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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

What Is Value-Based Pricing?

Value-based pricing is a way not only to get paid for your time and expenses but also for the value of the services and products you provide to your clients.

Value-Based Pricing = Time + Expenses + Value.

You are compensated only for your time and expenses with hourly and project-based pricing. This way is ok for newer designers just starting. But once you’ve established yourself and started to build a reputation as a skilled designer, you become more valuable to your clients than merely the time you spend on a project. At that point, you may want to consider switching your pricing method to value-based pricing.

After all, If that new website or logo you are designing will help your client’s business grow and perhaps earn them a half million dollars over its lifetime, that’s a great value to them, and your prices should reflect it.

Establish a baseline price.

Before using value-based pricing, you need to establish a baseline price. Your baseline price will be different depending on the scope of each project, but they all start the same way.

When submitting a quote using value-based pricing, it’s important to remember the formula: Value-Based Pricing = Time + Expenses + Value.

To start, you need to estimate how long you think a project will take and multiply it by your hourly rate. Make sure your hourly rate reflects your skills as a designer.

Once you have your time figured out, estimate your expenses for the project. Not just project-specific expenses but business expenses as well. Business expenses are something many designers overlook when quoting.

How much electricity will you be consuming while working on the project? If you rent space, you should know how much per hour it costs and include it as an expense. How much does your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription cost per hour of use? All of these are considered expenses, and you should bill for them. Just because it’s a business expense doesn’t mean you can’t charge your clients for it.

Remember that besides your time, you should be charging enough to keep the light on and your business running.

Considering all of this, you will have a different baseline price for every project. A website will take more time to develop than designing a business card will. Don’t forget to add a buffer to your baseline price. We all know about scope creep, so compensate for it in advance by adding anywhere from 5-20% or more to your baseline price.

Once you’ve determined your baseline price for a project, you can adjust your quote based on the projected value of the project to your client. That's value-based pricing.

Determining the value of a project

Determining the value part of value-based pricing is tricky. Through back-and-forth conversations with your clients, you need to figure out what sort of return they expect to achieve with what you provide them. Only then can you figure out a percentage of that amount as the value part of your price equation.

When starting with value-based pricing, offering lower prices is normal as you get used to how much value design can provide. Over time as you practice and gain experience, you will get better at determining the true value of a project. The trick is to try and let your clients estimate the value for you by asking lots of questions about their business.

Be more than a designer.

When you first start your business, chances are you'll run it more like a technician. A client tells you what they want, you design it for them, and they pay you. Many designers continue using that model their entire careers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But If you want to use value-based pricing, you need to do more. You need to establish yourself not only as a designer but as a design consultant.

As a designer, most of the communication goes in one direction. From the client to you. As a design consultant, communication evens out or even tips in the other direction, with you directing the project more than the client.

To establish yourself as a design consultant, you must be inquisitive about a client's business. Ask them questions like “What sort of growth do you anticipate for this upcoming year?” or “How do you think this proposed design project will affect your bottom line?” or “How much money are you willing to invest to ensure the success of your business?”

By asking these questions from the start that have nothing to do with the actual designing of the project, your clients will realize that you bring much more to the table than merely your design skills. You deliver insight and value that will continue long after you’ve completed their project.

If you establish yourself as a problem solver, which is what a consultant should be, and you approach clients with confidence, you will build trust with them, and they will be much more willing to open up to you about their business. Once you have that trust and your clients see the knowledge and value you bring, they will be ready to invest more with you.

Several clients use me as a sounding board to ask my opinion on business matters. Matters that have nothing to do with design. That’s because of the trust and value I've provided them over the years. Those clients value me more than just for my design skills, And that means I can charge them more for my services based on that trust and value.

The tricky part is putting a price tag on that value. Maybe that value is $5,000, or perhaps it's $50,000. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to figure it out. You will need to judge for yourself what you think the value of each project is to your client and then present your value-based price with confidence.

It is trial and error. But with practice, you will get the hang of it and start to know when you can charge more for a project based on value and when you can’t. Before long, you will feel comfortable and confident in asking for what you are worth.

I remember years ago when I used to design websites for $400-$700. I was very nervous the first time I quoted $1000 for a website, but I believed the value I was providing was more than what I had been charging. My clients must have agreed because they accepted my quotes, and soon $1000 became my new base price for a basic website. Later, recognizing even more value I was bringing, I raised my price to $2000, wondering if clients would laugh in my face. They didn't. They agreed, and $2000 became my new base price.

