The Art of Emotional Pricing

Dollar bills folded into heart shapes

How much should I charge?

I hear this question a lot from coaching clients wrestling with the perennial question of how much a unique piece of art, or a stylish design, or an engrossing story, or a transformational creative service is worth in hard cash.

There are many answers to this question, and several well-known methods for working out your prices, such as benchmarking against your competitors; or deciding how much you want to earn in a year and dividing that by the number of sales you expect to make; or calculating and demonstrating the value of the work to your buyer. Sometimes I’ll use one or more of these methods to help my client work out their fees.

But with a particular type of client I give a different answer:

I think you already know.

My hunch is that when you have amazing work for sale, a certain level of experience, and reasonable knowledge of your market, then at some level you know the value of your work – even if you may be afraid to say the number out loud to a customer. In this case, instead of working out their price, I suggest they feel it out.

I start deliberately low. For example, if I’m working with an artist:

Me: Just imagine you’ve sold this painting for $50. How do you feel?

Client: Like I want to vomit.

Me: OK, so $50 equals vomiting. Now imagine you’ve sold it for $250. How does that feel?

Client: Well, a bit better I suppose.

Me: Right. $250 equals ‘a bit better I suppose.’ Now imagine you’ve sold it for $500.

Client: OK I could be happy with that…

We keep going up the scale, raising the price and checking in with their feelings (and ignoring doubts) – from feeling terrible, to feeling OK, to happy, to excited, to excited-and-a-bit-scared, to feeling really scared. This gives us a beautifully calibrated emotional pricing scale, with prices linked to feelings.

Then I ask how they want to feel after the sale. They nearly always pick “excited-and-a-bit-scared.” Which gives them a price – which is nearly always higher than the one they usually charge.

Sometimes they hesitate. They know the number they want, but are afraid of looking “greedy” or “arrogant.” One way to help them past this is to focus on a certain competitor who charges in this range, and ask whether they consider their own work to be inferior to the competitor. If they answer a strong “No!” they usually realize fear is the only thing holding them back – then resolve to be brave.

Sometimes I ask them to put themselves in their buyer’s shoes and imagine whom they’d rather do business with: a creator who feels disappointed and resentful about the deal or a creator who is as pleased as they are with the outcome?

It also helps to focus on how the buyer will feel when they experience the work: when you are agonizing over your prices, it’s easy to forget that we all feel great when we buy something amazing.

If you’re an experienced creative struggling financially while getting feedback that you are under-charging, here’s how to start using emotional pricing.

Is emotional pricing for you?

Important. Emotional pricing is not for beginners. It requires a certain level of creative accomplishment, as well as knowledge of your market. And it does not apply to mass markets, such as ebooks, apps, or digital music downloads where you can often make more money by lowering your prices and selling more units.

In these markets, it’s often wiser to ignore how you feel about the price of an individual unit – it may feel “unfair” to charge only $3.99 for an ebook that took you months to write. Your time, effort, and creativity are worth a lot more than that. But you will sell far more copies at $3.99 than $20, so when the money rolls in, you should feel better at a lower price point.

Emotional pricing works best for creatives who are selling “originals” – artworks or creative services. Start by checking whether emotional pricing is appropriate for your situation.

  • Are you confident that you are creating high-quality work?
  • Are you getting feedback – from customers, peers, and/or mentors – that your work is of a high standard?
  • Do you have a basic knowledge of what constitutes low, average, and high fees in your market? (Emotional pricing isn’t “charge what you like” – to calibrate your scale, you need some connection with actual prices being paid for comparable work.)
  • Are you earning significantly less than you want to for the hours and effort you put in?
  • Do you ever find it hard to motivate yourself to work because you feel you are not being adequately rewarded for it?
  • Do you find yourself envying competitors who earn more than you, when you believe your work is at least as good as theirs?

If you answer “yes” to at least half these questions, here’s how to use emotional pricing for your creative work.

How to use emotional pricing

1. Pick an absurdly low price, and then imagine you have just sold your work (painting, print, project) for that price.

2. Ignore any thoughts that arise and focus on your body: how does it feel? What emotions do you experience? At this price point, you should be feeling pretty bad! So don’t stay here long. Write down the price, and the feeling next to it, and move on.

