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“Get Paid What You Deserve”

Since I just told several stories about the customer benefits of higher prices, you may be surprised to learn my take on the battle-cry “Get paid what you deserve.” The way some gurus trot it out, I think it’s very harmful advice. Directed toward newly trained, no-experience service providers, it encourages them to pump up their self-esteem instead of concentrating on accumulating practical know-how and personally discovered wisdom.

I agree that low self-esteem convinces many practitioners, coaches, and consultants to keep their fees on the low end. However, it doesn’t follow that if you are full of yourself, you deserve the highest prices the market can bear! As Tad Hargrave puts it, “We don’t deserve whatever we want (including other people’s money) just because we feel good about ourselves.”

I don’t believe the word “deserve” belongs in business conversations. When someone performs a service for us, they don’t necessarily “deserve” any money at all for it, much less a certain amount of money. After all, we do things for the people around us without paying all the time. I do the dishes when I’m at a friend’s house. A friend sees that a doodad on my car is falling off and he tweaks it into place, for example. Such gestures don’t “deserve” payment, even though in a certain setting money would be exchanged for what was done.

Our normal line of work doesn’t “deserve” payment, either. We get paid for our work because we’ve made an agreement to that effect. You do deserve to get paid what was agreed upon when you’ve finished the work satisfactorily, or in advance in anticipation of that. That’s the way the world of pricing is set up. Except perhaps within families, you don’t get money because of who you are but rather because of what you do. So entitlement, deserving, your feeling about yourself - these don’t gibe with pricing.

Pricing is certainly not a matter of putting something over on other people or grabbing as much as you can from others. On the other hand, be sure to set up your pricing so that you don’t feel like you are being shortchanged. When you don’t feel happy about your pricing system or the actual numbers, customers notice.

A few summers ago, I joined a farm-share program in the next town. I had never stopped to calculate whether our farm shares cost more or less than buying produce at the supermarket because having fresh, local vegetables, fruits, and flowers were precious for me. However, I eventually quit because I couldn’t stand how anxious the farm owner was about money. Every time I went to pick out my weekly produce, I was watched like a hawk to make sure I didn’t take a teensy bit more than the program rules allowed. Clearly, they’d priced the shares at a level where the line between “just right” and “too much” was much too tight.

In addition, one time I noticed that the tomatoes set out for us didn’t look so great and there were bigger, plumper, juicier-looking ones on a far table. I asked if I could take those instead and was told, “No, those are going to our farm stand.” In other words, the farm was culling the less attractive-looking items for members who had paid ahead for the whole summer and reserving the nicer stuff for a setting where buyers would be choosing tomatoes one by one. This disturbed me. And because I don’t patronize businesses that make me feel yucky, I stopped subscribing to their program.

When you don’t feel you have a margin of wiggle room in your prices, you may show anxiety and make poor decisions, like those farmers. You may cut short your time answering legitimate questions from paying customers. You may let annoyance or impatience leak out because you feel you must go on to the next task in a too-long list of to-dos. If you “cannot afford” to provide good customer service, then something is wrong with your pricing. But when you’ve created your pricing at the level where without stinting you can give what customers need and expect, you are primed for prosperity.

If you resent the people who are paying you or feel that you’re not being properly rewarded for your work, you may have set your prices out of fear - fear of rejection, fear of upsetting others or fear of an empty calendar. Except for a few clients who make decisions primarily by price, when you charge enough to banish the resentment, both you and the clients will feel happier. You’re no longer cranky when you deal with them, and they have a better overall experience.

Some service providers even have special “I don’t want to” rates they quote when they sense a particular client is going to be a pain in the neck or when there’s a good chance that a project will be a lot of trouble. And once in a while one of those people actually says yes to the outrageous “I don’t want to” fee. Now that’s a hoot!

Instead of approaching your work with a sense of entitlement (or dis-entitlement), focus on delivering value. That might consist of technical excellence, more interpersonal sensitivity, greater convenience, faster results, less dogmatism, a distinctive delivery method, a broader knowledge base, more pampering, greater safety, a cleaner work environment, every detail is taken care of, etc.

First, feel wonderful about the value you deliver. Set up an exchange that both sides feel is beneficial. Then price accordingly.

What about barter, where money doesn’t change hands? That’s our topic for the next lesson.

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Written by

Marcia Yudkin