Every time I raised my prices and asked for more money, based on the value I was providing, I kept thinking I was asking too much and would never hear from those clients again. But you know what? It never happened.

Let me tell you what did happen. When I asked $400-$700 for a website, I had many clients say it was too expensive or they couldn't afford it. I was winning one out of every four or five quotes I submitted. But now that my starting price for a basic website is several thousand dollars, I rarely have a client turn me down. Most clients are referred to me by someone they trust, and they've heard of the value I provide beyond a simple website. With that knowledge, they are willing to invest in my services even though I charge much more than the next guy.

You are a professional designer, and that’s why clients are coming to you in the first place. If a client doesn’t like your price for their project and doesn’t see the value in hiring you, then you don’t want them as a client.

There are no bad clients, only bad design choices.

Before that statement makes you stop reading, let me explain. When I say bad design choices, I don’t mean a designer's skills. I mean their people perception filters. If you end up with rude or disrespectful clients that micromanage you or are stingy with their money, it's not the client's fault; it’s yours for agreeing to work with them.

Unless you are just starting, you should have enough experience in recognizing demanding clients to be able to turn them away before ever having to deal with them. The money may be tempting, but the headaches are not worth it.

By using value-based pricing and establishing yourself as a design consultant and a professional in your field, you will project a higher sense of worth, allowing you to charge the prices you deserve for the value you provide. Clients will respect you more and will understand that what you do is much more than just an expense for them. It’s an investment.

Don’t worry about the designers on Fiverr or similar platforms or those in your community charging less than you. Your prices are not intended to be competitive; they’re meant to reflect where you are in your career and the value you provide to your clients.

Your goal is to distinguish yourself by showing the uniqueness you can bring by showcasing a positive track record of successful projects. Use your portfolio and case studies and let them speak for themselves. They will prove that the value you provide is worth every penny.

Niche Down

Niches are a perfect avenue for value-based pricing. You are automatically established as an expert whenever you serve a niche and can charge much higher prices for your work.

When your business is new, you need to diversify your services to have many sources of design income and to build your portfolio. You may design logos, websites, business cards, posters, you name it. The object is to build up a portfolio that will gain the trust of your audience and eventually allow you to work with the clients you want.

Taking on all these projects and doing them well will allow your reputation and professionalism to grow organically over time. Eventually, you may want to concentrate on a niche.

Niching down can be scary because doing it correctly means turning down potentially good clients outside your niche. But if you look at the bigger picture, I’m sure you’ll agree that one $15,000 project in your chosen niche more than makes up for several $1000 projects you turn down from clients outside your niche.

What usually holds designers back is the fear that those $15,000+ projects are far out of reach. How can a solo designer working from home charge those kinds of fees? You can once you've built up a reputation as someone who provides value beyond the design.

You can reach that level if you concentrate on building your business the right way and don’t compromise on design projects.

High-paying clients are looking for you.

You are not a factory worker on a production line, so don’t run your design business like you are.

I read a great line in an old article by Dina Rodreguez that I’m going to steal.

What would happen if you hired a doctor and told them how to operate on you?

As a designer, you’re no different. You are a professional in your field and should be treated like one. Clients should not be telling you what to do. You should be telling them what they need. Be the problem solver.

Be confident in your skills and your work. Price yourself accordingly based on the value of the work you provide. If you do this, you will notice over time that fewer and fewer of those thrifty “shopping around” clients will be contacting you, and more and more big-budget clients will be knocking at your door.

Remember, Don’t base your prices on what those around you or online are charging. Recognize your true potential and realize the value you bring to your clients. Then pursue your passion without hesitation. Price yourself as a professional, not a commodity.

What are your thoughts on Value-Based Pricing?

Let me know your goals by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future podcast episode by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Rich.

I’m curious about if you use something like WHMCS (Web Host Manager Complete Solution) management software for invoicing and do your clients have sandboxed account logins or do you manage all your client’s within your hosting account?

I was thinking about starting out managing client sites from within my unlimited site shared hosting account and moving to the full “reseller” account as demand increases. It sounds like a WHMCS managed reseller account might be vital for automating invoicing, service tickets and other account related actions.

Thanks again, your content has been so helpful.

You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what I told Rich.

Resource of the week iThemes Security

This week's resource is the WordPress plugin iThemes Security, specifically the plugin's feature that allows you to change the URL of a site's WordPress login page from /wp-login.php or /wp-admin to anything you want. This makes it harder for bots and hackers to access the site since they don't know the login URL. Simply click on the iThemes Security advanced settings, chose Hide Backend and change the URL slug to anything you want.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If you face any struggles running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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