A great business-vehicle with a great driver and lots of fuel in the tank allows you to create more great work.
In the past 15 years as a Business-Life Coach I’ve worked with many architects and designers of all types. Design practices and studios are a special kind of business with special challenges around making money and growing. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the design side of things.
Architects have a profession and a set of skills and their business is often built around that set of skills. In that, they are no different than plumbers, mechanics, bookkeepers and lawyers. Their businesses also rest on a set of specific skills and both sell their expertise to their clients. But architects (and designers) often have a passion for their profession that goes deeper. For many architects, architecture is a calling for them. Architects and designers often want to leave their mark on the world with their work. They live for their art as it were and the commercial demands of business can sometimes feel like they are at odds with their art. Making money as an architect is often considered suspect.
Vincent and Pablo
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, we all know the examples of artists who died in poverty and obscurity only to achieve fame and fortune after their death (Vincent van Gogh for example). But equally there are many examples of artists who created great art, left a mark and were commercially successful in their lifetime (Think of the greats of the Italian renaissance or Pablo Picasso in more recent times). Great art doesn’t have to be created in poverty, and nor does great architecture and design.
I like to remind my clients that making money is never the point of business, whether the business is a plumbing business or an architect practice. A business must make money, and generate good cash flow, otherwise it’s a hobby. But the reason it must make money is so that it can achieve it’s Mission… So that it can make good on it’s Purpose in this world.
I recently worked with a client who is an architect. He employs 4 staff who are all architects or interior designers. The business has only just scraped by for a few years now. The practice creates great work and my client is excited about the potential for making his mark on the world of architecture in the future. But he has only just been making ends meet for the past few years. As a consequence he pays himself very little, less than his staff even, and worse, he may well lose some of the staff he loves so dearly in the future, because there is not enough opportunity in the practice for them to develop and grow professionally. My client feels caught in a dilemma. Focusing on making money and growing the business, he believes, means the work will suffer, and he can’t allow that to happen. Hence the needs of the business come second.
I told my client to think of business as a vehicle. The point of a vehicle is to take us from A to B. But the vehicle can only perform that function, if it’s in good state of repair, if it’s filled up with fuel and if the driver knows how to operate the vehicle safely.
Fuel in the tank
Business is just like that. The point of my client’s business-vehicle is to allow him to deliver great architecture for his clients and to make his mark on the world of architecture in general. In order for his vehicle to be able to do so effectively, it needs to be healthy, in a good state of repair, he needs to be a good driver and it needs fuel in the tank. Money is the fuel of business and my client needs to learn what it takes to be a good driver, a good business owner in other words.
The demands of business do not have to be in conflict with what you’re passionate about at all. It is perfectly possible to create great architecture, and beautiful design, while making making great profits and building a healthy growing sustainable business at the same time. As a matter of fact, a healthy profitable business allows you to create great art, if you let it… I promise you.
Making money in your business isn’t rocket science, it’s all about the basics
Making more money in your business isn’t rocket science. If you spend less than you earn, you’ll end up with more money in your bank account. Even Donald Trump knows that (although…).
I know I know I know… Business finance doesn’t operate like a simple household budget, you may need to borrow investment funds, finance your cashflow, obtain working capital, factor your invoices… Banks and investors exist for a reason, but even so, in the end, to make more money in your small business, you need to generate more profit (margin) and spend less cash than you pull in.
So here are the Ten Key Strategies to Make More Money in your small business. Look at each of the strategies in turn, and set aside time in your diary over the next months to implement the actions I suggest for each one and I absolutely guarantee you’ll make a lot more money this year than you did last year.
I’ve also written in great detail about making money in your business here
Someone showed me this strategy early in my years as a business coach, and I still wish now that I’d come across it in the early days of my life as a business owner. Have a look at the PDF you can download with this link here. It shows that if you make an overal improvement of only 5% across your business, your actual profits will double. It seems like a magic trick, but it isn’t. It works, always. If you make a 5% improvement in revenue, a 5% reduction in Cost Of Sales and a 5% reduction in your overheads, your profits will double. Try it out, stick your own numbers in the little table and see what happens… Try 2% or 1% and see what enormous impact even such small improvements have.
