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Did You Think About This When You Set Your Prices?

I have two questions for you:

Pay close attention to how you answer each one, okay?

Question #1:

How much would you pay to hear me recite poetry for an hour?  _____

(Mentally fill in the blank with an answer.)

Got your answer?  Onward:

Did You Think About This When You Set Your Prices?

Question #2:

How much would I have to pay you to come listen to me recite poetry for an hour?  ______

(Go ahead….give me a number.)

You might be onto my point already.  But first, the science:

Respected behavioral economist Dan Ariely asked his students these questions.

The first half of the students, the ones who were asked how much they’d pay to hear him, said $1-4.

The second half of the students required $1-5 to have to sit through his one-man poetry show.

Let this sink in.

Ariely was (fictionally) offering to do the same thing in either case:  Recite poetry for one hour.

But the way he posed the question determined whether he’d be in the red or in the black on this thing.

And in the real world, if he were truly doing this – what would determine the way he asked the question?

Probably – the way he felt about his own poetry reading.

The way he thought about his own abilities, the way he valued his own performance would determine, to an astonishing measure, what his outcome would be.

And guess what?

This is probably true for you, too.

Okay, so you’ve probably never offered to pay other people to sit through something you offer.


But in your own mind, have you ever felt that way when you were talking to people?

A mental “Just come hire me….I’ll pay you…okay no I won’t it works the other way around…but really really really please come.”

(I mean, would you eat at a restaurant if you got that vibe from the owner?)

Or have you ever accepted a lower payment, or offered a truncated version of what you do because deep down, you thought “well I’m still making some money on this thing…”?  Because you were kinda still amazed you were getting paid at all?

Have you ever offered a free service to someone and then felt crushed when they didn’t take you up on the free offer?  When in fact, the mere fact that you offered it for free might have changed how they thought about it?

The way you feel about your own service leaks into what your customers see and hear.

It can affect your posture, your willingness to negotiate, your energy, the determination with which you pursue next steps, even whether or not you jump on marketing opportunities.

So hear this:  If it’s worth your time to do, it’s worth doing well.  

And once you do it well and you’re ready to offer it to someone, expect that they are going to fork over that $5 to sit in the front row while you blow them away with Wordsworth and Browning.  Or whatever it is you do.

And if they don’t, you don’t need to feel badly.  Just like the Rolling Stones wouldn’t need to feel badly if they did a reunion tour concert in your town and you didn’t go.  Not everything makes everyone’s heart beat faster, and that’s okay.  

Your existence is not a burden on others.

You being in business is not an infringement of other people’s space.

It’s something that they can choose to let improve their life, or not.

And no, I’m not suggesting that you can arbitrarily charge a million dollars and expect people to show up tomorrow.

But don’t ever forget:

There is some inherent allure in seeing someone who actually believes what they have is worth exactly what they charge.

Even if you change nothing other than the way you think about your own service, you might find that it changes everything else.


P.S.  Hat tip to Spencer Lum for sending me the Ariely study.  



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  1. Alexandre on October 13, 2015 at 8:24 am

    In this post there’s some recurrent self-worth and ownership thought process that is of value. But I have another question (based on pure curiosity) for you: what’s the psychology, if any, behind your topic unrelated photos in between blocks of text?

    • Jeannine on October 13, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      A, I like the way you phrased that question, it made me smile 🙂 I was surprised at the photos too! and then my mind wondered why? and then I thought: Poetry. Peaceful. Beautiful. So much history of poets inspired by nature / forests. I think the pictures describe the feeling I get from a pretty piece of poetry. So to me, the photos artistically add to the article in a lovely way 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement, Jenika!

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Alexandre! Thanks for asking. I appreciate curiosity. I have several reasons for posting images that might seem ‘unrelated’:

      1) My blog breaks just about every rule there is about how long blog posts should be. This post is a notable exception – most posts average 1500-2000+ words, which most people in the blogging world would say is “too long.” Yet somehow, people still read them 😉 However, people do skim and skip ahead when they read online, or scroll to see how long something is. And when people see a long stream of unbroken text, they are more likely to abandon it altogether or say “I’ll read this later” (and never do). So I use images largely as visual rest between bigger points. Or, in this post, as a way to prevent someone seeing the second question before they’ve considered the first – as a hedge against skimming ruining the reading experience.

