Ep. 4 | Freelance Cake Podcast
← All episodes
Episode 4|

Pricing Is Branding – Using the Psychology of Pricing to Attract Better Clients & Shape What They Believe About You

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

In Episode #4, Austin L. Church takes you back to April 2009 when he first started his freelance journey. Two weeks after getting laid off from his job at a marketing agency, a potential client named Andrew asked Austin this question:

"What do you charge?"

He chose $40 per hour as his rate because his agency had billed out his time at $85 an hour. If he charged half, then maybe clients would feel like they were getting a good deal.

Does that describe you now? Are you one of the many freelancers who think clients only want a good deal?

Chances are, you're charging less than you could be.

This episode will give you the chance to ponder your current pricing, identify your mental traps, and start upgrading your limiting beliefs. 

To get paid what you're worth, you’ve got to take your head trash to the curb.

Notable Quotes

“When you’re in a vulnerable moment, you really appreciate people who don’t take advantage of your vulnerability – but instead take that opportunity to elevate you.”

“When you’re coming out of any type of job where your work has been commoditized or devalued, you may have already gotten into the habit of devaluing your work yourself.”

“You’ll find it easier to build a profitable business with value-focused clients who will like the quality, experience, and professionalism you deliver.”

The Great Recession and My Journey Into Freelancing

April 2009. That is when I first started my freelance journey. And it wasn’t by choice.

I got pushed forcibly out of the 9-to-5 nest when my boss called me into his office and let me know that I no longer had a job.

Great!

Just to give you a quick history lesson…

This was 2009 when a lot of the recession in 2007 and 2008 was starting to become evident. A lot of people had known about the recession for some time but the trickle-down effect was starting to hurt marketing and digital agencies.

I couldn’t really blame my boss. I couldn’t really be upset at him. He was just making a business decision. But that suddenly meant I was out of a job.

And to make matters worse, I had only $486 in my bank account.

That number seared into my memory because when I actually looked at my bank account, I freaked out thinking I’m so stupid. I’ve made more money than this, where is that money now?

You have that moment where you are beating yourself up when you shouldn’t be beating yourself up. You should be proactive. You should be pounding the pavement looking for your next job. But my head was just spinning.

I packed up my things, went home, and got to soak in all of that uncertainty over the weekend.

Learning About Value-Based Pricing From an Unlikely Source

Fast forward a couple of weeks later...

I got a meeting through a mutual friend with an agency owner named Andrew Gordon.

I was thrilled because it’s not like I had a lot going on, right?

I had plenty of time on my hands and the idea of having a meeting, any meeting, with someone who could potentially pay me to do some writing work for them, was a very exciting prospect.

Anyway… Andrew had asked me to bring my writing portfolio with me.

How cute, right?

I had 6 months of experience working at an agency. Before that, I had taught high school English, gone back to grad school, and had gotten a master's in Literature with a focus in creative writing. My thesis was a collection of my poems.

How cute that this little writer showed up with his portfolio – which I actually printed out.

So I get into Andrew’s office. He was nice and did his best to put me at ease but I could just feel all that energy and adrenaline in my body. I was jittering having these thoughts:

  • “I really need this to work.”
  • “I really need something to happen here.”
  • “I really need some money.”
  • “I’m desperate.”

I sit across from Andrew watching as he thumbs through my portfolio. And if you have ever been in this position, you know it is agonizing watching someone else review your work.

I’m sitting there with my legs crossed trying to feel some semblance of professionalism.

Andrew nods his head, looks up, and asks me the question: “What do you charge?”

I thought “Oh, here we go.”

I was maybe 2 weeks into freelancing at this point. In terms of what I charge, there was a rate that I gave my old agency – $40 an hour – to finish some projects for them that I was in the middle of when I got laid off.

But I would have taken $10 an hour. I would have taken $15 an hour.

I did not know what the “going rate” or competitive market rate was for copywriting.

Again, I was desperate.

But because I had already thrown out $40 an hour to my old agency principal, that’s what I told Andrew.

He nodded, thought about that a little bit, and said, “Can I give you some advice? Your work is actually pretty good but at $40 an hour, you will not be taken seriously in larger markets like Atlanta, Charlotte, and DC. So if I were you, I would raise my rate to $75 an hour effective immediately.”

The Most Important Lesson I Learned From This Experience

Andrew Gordon surprised me.

I don’t know what I thought he was gonna say but I was gobsmacked. I was shell-shocked. I thought he was gonna try to negotiate me down.

Again, I would have said yes to anything.