Go ahead and do this today:
Pull out your P&L for the past 6 months or a year and work your way through it from top to bottom… How can you make a really small improvement across the board in your business in the coming year?
2) Someone has to be the most expensive, it might as well be you
Recently I worked with an artist, a sculptor. She was getting ready for a group exhibition at a prestigious gallery where she was showing 4 pieces of her work. At a group exhibition like that, there’s a lot of art vying for attention and it can be hard to be noticed. We talked about how to stand out from the other 8 exhibitors and I suggested to her to double her prices, or rather, to aim to have the most expensive pieces of work in the room. If your pieces are the most expensive in the room, you can be sure that people are going to take note. Anybody who has ever opened an exhibition catalogue, has quickly run their eye past the prices, at the cheapest and especially at the most expensive pieces, and they’ve gone and had a look at the expensive ones, guaranteed. And a journalist who comes to covers the exhibition opening for the newspaper does so too. Being the most expensive sends all kinds of marketing signals about quality and specialness.
My client swallowed, took a deep breath, and doubled her prices. She did turn out to be the most expensive “in show”… And she did sell one of her pieces… For twice as much money as she’s ever made before… Nice one.
Go ahead and do this today:
Have a look at your prices… Why couldn’t you be the most expensive? Is there actually a good reason to be cheaper than the competition? Is your stuff worth less? No, I didn’t think so… So let’s get your prices up… Starting next week.
3) Collect Collect Collect
It doesn’t matter how much profit you make, if the cash doesn’t end up in your bank account. Money that’s not accessible to you is worthless. Many business owners make the mistakes of invoicing late, not setting payment terms, or setting lax ones and not enforcing whatever payment terms they do have. A very large percentage of businesses that struggle or go broke, do so, not because they’re unprofitable, but because they don’t collect their cash in time and run out of money. Cash flow stress is especially problematic in growing service based businesses. I’ve written in much more detail about cash flow and collecting here. I often tell my clients that if they allow their customers to pay late, they’ve suddenly become a bank and as bankers, they suck. As with so many things in business, the first thing to do is to design a system, a collections system, and then, enforce it, religiously.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a report in your bookkeeping system called the Aged Debtors report and have a look at who owes you outside of your trading terms. Starting with the low hanging fruit, pick up the phone and simply ask this question: “Hi there mr customer, I just noticed that you owe us $12,536.24 and that this amount is overdue. Could you let me know by what day we can expect payment? Next week Wednesday? Thank you, that would be great, have nice week.”
Whatever date the customer promises to pay his bill, make a note on the following date in your diary. On this date, check if the payment has been made and if not, remind yourself that the customer has now proven himself to be a lier and hence, immediately fire off a stern email. Refer the customer to your conversation and remind him of his promise, and give this client 48 hours to pay up… or else. In 48 hrs, commence final warnings and be prepared to forward the debt to a collections agent. Run this simple procedure next week, with each and every one of your overdue debtors and I guarantee you, you’ll halve your outstanding debts in a matter of weeks at most.
4) Discounting is for dogs
Nothing good ever came of trying to make more money by discounting. IT . DOES . NOT . WORK . EVER
I know I know I know… It seems to work for Woolies and Coles, right?… Well that’s arguable, but more importantly, you aren’t Coles. You don’t sell 15,000 different convenience products in 2500 stores all round the country (and you’re not competing against Aldi)… You’re probably not even in retail. So if this article was written for the CEO of Woolworths, I might have to tone down my language. But it’s not, it’s written for you, and if you think you can make more money in your business by offering discounts, you’re sadly mistaken. You’ll increase your problems, decrease your margins and heighten your stress and truly no-one ends up happier. Just don’t… Trust me on that.