      2) So the above is ‘why use images’ but you asked ‘why are they unrelated.’ There are two big reasons. First, I hope to push back in the blogging world of posts being a quick hit of information, and hope to inspire people to ponder and consider. I don’t think of my blog posts as “posts” when I write them, I imagine that someone is actually sitting here with me in my office, or that we’re in a coffee shop or a classroom somewhere, and I’m telling them about something related to psychology that I think might help them. I’m personally deeply inspired by surroundings of nature, books, pens, ink, paper, and certain kinds of color. Such surroundings help me meditate and consider, and I include them here for that reason. Is that sentimental and perhaps a little self-indulgent? Perhaps, but pretty innocuously so. 😉 I’ve had lots of emails over the four years I’ve been blogging from people saying they appreciate the images for this reason though – that it’s a breath of fresh air, a rest, a calming presence, a unique thing to this site, or something that makes them happier, so I don’t think I’m alone in enjoying mood-appropriate photos of nature or book/word texture.

      The other big reason is – it doesn’t necessarily do a whole lot for me to go to, say, a financial site, and see images of money or business people shaking hands all over the place. Yes, people should include images and research bears up the idea that people are more likely to read things with images. But I don’t think trying to nail down abstract ideas into a literal depiction is the *only* way to go about that. I think images can set a tone and mood, but I think that can be achieved without showing an actual photograph ‘about’ your topic. My topics vary widely and most are quite abstract – this post for example, how do I depict a subtle confidence shift that undergirds your whole way of thinking and business dealings? A photo of someone in a cape or standing in a ‘power pose’? Wrong kind of confidence. Someone smiling subtly as they talk to a client? Maybe, but that’s also kind of general and the same photo could be added to posts on a thousand other topics, so does it really add a unique understanding to this one? Anyway, I think it’s fine when people use ‘stock’ photos well to show their topic, but given the intangible nature of many of these ideas, the high risk of cheesiness or overgeneralized boring-ness of trying to translate that into something photograph-able, and most importantly my own philosophy about what I want this blog to be, I go a different route. 🙂

      Probably a longer answer than you bargained for! Have a fantastic day.

  2. Allison on October 13, 2015 at 10:59 am

    This was perfect timing yesterday, as I was finishing my mini session announcement to go out this morning. Just the boost of reassurance I needed. Thanks!

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      So glad, Allison! 🙂 Always a joy to ‘see’ you around here. Hope you’re well.

  3. Robert Mullan on October 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    You have made a good point, however, I have met many photographers who totally overrate their work. In photography, I have seen examples of utter rubbish described in glowing terms by their talentless creators. I have eaten awful meals in overpriced restaurants, run by owners who knew more about marketing than cooking. I bought designer shoes that hurt my feet (never again). Used a ‘big name’ decorating company who made a mess of my house for an eye-watering fee. That was before I discovered a self-employed painter who put it right and charged me a reasonable rate. This man will NEVER be unemployed and still has a good standard of living from what he earns.
    I recently photographed the wedding of two barristers. They both were successful and both earned less per hour than I when I actually work. Each would be eminently qualified to defend me if I murdered someone. Which of us is overpaid?
    Yes, it’s nice to value one’s work, having confidence (very important) and taking pride are all good. When this value turns into unrealistic, grandiose notions – it’s just laughable.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      Hi Robert – thanks for taking time to read the post and leave these thoughts. I agree that this value, like any, can be taken too far and must remain in balance. (Tried to indicate that toward the end with some hyperbole about not arbitrarily charging a million dollars; I have made the mistake in the past of overburdening a post with too many caveats and reminders and chose not to here.) I have also suffered from bad meals at overpriced restaurants, designer clothing that is poor quality or painful, etc. Certainly there is enough extreme to be found.

      Bringing it back the other way, the reason I wrote this is that I get relatively few of the overconfident types interacting with me around here, but I do get a lot of correspondence via comments and email from people who do have good work and who struggle for various reasons, who are just stepping a toe into the entrepreneurial world and are weighed down by guilt and baggage related to self-promotion, who believe their work is worth seeing but struggle emotionally as they mentally translate that into monetary terms. They whisper when they should speak clearly, and their feelings influence far more than they realize. This post is for them. The overconfident need no encouragement and would think our caveats don’t apply to them anyway 😉

  4. Brad Barlow on October 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    This is one of those posts that felt like it was written just for me. That’s heavy on my mind right now. Thank you for making me feel like I can stand up straight and just breathe.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      Deep breaths! You’ve got this. Best of luck to you in finding the right mix of confidence, humility, hard work, and inspiration to carry you forward.