I think when you’re in a vulnerable moment and you know how vulnerable you are, you just really appreciate people who don’t take advantage of your vulnerability but instead take that opportunity to elevate you.

I now call that experience with Andrew The Golden Suitcase because he, in effect, loaded a suitcase full of gold bullion and pushed it across the table to me.

That’s how valuable the advice was.

Here's the lesson: Pricing is branding.

When you’re coming out of any type of job or project where your work has been commoditized or devalued, you may have already gotten into the habit of devaluing your work yourself.

You try to compete based on price, not based on value. You try to give people a good deal. You think that what clients want is a good deal. 

You think that everybody’s primary motivation is saving money, so if you want to get a project and you quote a price of $1,000, and the client says “That’s too much”, what do you say?

“How about $750?”

Because isn’t that what everyone does – you come down on price when the client pushes back?

Andrew helped me realize that there are other people who are value-focused, who think in terms of Rolex vs Timex. People who are not just thinking about how to save money or how to get a good deal.

They’re thinking about value. They’re thinking about quality.

If I were to charge $40 an hour in some of the larger markets in the southeastern United States where I live, I’m sending out a very weak signal to people who want high-quality work, to people who want their freelancers or consultants to be confident.

I’m suggesting that:

  • I lack confidence.
  • I lack experience.
  • I lack expertise.
  • I lack talent.

Here I was thinking that Andrew was going to negotiate me down because he just wanted a good deal. But he looked at a fledgling copywriter and said,

“No, you’ve got the talent but your price needs to send a signal to match the level of talent that you have.”

Price-Sensitive vs Value-Focused Clients

Pricing is branding.

That pricing is branding lesson is the golden suitcase because now, 13 years later, I look back and think, “How much money did Andrew Gordon make me that day when he taught me that if I want to have really strong positioning as a freelancer, I cannot afford low rates?”

I can’t afford low rates because low rates send the wrong signal. They will attract the wrong type of client for me rather than a value-focused client. 

You’ll find it easier to build a profitable and sustainable business with value-focused clients who will like the quality, experience, and professionalism you deliver compared to price-sensitive clients who, if they find a lower price elsewhere, might say “It’s been nice knowing you but I can get it 20% cheaper down the road.”

What Signals Are You Sending With Your Prices?

Pricing is branding.

Are you positioning yourself as the capable, premium, talented, professional, thoughtful, brilliant option?

Or are you blending in because you believe that competitive prices will help you grow your business?

Juicy offers, strong positioning, and value-focused clients, that’s how you grow your business. Not competitive pricing.

If you do nothing else, follow the advice Andrew gave me: raise your prices.

Links and Resources from this Episode

Freelance Cake coaching program

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Freelance Cake Podcast. I'm your host, Austin L. Church. The goal of this show is to help full-time, committed freelancers get better leverage.

[00:00:12] As the sworn enemy of busyness and burnout, I have no desire to see you work harder. Instead, I reveal the specific beliefs, principles, and practices you can use right away to make the freelance game more profitable and enjoyable. So chill out and listen in, because the best is yet to come.

[00:00:37] I wanna take you back to April 2009. That is when I first started my freelance journey. And it wasn’t by choice. 

[00:00:46] I got pushed forcibly out of the 9 to 5 nest when, on a Friday, I think it was Friday, April 20th. My boss who was the principal at the digital agency where I was working, called me into his office and let me know that I no longer had a job.

[00:01:05] Great! So just to give you a quick history lesson. This was 2009 when a lot of the recession in 2007, 2008 was starting to become evident. 

[00:01:20] So a lot of people had known about the recession for some time but the trickle-down effect was really starting to hurt marketing and digital agencies.

[00:01:30] So I couldn’t really blame my boss. I couldn’t really be upset at him. He was just making a business decision. But that suddenly meant I was out of a job.

[00:01:41] And to make matters worse, I had $486 in my bank account. That number seared into my memory because when I actually looked at my bank account, probably very quickly after realizing I was losing my job, I had that freak out because I thought I’m so stupid.

[00:02:07] I’ve made more money than this, where is that money now? I really should have been saving for a rainy day! Aaaarrrrgh!

[00:02:14] Like, you know, you have that moment where you are beating yourself up, you know, you shouldn’t be beating yourself up, you should be proactive, you should be pounding the pavement, looking for my next job, and all the things but my head was just spinning.

[00:02:30] And so I packed up my things on a Friday and I went home. And I got to just sort of soaked in all of that uncertainty over the weekend.

