One of the questions that I get asked on a continual basis by creative freelancers and small business owners is; “How do I communicate the value of what I do to my clients?”
Being able to communicate your value is such an important part of running a business, and ultimately determines how much you get paid.
We can put blood, sweat and tears into a project, but it doesn’t mean the client will automatically understand or appreciate it, which can often feel quite frustrating and unrewarding.
In this article, I’m going to talk about four things that must happen in order for you to be able to communicate the real value of what you do and get paid what we’re worth on a consistent basis.
Firstly, I want to point out a harsh truth that you probably don’t want to hear…
Are you ready?
Your clients don’t care about you or how hard you work.
You might disagree with this and maybe you have a great relationship with some of your clients who show an interest in your work and well-being. But despite this, they’re not actually focused on how much time or effort you’re putting into the project, they’re focused on the results you are producing and how you’re helping them with the challenges they have in their business.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own work and think about how much effort we’re putting in, rather than thinking about the client and what they want. Communicating the value of what you do is about shifting your perspective and looking at things from the client’s point of view.
So what is the best way to go about this?
In sales, there are two primary drivers; logic and emotion. Some people are more logical than emotional, but without both, it’s difficult to influence people’s decisions. I often get a negative reaction when I use the word influence, but we must realise our job is to influence our prospective client’s decisions and help them to avoid costly mistakes.
1: Understand your client’s world
The first step to communicating value and influencing people’s decision is to understand how your product or service is related to their goals and challenges. In order to do that, we have to get 100% clear on what those goals and challenges are. Think of yourself like a doctor, until you know all of the symptoms and have done tests, you can’t make an accurate diagnosis. To do this you have to go a layer deeper than most people usually go.
Rather than just listening to what the client wants and agreeing to provide it, you must listen to why they want it and what they are really trying to achieve. This isn’t just about taking photos or designing a website, it’s about why that is important for them and their business.
Your ability to communicate value is largely determined by the quality of the questions you ask during a sales conversation and therefore how well you know the client. Your aim should be to know your client’s challenges and goals better than they do, this will allow you to see things they can’t see.
2: Help them see the potential pitfalls
The second thing you need to do to really help your clients understand the value of what we’re doing is to paint them a picture of what their business would look like without your help. This is often referred to as future pacing and is a really powerful tool when getting people to think about longer-term consequences. What will their business look like in 12 -18 months time if they continue on this path? This process often allows clients to see potential pitfalls that they may not have thought about previously.
If you’re often faced with competitors who offer a cheaper service than you, and you struggle to differentiate yourself or communicate the added value, you can highlight some potential problems of going with the competition by asking the right questions. For example; “Do you have any concerns about using a cheaper option?”. If they simply answer “no”, don’t get defensive, just ask them if they have ever bought something to save money and realised that they spent more, in the long run, trying to fix it” or “How much extra time do you think you will need to invest with this cheaper option and how much is your time worth?”
You can use these questions in a variety of ways. For example, you could ask; “Why do you feel it’s so important for your website to have great imagery?” “What do you think is the result of not having great imagery on your website? What does that allow you to do?” You have to get your customers to explain to you because in their head they just know it is important but probably haven’t thought about exactly why.
I can’t emphasise enough that communicating value isn’t about telling your customers how valuable something is, it’s about getting them to tell you.
So the second thing that must happen is they must understand the consequence of not having your product or service as part of their business.
3: Show them what it could be like
The third step is to show them the opposite of that situation, what it could be like. Again, this must be related to what they’re ultimately trying to achieve. I often see people pitching to potential clients using all of the great features of their product which are unrelated to what that client ultimately wants. This usually makes the client feels like it’s a nice to have, rather than an essential part of their business. So the third things we really need to understand is what they are ultimately trying to get done or where they really want their business to be. This usually takes a bit of digging as they will usually be coming to you with a brief and the goals will be related to the product or service you are providing.
Our job is to dig down another layer and find out why they want this. Is it to attract more customers? Is it brand engagement? Is it a better culture, a better team dynamic? What is it that they actually want, and why are they engaging you to help them? It might seem obvious at first and you might say, “Oh, they obviously just want some photography”, but you really need to go a layer deeper and find out why they want that. What is it about your photography that they think is going to make their business better? Most people are afraid to ask this question because they think they will lose the sale or the prospect will get annoyed. I have found the opposite to be true and this process actually creates a huge amount of value for potential clients.