Go ahead and do this today:
Get an A3 Piece of paper and a thick black texta and write in capital letters across the whole page: I SHALL NOT DISCOUNT and hang it up above your desk.
5) Delegate Delegate Delegate
Your time, your braincells and your health are the most valuable resources in your business. Everything else you can buy, borrow or steal more of (more here). If you want to make more money in your business, you need to learn to maximise your own time. You should always be asking yourself: Is this thing I’m about to spend my time doing, the most valuable use of my time, right now, or is there something else more valuable I could be doing. If there is, then look for the best way to give this thing you are about to do, to someone else. Delegating the lower value tasks to others is one of the sure fire ways to start making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
In the process of deciding how to use your time, there is a simple tool called the 4 Quadrants of Time Management. Originally designed by general Eisenhower and made famous by Steven Covey in his book “The seven habits of highly effective people”. You can read more about getting the right things done here. Read the article and have a look at your week ahead. What can you delegate next week?
6) It’s Gross
There is one key number you have to focus on every week and every month if you want to start to make more money in your business and that is Gross Margin or Gross Profit (more here). I often refer to Gross Profit (GP) as the King of Numbers. If you only focus on one number in your business, make it Gross Profit. Revenue is meaningless, Net profit is confusing and you have little direct control over it and many of the other numbers in your business will give you a partial insight as best. Gross Profit or Gross Margin (expressed in dollars and as a percentage) can actually tell you just about everything you must know on a weekly and monthly basis about the health of your business. It’s got to be your target: “Every week we must make $xx in gross profit at xx% of revenue.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a P&L report for the last 6 months or the past year. How much Gross Margin did you make? At what percentage of sales? Was it enough to cover your overheads and expenses and did you end up with a percentage of net profit left over? If not, how much Gross Profit should you make every month to pay for the overheads and have something left over? Now, once you have decided on that number… Stick it on the wall, (next to the note about discounting) and ask yourself: How can I make sure we hit that number every month this year?
7) Specialise Specialise Specialise
If you sell what everyone else sells, all you can do is compete on price and you know what I think about that, right? (have a look at the wall in front of you, with the A3 note about discounting). A key strategy for making more money in your business is to niche your business, to become the expert in a small section of the market. Make your expertise an inch wide and a mile deep. I read a famous book a while ago “Blue Ocean Strategy, how to make the competition irrelevant” (I wrote about it here), and it’s become increasingly clear to me that the most effective effective strategy for making more money in your business is to become a recognised expert in a small niche. It gives you a perfect opportunity to become “The most expensive in the room” (see above) (More about finding your niche here)
Go ahead and do this today:
So, get yourself a note book and brainstorm, what are you really really good at? What specific problem do you solve better for clients than anyone else? What are you passionate about, really passionate about? What do you get out of bed for in the morning? Remember, customers do not buy what you do, they buy the solution of a problem they have.
8) Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer at the end of the 19th century. I don’t believe mr Pareto was especially good at making money but he made some very clever observations on matters of commerce. Pareto is known especially for the 80/20 principle. The 80/20 principle is about the observation that inside economic systems most things are unevenly distributed. (for example, Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, in his time). This is how that’s relevant in your business. I am willing to bet that in your business, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients and worse, 80% of your losses also come from 20% of your clients. If you want to make more money in your business… That last sentence is where the low hanging fruit is to be found.
Go ahead and do this today:
Ideally of course you’d have a business management system or business intelligence system that could run a report for you with the answer. It’s certainly something to be aiming for in the long term to install such a system. But I’m guessing you don’t have such a system yet or it’s not fully operating yet. So it’s going to have to be a manual exercise, probably a spreadsheet or a simple notebook. Set some time aside and do the number crunching. Where do you lose your money? It might be to do with certain categories of customers, or with specific customers, or instead it might be certain products or services you sell that always cost too much. Whatever it is, find it. And then… once you found it… Stop doing it… STOP IT… AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
9) Systemise Systemise Systemise
Systemise, automate, productise. It’s what made McDonald’s heaps of money. Far be it from me to suggest your business should be another McDonald’s (read about my problems with McDonald’s here), but it’s certainly the case that systemising parts of your business is a great strategy for making more money. Anything you do in your business that can be standardised should be considered for systemising. When you systemise something it means you can start to get more efficient and employ lower cost staff to carry out that part of your operation.