[00:02:42] Well, fast forward a couple of weeks and I got a meeting through a mutual friend, a guy named Dan, I got a meeting with an agency owner named Andrew Gordon. And I was thrilled because it’s not like I had a lot going on, right?

[00:03:02] I mean I had plenty of time on my hands and the idea of having a meeting, any meeting, with someone who could potentially pay me to do some writing work for them, was… it was a very exciting prospect.

[00:03:17] So I don’t know if this is irony or somehow poetic justice but Andrew’s office, I found out, was on the second floor above my old office, the old agency office. 

[00:03:30] And so I actually had, in order to go up the stairs to get to Andrew’s office, walked past the floor-to-ceiling windows at my old office. And I’m sitting there imagining my former co-workers looking at me through the windows and being like “Why is he back here?”

[00:03:51] So I don’t know if I’d call it a walk-of-shame but I certainly felt self-conscious as I walked up the stairs. 

[00:04:00] And Andrew had asked me to bring my writing portfolio with me. I mean how cute, right? I had 6 months of experience. I’d gotten a job in October 2008. I’d gotten laid off in April 2009. So I had 6 months of experience working at an agency. 

[00:04:24] Before that, I had taught high school English and then gone back to grad school and I’d gotten a master's in Literature with a focus in creative writing. My thesis was a collection of my poems.

[00:04:37] So how cute that this little writer showed up with his portfolio and I had actually printed it out. Darling, right?

[00:04:48] So I get into Andrew’s office. He stands up. We shake hands. He’s a tall lanky guy, looks like a runner, with sandy-reddish hair. I think he had a bit of a goatee at the time. He was very nice, did his best to put me at ease but I could just feel all that energy and adrenaline in my body and I was kind of jittering because I’m like “I really need this to work. I really need something to happen here. I really need some money. I’m desperate.”

[00:05:23] So I sit across from Andrew and I watch as he thumbs through my portfolio. And if you have ever been in this position, you know it is agonizing watching someone else review your work.

[00:05:40] And what are you supposed to do? Like lean over his shoulder and make remarks? “Oh, that was a project that I did for a bank.” No, you’re sitting there with your legs crossed trying to feel some semblance of professionalism. You’re not gonna look at your phone.

[00:05:56] Anyway, so he kinda nods his head and he looks up and he asks me the question: “What do you charge?”

[00:06:09] And I thought “Oh, here we go.” Because I was maybe 2 weeks into freelancing at this point.

[00:06:19] In terms of what I charge, there was a rate that I gave my old agency – $40 an hour – to finish some projects for them that I was in the middle of when I got laid off.

[00:06:32] But I… I mean, I would have taken $10 an hour. I would have taken $15 an hour. I did not know what the “going rate” or competitive market rate was for copywriting. I was desperate.

[00:06:46] But because I had already thrown out $40 an hour to my old agency principal, that’s what I told Andrew. $40 an hour. 

[00:06:57] And he kinda nodded, thought about that, and then he said “Can I give you some advice?” Now it should be noted that anyone who actually asks permission to give you advice is generally a stellar human being across the board, right?

[00:07:15] Like, this is a leading signal, this is a very positive sign and so I said “Sure.” He said, “Your work is actually pretty good but….” I thought “Oh, here we go. Here we go, you know. My rates are too high. He’s gonna tell me that I really need to charge like $20 an hour or $18 or $25.”

[00:07:44] He surprised me. He said “But at $40 an hour, you will not be taken seriously in larger markets like Atlanta and Charlotte and DC. So if I were you, I would raise my rate to $75 an hour effective immediately.”

[00:08:09] I don’t know what I thought he was gonna say but I was gobsmacked and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to use that word right now cause we do not use the word “gobsmacked” enough, anyway…

[00:08:21] I was shell-shocked. I was… totally spun around in my seat because again, I thought he was gonna try to negotiate me down. And I would have said yes to anything.

[00:08:36] And I think when you’re in a vulnerable moment and you know how vulnerable you are, you just really appreciate people who don’t take advantage of your vulnerability but instead take that opportunity to elevate you. 

[00:08:54] I call that moment, that experience with Andrew “The Golden Suitcase” now because he, in effect, loaded a suitcase full of gold bullion and pushed it across the table to me. That’s how valuable the advice was.

[00:09:15] And here’s the lesson: Pricing is branding. When you are coming out of any type of job or any type of project where your work has been commoditized or devalued, well, you may have already gotten into the habit of devaluing your work yourself.

[00:09:36] And so you’re trying to compete based on price, not based on value. So what do you do? You try to give people a good deal. You think that what clients want is a good deal. 

