How My Sliding Scale Taught Me Not to Fear Scarcity

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We carry deep money fears. It’s practical — I get it, I feel it, I’ve got it. For each of us there is a number, roughly, that we know we need to conjure up each month to keep on lights, to eat, to avoid scary letters in the mail from the IRS, and keep the bottom of our budget sheets nice and green so we can retire one day. Because of this, when we work, perhaps especially for ourselves, we start to think of all the aspects of our work in terms of money. Our time is money. Our speed is money. The quantity we can produce is money. The quality we can improve is money. The number of times or the length of time that someone can use our creations is money.

In our back pocket, we always carry this invisible, heavy money coin. On the first side of that coin, we think of all that we are potentially worth. On the other side, we hold our fear of scarcity. The risk of being undervalued, underpaid, and perhaps most terrifying… unsustainable.

Sliding scales don’t make sense when the fear of being undervalued is on and running. The concept depends on trust between the person setting the value and the person assessing their ability to match that value, to the highest possible degree. And everyone loves a discount. So if you give someone the option of no discount or a discount, they’re always going to go for the biggest discount, right?

Yesterday, I had a phone call with a potential client from a large organization. “How does your pricing work,” she asked. “Well,” I explained, “It depends a good deal on the context of the project. I give all of my clients a quote specifically for their scope of work. I have an hourly rate — but projects of certain sizes allow some flexibility.” I explained that pricing a one-page flyer is a little different than a 20-page annual report, which is a little different than creating 20 custom illustrations. “I also have a sliding scale,” I said.

“Oh,” this woman said, and now I’m paraphrasing, but her response was along the lines of, “Well we’re a nonprofit but we’re very well established — a sliding scale really wouldn’t be appropriate for us to take advantage of.”

I smiled on my end of the phone. It still surprises me a little bit when I get these kinds of replies. Because in my mind, yes, if you give someone the option of a discount or no discount, they're just going to take discount, right? But in my experience, that’s just not what happens.

My sliding scale goes from 70% to 100%. The little one-sheet that I rarely even send out these days articulates that 100% is the value I assign to the work I provide, and then it shows a line extending backwards to two notches at 85% and 70%. Underneath each potential price point, it offers a list of considerations for whether this level of discount might appropriately apply to this person or organization.

At the lowest rung of the sliding scale the list suggests that if you have no or limited expendable income, for example, this is an appropriate discount for you. In the middle, stressing about financial needs but being able to meet them regularly is an example that indicates less of a discount might fit you. And at the top, having access to savings or grant money is a clue that you may not really need a discount at all.

I round off my sliding scale document with notes about why I find it meaningful to work with folks on every stage of this scale. Full value payments match the value of the work I provide and help me to be able to work with folks who can’t pay full value at this time. That middle area of payment helps me to cover my costs and sustain my life as I work. And the heaviest discounted work I do is a way that my clients and myself show support for each other’s gifts and passions and missions.

But as I said, I rarely send this sheet out anymore. Altogether, I’ve probably only sent it out once or twice. When I’ve gotten on the phone, or spoken to someone face to face, I’ve encountered an inherent understanding. My clients and prospective clients seem to get where all of this is coming from, and honor it from their standpoint.

I had a doula client reach out to me once too, because she and her partners’ budget had shifted in the time between committing to work with me and having our second prenatal appointment. They had initially decided to pay full value, but now looking at the numbers, that investment felt unwise. On the phone, I acknowledged my sliding scale. “Let me know what your budget will allow now, let me know what you’d like in services, and we’re going to figure this out, through me and whatever other community resources if necessary.”

She got back to me with a number that was still not the lowest option of my sliding scale, and suggested I have less sessions with them — “I in no way want to undercut you,” she wrote in a text. With sincere appreciation for her consideration, I replied, “That number is perfectly fine and we’re still doing all the sessions!”

I’ve been in all of these categories as a consumer myself. I’ve paid all, I’ve paid some, I’ve paid a little. They’ve all been beautiful experiences in their own contexts.

I don’t know what I can say to fully express that value, to me, is not based in dollars. Value is the impact something has, its reach, its usefulness, how it makes someone feel or what it allows them to fully experience.