Go ahead and do this today:
Set aside an hour to look at all the operations in your business and select three to develop a system for. I’m not necessarily talking about very complicated systems. small things such as how we answer the telephone, or how we go about ensuring we have supplies of printer ink, or how we respond to quote requests. Write out the system for each of the three things and roll them out throughout your business.
10) Do you want fries with that?
As we were talking about McDonald’s already, this is another strategy they’re famous for. It’s actually a system in itself of course. The up-sell. Effectively, the up-sell is the only discount you’ll ever make money on. The principle behind the “Do you want fries with that” question is that for a small amount of extra money, the client gets a bunch more value. Normally fries cost $2 but in an up-sell situation the customer gets to buy a portion of fries for only an extra dollar. This may seem like a discount and therefore to be avoided at all cost. But it isn’t. The fries in question cost McDonald’s virtually nothing, probably as little as 10 cents, when added to the larger transaction, so they make an extra 90 cents profit from each customer that accepts the up-sell.
A client of mine, an electrician, has trained his employees to ask customers they do repair works for, whether they’d like their smoke alarms tested while they’re at it. In nearly all cases the batteries need replacing and the electrician charges a small fee for replacing the batteries. The customers are very happy (and safe) and my client makes an extra $25 profit per job on average. Everybody wins. Judiciously practicing up-selling is a great strategy for making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
What can you offer your customers as an up-sell? Think about it… The trick is to find something useful/valuable for the customer that costs you very little to add to whatever you’re doing or delivering for the customer already. I have come across hundreds of different examples in my years, feel free to email contact me to brainstorm if you like.
Bonus: Profit first
I’m sure you agree with me that profit is important. You might have heard me say before that if your business doesn’t make profit and generate cash, it’s a hobby. So let’s just leave it at that, we want to make profit in our business. But if we all agree it’s so important, why do we leave the whole profit thing to last? After everything else is paid for we cast a hopeful look in the bottom of the bucket to see if there’s any profit left over. Let’s turn that around. Let’s take the profit out of the bucket first and set it aside in another bucket. The profit first principle is a really useful way to help you focus on the importance of making profit. More about profit first here
Go ahead and do this today:
So this is what I suggest you do, next week. Go and open a special bank account. A bank account that it’s easy to transfer money into but a bit more challenging to take money out of again. Then, decide how much you think you can take out for profit out of every invoice you send off. (5%? 10%?). And then from every payment that hits your bank account, automatically transfer that percentage into your profit account. If you do this religiously, better yet, if you delegate this job to your bookkeeper or accounts person, you’ll start to build amazing value and wealth in your business… trust me on that.
Focusing on making more money in your business is a great discipline. It will lead to stability and sustainability in your business and your life. There are many other strategies to make more money in your business of course. but if you focus your energies on these ten in the coming year, I guarantee that your business and your life will start to look entirely different.
I’d love to hear how you go, so drop me a line some time.
A business that doesn’t make profit and generate cash flow is a hobby
The second of The 7 Big Questions of Small Business, on the lips of most small business owners is: How can I make more profit and generate more cash flow? Personally I believe the question about making money is even more important than the growth question, because I have seen many business go bankrupt, even though they were growing. Business Growth only makes sense if you end up with more money in your bank account as a result.
So these are the most important rules about making and keeping money in your business (click on the links for more about each rule below)
Without profit there is no business, but does that mean that profit is the Purpose of business?
