How to Value Your Work As a Creative Services Provider

If you don’t value your work…

then nobody else will.

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 all 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.

In the realm of valuing your services, conventional wisdom goes something like this:

  1. First, establish how much you want to make per hour of your time.

  2. Check that figure against industry norms to make sure you're "competitive".

  3. Prepare to negotiate your price down even further.

  4. And then, only once you've honed your chops, price your services a little higher than the rest, while still being competitive.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because…

Conventional Wisdom Keeps You Thinking Like A Commodity

Are you sick and tired of chasing down new business? Wouldn’t you rather your prospects be chasing after YOU to design their logo, develop their website or take their wedding photos? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Guess what? It’s also easy. 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 developer, a home-stager or marketing consultant, we all facing the same challenges in the end: proving our value.

In the final assessment, it's the professional who does a better job of asserting their value - beyond a shadow of a doubt - in the minds of their prospects who gets the business.

We're All In the Value-Creation Business

First off, if you not in business to create value, you have no right being in business. People become freelancers and start business for all kinds of selfish reasons, but the one’s who succeed in the marketplace understand that they must put their customers’ reasons ahead of their own if they want to be around in a few years.

You must, I repeat, must be mentally sold on your own value before you'll ever convince anyone else to recognize it. Thankfully there is an easy and systematic way to sell yourself on your own value in the middle of a selling conversation with a prospect.

...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.

Let's imagine for a moment that there is a magic script that would make them turn over their wallets. Stop imagining because 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 a creative services provider, 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. People want things. Hardly revelatory, so how are you going to help them get it?

After you get that, then you'll realize that your value to a client is the same whether you spend two hours or 20 hours doing the work. That's because "Value" isn't something you "put into" your service, it's what your client "gets out".

Try to think of the ways your client's situation can be improved directly, or indirectly, by contracting your services. Simply begin by asking yourself: "Why do your client's customers buy?" What precisely are your services worth to your client in increased curbside appeal, size or frequency of sales, brand recognition and so on and so forth.

Are you starting to get it yet? Whatever creative service you provide, you've got clients who are trying to sell products and services to their own set of customers... I guarantee you they've got business problems they need help solving. You're going to help solve them. And since solving those business problems is worth a lot to your clients, in both monetary and non-monetary value, you're entitled to a piece of the upside!

But we prefer to take our portion in monetary value =) 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 you are a co-creator in your clients’ ideal outcome. It is this mindset specifically that sets professionals who market themselves as commodities apart from professionals who can command any price for their work. What's their secret? I'm going to give you the shortcut to that level of confidence in, yes, just four easy steps.

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

Step 1. Find Out Their “Number”

And since solving those marketing problems is worth a lot to your clients, you’re entitled to a piece of the upside.

First of all, your clients' motives are probably a whole lot more personal—and more acutely felt—than yours are. 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 scaring OFF more customers than it's reeling IN.

  • 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 conversion rates by three times or more.

Step 2. Discover Their True Motives

I hope you’re 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 giving to charity. But no matter how their motives are expressed, always denominate it into clear, dollars and sense terms, because that is the language of business.

To figure out their true motives, all you need is a basic understanding of how your clients make money in their business. 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 to hire, asking your clients the right questions will tap into a wellspring of unvocalized desires you never even considered.

These are abstract and emotional appeals. Appeals like appearing successful, impressing friends, outsmarting competitors, being knowledgable and being hip with the latest trends. This is the real stuff that motivates people, the “true profit motive.”

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 for you.

  • 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 this engagement?

  • When you look back on this 12 months from now, what will have happened to let you know this was a great decision?

Ok, now that you've identified your clients profit motive...

Step 3. Have Them Assign A Specific Dollar Value To What Motivates Them BY QUestioning Into Their Answers

The only thing better than being fully aware of your value is having someone else recognize it first. The specific dollar amount we're fishing for doesn't have to be known in advance, or even accurate. Some clients will flat-out lie to you about the numbers. The point is to get your client thinking about all the free time, decreased stress and wonderful feelings they'll have after they hire you to solve their problems. Ask them:

  • Knowing what you know now, would you have done things a little differently in your business?

  • How would things be different for you if you had solved this issue three years ago?

  • How much more will solving this be worth to you over the next three years?

Merely talking about these things automatically sets you head-and-shoulders above the commodity status of most of your competitors. But we can do better.

Step 4. Now, Separate Yourself From the Flock

In merchandising we talk about "points of difference." These things are usually written down and are the fodder of umpteen pitch decks, feature charts and marketing pieces. 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 creating marketing literature for your services, but feature-by-feature comparisons still have you thinking like a commodity.

The basic idea here is that there are things you do on behalf of clients that you take for granted and don’t express to your clients but would multiply the value of your services many times if called attention to because they tie back to basic human desires–their true motives.

Maybe they’ve contracted providers in the past and didn’t get enough personal attention. Then tell them you work 10x harder for them.

Maybe they’ve been burned in the past, with someone not completing the work or doing it as expected. Wonderful, you tell them about your fine-tuned process, that if followed, will guarantee delivery.

Perhaps they’re afraid this engagement will drag on, without end. Perfect, you explain that your typical engagement takes no more than two days, or one week or 30 days.

The problem with being regarded as a commodity is that a commodity rarely ever trades for much lower or higher. They are subject to all manner of intentional and unintentional price fixing. Commodities are valued so lowly that they are regarded as raw materials instead of hard to find, value-added services.

You need to tap into the unexpressed desires of your clientele to truly differentiate your offerings and elevate 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 grasping for words.  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 that they’ve made the declaration in their "mind." 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.