. You shouldn’t publish your prices on your website. You could publish pricing guidance. You might say, “Projects start at X hundred or thousand pounds,” but even that I think, if you’re in the logo or identity design business, I would caution you against doing that. It wouldn’t be a horrible mistake, but to say just logo ¬£750, logo plus business card or website application or whatever it is is ¬£1,500, or whatever the prices are, that’s a huge mistake.
Interestingly, there’s a really good book published in the United States. I’m sure it’s available in the UK. It’s called Built to Sell, by a gentleman by the name of John Warrillow. In it, it’s a business novel, and the hero of the novel is a designer who gets frustrated and one day decides he wants to shut it down, sell his business. He goes to his accountant and he says, “I want to sell my business.” The accountant laughs and says, “You have nothing to sell.”
It’s not the accountant, it’s the business advisor who, the business advisor coaches him on building a saleable business. What he does is he takes what is essentially a customised service business, and that’s anybody who’s in the design business, almost anybody, is in the customised service business, where you should have no more than 10 to 15 ongoing clients at any one time. Every client engagement is a blank slate of-
Every client engagement is a blank slate of opportunity. It’s like a fresh palette that you might … or a fresh canvas that you might paint any kind of masterpiece, and every engagement is different. So you go from, in the book, he takes this customised service business and he turns it into a productised service business where he can pursue infinite scale. So he basically gets the designer to focus on logo design and to publish the prices on his website, and to hire multiple sales people, and to build a business of kind of a steady predictable revenue. And then he’s able to turn around and sell that business. And it’s a great book for building a business that’s built to sell. The unfortunate thing about that book is the example he’s chosen isn’t a very good one, because identity design …
As soon as you pursue infinite scale and you productise your services, then you have like package a, package b, package c, and you put those prices on your website. Those are the forces that commodities it. And most logo design businesses are never going to be sold. The idea is you should make a lot of money, fund a rich rewarding interesting personal life, in which you generate a lot of money and freedom and time to do other things. And at the end, if somebody is … If you’re going to sell it, it’s probably going to be an employee. But in the end, you’re probably going to shut it down. That’s not a bad thing. That’s how these businesses should run and that’s how you should exit.
So, as soon as you start thinking about packages, as soon as you pursue scale, you start thinking about packages, then it makes sense to put prices on your website. Then you apply all these commoditising forces against what you do. And there’s also no room to have a value conversation and uncover what’s really important to the client about not just the logo, but about how she wants to work with the designer and how valuable that is to her and how much she’s willing to pay that. So there is a trend in digital marketing firms of this quasi productisation and putting prices on the website. And that’s in violation of my first rule of pricing for a customised service business. And that is to price the client, not the job. So, that’s the very long answer Ian. I apologise for the lengthy answer of should you put prices on your website? The answer is no.
Ian Paget: I think that’s a brilliant explanation. And I know, in instances in the past where I have prices online, even if you got a bracket like you put between x and Y, you get people coming to you that just expect it to be the lowest price. And they don’t consider that they might need something of the higher end. Because I know with my lowest price options, there have been times when the projects have been very quick. And I just think it is a big mistake because you just get the clients have a set expectation of what they’re going to get when they contact you.
So I do think you have to start with that conversation, whether it’s the value based conversation or presenting options like you mentioned, I do think that makes sense to do. And I agree with you that it’s a big mistake and I think what you explained then was perfect and everyone will totally understand that.
Now I know that you’re incredibly knowledgeable on pricing, so I’d love to talk a little bit about you and your background out. How did you become so knowledgeable on pricing and like what’s your background prior to creating Win Without Pitching?
Blair Enns: Yeah. So I grew up … professionally, I’m based in Canada, but I grew up professionally in first in advertising. And then in design. My first employer was a full service marketing communication firm. So it was a design firm that bought … it was actually a pr firm that bought an ad agency and they’d already done design. Then I went to work for some of the largest ad agencies in the world, and then some of the smallest design firms. So I came up on the business side. I wore a suit. It’s hard to imagine that back in my past. But I was an account person and I very quickly, in my first job, I was handed new business development and responsibility. So I grew up on that side of the business. Win Without Pitching is the name of my book … or sorry, is the name of my business. It’s also the name of my first book, the Win Without Pitching Manifesto.
And it was originally a new business development consultancy when I founded it back in 2002. In 2013, I changed. I did. I went from a consultative services company to a product ties services business. We became a training company and I hope that people don’t think, “Well, didn’t you just say don’t do that?” No, I think in creative firms … I had to make the decision. I was stuck in the mushy middle. I had quasi productised my consulting services. So I thought, “Well, I either need to be a fully customised service business and be a proper consultant where I value price every engagement or I need to productise and pursue scale.” And I chose to productise and pursue scale based largely on where I live.
So I’m in western Canada, in British Columbia. If you know British Columbia, Vancouver is the capital city. Actually, sorry, Victoria is the capital city. Vancouver is the major city, but I’m a short nine hour car ride from Vancouver. I live in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. So I felt like I couldn’t really do a properly customised service business, consulting business, because of the nature of travel is difficult for me. So I chose to productise. So Win Without Pitching is a new business development training company. And somewhere around 2013 when I was transitioning from a consultant solo practice to a larger training company, I was on-boarding a president of an ad agency into our training program. And he was telling me a story. He said, “You know, Blair, I’m …” So, I’m getting the basic information from him so we can get them into our training program. And he said, “I’ve made a lot of money from your advice over the years.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s great.” He said, “No, no, I’ve made a lot of money.” And I said, “Oh, I’m really happy for you.” But he really wanted me to know. He said, “Blair, I’ve made millions of dollars from applying your advice on how to do new business and how to beat the scourge of free pitching.”