John Mackey is the founder of a large international chain of organic supermarkets called Wholefoods Markets. The company has been highly profitable ever since John founded it in the early eighties and has paid a dividend to it’s shareholders every year of it’s existence. Amazon recently purchased the company for untold billions of dollars and John Mackey is one of the world’s richest people. John clearly knows a thing or two about building great businesses and about making money.
John Mackey also wrote a book however, called Conscious Capitalism (link below) and in it (and various interviews I’ve read and watched with John Mackey), he says something that made the penny drop for me. He says this:
“Thinking that the Purpose of business is to make money is as silly as thinking that the Purpose of people is to eat food. We need to eat food, we eat food all our lives, and good food is better than bad food and without food we die, but eating food is not the reason we exist. We eat food so we can make good on our Purpose in life”.
John says it’s the same with business and money. The business must make money and profit and generate cash flow, and plenty of it, but only so that it can make good on it’s greater Purpose.
So let’s be clear about that, making money is the means to an end, and without profit and cash flow, the business can not perform it’s function.
If someone is going to be the most expensive anyway, why wouldn’t that be you?
Everyone can sell cheap. It takes no special skill or approach to sell cheap. It takes incredible skill and focus to be the cheapest and make profit and be around for the long term, and only very few businesses can do so consistently. The only three big ones I know off that have consistently been able to be the cheapest and build sustainable businesses that stand the test of time, are Aldi, Ikea and Walmart. I’m sure there are others but they’re few and far between.
If you make low pricing your main differentiator and competitive advantage you better be the most disciplined and focused business out there, because there will always be someone knocking on the door undercutting you, and you’ll constantly struggle to make enough money to survive, let alone build a Beautiful Business and Life. Competing on price is simply a dog’s game.
Instead: Ask yourself what you need to do to be the most expensive? Raise your prices and see what it takes to sell with higher prices. What else can you compete on? Building a Beautiful Business and Life is so much easier to do with high margins than with low ones.
20% Of your customers generate 80% of your profit and vice versa… Do you know who they are?
You might have heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. The rule can be applied in many situations, but there is no more appropriate topic to apply it to than that of a business and it’s customers. I can just about guarantee you that if you were to run a report today listing all your customers on a continuum with maximum profit and cash flow at one end of the scale down to least profit and cash (or even loss) at the other end, expressed in dollars, you will find that there is a small bunch of customers at either end. There is a small group of customers from whom you make by far most of your profit, and equally there is a small group of customers who cost you most of your money.
The problem is that most small businesses aren’t able to run a report like that, easily. I can tell you it’s worth spending some time pulling a report like this together. For that matter, it’s worth getting the software installed that allows you to run a report like this easily. You will be shocked when you find out how much of the effort in your business gets wasted on customers who do nothing for your business but keep you busy, who don’t make you any money. Equally you’ll realise how urgent it is to give more attention to those customers that make you all your money, because God forbid they might leave one day!
The three C’s: Collect Collect Collect. Do you know why it matters so much?
I’ve seen many businesses make profit and grow and yet struggle and even go bankrupt. The problem in those businesses is cash flow. More about cash flow and profit and their tenuous relationship further down. Here I just want to talk about completing the work or delivering the product, invoicing and collecting. It may seem obvious, but making profit is pointless if it doesn’t hit your bank account, but you’d be surprised how often I talk to business owners who complain about never having enough money to pay the bills while having tens or hundreds of thousands dollars of outstanding debts.
In my own days as a builder, a recurring problem was not finishing the jobs 100%. Sometimes for months, we’d leave a few defects outstanding, because they were small and we were onto the next projects. But that meant we couldn’t collect the final invoice, sometimes for months. In other businesses I see that people finish the work, but wait until the end of the month or sometimes even longer before they invoice the client and finally, most small businesses do not have a simple and consistent collection system. Those three factors mean that your business is functioning as a bank for your customers. Your money is in their bank account and it’s no use to you there. It means you constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul and you can’t take advantage of early payment discounts from your suppliers and when your business is in growth mode, the problem compounds exponentially.
