Categorically, the single biggest mistake any creative business makes is to lead with price, or, better said, to make it all about stuff and not artistry. I see it everywhere: photographers talking about creating packages, some going so far as to offer a “create-your-own” radio button menu on their websites; graphic designers having a cutesy “place-your-order here” vibe going on; interior designers going with a per room price as their bailiwick; and caterers talking about per piece menus. Yuck, yuck and more yuck.
Some of you might say, what is the problem there? Every potential client wants to know the price and has a budget so we have to tell them our cost if we are even to be considered. Yeah, no. Yes, your client has a budget from which you may or may not be able to do what you do. If you can, great. If not, not your client. The rest is noise.
Here is the problem with making price the leader: you run away from value and you make the irrational rational. Value in any creative business is the artistry, the creative process to get to art, it is NEVER the thing itself. The price to artistry is what you say it is. But when you start with price you skip over this value and land squarely on stuff. And in the land of stuff someone is always willing to do it cheaper.
A very fun example to make my point: you go to Jeff Koons and say, “Hey, Jeff, I want you to do a big flower sculpture for me, what’ll it cost?” Do you think Jeff says, “Well, let me see, the metal will cost a million dollars, it will take me and my team about six months to do and all the other materials will be a million dollars, soooo how about five million?” Or do you think he says, “Sounds great, we will get to price soon enough, but let’s talk about flowers first. Why flowers?”
Since his Tulips sold for $33.7million last year to Steve Wynn, my guess is Jeff does not really care about stuff, his price is what it is, stuff included. Also just guessing, but I am sure it is far more interesting to Jeff to talk about art first, money second.
When you lead with price, the air leaves the balloon in a hurry. There is simply no place to go other than down the negotiating hole. And for those of you who say, “Well I do not do that, I make sure my clients understand what we do for them and what they are getting for their money before I talk about my prices.” Hmmm. Maybe not.
Here is a quick test: If the first part of the conversation with any potential client is to get the details of the project, welcome to price. No matter what happens afterwards, you just sent the message to them that you are getting the specs so you can tell them what it will cost. The rest is fluff until you “get down to business”. In the name of “real” business you leave your artistry, the need for meaningful relationship, at the curb.
Take a Zappos challenge. Instead of seeing how fast you can get to yes, see how long you can spend getting to I hear you. Of course you need to know the details, just not right away. For those of you who do not know, Zappos prides itself on customer service and actually rewards agents for how long they stay on the phone with customers, not how quickly they move through the process. The record is 10 hours and 29 minutes. Zappos knows that meaningful relationship sells a whole lot of shoes.
Even if you wind up staying with a potential client for a long time during that first meeting or conversation, starting with details sends entirely the wrong message. So what would it be like if you started with, “We will get to the nitty gritty soon enough, but let’s talk about [you fill-in-the-blank] first.” My guess is that, if you have never done it before, not talking about details (so you can get to price) will be almost impossible to do for more than two minutes, let alone fifteen.
Relationship matters more than price, more than stuff, more than anything in your creative business. Start there.