Monkey Business

“Too expensive.” “Over-priced.” “A bit rich.”

They all mean the same thing.

When you say that something’s too expensive, you’re doing much more than commenting on a price. You’re questioning the explicit or implicit value of a product or a service. You’re asking, “Will I get out of it what you want me to pay for it?” You’re questioning the competency, judgement and possibly even integrity of the individual or company that gave you that price, even though you don’t realise it. You might not be saying it explicitly, but what you’re implying is, “Have you made a mistake?”, “Am I getting the best deal?”, “Are you being honest with me?”, “Could I get this cheaper?”

Finally, you’re being dishonest, because deep down you know all too well that there’s no such thing as too expensive.

Why?

It doesn’t matter what you’re questioning the price of. It could be a product, a service or the cost of an hour, day or week of someone’s time. Whatever you’re buying, too expensive is always an excuse. Saying it shifts acceptability of a price back to the person who gave it. What you should say, but are too afraid to admit, is:

  • “It’s more money than I wanted to pay.”
  • “It’s more than I estimated it would cost.”
  • “It’s more than I can afford.”

Everyone who’s given a price for a product or service will have been told at some point that it’s too expensive. It’s never comfortable to hear that. Thoughts come thick and fast: “What do I do?” “How do I react?” “Do I really want the business?” “Am I prepared to negotiate?” “How much am I willing to compromise?”

It’s easy to be defensive when someone questions a price, but before you react, stay calm and remember that if someone says what you’re offering is too expensive, they’re saying more about themselves and their situation than they are about your price. Learn to read that situation and how to follow up with the right questions.

Imagine you’ve quoted someone for a week of your time. “That’s too expensive,” they respond. How should you handle that? Think about what they might otherwise be saying.


“It’s more money than I want to pay” may mean that they don’t understand the value of your service. How could you respond?

Start by asking what similar projects they’ve worked on and the type of people they worked with. Find out what they paid and what they got for their money, because it’s possible what you offer is different from what they had before. Ask if they saw a return on that previous investment. Maybe their problem isn’t with your headline price, but the value they think they’ll receive. Put the emphasis on value and shift the conversation to what they’ll gain, rather than what they’ll spend.

It’s also possible they can’t distinguish your service from those of your competitors, so now would be a great time to explain the differences. Do you work faster? Explain how that could help them launch faster, get customers faster, make money faster. Do you include more? Emphasise that, and how unique the experience of working with you will be.


“It’s more than I estimated it would cost” could mean that your customer hasn’t done their research properly. You’d never suggest that to them, of course, but you should ask how they’ve arrived at their estimate. Did they base it on work they’ve purchased previously? How long ago was that? Does it come from comparable work or from a different sector?

Help your customer by explaining how you arrived at your estimate. Break down each element and while you’re doing that, emphasise the parts of your process that you know will appeal to them. If you know that they’ve had difficulty with something in the past, explain how your approach will benefit them. People almost always value a positive experience more than the money they’ll save.


“It’s more than I can afford” could mean they can’t afford what you offer at all, but it could also mean they can’t afford it right now or all at once. So ask if they could afford what you’re asking if they spread payment over a longer period? Ask, “Would that mean you’ll give me the business?”

It’s possible they’re asking for too much for what they can afford to pay. Will they compromise? Can you reach an agreement on something less? Ask, “If we can agree what’s in and what’s out, will you give me the business?”

What can they afford? When you know, you’re in a good position to decide if the deal makes good business sense, for both of you. Ask, “If I can match that price, will you give me the business?”

There’s no such thing as “a bit rich”, only ways for you to get to know your customer better. There’s no such thing as “over-priced”, only opportunities for you to explain yourself better. You should relish those opportunities. There’s really also no such thing as “too expensive”, just ways to set the tone for your relationship and help you develop that relationship to a point where money will be less of a deciding factor.

Unfinished Business

Join me and my co-host Anna Debenham next year for Unfinished Business, a new discussion show about the business end of working in web, design and creative industries.

About the author

Andrew Clarke runs Stuff and Nonsense, a tiny web design company where they make fashionably flexible websites. Andrew’s the author of Transcending CSS and Hardboiled Web Design and hosts the popular weekly podcast Unfinished Business where he discusses the business side of web, design and creative industries with his guests. He tweets as @malarkey.

Photo: Ashley Baxter

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