It’s actually even the case that you’re not doing your customers a favour by not completing, invoicing or collecting. Your customers want nothing more than having their work done quickly and cleanly and when the work is completed well, your clients actually feel they are in your debt and they want to remove that feeling as soon as possible. With every day that passes that feeling of indebtedness changes and if they don’t receive your invoice until a week or a month later, they’re actually not so keen to pay you anymore.
Profit and cash are not the same. Do you know what the difference really is?
As I mentioned above, many businesses fall over even though they make profit and they grow. I also mentioned the compounding problem of growth. I’ll explain the compounding problem in a super simplified example here:
Let’s say you start in month 1 with a bank account balance of $1,000 and you sell $1,000 worth of stuff this month and after expenses you have $100 left over. that should mean you are $100 better off at the end of the month than you were at the beginning.
But if you’ve only collect $500 of that $1.000 in month 1, and the balance follows the month after, you’ll be $400 worse off at the end of month 1 than you were at the beginning. The bank account balance at the start of month 2 is now $600. Now if in the next month you grow 20% and sell $1200 and you make the same profit percentage (10%) you will have made a total of $220 ($100 plus $120) profit by the end of month 2.
We’ll assume that you collect at the same level (50%, in the month and the rest follows the month after). So the starting balance at month 2 is $600 plus the remainder of the collections from month 1 makes $1,100. Minus expenses of month 2 ($1,080) leaves a balance of $20, plus collections for the month of $600, so your balance at the end of month 2 is $620. In other words, after 2 months of profitable and growing trading you’ve gone backward by $380. And that’s if everyone pays within payment terms. If only 5% of your customers are late payers, you will go backwards even further at the end of month 2 and so on.
Obviously this is a highly simplified worked example, but it demonstrates the principle precisely. For this reason, in a growing business you must give at least equal attention to cash and profit all the time. You could argue that cash is actually more important than profit for two reasons: Firstly, you can continue to run a business as long as you have cash to pay the bills. There are many examples of big businesses that ran for many years without making profit, but who didn’t run out of cash (Amazon is one such example, Tesla seems to be another current example). And secondly, profit can actually increase your cash stress because profit leads to having to pay tax and tax simply takes cash out of your business.
Do you know your breakeven? And why you must hit it 4 times every month?
One of the most important things I do with new clients when I start working with them is to find their breakeven. Breakeven is the number of dollars you have to sell every month (or every day or week or year) to pay all the bills every month. What does it cost to open the doors and turn on the lights, in other words. I find that the simplest way to establish the breakeven is this:
Step 1: Look at last years Profit and Loss statement and find the total of all the overheads, the fixed costs of the business, rent, insurances, electricity, marketing costs, subscriptions, etc. Add to this the monthly repayments of loans and lease payments you have to make. Now divide that number by 12. This is the amount of gross profit the business has to generate every month, 12 months of the year.
Next step: By looking at the P&L for last year (or any other representative period), you’ll be able to see what percentage of revenue your Gross profit is. for argument sake, let’s say that your monthly overheads are $20,000. and that in the past year, your Gross profit has been 30% of revenue. Now we can do the sum to find out how much revenue you need to make, to “Break even”. The sum is: Overheads divided by Gross profit = Revenue. Or in this example: $20,000 / 0.3 = $66,666.00. In other words. Based on last years figures with a margin for error and inflation of 5% added, you have to sell $70,000 of your business’s products or services every month.
But that’s not the end of the story. To survive and actually break even you have to hit this number four times every month:
You have sell $70,000 every month.
You have to produce $70,000 worth of goods or services every month.
You have to invoice $70,000 every month.
And you have to collect $70,000 into your bank account every month.
If you miss out by even $1000 on any one of those four in any month, you’ll have to make up for that $1000 in the month after.
By introducing this simple discipline, your business and life will never look the same again. BTW: keep in mind that I’ve been ignoring profit in this topic. Obviously you must make profit as well. But first you must instill the discipline of hitting your breakeven 4 times every month at least.
