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:
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