I had kind of a reaction, multiple reactions. So I said, “That’s nice.” But my real reaction was, “That’s not fair. You haven’t paid me that much money over the years.” He’d come to a seminar or two, he’d been a subscriber to our webcast back then. And I total up the money he had paid me and it was somewhere between three and $5,000. I thought, that’s not fair. And then my second reaction was, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Of course it’s fair.” But I resolved in that moment to learn what I didn’t know about the subject of fairness, value and pricing. And so I started reading some books and very early into the first book, Ron Baker’s book, Pricing on Purpose, excellent, he’s such a great author. He’s such a great advisor, Guru, on the subject of value based pricing.
I realised it was a massive field I knew nothing about. So I’ve essentially read everything, which isn’t how I learned to sell. I learned to sell by knowing what I hate in salespeople. But I learned to price by reading the Canon of literature on pricing and then applying it to creative firms. And so, it’s just pricing is the easiest, fastest way to an improved bottom line. It’s not by learning to sell better, it’s not by managing your costs or your people better. If you want to make more money tomorrow, spend some time learning how to improve your pricing. So when I got into the subject and I started learning some things very quickly, I was very quickly able to translate this into financial success in my clients’ businesses.
And a friend suggested I write a book on it. And I resisted initially. I said, “There are a lot of great books on pricing.” And he said, “Well, your clients aren’t going to read those books.” And I think he’s right. Because for many of the people who’ve purchased Pricing Creativity, and it’s an expensive book and we can talk about that. We’ve sold over 1500 copies and the cheapest price is $100 and the most expensive price is $320. For most of these people, it’s the first book on pricing they’ve ever purchased and it may be their last.
Ian Paget: I know I’m very much in that category … I have read quite a few pricing books, but your one, it feels more relevant to what I want to do because it is very much tailored towards creatives. And although it’s an expensive book, when I bought it, I considered it more of a training course. And I’ve spent substantially more on training courses than your highest priced option. So I kind of had something to weigh up against, so I do think it’s a good investment and it’s a fantastic book. And I do think that if you follow all of the advice in there, and it’s very easy to understand, then you will definitely make that money back in a short space of time. So it should basically pay for itself.
Blair Enns: Yeah. And if you don’t, we’ll give you your money back.
Ian Paget: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fair.
Blair Enns: It’s priced unusually, I think. I wanted it to be the first pricing book in the world that’s priced based on the principles in the book. And it’s got a full money back guarantee, if for any reason you’re not seeing value in it, send it back, we’ll give you your money back.
Ian Paget: I know I learned something just reading the first page. So hopefully, others had the same reaction. Now I want to ask you one last question just to wrap up the conversation because we’re close to the end of our time. So if you could give just one piece of advice to designers or creators out there who are struggling with their prices, what would that advice be?
Blair Enns: I would say ultimately the prices you command are a function of your self esteem. Now there are techniques, and they’re all covered in the book, that you can use to raise your prices. But at the end of the day, I think … I’m not a designer, I’m a writer, so I identify myself as a creative. But I love designers and I think design is a calling. I think all of the creative professions or careers are really a calling. And I think these people are really kind of, again, called to do what they do and they make this decision to make their passion or their calling their business.
And I think designers sometimes undercharge because they’re often in such a vulnerable position, because what you’re selling is so personal and so therefore rejection is personal. And I would just say that there are clients who are beating you up often, but there are also great clients out there and there’s other people in the world who just really, really value what you do. The longer I live, the longer I’m on this planet, the more I see the effects of good and bad design. And I think it’s really difficult to put a price on or overpay for good design. So you’re doing, I think, what is great value in the world. And just stand up for yourself and charge more. At the end of the day, your prices are a reflection of your self esteem. And whatever … I’m trying to do whatever I can to improve your self esteem and giving you the techniques to work around it too.
But you know, part of … your self esteem will rise and your pricing confidence will rise as you just charge more. Take risks, push yourself, be in an uncomfortable position where you’re putting forward a price that’s just multiples of what you would have charged before. And you will see your confidence rise. And you will see your self confidence. Self esteem is really kind of basic in essence, so you can’t really affect that, I don’t think. But your confidence in a sales situation will rise as you get validation. Skip over the incremental steps and just go for big jumps in pricing success.
Sorry, that’s a long answer. I’ll just say that of all of the feedback that I’ve received on the book, the most common story I’ve heard is somebody says, “I put forward my first three option, one page proposal, and I started with the high anchor and the high anchor was multiples of what I’ve ever charged before. And the client immediately bought the high anchor.” That is the most common story I’ve heard, which tells me that designers are systematically undervaluing themselves and undercharging.
Ian Paget: I totally agree with that. And yeah, that’s brilliant advice. I know from experience, again, there’s been situations when I’ve been incredibly busy and because I’ve got no fear of losing the job, I have timed my price by like five. And I have been amazed in those instances where people have gone ahead with it. And with that evidence, I needed to continually put out that higher price. So, I think that’s good advice. I think everything that you’ve given in this episode is very good advice and your book is, like I said, for me, it’s one of the best I’ve read to properly understand pricing.
I think the way that you’ve written it is you’ve made it very easy to understand and put into context as well. Because it is … like the first page for logo designers, one of the first pages in the book is about … is titled How Much is a Logo? And it kind of just … For logo designers in particular and graphic designers, I think the book is fantastic for that.
So Blair, I just want to say thank you for coming on the show, for sharing as much as you did, and yeah, for being a fantastic guest. Thanks Blair.
Blair Enns: Thank you. And it’s really my pleasure to be here and good luck with the podcast. I’ve listened to a few of your episodes. I’ve really enjoyed it. If I could just point out that you can’t find this book on Amazon, it’s available only at pricingcreativity.com.
This Episode is Sponsored by FreshBooks
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