Numbers: How would you like to be in control of your business?
Lastly I always teach my clients how to put and keep their fingers on the pulse of the key aspects of the health of their business, every week and every month. The Numbers, the KPI’s. The break even number I talked about above is obviously one of those key numbers, but there are more. Bank balance is a key number, so is gross profit and aged debtors. Then there are various financial ratios, such as the gross profit percentage and ratios like “The debtor days ratio” and the “Liquidity ratio”. More detail about ratios etc below.
Besides financial numbers and ratios, there are many other numbers and ratios in a business to keep an eye on. For example the number of enquiries in the past month, or the conversion rate (for every 10 enquiries, how many contracts were signed), average job value, or average sale. Warranty returns, customer satisfaction, you name it.
A client of mine who has a furniture removals business knows that he needs to keep a keen eye on his removalist’s wages as a percentage of total sales. If he spends more than 60% of sales on the wages of his boys, he knows he’s not managed the work schedule well enough.
Your business will have its own specific numbers and ratios that can tell you a lot about the health of your business. I often talk about the mailboat report with my clients: Imagine you are banished to a deserted island in the Pacific, without mobile phone or email, and the only information you could get about your business would be a single sheet of paper that would be delivered by the mailboat every week. What numbers would have to be on that single sheet of paper to tell you precisely what you needed to know about the health of your business, so you could send immediate instructions back with the mailboat?
There is a famous story that tells of an old retired engineer who is called back to the factory where he used to work to fix a machine. After having a look around the machine he pulls a small hammer from his back pocket, crawls around the back of the machine, gives it a wack and the machine works again. Management asks the engineer what he wants to be paid and the engineer suggests he wants $50,000. As you might imagine this was a little more than management had in mind to pay the old engineer and hence they ask for an itemisation of the amount. The engineer immediately sends back two lines of itemisation:
Cost of hammer: $10.00
Knowing where to strike with the hammer: $49,990.00
I was reminded of this story when reading Lucinda Lions on Smallville. recently. The topic of Lucinda’s article is what’s often referred to as the “Value Based Pricing Model”. The idea being that we shouldn’t charge for the time we give to our clients, rather the value we provide.
For example: An accountant who saves a client $10K in tax, and does so in an hour’s work. How much should that accountant charge for the work? Her normal hourly rate of $250 or maybe 10% of the tax savings? (This is one of the two considerations in setting prices, the other is about risk, more about risk here)
I am a business coach and rather than charging an hourly rate for the sessions I have with my clients, I charge a fixed monthly fee. If you were to divide that monthly fee by the number of actual coaching hours I do, my hourly rate would seem steep. Some potential clients have indeed done that sum in their head and decided that my rate is too rich for them.
At the same time, I know that very often the work I do with my clients results in a turnaround in their business worth many times what they pay me. Looking at the “Value Based Pricing Model” in other words, I really don’t charge anywhere near enough for my coaching and I have tried to increase my fees for a little while now.
Our knots around pricing
Let me explain why I believe we get ourselves in knots around pricing.
I often find myself discussing fees and pricing with my clients. When discussing fees, I usually start by telling my clients that I think they are not charging enough for their product or service. I also tell them that I know that me telling them so is not going to change anything, because unless they become deeply convinced that they are worth more than what they currently charge, they simply won’t be able to sell it successfully.
Take my own example. As I said, rationally I know that what I charge is not enough. So, my rational brain has convinced itself that I should up my fees. But my emotional brain, my unconscious isn’t there yet, not really. The little voice on my shoulder is saying stuff like: “Really!… You want to charge more than the average city lawyer charges… You’ve got a bad case of “upyourselfness” happening there buster”.
The refrains in my head
As long as those kinds of refrains run around inside my head, I won’t be able to sell myself at a rate beyond what I’m charging now. I’ll get there … I get a step closer every year, and I will make the next step when my whole being is convinced, not just my rational brain.
