How to Value Your Work As a Creative Services Provider

Virtually every web designer, graphic artist and creative services professional I know undervalues their professional contribution. And as a result I get to listen to them bitch about how it's a tough field and competition is stealing clients and sales aren't what they should be and on and on and on. Don't get me wrong. They think they're worth more. In some cases, they even know it. But there's one thing holding them back from commanding the kind of fees that make seasoned professionals cry...

It's them. Conventional wisdom goes something like this. First, establish how much you want to make per hour of your time. Check that figure against industry norms to make sure you're "competitive". Prepare to negotiate your price down even further. And then, only once you've honed your chops, price your services a little higher than the rest, while still being competitive.

Conventional Wisdom Keeps You Thinking Like A Commodity

Are you tired of prospecting for business? Would you rather your prospects be begging YOU to design their logo, develop their website or take their wedding photos? Because the only difference between who gets the business and who doesn't is who has the commodity mindset and who's thinking like a rockstar.

Whether you're a graphic designer, interior decorator, software programmers, a home-stager or marketing consultant, we all facing the same challenges in the end: DEMONSTRATING OUR VALUE. In the final assessment, it's the professional who does a better job of proving and asserting their value - beyond a shadow of a doubt - in the minds of their prospects who ends up with the business.

There's that word again: Value. What does it mean?

We're All In the Value-Creation Business

If you not in business to create value, you have no right being in business.

Let me tell you... You need to mentally sold on your own value before you'll ever convince anyone else to recognize it. Thankfully there is an easy, systematic way to sell yourself on your own value.

But guess what? You can't prove your value to anyone unless your first willing to turn down business.

Let's imagine for a moment that there is a magic script that would make them turn over their wallets. Done imagining?

There isn't. But there's something almost as good. Mastering the mindset of valuing you're own work. And guess what, you're in luck, because if you're in an industry adjacent to ones I work in, you're most likely selling to people who sell things.

How to Make The Mental Leap

Stop worrying about your marketing problems and start helping your clients solve theirs. Once you get it, you'll realize that true value of your service is the same whether you spend two hours or 20 hours doing the work. How can that be? It's because the "Value" isn't something you "put into" your service, it's what your client "gets out".

Try to think of a few ways your client's situation can be improved directly, or indirectly, by contracting your services. If you can't right now, that's ok. Begin by asking yourself: "What makes your client's customers buy?" What precisely are your services worth to your client in increased curbside appeal, volume of sales, size of sales, repeat business, brand recognition and so on and so forth.

Are you starting to get it yet? Whatever industry you're in, you've got clients who are trying to sell products and services to their own set of customers... I gaurantee you they've got marketing problems they need help solving. You're going to help solve them. And since solving those marketing problems is worth a lot to your clients, you're entitled to a piece of the upside.

Remember this and never forget it: If you can show ANYONE upside, you can entitle yourself to a piece of it. 

Burn it into your head and next time you're prospecting for new business remember that a client is co-creator in a jointly designed outcome. It is this mindset what sets commodities apart from professionals who can command any price for their work. It's also what separates amateurs from seasoned veterans who've been around the block a couple of times. What's their secret? I'm going to give you the shortcut to that level of confidence in, yes, three easy steps.

Step 1. Discover Their Profit Motive

First of all, your clients' profit motive is probably a whole lot higherand more acutely feltthan yours is. We in the creative fields, like graphic design, tend to care about a "job well done", pat on the back and other such warm fuzzies, not pure profits. Your clients do not care about warm fuzzies. They have product to move and bills to pay.

Instead, we need to be showing our clients how:

  • Their lackluster brand identity is standing between them and $100,000 in additional sales next year.
  • Their outdated web site is probably turning OFF more customers than it's turning ON
  • People would use their site more often and spend money more frequently with them if it was easier to use.
  • Designing their album cover will give their music more shelf appeal and, therefor, sell more records over time.
  • Staging their home will help them optimize profits by selling the home faster, and at a higher price then they would have otherwise.
  • A sizzling new corporate brochure will improve lead-to-conversion ratios by three times or more.

You should be getting the picture by now. By the way, their "profit motive" is not always best expressed in terms of "money". It can be expressed in any way that's perceived to have value, like taking more vacations, proving themselves to their disapproving father or contributing to charity. But no matter how their profit motive is expressed, always denominate it into clear, dollars and sense terms. Leave it to humans to create money so we can take a measuring tape to warm fuzzies.

To figure out their profit motive all you need is a basic understanding of how businesses in their industry make money. However, to really cinch the deal, I mean crisply and overwhelmingly telegraph the true value of your services, so that you become the obvious choice, asking your clients the right questions will open up a wellspring of appeals you never even thought to look for...

These are abstract and emotional appeals. Appeals like appearing successful, impressing friends, outsmarting competitors, being knowledgable and being hip with the latest trends. Ok, now that you've identified your clients profit motive...

Step 2. Get Them To Assign A Specific Dollar Amount To Whatever Motivates Them

The only thing better than knowing your value is having someone else recognize it first. The specific dollar amount we're fishing for doesn't have to be accurate. They could be flat-out lying to you, the point is to get your client thinking about all the money that's at the end of the tunnel, the decreased stressed and wonderful feelings they'll have after they hire you to solve their problems.

Ok, here we go. Memorize these killer questions. Some of these questions are rhetorical, meaning, not meant to be answered out loud. They're intended to be answered in your prospects minds. If they express them out loud, all the better.

    What do you really hope to get out of this?

    If you could wave a magic wand, and have it all just the way you like it, what would be the ultimate outcome of [profit motive]? 

    How much more will [profit motive] be worth to you over the next three years?

    How would things be different for you if you had [profit motive] three years ago?

    Knowing what you know now about [profit motive], would you have done things a little differently in your business?

Step 3. Separate Yourself From the Flock

Merely talking about these things automatically sets your business above commodity status (and therefor above most of your competitors.) Most service providers naturally keep their clients at arms-length. But we need to do better.

In merchandising we talk about "points of difference." The basic idea is that there are things you do on behalf of clients which you take for granted, because your in the business but which actually warrant repeating. These are typically expressed in the form of a contrast and comparison statements:

  • The lightbulb is 34% brighter
  • No technical knowledge required to operate
  • We'll work twice as hard for you
  • We finish on-time and on-budget
  • You'll have one full year to return it if you decide it's not right for you

This isn't necessarily bad advice when talking about your personal brand either but feature-by-feature comparisons still have you thinking like a commodity.

The problem with commodities is that they rarely ever trade for much lower or higher. Commodities are valued so lowly that they are traded as raw materials, reasonably stable stores of value, and are almost a currency unto themselves, because the rate at which they trade almost never changes.

You need to tap into the unexpressed desires of your clientele to truly differentiate your offerings and raise yourself above commodity status. Conversations are the first step to the kinds of personal disclosures that reveal a client's unarticulated wants and desires. What you want to look out for are ways to leave them speachless.  Closely monitor:

  • What they've "already tried"
  • What went wrong in past attempts
  • Who they talk about  most frequently
  • How they feel about the business they're in
  • What's included in their long-term vision

You have more in common with a rockstar than you think

A rockstar, by definition, has no competition and is unique in all the world. Whether or not this is actually true is certainly up for debate but the point here is "mindset." Rockstar's sense of identity springs from the internal knowledge that they are untouchable, kings of the world, masters of their fate. And because of their conscious projection of this identity they attract a great number of people who treat them as such.