3. Now move the price up a little and repeat steps 1–2. Notice the difference in how you feel. At this stage you should feel less bad, if not exactly great.

4. Keep raising the price and repeating steps 1–2 until you have gone through a range of positive feelings, to a point where the price is so high it feels really scary or plain ridiculous.

5. Now you have your emotional pricing scale. Look at it, and decide how you want to feel after a sale. I recommend the point where you feel fantastic plus a twinge of fear.

6. If you’re hesitating about actually charging the price you picked at step 5, consider one of your competitors whose prices are in this range. Is their work so much better than yours? If not, then only fear is holding you back. Time to be brave!

7. If you’re still hesitating, look at it from the buyer’s point of view, and ask what kind of person you want to buy from: someone who feels disappointed and unmotivated? Or as pleased as you with the transaction? This is particularly important if you are selling a service, since as a buyer you will naturally want to have a motivated and enthusiastic professional at your service.

Over to you

Do you ever factor in your emotions when setting your prices?

If you always work out your prices logically – how would you (ahem) feel about starting to factor in your emotions as well?

Mark McGuinness is a poet and creative coach. This is an extract from Mark’s new book Motivation for Creative People: How to stay creative while gaining money, fame and reputation. Join the free Creative Pathfinder course to be first to know (and get the special launch price) when the book comes out.

How to stay creative while gaining money, fame, and reputation

Motivation for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' new book Motivation for Creative People is a practical guide to figuring out your different motivations and how they affect your creativity and career.

Through inspiring stories and tried-and-tested solutions from his 20 years of coaching creative professionals, Mark will show you how to balance your inspiration, ambition, desires and influences in your day-to-day work and the big picture of your career.

“Motivation for Creative People will encourage you reflect sincerely on the factors that underpin your artistic achievements, ultimately giving you a ‘clarity of mission’ that will take your creativity to new heights.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

Click to learn more about Motivation for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. Hi Mark, I like this post very much! I have recently taken a group of 16 artisans through some business training that included costing and pricing and we did discuss the ‘you may not be able to afford your own work’ concept that starts to lead makers away from pricing as though their customer is their friend or themselves and towards realizing that probably it’s someone with much deeper pockets!
    So, I have never come across an approach like you just described – but immediately I can see how very very useful it could be – I’ll share with my students and some other artisans / service providers in my circles
    I wondered – one of my students sells e-books about Saint Lucia, she prices them pretty high and perhaps should consider the suggestion to sell more cheaper; but in thinking about this I wondered it the emotional pricing method could not be tweaked to be used by mass product people too – how would they feel if the 1) never sell one book at super high price 2) how would they feel if they sell a dozen at mid-price 3) how would they feel if they sell 500 at low price – what do you think? Would it work that way also?

    • Thanks Finola. Would be interested to hear how this approach goes down with your students!

      but in thinking about this I wondered it the emotional pricing method could not be tweaked to be used by mass product people too – how would they feel if the 1) never sell one book at super high price 2) how would they feel if they sell a dozen at mid-price 3) how would they feel if they sell 500 at low price – what do you think? Would it work that way also?

      Yes, I’ve used a version of what you describe with people selling (potentially) mass market products, and it helps to stop them fixating on the individual unit price. Again, would love to hear how you get on if you try this…

  2. Hey, Mark–

    I broke out in goosebumps reading this. Absolutely perfect. I have been a professional designer for 29+ years working in a consulting firm, charging an hourly billable rate to our clients.
    I also am a 5+ years fused glass artist, and have struggled over pricing my pieces over the years;
    this summer I was so happy when I sold my art for what seemed to my husband as overpriced, but I knew in my heart was priced for what it should be.

    I will always use your process from now on; thank you so much!

    Diana

  3. Brilliant ! Charging for my service used to almost feel like an act of violence against students or music buyers. That’s how far off balance I was, despite the glowing reviews. Things got interesting when I ask folks to give me what they think my services were worth: I made more than I could have asked. I became a bit more rational.
    This exercise really gives you a handle on the moneyemotion connection.
    Many thanks, Bertrand

    • Things got interesting when I ask folks to give me what they think my services were worth: I made more than I could have asked.

      What a great demonstration of the value you create for them. That’s another sign to watch out for – when your customers tell you, by their thoughts or actions, that they think you should raise your prices.

