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Make the M Word Less Scary

How do I overcome my fear of losing the sale and instead firmly set prices in line with the value of my products and services?Mary T., Chicago

➽ A: I often see businesswomen cringe from talking about money and ask for far less than they’re worth, while men tend to be hardwired to ask for what they want. I also know many women who squelched their pricing anxieties, so I turned to them for advice. Of course, their tips will help you guys who have this problem as well.

Women are natural givers, accustomed to doing more than what they receive in return, says Adina Laver, a Philadelphia-area divorce and relationship coach. “In sales, this translates into an inequitable exchange of value between the business owner and her clients,” she says.

When her business was young, Laver sometimes lowered her price on the spot out of fear of losing a client. “Sometimes the client walked anyway. In other cases, I could feel my inner voices of resentment rising as I realized I was on the short end of the value-exchange stick again.” Recognizing her behavior was key to changing it; Laver channeled her frustration into building her business muscle and committing herself to “acting more confidently the next time.”

Makeup artist Marcella Cardinal’s lightbulb moments occurred when she observed how salespeople interacted with her: “They believed in what they were selling. I didn’t feel forced or duped.” Their attitudes put her at ease when asking for money for her services.

Cardinal also says anyone struggling with sales should dump the notion that selling is a tawdry interaction: “Money is simply an exchange of energy. What gives you the right to decide for someone else that your product isn’t right for them? What if you’re denying them something that could truly help? They have a right to say no, but you don’t have the right to say it for them.”

Cathi Nelson, founder of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, offers this insight: Women often worry about being perceived as greedy, which causes them to undervalue their worth. When she started her photo organizing business, Nelson underpriced until “I realized that I would better serve my clients by charging what I was worth. I slowly started raising my rates…. Even after I doubled my rates, I kept getting clients. It was my mindset that needed adjusting—not my clients’.”

South Florida marketing consultant Jackie Awve says there’s nothing worse than learning you undervalued yourself after the deal is done—especially with a high-maintenance client. “It affects your disposition working on a project and possibly the quality of your output,” she says. “It also sets a price precedent.”

Naturally, checking what competitors charge for comparable services is helpful. “If your peers are not willing to work for less, why should you?” asks Awve. “I mostly get comps by doing Internet searches to compare pricing, service descriptions and quality of work. Knowing where you stand allows you to price and discuss pricing based on something more tangible than emotions.”

If all else fails, Effie Walthall, an Orlando, Fla., travel agent, suggests getting comfortable with being uncomfortable when it comes to sales. “People always ask why they should book through a travel agency. Oftentimes my price is the same as the cruise line or tour operator. The difference is they don’t get me, and I’m worth something.” Educating prospects on her value enables Walthall to secure their trust and their business.

Find out everything you need to know about how to price your product or service, when to discount (and when not to) and more.

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