Give Them What (They Think) They Need

by Annie on July 29, 2014

Bloodhound dog draped in wrapping paperStory time, kids. Gather ’round.

So back in the day, well before the Category 5 shit-storm that destroyed my legal career, before I had evolved into the marketing pro I am today, I tried to launch a solo business as a lawyer.

Mind you, I’d never marketed my own business before, except as an actor, and that was well before the days of the web. When you’re the thing being marketed … well, it’s different.

I had been blogging for a few years, though, so I was perhaps more familiar with the technology than most newcomers.

So I hired a designer to create a custom WordPress theme, set up my site, and then promptly … sat back and stared at the screen.

For days.

I had no idea what to put up there.

Oh sure, I had enough sense to know that what I wanted to do was called content marketing, and that this meant I needed  – y’know, content. And I knew this content should be targeted to my prospective clients.

I knew I could write – it’s always been the thing that comes most easily to me. (Well, that, and sarcasm. And watching TV, but I guess that comes easily to most everyone.)

So, I asked myself, “Self, what do these prospective clients of ours need from us?”

And then, my friends, I sat down and wrote. I mean I wrote, people. I wrote a lot. I wrote over 20,000 words within a week or so.

Then I sat back – again – and stared at the screen – again.

And thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

They were good words, mind you. Proper spelling, good grammar, with headings and subheadings and keywords. (Oh, my.)

But something was wrong.  Well, maybe not wrong, per se, but definitely … off.

So I got out of the chair – my ass was numb by this point – and I went about my non-business business. I drove my kid to school. I shopped for groceries. I walked the dog.

This was the morose ‘80’s musical montage part of our story.

And throughout it all, I kept asking myself the same question, over and over again.

“What do they need?”

Wash a dish. “What do they need?”

Put gas in the car. “What do they need?”

Take a shower. “What do they need?”

And then, my friends, it hit me. The proverbial bolt out of the blue. The metaphorical light bulb switching on.

It hit me like the proverbial ton of metaphorical freakin’ bricks.

I was asking the wrong damned question all along.

The $64,000 question wasn’t “What do they need?” at all.

It was “What do they think they need?”

All my expertise and know-better was worth pretty much bupkus. It was so much puffed-up Greek, or may as well have been, to those prospective clients.

It wasn’t wrong.

It wasn’t inaccurate.

It certainly wasn’t badly written.

It wasn’t even inapplicable or irrelevant. Not by a long shot.

It just wasn’t what they thought they needed.

So I regrouped. I started thinking about that question. I thought about those prospective clients in a whole new way. They stopped being one big nameless, faceless mass of unknown individual humans. They became specific people. The assistant manager of the grocery store I frequented whose wife was on bedrest with her fourth pregnancy. The woman who lived next door with her disabled husband. My kid’s second-grade teacher, who was struggling to pay back her student loans.

I thought about those specific people, and then I thought about what kept them up at nights. I thought about what made them wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat – and what they typed into Google’s little box, hoping against hope they’d find something out there in the digital ether that would make them feel better.

I thought, in short, about what they thought they needed – not what I knew (or “knew”) they needed.

Then I went back, revised much of what I’d written earlier. And I wrote other things, all in response to that question.

And within two months, I was seeing measurable and fairly consistent results. People called. People set up consultations. People hired me.

(Also, within six months, I was ranking higher for short-tail keywords – short tail, mind you – than the applicable courts’ sites in my state.  But that’s another post altogether.)

Moral of the story, kids: You have to connect with your prospects where they say – where they want to meet you – not where you want to meet them.

This is part of July’s Word Carnival – stories for small business owners by small business owners & bloggers. This month’s theme: “Marketing without Marketing.” Check out all our carnies on the digital fairway here.

Photo Credit: SuperFantastic via photopin cc

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What’s It Worth to You?

by Annie on June 25, 2014

Pastry dough rolled out on floured wooden table

The email from my friend came at a particularly opportune time.

I’d just found out that I’d lost a well-paying side gig, teaching the basics of coding to employees of corporate clients, when the training company that outsourced these courses to me decided to hire an in-house instructor.

That one decision immediately cost me half my annual income (based on the previous year’s instructor fees they’d paid me).

So, yeah, I was eager to find work, and that meant individual clients. While I was, and am still, trying to decrease my website work to focus on copywriting and social media management, I knew I couldn’t turn down any decent WordPress gig.

So when my friend alerted me via email to the newly minted 2-lawyer firm that needed a website and was specifically interested in WordPress, I got excited. Then I got to work.

I did my research on the clients, two lawyers who’d been working for competing larger firms and who’d decided to pool resources for their new small firm. I carefully crafted a proposal, laying out two options: a straightforward WordPress installation using a ready-made theme for $399, or a WordPress install with a premium theme and customization for $699, either of which I’d add copywriting (up to ten pages) to for an additional $600.

I proofed the proposal the next day, then emailed it to the two attorneys, with a CC to our mutual friend. She called back later that day and said she thought it was a winner. I tried to put it out of my mind and get on to other things – I mean, I’ve been doing this awhile and I knew better than to count any digital chickens before they hatched into paying clients, if you know what I mean.

Still, I felt pretty zen about it all. My prices were fair and covered a range of price points, cognizant of their startup status. My friend had spoken on my behalf (I’d created her website a few years prior and she was an ongoing client as well). But on the other hand, I’ve been around this block a few dozen times. You just never know.