  4. What a fabulous and practical way to approach pricing.

    You are my hero Mark.

  5. Hi Mark, this is a really useful and eye-opening post – never thought of pricing like that before! I still struggle a little with pricing my creations, thought I had levelled out at a comfortable rate, but now after reading your post I might be feeling more brave! I have been an artist for 4 years and during that time have gradually raised my prices bit by bit and still make sales – well, not enough, but this is why I have enrolled on your Creative Pathfinder course. A customer once said to me that she thought my art pieces were too cheap – and that rather embarrassed me especially as she said it out a bit loud! I still take into account material costs etc, but the emotional strategy has worked on me! I started at a stupid price as you asked – and yes, that felt stupid until I reached a figure 5 times that and then it got scary! Time to be brave Ian…..

    • A customer once said to me that she thought my art pieces were too cheap – and that rather embarrassed me especially as she said it out a bit loud!

      Hopefully you got the message loud and clear. 🙂

  6. I agree with your approach but am stymied when it comes to selling through a gallery where there is a large commission. How do you approach this method in that situation?

    • The same basic principle applies:

      1. Imagine you’ve sold an artwork for $X amount, and subtracted the gallery’s commission, leaving you the remainder as your profit.

      2. Check in with your body – how does that feel?

      3. Now raise the price and run through steps 1-2 at this price point.

      What you are looking for is a price that (a) gives you a profit you feel good about, and (b) is within the range that the gallery thinks they can sell it for.

      Of course that sweet spot may prove elusive – if the number you want is higher than the gallery wants to offer it for, then maybe there’s no deal to be had.

  7. Hi Mark,

    this is an extremely helpful approach to pricing; only yesterday I was explaining to someone how my husband and I hang all the paintings ready for an exhibition and then go around the room together, pricing each one. Its like we arrive at a price that is ‘what we think we can we get away with!!’. This is a dreadful way to carry on!

    I am going to walk around the gallery again, but this time using the the emotional approach as I stand before each painting and see how the pricing differs. It’ll be interesting!

    Many thanks, Mark.

    Viv

  8. Hi Mark
    Using an incremental checking in with emotions is a helluva good idea. I didn’t realize I’ve been using that method for pricing unconsciously until I read it in your blog and it clicked. I mean, we trust our intuition when we create, so it only makes sense to do so when we sell our art. In addition to the “gut” method, I use a general rule of thumb based on the dimensions of the piece. If a painting is 20 x 20, for instance, I would start at a price of $400 because it is 400 square inches. But if this particular work is really exceptional, I will move the price up in increments of $25, $50 or $100 until I get to “the excited and scared” place. It’s worked well so far and it gives me room to negotiate.

  9. An excellent post Mark! Will look to using it in my pricing schedule- thank you! 🙂

  10. Bhavin Kothari says:

    Very nice post on the topic of concern for all creative people more importantly craft artisans. For me specifically to teach craft artisans to to price. Would add few other aspects like how do you make emotional connect in addition to product itself through telling a story and good branding and importantly packaging along with the product.
    Thank you so much Marc for sharing such a useful thoughts as always.

  11. This post is so timely. I understand now that I have been using emotional pricing for sometime without putting that name to it. Actually it is used in conjunction with the cost of materials and then I emotionally price from there. I am a jeweller and on so many forums and Facebook pages I see questions about pricing work and I read it all looking for the answer. Many have formulas that take into account the cost of materials, the ‘shop’ costs, etc. I tried using these formulas thinking it was good business but they didn’t sit right with me. I’m not saying they are wrong…just not me. So I reverted to cost of materials and my instincts plus whatever I could emotionally deal with and then a little more. I admit it sometimes kept me awake at night before a sale. I just finished a three day studio tour which was great but a bit of an emotional roller coaster and now I can see that a lot of it had to do with the pricing. Scared that I was asking too much and in other instances happy I sold but not entirely satisfied. It happened after backing down from my original pricing. I did have one customer actually look at one of those prices and ask if it really was right. Thank you for putting it into words that give it such credibility. This will help so much in the future because I will have my ‘formula’ and know that I am doing good business even if I have to take a deep breath and leap empty handed into the void and trust. 🙂

  12. Wonderful Article