I called two different auto-repair shops with an identical service request. The difference in pricing was 8x.
I chose the more expensive option.
Here’s why, and some lessons that we freelancers and consultants can learn.
Matthew Needs His Old-Ass Car Inspected
I’m about to drive my 2012 Murano cross-country. 2,200 miles, to be exact. Though it’s a low-mileage vehicle – just over 68k – I seek the psychological reassurance that it will complete this trip without incident.
I explained my needs to two auto-repair shops. The first was a local Nissan dealer. The service manager recommended a “used-car inspection,” which is the step they take before putting a pre-owned vehicle up for sale. This would cost $250.
The second was a national chain that offered a “complete vehicle inspection.” I was told this would cost $29.
Me, incredulously, into the phone: “I’m sorry, did you say TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS?”
Me, to myself: “I wanted to pay more than that.”
For the reassurance I seek, I want to know that I’m getting a job well done. I can’t see how $29 would even cover the cost of labor for a thorough inspection.
The national chain is offering me “cheap,” when what I need is “fastidious.”
So I’m going with the Nissan dealer. Other buyers, with other needs, would have gone with the national chain.
Which brings me to my point:
All Buyers Are Not Created Equal
I’m now 30+ years into my career, and I’ve worked in most every market you can name. I’ve also worked at just about every price point, from 10-cent candies (seriously, that was a thing that existed in the ‘90s) to 8-figure B2B deals.
Here’s one thing I know for sure:
In every market, there are buyers who shop only on price.
You should not be concerned with them, because they’re notoriously disloyal. If they come to you for price, they’ll leave you on price.
And unless you’re Amazon or Walmart, you’re not going to win the race to the bottom. Don’t even try. There’s no reward there.
So when new software appears that does some part of what you do, your instinct should be to move up-market, not down-market. Don’t slog it out in the mud.
If you’re a visual designer, and Canva enters the market, you should not ask, “How do I cheapen my services in response?” Because you’re not Canva.
Canva exists to help people achieve decent (but almost never great) design at a very low price. If you’re a talented visual designer, you exist to help your clients achieve standout design, for a commensurately higher investment. And those are two very different buyers with very different use-cases.
Remember: The Whole Market Doesn’t Move at Once
Right now, many freelance writers are freaking out about the impact that AI will have on their businesses.
What AI can do, at the moment, is crap out generic, stilted, and frequently inaccurate content. To be fair, there is already a market for this.
But what AI can’t do is communicate with depth, nuance and insight. It can’t convey empathy or humor. “AI voice” is immediately recognizable, and it ain’t great.
AI can replace writers who are fair-to-middling at their craft and generalist in their approach. But it can’t replace a talented writer, with a strong command of voice, a deep base of knowledge in a particular industry or niche, and a nose for the truth.
There will always be a market for true talent. AI may claim the bottom of the market, but very few buyers who value quality will suddenly jump all the way down to the low-price rung.
In the same way that there are always buyers who shop on price, there are always buyers who shop on quality.
No matter how bad the economy may get, some travelers will pay top-dollar to fly first-class. Some homeowners will pay skilled handymen to do what they can’t do themselves. And some car owners, like me, will pay 8x for the reassurance that the job will be done right.
What This Means to You
Again: You are not Amazon or Walmart. You’re not in the low-price, high-volume game.
As an independent knowledge worker, you only need a handful of forward-looking, serious clients to make a nice income. And there plenty of those clients out there.
Think about your marketing in those terms. Of the thousands and thousands of clients who value the quality you can deliver, only a few of them need to agree to work with you in any given year.
Your job is to position yourself as a sensible choice for those buyers.
To bring the auto-repair-shop analogy home: Don’t position your offering as the “cheapest.” Position is as “a great choice if you want the job done right.”
Send signals of excellence, of reliability, of mastery. Then deliver what you promised. There’s always a demand for that.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. I’m not some guy who’s been freelancing for a minute – I’ve been doing it since 1997, with brands you’ve actually heard of. Click here to find out more about how my coaching services can help you level up.
Copyright 2023 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the footer section.