Newer agency owners and freelancers always seem to ask questions about how to get higher paying gigs.
This typically leads them to ask questions like “what should I charge for…?”. But there’s no good answer people can give you for this.
Sure, there are some “typical” expected fees associated with projects, but the range of charges can depend greatly on where you live, what kind of customers you are after, your experience, and about a million other factors.
The truth is, getting higher paying projects is really all in how you position yourself, and asking a prospect a question like “what do you want your website to look like” is a sure fire way to get bottom dollar.
Why this is a bad question
I singled out this particular question because it is one we use so frequently. It’s in project discovery forms and when you start building websites and when having initial conversations with prospective clients it flows naturally out of your mouth.
But you need to stop.
When you ask a question like this, what you are essentially doing is putting the customer in the driver's seat of how all of this is going to go down. You become a glorified button pusher that is just smart enough to work the computer, but not worthy of much value beyond that.
Button pushers are a disposable commodity— and customer’s know this.
There’s a whole list of questions that I think fall into this category…
- What do you want your website to look like?
- What does your website need to do?
- What are examples of websites you like?
Each one of these questions leaves you with little room to be an expert. You’re letting your client dictate what’s needed leaving you room to only fulfil their request, or not.
What do you think they will pay someone to push buttons for them? Not much.
Let’s be honest, the “button pushing” part of WordPress isn’t hard it just takes a little know-how.
Instead, you need to be a problem solver.
In order to make yourself valuable (and ultimately charge the prices you want to charge) you have to become more than a button pusher, you have to become a problem solver.
This isn’t as hard as you might think. Anyone that reached out to you to inquire about your services has a problem.
They may even think they have the solution, and if you ask them a question like “what do you want your website to look like” you’ll only feed into their notion that they know what they need.
But in most cases, your average business owner knows very little about what they need. They rely on the surface level things— thinking that if they make their site look a certain way it will be useful.
Of course, they likely aren’t going to start an interaction with you saying “I have a problem I need help solving”.
Why not? Honestly, it probably makes them feel weak to admit it. Or pride makes them feel like they know the solution, they just need your help pressing buttons.
Your first job is to find out what that problem is.
When you do, you can become the one that provides solutions.
Blair Enns talks about this in his (fantastic) book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, and he uses the analogy of a physician.
When you go to the doctor you might go in and tell the doctor “I really need some pain medication because my back is killing me”. Unless your doctor is a pill-pushing quack, he’s unlikely to fulfil your request and move on. Instead, he’s going to ask you questions about why your back hurts in the first place.
Maybe pain medication is part of the solution, and maybe it isn’t. But until the doctor can get at the root of the problem you’re having, he’s unlikely to prescribe any sort of treatment.
The same should work in your agency.
You can’t let your clients self-prescribe a solution. First off, it may not be effective, and second it makes you no different than the pill-pusher just trying to make a quick buck by doing what you’re asked.
What you should be asking instead.
Instead of asking questions like “what do you want your website to look like?” you need to get to the cause of why they sought you out in the first place. Understanding what lead them to contact you will allow you to become a problem solver and rise above the button pusher status.
I start this with one important question I ask each and every prospect. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it protects their ego from asking “what’s your problem?”.
The question is this:
“What problems will having a website solve for you?”
This question doesn’t allow them to self-prescribe solutions, it’s only asking about the root cause.
When they spill the beans with something like “Having a new website will allow us to be more competitive in our market. Right now our website looks outdated and doesn’t represent the value we offer to our clients” or “Having a new website will help us grow our business by reaching more people in search engines” you can have a much clearer understanding of what their needs truly are.
Having a website that looks a certain way may not be all that a customer needs to solve a problem, but if the only question you asked them is “what do you want your website to look like?” or “what do you want it to do?” you would have never been able to address the issues that really need attention.
Because you know the problems they have, you can start prescribing solutions that will solve those problems. Sure, those solutions will likely involve what the website looks like, and what the website does— but because you are now coming from the angle of solving a problem you can put yourself (and most importantly your experience and expertise) in the driver’s seat of the conversation.
Problem solvers make more money.
When you become the person that is there to solve your client’s problem, suddenly your service has much more value than it did when you were only there to push buttons for them. People will pay more to have a thorn in their side removed— especially when you can provide experience and expertise that assures them you are the expert who can do it.
The problem solving question also gives you a big clue as to what you’re going to be able to charge for a project.
If someone just wants a “clean and easy to use site” you might be able to produce something that fits that description for a few hundred bucks.
And that’s all that customers will expect to pay.
When you ask the problem solving question you can begin to quickly analyze what type of return a solution to this problem could provide to your prospect— sometimes even in dollar amounts.
Look at the problem of getting found in search engines.
If you were able to provide a solution that would identify what search terms they need to be ranking for, then provide them with a solution that ranks them for those terms, you can begin to understand what value that brings to their business—monetarily.
Knowing your client’s customer lifetime value comes in handy here, but by understanding what your customer does, you can come up with a general idea pretty easily.
Knowing the search volume of the phrase you identify, and the number of clicks a position in the rankings will get you can rough-estimate what kind of impact your solution will have. Better yet, because you’re solving a problem you can communicate what value your solution has…
“By getting you in the top three spots in Google for X phrase, we could increase your traffic to approximately X giving you the opportunity to bring in $X worth of business each month”.
You have to fill in some blanks there, but even by using your imagination at this point you can see how much more valuable you’ve become by (a) solving a problem and (b) providing a solution.
Let us never be button pushers again.
The basis of this article is rooted in value based pricing and many of the teachings of people like Blair Enns (who does a much better job than I do). My hope in writing this, however, are that you can see a real-world, practical application of the value based method and how it can drastically increase not only the dynamic of your relationship, but the money you can charge for your services.
My “problem solving” question isn’t unique, but it is effective. It can’t be the only question you ask, but something like it should be the first question you ask.
By becoming the problem solver, you don’t have to join the race to the lowest price— let the rest of the Fiverr crowd run those sprints. You become something different, offering your prospect something that they’ll gladly pay good money for— a solution to their problem.