Recent weeks have seen the publication of a number of really interesting resources* that focus the editorial freelancer's attention on pricing structures. I thought I'd jot down my views on the issue, particularly since it's one of those that new entrants to the field are often most curious about.
An effective pricing strategy is central to any serious marketing plan, since marketing our services is about making ourselves interesting to potential clients. How we present our prices to our clients is therefore important. I'm actually less interested in what my colleagues charge than how they present that fee.
Talk of pricing in our community has a tendency to generate controversy, as discussed in my colleague Adrienne Montgomerie's recent post on Copyediting.com.* That's because one of the most well-used concepts in the world of sales – that of the discount – can end up being overused, not because members of the editorial community are deliberately trying to undercut each other, but because many of us live in a culture where deals are the norm.
Whether we're in the supermarket or the book store, we'll be confronted with BOGOFs, three-for-two offers, or 25% discounts. Sales take place all year round these days and there's always a bargain to be had somewhere. What does this mean for editorial freelancers? Is giving money off the only way to get attention?
In a comment that I wrote in response to Adrienne's excellent article, I put forward the idea of value-on thinking, as opposed to a money-off approach when considering the pricing of editorial services.
What's wrong with discounting?
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept of discounting. This strategy has been used effectively since people began trading goods and services, but my own view is that it needs to be used with care. Here are three reasons why:
Putting yourself in your customer's shoes
There are ways of presenting a quotation to a client that have a value-on rather than money-off focus. And they're not hard to find, even for the newbie. One simple way of working out how to structure your own quotations in a value-on way can be achieved by putting yourself in your customer's shoes.
Take my recent purchase of a new computer, for example. Prior to visiting the store I jotted down some notes about what I wanted, in order of importance:
It was obvious to me that I wasn't going to get that package by looking for the cheapest pc on the market. If I wanted cheap, I'd have to sacrifice my top three preferences. I did have a budget in mind before I started my research, but it was never going to be about just the price. This was going to be my new business computer – I needed it to do what it said on the tin, first and foremost. It's not that I had a bottomless purse, but price was one factor among several and had to be balanced against functionality.
A value-on alternative to editorial pricing
I believe that a lot of my customers are just like me – they have a list of things that they want from me. Price will be in there, but it will be one factor among many. I like to structure my quotations with that in mind. As part of my request for a quotation I therefore do the following:
In this way, the price I offer them is framed within the value of what I'm bringing to the table. They can see what they're getting and why I think I'm worth it. Rather than getting their attention by talking about what they save, I focus on what they gain.
Don't be afraid
If you're a new entrant to the field, it can seem like the most obvious thing in the world to say, "Okay, I'm new at this so I'd better not charge too much. And even if I'm good at this, I don't have a huge portfolio of clients to brag about so I better go in low – that way I'll get the client's attention."
You may be right. You may well attract those clients that are only interested in the cheapest deal. But it's worth considering that not all clients are looking for cheap. In fact, that's not top of the list for many customers. Most of the people who ask me to proofread for them want a top-notch job and don't baulk at the fee I suggest. Many self-publishers and business owners may not have used a proofreader or editor before. They're therefore more interested in trust, engagement, ability and quality.
If you can think about the interesting things that you bring to the table and that are of value to the client (for example, previous relevant career experience; industry-recognized training; testimonials; professional code of conduct; a commitment to quality; a readiness to take the time to understand exactly what they need), then you can use these USPs as part of your quotation. By placing your price within a framework of value, you shift the emphasis towards the professional, high-quality service that you offer and away from the financial hit they'll take.
What do you think? Do you use the discount as a primary sales tool when quoting for a new client or do you have alternative ways of framing your quotations?
* Related resources:
2/9/2013 11:44:50 pm
A really good and thought-provoking article - thank you. I tend not to offer discounts, and I do as you do: state that the price is based on an industry standard, explain my credentials, point the prospect at my references page and list the types of things I will work on in their document. I tend to charge per word (or per audio minute for transcription services) so I can give them a ball-park figure, and I confirm that when they send me the document.
3/9/2013 12:24:16 am
Thank you! Very helpful! What does the acronym USP stand for, please?
3/9/2013 03:37:44 am
3/9/2013 09:31:09 am
Excellent advice, as always!
3/9/2013 04:34:19 pm
11/9/2013 04:40:02 am
This is a really interesting area, particularly for a relative newcomer like me. I was approached recently, via findaproofreader.com, to give a quote for proofreading some educational material for a charity. I quoted £150, slightly below my standard rate of £10 per 1,000 words, but I priced it on the basis that the document was quite well written to begin with, it was for a charity, and it was a change from ESL student essays so would add a bit of variety to my CV.
11/9/2013 04:49:27 am
Really interesting to hear your recent experience, Beth. I think this is a great example of someone inexperienced not having the courage of their convictions, and not understanding that there are different ways to get a client's attention other than going in dirt cheap. That's why we all have to work so hard to get the message out there that this kind of absurd pricing can actually damage a freelancer's chances of securing a customer. The customer starts to wonder why the price is so cheap and becomes wary, so underpricing, like the type you were up against, has a negative impact.
11/9/2013 04:57:32 am
Please feel free, Louise. I've got a couple of other stories too. Email me if you want details. I think your marketing book will be invaluable - it's the thing I find most difficult!
11/9/2013 05:12:54 am
Here's a taster, Beth! http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/book-marketing-your-editing--proofreading-business-forthcoming-2014.html
18/9/2013 03:36:46 am
Another interesting and useful article, Louise.
18/9/2013 03:45:31 am
Hi Deborah. That's such a great example of one of my favourite mantras: There are no rights or wrongs, only lessons learned. You learned something incredibly valuable, and that business knowledge gained is something you're taking forward with you. I, too, had a similar experience a couple of years back (I was working with a client-type with which I was unfamiliar), and what I thought of at the time as a "pricing disaster" turned out to be one of the most valuable business development lessons I've learned. So, actually, we're better off because of these experiences. "Every cloud ...", as they say!
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