It’s like the plumber I worked with. Let’s call him Brad. Brad is using a pricing book with flat fee prices for a whole bunch of regular recurring jobs at people’s homes:
Replace a tap washer: $75
Blocked toilet: $237
Install a hose tap in an existing copper cold water service line: $315
It’s a great system, it is simple to use, it is transparent for customers and it gives Brad the opportunity to get beyond making an hourly rate.
There is also an item in the price book called “The Soapy Water Test”. It’s how plumbers find gas leaks. The process involves a plant sprayer and some soapy water, and spraying the soapy water on a copper pipe. Where there is a gas leak, the soapy water starts bubbling. “Bob’s your Uncle”.
Cost of equipment: negligible.
Time: no more than it takes to fill up the plant sprayer.
Benefit to the client: potentially limitless compared with a gas explosion.
With a straight face
So how much should a plumber reasonably charge for that neat trick? The Price book, the one provided for him by his association, suggests to charge $163 for a soapy water test. And at some level that makes sense, it’s a small price to pay against the potential cost of a gas explosion, right?
Of course, except that Brad has never yet charged the soapy water test to any of his clients, because he just can’t do so with a straight face. And I acknowledge him for it. You see, if a plumber was going to charge me $163 for a soapy water test, I’d never ever use him again, because I would feel utterly ripped off.
So what should we do with the “Value Based Pricing Model”?
It’s simple really… trust your gut. My gut tells me I can’t increase my prices yet, Brad’s gut tells him he can’t charge for the Soapy Water Test, the accountant feels uncomfortable in her gut to charge more than $750, and maybe your gut tells you you can’t increase your prices yet either. But keep checking in with your gut, because one day it will feel right and then you should jump on it immediately.
As with so many things in life: If it feels right… it is right.
The first thing you have to do with it, is to collect it. Profit is no good to you if it’s not in your bank account, but in the those of your clients. This may seem an obvious point, but you’d be surprised how many small business owners I work with make profit, and yet can’t pay their bills.
And once it’s in your bank account, what then? After all, as I cautioned before, you’re already being paid a regular wage, enough to pay your bills and appropriate for someone with your role, so you don’t specifically need it yourself (unless you really need a bigger toy of some sort).
Assuming you’ve realised that bigger toys don’t make you happier and given your nice car is already leased through the business anyway, what do you do with your growing bank balance?
Investing in the future
Invest in the business future, that’s what. Investing in the business means the business increases in value and makes the business future proof.
Let’s say you’ve made $100k net profit before tax last year. The tax department is going to want a piece of it, let’s say 30%, and that leaves $70K to do with as you see fit. In all likelihood, if you are the sole owner of the business, it makes a lot of sense to pay yourself a piece of that, either direct or into your superfund. Let’s say you decide to give yourself a $20K dividend and that leaves you with $50K to invest.
What happens next is of course entirely dependent on your circumstances. Maybe your business plan calls for opening a second store or office elsewhere. You may need to sign a lease for the new office and pay a rental bond. You also may need to invest in a new website or a marketing campaign to get the new store moving, or maybe you will be traveling a lot for the new store in the coming year. What you don’t want to do is cannibalise the finances of the current business, so you set half of the profits aside to finance the expansion. This is a great way to invest your profits.
Keeping the doors open for 6 months
Another great way to invest your profits is to open a separate savings or investment account to build up a cash buffer in your business. I’ve often helped my clients build up cash reserves in a separate account equal to 6 months of their overheads, so that if the market takes a turn or there is a gap between contracts, you don’t have to “buy” contracts just to keep the doors open (“buying contracts” is always a bad idea).
So here’s what you gotto do:
Pay yourself a wage or equivalent.
Collect the profit.
Pay yourself a dividend.
Open a separate savings account.
Transfer as much money as you can into the savings account, every month ideally, and build up real value in the business to give yourself options down the track.