It’s a really important part of the sales process because, without this, you might find yourself providing a service they want, but not something they actually need. Sounds ok in the short term, but eventually, they are going to work this out for themselves and are unlikely to remain your clients. Your job is to really understand whether this is the best option for them, and if it’s not, that’s okay. They will really appreciate your honesty if you tell them what they want isn’t going to get them what they need.
Most clients don’t know what they need, that’s why they are talking to you. Let’s stick with the photography example; Maybe the client wants new images for their website, but their website loads slowly, isn’t mobile responsive and has no content. Are those photos really going to get them what they want overall?
Maybe you’re not the person to help them fix that, but I bet you know someone who could? They’re going to see that you genuinely want to help them and their business, rather than just selling them the first thing they ask for. You will build a much better relationship and although you might not get the sale today, you will probably get it a few months down the line or even get a referral. You must have a long-term game in your head, otherwise, it will come back to bite you in the ass eventually!
4: Create demand for your work
The final thing that must happen to communicate value relates to how you present yourself and your business. I’m not talking about what you wear, I’m talking about the client’s perception of you and how valuable your product or service is. This is often referred to as framing and controls how something is perceived.
My favourite story that really emphasises the power of a frame of reference is about Joshua Bell, a famous violinist who went down into the New York subway to busk. During that time, only a few people stopped to pay attention and he collected a total of £35 dollars. Contrast this to seeing Joshua live in concert which cost an average of $60 per ticket. So what’s the difference? Obviously, there are lots of factors to consider here, but the one that strikes me the most is people’s frame of reference. He is playing in the subway so people automatically think he is a struggling musician trying to scrape a few dollars together. Opposed to seeing someone perform in a concert hall, which is a totally different experience and, therefore, you have a completely different frame of reference.
Surprisingly, we can influence this more than you might think. There are certain frames of reference that make something more desirable, the most common being supply and demand. If you can see there are more people that want something than the quantity available, it creates market tension which increases demand. That could be anything from a ticket for a festival to a limited edition piece of clothing. In the book “Oversubscribed” by Daniel Priestley, he gives a 5 step plan of exactly how to create this kind of tension and get people lining up to do business with you.
The main takeaway I got from this book was to market for signals not sales. What Daniel means by this is to get people to register their interest for something before you actually offer it. If we take the photography as an example, you could create an offer for a package that is a website image makeover and get people to signal they are interested in having a conversation about it. Once you have more people than space available, you can release the package and communicate that demand to your customers. In order for this to work, you must first decide your own capacity. How many of these projects could you do really well to a high standard? Use this as a baseline and then get between 5 and 20 times the amount of interest.
People are often worried about not being able to work with everyone that enquires, but that’s actually the perfect position to be in. You want to have more people interested in working with you than you have the capacity for because then you can pick and choose your clients to ensure you have a great relationship with them and produce remarkable results.
Another way to change the frame of reference is with the price. A lot of people think that pricing themselves competitively or pricing themselves low is helping them to win more business, but often, companies who are looking for reliable providers will go with the more expensive option because they believe that it will be better quality. If you have a lot of value to offer your customer (which I’m assuming you do), then don’t be afraid to charge accordingly. This is a separate topic which requires another article, but for the sake of this one, just realise that a higher price can often create a higher perception of value.
In summary, the first thing you need to identify the goals and challenges your customers have in their business. This will allow you to communicate your product or service in relation to those challenges and ensure what you are talking about is relevant. The second thing is you need to get them to understand the consequences of not having your product or service in their business and ensure they really understand what could happen if they don’t implement what you are suggesting. The third thing is you need to show them how your product or service will make their life better in relation to what they ultimately want, and finally, create a sense of demand by framing yourself correctly. That could be using price, capacity or even just experience and expertise. There are lots of different ways to do this, so find one that feels relevant to you and your business.
Just remember, your value is communicated through perception, not just the amount of effort you put in.
Which of these points resonated the most with you? What do you struggle with when communicating value to your clients?