Price is About So Much More Than Cost

Think about the last thing you “splurged” on: Why did you buy it? How did it make you feel? What story did it tell you? What story did it tell about you? What part of your values or personality did it confirm?

When it comes to the things we care about, we rarely make decisions based on price. Price might be a factor but it isn’t the make or break detail we worry it is as designers, idea people, and business owners.

If you create things that you want people to care about, you have to use price as an opportunity to tell a story not just pay your costs or your salary.

Price is about so much more than cost.

Price isn’t just what ends up on the tag. Price isn’t the only thing that determines whether something is affordable or too expensive. Price isn’t even the determining factor in whether someone decides to buy something or not.

Getting the price right for your products and services is important. But if you’re basing your prices solely on how much it costs you to create, how big or small it is, how complex or simple it is, how much you’d like it to be affordable, or what assumptions you’ve made about how much people are willing to spend, you’re missing the pricing boat.

I’m often asked for rules of thumb when it comes to pricing. Beyond a few calculations, an imperative to price for profit, and gentle urging to analyze the market, I don’t have any. There is no magic formula for getting to the right price for your new product or service.

There is, however, an awful lot of strategic work you can do to determine whether your pricing strategy is going to succeed or fail. You need to know who you want to have buying your product and what they expect to pay for something like it. You need to know what problem you’re solving and how resolution of that problem can be quantified. You need to know who your customers aspire to be and what community they want to fit in with. You need to know how you want your business to be positioned and how it is already perceived.

And beyond knowing all of that, you need to choose. Most pricing struggles come down to trying to be too many things to too many different kinds of people (kind of a universal life problem, isn’t it?). Of course, if your whole business is a little wishy washy, you’re going to have problems pricing.

Use price as a way to make a statement about the strategic direction of your business and then follow-through with every other aspect of your business. You’ll feel more confident about what you charge—and so will your customers.


P.S. Makers & designers: I’m teaching a very special 1-day workshop on CreativeLive called Pricing Your Craft. You can watch live, FREE, on August 17: RSVP here for some extra special bonus materials including my exclusive Cash Flow Plan. Don’t miss it!

How Much Should a Cup of Coffee Cost? Making Your Customers Comfortable With Price

How much should a cup of coffee cost?

And what does that have to do with how much you should sell your product, app, program, or service for?

The first answer is, it depends. The second answer is, everything.

The price of a cup of coffee is influenced by a lot of factors. And one of the factors that influences it least is the material cost of the beans. Even expensive coffee beans tend to be “cheap” (with a few notable exceptions).

How to make your customers comfortable with the price you charge

The factor that influences it most is perhaps the different markets it’s sold in. You can get coffee almost anywhere, and where you get it influences how much you expect to pay. Grab a 64oz Big Gulp of coffee at a gas station and you might pay 69 cents. Pick up a 24oz coffee at a fast food chain and you might pay 99 cents. Sip on a 16oz coffee from a specialty chain and that’ll set you back a little over $2. Or, sidle up to the brew bar at high-end coffee establishments and that cup of coffee might set you back $5-7 (yes, I’m still talking about brewed coffee, not espresso).

While there is certainly a difference in the cost of the materials, overhead, and labor at these establishments, the price of a cup of coffee is influenced as much by the conversation you share with your barista, the environment of the shop, and the people you expect to meet there. The same dynamic is at play with digital products and most services. While there are hard costs that influence price, most of the price is subjective and based on many factors that have nothing to do with materials or overhead.

The price of coffee is also largely dictated by what the product means to its customers. Gas station coffee is a necessary evil, the solution to the problem of working too many hours, too early in the morning. Fast food coffee is a convenience, a simple pick-me-up in the middle of a hectic day. Specialty chain coffee is a predictable luxury. Brew bar coffee is an experience all its own, a ritual, a little slice of heaven for the connoisseur.

If the local specialty shop started charging 69 cents for a cup of coffee, it would be jarring to your consumer mind. You’d ask, “Why?” and you’d expect an answer about promotion. If they just exclaimed, “Well, that’s what it costs,” you’d start to wonder, question its quality, wonder about the people running the place.

If you price your products or services discordantly from what your customers expect to pay, you’ll leave them wondering the same things. Whether too low or too high, the price of your product is suddenly something that makes people uncomfortable. And uncomfortable people don’t buy.