That said, my sliding scale decision is based on my context, on some of the privileges I have. I have some savings – not a lot, but some. That helps me to do this. I have some debt – but not a lot. And that helps me to do this. I also design largely for birth and nonprofit folks. It's an altruistic industry, filled with people and organizations who love collaborating with small business people like myself, and creating and building community with their business decisions. That’s not true of every industry. That helps me to do this.

So I get it. It’s not going to be the best fit for every entrepreneur, and not in every season of their working life. I’m sure I will continue to shift and evolve my model over time, too, but I'll never let go of the lessons I'm learning in this current season. And you'll never catch me making my decisions solely on the money.

The bottom line is, I don't want to operate my business and implement my pricing out of a scarcity mindset. That would get in the way of making real connections with the people I work with, and having honest conversations that dignify us all as members of a common community — however near or far we may be, however hands-on or intangible the work may be. If that appeals to you as well, consider applying a sliding scale. Sliding scale pricing is a beautiful way to literally put your money where your mouth is, and use that mouth to say, "This is way more about you and us and what we're working towards, than it is about the dollars."

Extra: I think it's worth noting that my clients self-select where they fall on the sliding scale. I do not choose for them. For my records, I also invoice all my work at 100% with whatever level of discount applied, so I can keep track of how much discounting I do in a year (just started this, so this will be the first year I have that info!).


How I Price My Products: From Winging It to Owning It

Photo by  Madison Kaminski  on  Unsplash

In today's post, I'm talking money. When I started The Educated Birth in January 2017, I was winging it. I set prices based on what sounded good to me, with little thought about the sustainability of my business, and the protection of my time and sanity. Today, I've made some baby steps, and some really big girl steps toward owning this part of my business. What I've learned, I'm happy to share with you now.

One. Use Accessible Professional Resources
I can't stress enough how important it is to talk to a professional about your questions. Now you might be saying what I was saying in January of 2017, "Well I can't afford to hire a professional!"

To my rescue — enter Thrive, a mentor network in my city (and there may be something similar where you are too!) full of generous folks, like CPA Nadia, who offer their time and expertise to small business owners for free for a certain amount of time.

When I met Nadia, I quickly learned that some of the things that applied to my self-employed friends' businesses simply would not work for me. Maybe because our businesses were structured differently, maybe because our audience size or types were really different, or maybe because the types of services or the prices of our services were different.

And when we'd reached the end of our free time together, we bartered! I offered graphic design work to her and she continued to offer her services to me. #accessiblesmallbizgrowth

Two. Learn the Basics
In some ways I'm still in this part of this process. When I started, I relied solely on Andi Smiles online resources (check out her FB group!!), and my All My Biz Pinterest board. Between those things and the contextualized information from Nadia I began to understand:

  • How to track my income and expenses
    (And in the most productive way that saves me time and stress come tax time)
     
  • When to collect sales tax
    (And how to pay it)
     
  • How to save for taxes
    (I started out saving 16% – forgot where I got that number from... but I'll find out what % I should save from now on when I get my 2017 taxes back)

Three. Get Organized. Smarter.
When I put my mind to it, I can be very organized (it's the moon in Virgo in me). 

Every month in 2017 I made budget spreadsheets. I brought up my bank app on my phone and I sat down and I plugged in every single expense and income into a spreadsheet. I organized into categories that mattered to me at the time, like: "Shopping, Groceries, Eating Out, Business, Exercise & Medical, Gas & Transportation, etc." For a while I even had an extra category called "Expenses I Don't Expect Next Month," — and I took things from my main categories and copied them over into that column to get an idea of how much of my money went into things that were sort of "irregular" unlike rent and groceries and Netflix.

This year, I'm making some important changes to this process:

  • Instead of transferring info from looking at my bank app to a spreadsheet, I'm downloading the spreadsheets monthly directly from my bank's website (eliminating some potential for human error and saving time).
     
  • Instead of having one giant "Business Expense" category I now have all the separate ones that I will need to report for taxes.
     
  • And while I'll still keep track of all of my expenses month by month, I'm also creating my annual totals for 2018 document now, which will show the totals of expenses and incomes throughout the year organized by category — again, helpful for tax purposes.

OKAY SO WAIT. WAIT. WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PRICING THOUGH???

Four. Applying All of the Above to Pricing

Because I spent a year winging my pricing, I needed to know whether what I had been doing was working well or how it was not working well, in order to know how to change well.

