So we are going to step it up today. I have offered a few challenges so far this young year – lose line item pricing, refuse to allow anyone to refer to your work as anything other than an investment. And while not easy, these challenges are specific actions that do not require a deeper understanding of your creative business per se.
Now it is time to roll up your sleeves and look closer at your creative business, understand your community and where you and your art belong in that community. Here is an analogy to get you going.
Say you want to start a high-end restaurant. You know from eating at other high-end restaurants in your city that entrees range from thirty to forty dollars. Since you are new, your instinct might be to price underneath the typical high-end restaurant at, say, twenty to twenty-five dollars. You might even have a little (or a lot of) success and a few years later your prices are still twenty to twenty-five dollars. You convince yourself you are a high-end restaurant, despite wanting to get to that next level. Each time you try though you just cannot crack the thirty-dollar level for an entrée. What to do?
Of course, this is the story of soooo many creative businesses. I call it the Venus Fly Trap of luxury. You are lured into believing that you are high-end, when you really not (at least not in the way that you think) and then chase after that elusive goal missing all that you have created. Sucked in, you, your art and your creative business become exhausted by the chase, stuck in the fly trap.
Own who you are today and be the best there. Then, if you want to shift, invest in what it means to be in that other place and refuse to be defined by what the past has brought you.
Back to the restaurant example. You were NEVER a high-end restaurant. When you price above or below a category, you are NOT in that category. Period. Why? Clients cannot understand the relative value you offer. Nobody wants to do business with an amateur. We want to deal with those artists who know their work and their craft and can bring us the transformation we seek. Whether you are in business for a minute or twenty years, the transaction is the same: transformation for money. Where that transformation sits (high-end, luxury, accessible luxury, ultra-luxury or mass) is up to you and your vision for your art and your creative business. Still all about transformation though.
Let’s break it down. Own who you are today. That means know your category and strive to be the HIGHEST priced business in that category. If restaurants with twenty to twenty-five dollar entrees are considered a step below high-end, fine. Own that space and try to move every entrée to twenty-five dollars. Of course, to raise your price you will have to define the extra value you are offering to justify the increase. It could be as simple as stopping to offer the very thing your clients never want. For instance, if you are a local photographer who never travels, stop saying you will do destination work.
To be very clear, I am telling you to look at your current category, hone it and then raise your prices to be what you think are the highest for that category. Today. Even if you have booked five clients at the old price yesterday. Raise your prices (telling a better story to those that care) today. You are going to give me a list of reasons why you cannot do that today (or the moment you have finished your analysis of your category) and my answer is I don’t care, do it anyway.
Now, the harder challenge and something you actually cannot do today. If you truly want to move to the next level, you have to do the work to redefine yourself to be there. That includes not just charging the appropriate amount for the category, but more importantly redefining your value to belong at that level. For the restaurant, perhaps it means a new chef, better ingredients, a redefinition of service. For event designers, it might mean actually investing in design, hiring those capable of producing visual art in a way you have not needed to before.
Getting to the next level might mean creating a mechanism where those who cannot afford and/or do not want to afford the work, learn to never show up in the first place. A little safety tip: going to the next level is going to be really hard and really scary. You have to be committed to what it means to you, your art and your creative business to live there. By definition, it means that you have to give up all or, at least a huge part, of what you have become. You will be uncomfortable and you may crawl before you ever have the chance to even walk. Here’s the rub though. It is almost impossible to go to the next level until you are the highest price in your own category.
Think about it. If you are not the top in your zone, why should we ever believe you belong at the next level? We do not and we should not. You might find after doing the work (i.e., raising your prices to the top of your category TODAY) that you are happiest here after all. Awesome. Rock that role. We need you there to be the leader that you are, with an ever rising voice.
However, if you still want to go higher, now you are primed to see the path that lies ahead. Leap with eyes wide open because you must. Just do not kid yourself into believing that telling the next level your current story will ever work. It will not. To leap you must know that you have to tell tomorrow’s story today. A daunting task if there ever was one, but compelling for those that know they must take it on.