To make sure you’re putting your customers at ease with both the experience of your product or service and the price you’re asking them to pay for it, consider these questions:

  • What do you want your product or service to mean to your customers?
  • How do you want them to experience your product?
  • What does your customer expect your product to mean to them?
  • How does the set of features you’ve arranged for her add up in her mind?
  • What other products, services, or solutions might he be relating to your product?

Pricing is largely chicken & the egg. And too often, business owners play chicken. You don’t have to price your products like a gas station prices coffee. You can choose to have a more refined aesthetic, offer a more distinct point of view, cultivate a more demanding clientele, create more favorable positioning–and charge more.

It’s your choice.

Don’t believe that these factors are out of your control. If there is any part of your business that you believe is negatively impacting your ability to set the price you want, take control and change it. Adjust your brand or positioning, change marketplaces, rework your network, invest in design.

Create an experience that really means something to your customers and results in a sustainable, profitable price for your product. Make your customers comfortable with both the value your business is creating and the price you ask your customers to pay.

And then have a cup of coffee.

The Danger of Affordable: How to Reframe This Negative Script

While some businesses focus on catering to the luxury market, most businesses are looking to serve a broader market of incomes & lifestyles. Even when you’ve gotten crystal clear on who you’d most like to serve, that group can be diverse.

So it’s natural to want to offer a way to engage your work that’s “affordable.”

The thing about “affordable” is that it’s not actually related to price; it’s related to value.

Here’s what it takes for something to be affordable:

An affordable product must deliver considerably more value to the customer than the value she exchanges for it.

Of course, all of your products should fit that description. Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid Illustrated, uses a baseline of 20x–he prices his products in a way that he can guarantee a 2000% return on investment if implemented properly.

So the real danger in using the word “affordable”–even just in your own head–is that, I believe, it undermines your perception of the value you are already offering. Everything you create is affordable. Everything you offer delivers a significant return on investment in terms of money, convenience, fulfilled desires, time, etc…

That’s the very essence of affordability.

But that’s not what you mean when you make offering something “affordable,” is it?

So let’s stop using this word that doesn’t really mean what we think it means. Let’s remind ourselves that businesses are have a duty to create products that are affordable based on value and return on investment.

So what does your business need?

What your business needs is something accessible, something with a low barrier to entry, something that requires less trust on the part of your new customer. Those are the kind of products that help your potential customers turn into loyal customers, while creating a stream of revenue for your business at the same time.

Look more closely:


Often brands have their own language, their own energy. Does your business offer an initiation to this language? Do you offer a product that imbues that energy to new customers?

Doing business with a new brand can be intimidating to customers, especially when their hopes, dreams, or goals are on the line. When you offer an accessible product, you’re giving your prospects a way to ease into your business’s bigger offerings.

Low Barrier to Entry

Does your business offer a product that is easy to get? Something that’s on sale all the time? Something requires very little of your potential customer?

Products with a low barrier to entry allow new prospects to turn into new customers very quickly. They can often open the door to a more in depth sales conversation.

Lower Trust

You want to deliver big results for your customers. However, those big results often require a big leap of faith on behalf of your potential customers. Do you have a product that requires a little less trust? Promises an equally important but smaller outcome?

Products that produce concrete results and accomplish tasks that your customer are already seeking solutions for require much less trust than those that promise transformative change. Building trust in small steps prepares your customers to bigger steps with your business in the future.

Stop selling yourself short on the value of your products or services. Look for an opportunity to create a product that creates a path into your business that’s accessible, low barrier, and low trust.

Shame & the Money Script That is Standing in Your Way

When you wonder about pricing your offerings, what’s the script that runs in your head? My bet is it’s something along the lines of “I’m not worth [that much, a higher price, others paying that].

Rarely is it “The work isn’t worth it.”

This money script is all about shame.

Shame is this feeling we get that something is wrong with us and that somehow we are flawed or inadequate in a way that makes us unworthy of a connection with other people.
Brene Brown

That’s the trick, isn’t it? We know deep down that each of those transactions, each time money & goods change hands, that it’s a connection with another person. A living, breathing human being.

Shame, that “most primitive” of human emotions, tugs at us when we go to set a price and forge a connection. “No,” we say, “I’m not worth it.”