Well, fast forward a week or so, and you probably won’t be surprised that I didn’t get the gig. It’s OK. I mean, I wasn’t.

Wait. Let me rephrase that: I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get the gig.

But I sure as hell was stunned at who did – or rather, what the winning proposal’s details were, particularly with respect to price.

Are you ready?

For the same scope of work that I’d set out in my “Option A” part of the proposal — the straight-up WP install, ready-made theme, no copywriting, no customization — the package I’d quoted at $399 — the winning developer quoted these lawyers a flat fee of $1,750.

Let me say that again.

One thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars.

One thousand, seven hundred … 

Four hours of work, six max. No extra coding. Zero content.

ONE THOUSAND, SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. 

There’s competitive pricing, folks, and then there’s whatever that was.

And that’s the developer these two cash-strapped start-up lawyers chose.

At some point, you start thinking “Maybe it’s me….,” you know?

I tried to find out what had possessed these smart attorneys to make the decision they’d made, but the only thing we were able to figure out, my friend and I, was that the winning developer had created a very simple 4-page WordPress website for a professional organization to which these attorneys belonged.

I’ve seen that site, by the way. I was understandably curious. It’s a good site. It’s no cutting-edge design, of course – but it wasn’t supposed to be. (Most WP business sites aren’t, and shouldn’t be, though WP can certainly support some rad design choices.) It’s just – basic. Which is what they wanted.

So this all got me thinking …

What the fuck?!

I mean, pardon the language, but really now!

What lesson was I supposed to be taking away from this experience?

So, I tried just sitting with my feelings about the whole thing for awhile. I was incredibly irked and on occasion enraged. I thought (and still think) this developer’s prices were so high as to be unethical, honestly.

What really bothered me here? Two things, I realized:

  1. The “successful” developer was benefiting from perceived value. That is, his prices were so high that his potential clients assumed he must deliver a superior product with bells and whistles – even when he’s explicitly not delivering anything other than a basic product. It’s like offering a ’02 Ford Taurus with 100,000 miles on it at the same price as a brand new fully loaded model, and the customer picking the older model because “at that price, it must be worth it!” The clients, not knowing anything about web design, had no way of understanding this, so they figured the other developer “must be worth it.”
  2. It’s possible that all those times other colleagues told me my prices were way too low, and I was resistant because “c’mon, this isn’t rocket science” and “it only takes four to six hours!” — yeah, they may have been right, and I may have been wrong.

I don’t think this has anything to do with gender — though a lot of smart people think women in particular tend to undervalue their own worth in business — but I do think it’s got a lot to do with the psychology of decision making

Here’s what I think happened:

  • My prices probably were already too low, to begin with. They may have been based on my understanding of how long a task would take, but they were not based on the value of that work to the client.
  • The clients in this case — two lawyers — weren’t rubes out of the backwoods. These two people were savvy, sophisticated purchasers — even though they may not have known a whole lot about web development, they had a certain comfort, shall we say, with paying well over $300 an hour for skilled professional work. That was their context.
  • There were no hidden benefits here. There wasn’t a super-secret steep discount, no previous friendship or relationship with the developer (these guys had nothing to do with the professional group’s website), and no other personal or professional influencing factors, as far as my friend and I can tell.
  • When they were presented with two competing and otherwise identical proposals, with over $1,300 difference between the two, they could have had one of two possible reactions.  They could have thought: “Developer B is way too high! He must be unscrupulous!” Or they could have thought “Developer A is way too low! She must be not be as good as Developer B!”
  • Their conclusion was that “Developer A isn’t as good as Developer B.”

I think this last thing is really important to understand. When faced with those two possible conclusions, they immediately thought the lower bidder wasn’t as skilled as the higher one – not that the higher bidder was gouging them!

So what am I supposed to do with all this?

What are you supposed to do with all this?

Well, damned if I know. See, there’s a lot here that’s unknown. Would this same decision-making behavior hold true of non-service professionals? Would it hold true in a larger organization, or a team-managed purchasing process? Did the developer make some promise or assurance to the clients that the clients didn’t disclose to my friend?

Possibly. And any one of those unknowns could change the conclusions we draw from this experience.

But based on what I have now — which is what I’ve described above — I’m moving forward on these fronts:

  • I’m going to take another hard look at my prices for various services and try to figure out if they’re so low they’re scaring prospects away.
  • I’m going to give some serious consideration to taking pricing information off my website altogether, and working pricing into the tail-end of the conversation with each prospect, not the beginning. (One thing I do know: prospects who talk pricing first are shopping based on price, and those folks are almost never fully satisfied when all is said and done.)
  • I may take website work off my services pages altogether. I have nothing but anecdotal support for this, but I do believe clients for copy and social media are a whole lot easier to thrill than clients for website development projects. There’s an underlying skepticism towards website work that’s just not there with my other services.  (I can sort of understand that skepticism; our profession has some bad apples, to be sure. The stories I hear…)
  • Whatever I decide to do about pricing is going to be based not on my time, at least in anything other than a “bottom line” context. Instead, it’s going to based on the value to the client.

Over to you. What are your struggles with pricing your services? Let’s talk this out. I can’t be the only one struggling with this.

Did ya like that? This post is part of the Word Carnivals – a monthly round-up of some of the best writing on the web by, for, and about small biz owners. This month’s topic is all about value and pricing. Check out the rest of the Carnies here.

Photo credit: larkin.family via photopin cc

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