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.