[00:09:49] You think that everybody’s primary motivation is saving money so if you want to get this project and you quote a price of $1,000 and then the client says “Well, that’s too much”, you say “Well, how about $750?”

[00:10:04] I mean, isn’t that what everyone does – you just come down on price when the client pushes back? Andrew helped me realize that there are other people who are value-focused, who think in terms of Rolex vs Timex.

[00:10:22] They’re not just thinking about how to save money, how to get a good deal. They’re thinking about value. They’re thinking about quality. And price is a signal to them.

[00:10:32] So if I were to charge $40 an hour in some of the larger markets in the Southeastern United States where I live, well, I’m sending out a very weak signal – and not an attractive signal – to people who want high-quality work, to people who want their freelancers or their subcontractors or their consultants to be confident.

[00:10:57] I’m sending out the wrong signal. I’m suggesting that I lack confidence or that I lack experience, that I lack expertise, that I lack talent.

[00:11:08] So here I was thinking that he was going to negotiate me down because he just wanted a good deal. And he looked at a fledgling copywriter and said “No, you’ve got the talent but your price needs to send a signal to match the level of talent that you have.”

[00:11:30] Pricing is branding. So that pricing is branding lesson is the golden suitcase because now, 13 years later, I look back and I think “How much money did Andrew Gordon make me that day when he taught me that if I want to have really strong positioning as a freelancer, I cannot afford low rates?”

[00:11:59] I can’t afford low rates because low rates send the wrong signal. They will attract the wrong type of client for me – a price-sensitive, rather than a value-focused client. 

[00:12:15] Now, price-sensitive clients usually don’t have as much loyalty as value-focused clients. So if you think about each client being a building block, if I want to build a profitable business, I’m gonna find it easier to build a profitable, sustainable business with value-focused clients who’ll like the quality and experience, and professionalism I deliver compared to price-sensitive clients who, if they find a lower price elsewhere, might say “Hey, sorry. It’s been nice knowing you but I can get it 20% cheaper down the road.” 

[00:12:55] So pricing is branding. What signals are you sending with your prices? Are you positioning yourself as the capable, premium, talented, professional, thoughtful, brilliant option?

[00:13:19] Or are you blending in because you believe that competitive prices will help you grow your business?

[00:13:28] Juicy offers, strong positioning, value-focused clients… that’s how you grow your business. Not competitive pricing. So Andrew Gordon, if you happen to listen to this, man, thank you for the golden suitcase all those years ago. To the rest of you, raise your prices!

[00:14:00] Before you go, a quick reminder. Be sure to check out the Freelance Cake coaching program. The program is for committed, full-time freelancers and it’s designed to help you get better leverage in your business.

[00:14:14] We have group sessions, a private community, and on-demand trainings. And each week, you focus on implementing a specific lever such as your positioning cheat code, juicy offers, or morning marketing habit.

[00:14:29] The same or better income with more free time, fun, and creative challenges - that’s the point, right?

[00:14:37] So go to FreelanceCake.com/coaching. My friends, the best is yet to come. See you in the next episode!

Get access to exclusive content, searchable transcripts, and so much more.

No spam. No nonsense. Only good stuff. Read our Privacy Policy.

If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll also like these

Episode 7

Art and Commerce Do Mix – Ditch the “Starving Artist” Mindset & Upgrade Your Limiting Beliefs About Money & Creativity

In Episode 007, Austin discusses the false dichotomy between art and commerce. He also breaks down the Japanese concept of “ikigai. Finally, he encourages freelancers to overcome self-limiting beliefs about money by viewing it as a tool – rather than a goal – that allows them more creativity, freedom, and generosity. We’re all familiar with the identity of the starving artist – the assumption that artists and freelance creatives must forego financial stability to preserve their creative integrity usually goes unchallenged. But what if that way of thinking is wrong? The truth is, you can make exceptionally good stuff while also creating a great livelihood for yourself. You can put an end to the starving artist mentality and embrace the reality that the right people will place a high value on your work.

Read more
Episode 3

3 Freelance Goal Setting Questions to Keep Your Business Moving in the Right Direction

In Episode #3, Austin L. Church shares the goal-setting exercise that helped him and his wife break their overspending habit. He also goes over the 3 questions you need to keep your freelance business on the rails and get the kind of growth you want. Freelancing is hard work. With all the moving parts in your freelance business, and all the noise and motion, it's easy to get off track. Austin heard a wise person say, “Discipline is remembering what you want.” The more clearly you define your freelance goals and motivations, the better your decisions will be. Take this podcast episode as your opportunity to reconnect with what you really want.

Read more