  5. Evan on October 13, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    That is all.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      :: fist bump ::

  6. Kristin Milito on October 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Love this. It’s a healthier and smarter way of thinking! We truly do have to believe in ourselves and that what we offer is unique and special.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks Kristin. I like little shifts in thinking that can make big changes. 🙂

  7. Marit Welker on October 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    I needed this today, but I also needed the comments. I don’t lack confidence, but lately my work is not received as well based on my pricing, especially with the quality of my work. (Good but not great). So finding the balance is important. Thanks to you AND the commenters above.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Glad to hear it, Marit, and yes – thanks to Robert for commenting above and adding a new dimension on balance.

  8. Melissa on October 13, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    I can’t seem to accept this truth : Your existence is not a burden on others. I have a few creative talents and people are *constantly* telling me to go into business for myself. But every time I try, it fizzles out because I CANT charge people a fair price. I guess I see how those 2 things are related. It makes my husband and my best friend (a savvy entrepreneur) crazy. Cliché, I know, but it probably goes back to my mom constantly reminding me that she couldn’t wait until I was grown so she could live her life. She had it pretty rough, can’t blame her.

    • Jenika on October 13, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      Big hug to you. Sounds like this is a big block for you, and I don’t expect to be able to wave a magic wand with a reply to your blog comment, BUT. It’s true. You’re here regardless of what other people think about that fact, and since you’re here, you might as well do what you are capable of doing, and let that support you. Yes, you can use your time and talents to work for other people, or not work at all, but you can also give your resources of creativity and receive others’ resources of monetary compensation in return. There’s nothing wrong with asking for that kind of exchange. Sounds like your mama wasn’t able to give you all the support that you needed, but in the end you’ll probably need to get to a place where you can see that her disappointments are her business to deal with and ultimately have nothing to do with you as a human being, creative soul, or contributor to this planet. Not denying the impact on you, or how hard that shift can be, but it’s true that you’re now an independent soul who can choose your own path regardless of what someone thought of you. Sounds like you’ve got a husband and BFF who are there for you now and you can enjoy their support now. Keep going.

  9. Kath on October 13, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I too struggle to see my own value sometimes so this post was great for me. Feels crazy to be paid to do what I love when so many people don’t have the same good luck so feels like I am on this never ending see-saw of building myself up and believing in myself and then being brought back down by negative talk. Any ideas on how to keep things in balance?

    • Jenika on October 15, 2015 at 6:25 pm

      What kind of negative talk is bringing you down? Your own, or others’?

  10. Rachel on October 14, 2015 at 12:53 am

    Such great insight. I think the hard thing being a photographer is finding which monetary exchange for work provided is fair. There is such a wide gamut of pricing from those stepping into the market and not pricing very high to those trying to compete in the hard middle market.

  11. Cheryl on October 14, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Wow. Yup, exactly what I needed to hear. Because yes, I’ve been guilty alot of feeling a lack of worth in my work, and I’ve seen the difference in the sale when I’m feeling positive and confident about my pricing and how I present it. Thank you. Thank you.

  12. Marisela on October 14, 2015 at 4:20 am

    I greatly enjoyed reading this! Insecurity is such a sneaky emotion. Thank you.

  13. Sarah Cruz on October 15, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Oh Jenika, Talk about timing. I messed up. I did a senior session which I haven’t in so long I forgot that I raised the price, so when the mom asked how much she owed I quoted the old. She questioned it and said, no that’s fine. Darn it! I raised prices because my skill level is higher and yet I let the creative drive instead of the business person who would have been able to quote tax and correct price. Ah well. I liked the visual I had on pondering the reading and hope that will stick with me for next time. Also, I adore the ‘unrelated’ image of the baby because she’s a blue eyed gush of beauty and I smiled to know you are all well. You’re writing always draws me in. Keep those well timed moving messages of love coming. Cheers! Sarah

  14. Seshu on October 15, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Jenika – YES! Mindset has so much to do with success. Loved this short post. Sharing it with the world of course!

  15. John on October 16, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    Great piece! You now owe me $3.27 for reading it. LOL Just kidding, of course. You bring up very good points. Our own perceptions and bias can sometimes create an obstacle that only *we* see.

  16. Dawn on October 17, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Jenika, you always give us much to consider. Thank you for this post. Pricing seems to be one of the hardest parts of running a creative business. On the one hand, people are trying to run a business, so they need to be profitable. It does take nerve to be at the top end of the market. But, creative folks are often sensitive folks and it can feel wrong to charge prices that are higher than the average. On the other hand, if they set prices too low, they are competing on price, which is not a good place to be. Plus, at the low end, a creative must work more hours for less money and the quality of clients might not value their work at all, which leads to frustration. What to do? The middle isn’t necessarily the best option, either.

  17. KarahC on November 5, 2015 at 1:40 am

    I love love love this. This has been a real struggle of mine to learn how to truly value what I offer.

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