What is also implied, of course, is that your customers aren’t worth that deep personal connection, either. By pricing the offering too low or not bringing it to market at all, we don’t let our customers exercise their own worthiness. They can’t connect with us and our work.

How do you replace this shame script with a positive one?

Ask yourself about the value of the work. As I said, rarely do we say “The work isn’t worth it.”

We know it is. How much is a website worth? Often over a million dollars over its lifetime. How much is losing weight worth? Medical bills reduced and years added to life. How much is jewelry worth? The priceless feeling you get when you put it on.

Put the emphasis on the work. Put the emphasis on the value. And don’t just try to imagine it – when has that ever worked?

Quantify it.

Run the numbers. How many shopping trips saved? How many sleepless nights avoided? How many good relationships gamed? How much peace realized?

Certainly, the value of your work is not so easily quantifiable. But that’s really the point. The work is worth it. The work is worthy.

The worthiness of that work is the tie that binds you & your customer together. It provides the gentle reminder that you are worth it and that she is worth it.

You’re not worthy because of your work. You’re worthy because you’re you. But the work is a tangible product of that worthiness.

Set your price accordingly.

— PS —

I had a Twitter conversation with Brenda Johima last night that I felt compelled to add to this post. I tweeted that, “It’s never to late to set financial goals higher than you ever dreamed possible.” And she replied that she’d recently done just that, told a few friends, and then was immediately deflated by their reactions.

Unfortunately, you & I both know this is a common story. I’ve been there myself.

That’s why it’s of utmost importance to find yourself worthy of making friends who understand & believe in your big goals. The friends you have now want to protect you – and what you’re doing is scary. The numbers you’re throwing around are downright crazy.

Find new friends who realize that scary and crazy are exactly what you need right now. It’s not that you need to ditch your old friends, just that a business needs friends too!

And where to find these magical people? Well, I’ve found mine (Megan, Adam, Amanda, and so many others) on Twitter. Cliche but true. Maybe you’ll find yours at the local coffee shop, the conference you just signed up for, or in the program you’ve just started.

But make an effort to find that core group of people who are willing to help you draft plans & strategies just as crazy as your goals.

Are you pricing for results? Your customer’s, that is…

I love pricing for value. In other words, the value I provide you is so much greater than the value of the money you have to shell out to get it.

Pricing for value works because it leaves both parties feeling richer. I sell my service and receive the money I want. You receive my service and receive the information/ideas/action items you want. The “pain” it causes me to deliver the service is much less than the money I receive. The “pain” it causes you to pay the invoice is much less than the information you receive.

We both receive what’s valuable to us. And we’re both extremely happy people at the end of it all. And we’re likely to do business again.

But value is only half the equation. When pricing, you also have to consider how to get results.

A fresh life coach sets her rates at $50 per hour. That’s more than she’s ever made in her life per hour so she feels pretty good about it. She also knows that she can deliver loads of value for that $50. And, she’ll be $50 richer every time she sees a client.

That all sounds good, right?

But, “You’d be a fool not to buy this at this price” pricing can work against you. If your product or service requires some work from your clients or customers – and really, who’s doesn’t? – your pricing might be enabling complacency & inaction.

So that life coach might get some clients at that rate. But do those clients feel invested – both literally & figuratively – in the work? Or are they patting themselves on the back for just taking a step in the right direction?

On the flip side, the people who are most ready to do the work, the people who are the best clients for this coach, will look at the number and believe that this coach isn’t well-equipped to help them take the actions they need to take.

Fair? Nope, not at all. But just like I remind my toddler on a daily basis, “Reality isn’t fair.”

Whenever I price a new offer, for instance, my new Insight Intensives, I’m not only considering the value I’m offering, the time it takes me to prepare, my position in the market, or the benefit of my experience, but I’m also considering what price will create allow my clients to create the best results.

  • What price will allow you to take this seriously?
  • What price will ensure that you’re a success story?
  • What price will push you past “comfortable” and into the discomfort of action?

If you’re a painter, what price will put your piece of art over the sofa? Or even get it hung at all?
If you’re a copywriter, what price will force your client out of cliche language & into what’s true to them?
If you’re a jewelry designer, what price will ensure your pieces get paired with fabulous outfits?

Sure, there’s quite a bit more that goes into those decisions. But don’t fool yourself that price isn’t a big factor in personal investment on all levels.

Start by pricing for value and then check yourself by pricing for results.