  • Talking to a professional about financials generally helped me know that I was on a good foundation to set my pricing.
     
  • Learning all these financial basics has impacted how I approach the changes to my pricing.
     
  • Getting organized in general helped me sit down and get organized in pricing.

A few days ago, I created a new document: The Educated Birth Print Shop Pricing, one page shown below.

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In this document I outline how much it costs for me to print the posters that I sell of the infographics that I've created, from printing to packaging, to my time and skills, to shipping. 

It costs $3.48 to print and package one poster. I pay myself $6.52 (I could write another post about how I got here, but I won't) per poster purchased.

My customer is charged $10, plus 3.75 in shipping (which is sometimes greater if the quantity purchased is higher — all that depends on package weight).

So in total, customers are charged $13.75 and I get make a little less than half of that.

My pricing decisions are pretty conservative. Pricing calculators I've used suggest that labor + materials x2 should be wholesale price, and x2 again should be retail. If I applied that to my shop that'd be:

$3.48 + $6.52 = $10
x2 = $20 wholesale price
x2 = $40 retail price

That kind of pricing just doesn't fit my needs. 

Five. Stepping into Your Customer's Shoes
This is where I started and ended. When I opened my shop, I charged $7 per poster, because that was the kind of price I felt like I'd be attracted to as a customer. 

But $10 per poster is better for my customers than $7 per poster. That $3 bump means that I can invest in this work that I'm doing to offer higher quality items, way better packaging, and things like the Spanish and French translations that I'm working on. 

It means I won't run myself ragged, and I won't have vastly out of reach materials either. And discounts are always available too!

Bottom Line...
I went on a journey of understanding what was sustainable for my life and business in order to go from "this sound good" pricing to "this makes sense" pricing. Big girl steps!

Have questions? Thoughts? Stories about how you figured out what pricing works for you and your business? Leave me a message below!


How Facebook Taught Me to Adult and Saved Me Over $1500

Photo by  rawpixel.com  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

When school prepares you for higher education more than everyday life what should be common knowledge becomes uncommonly known. I know I’m far from alone with my feelings on this. I’ve had enough conversations with friends and family members. One of the phrases that’s weighed heavily on me recently is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

I had no idea how little I knew. Once I realized I needed to learn, where could I turn, though? Where could I learn about my financial options for healthcare, for dental care, for eye exams, for legal services, for taxes? In my frustration I turned to Facebook and found... that wasn't a bad idea. Here's how it's worked for me and why I think it could work for you, too.

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Facebook Lesson #1: Healthcare
When I got the message from my old healthcare company that my membership with them would be expiring in a few months and I’d have to select a new one in the marketplace, I felt frozen. I didn’t even (and still only vaguely) understand the Affordable Care Act. I took my frustration to Facebook with a question, and got a flurry of responses.

Yes, 30 comments later I had a variety of options to look into and a few people I was able to talk to on the phone, too.

It made a huge difference. I chose my Cigna healthcare plan within those next 48 hours feeling much more confident than I was when I chose the one before. While I’m still pretty unhappy with the brokenness of the system, I found a place in it that works for me for now, and has reportedly saved me hundreds of dollars already.

Let’s just super conservatively say this has saved me $300, between savings in the cost of my monthly premiums and savings from doctors visits and medication I've been prescribed in the last few months.

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Facebook Lesson #2: Legal + Tax Advice
As a newbie in the self-employment world, I knew there’d be learning curve. I knew I’d have some trial and error, and I’d need to be ready to make changes to make both my own and my clients’ experiences clearer and better.

One huge example of this has been my contracts. When I had my first hiccups, I took my situation to a FB group I’d joined called Boss Babes Business Finance, and the responses were just what I needed. I cleaned my contract up and didn’t have the same problem again.

I’ve also asked a handful of questions about taxes in various FB spaces and gotten a ton of help. Including a connection to an amazing CPA I’m currently revamping my personal and business budgeting practices with.

I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by connecting to this professional through a small business mentorship group (let’s say $275 since that’s around the average cost of tax prep with a CPA), and I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by improving my contract (let’s say $400 since that’s the amount of money I lost from my early mistakes).

Extra Note: Research I’ve done off FB has also uncovered these two pretty amazing legal resources online — And.Co and Termly for anyone interested. Termly saved me hundreds of dollars, and a ton of time, by providing me what I needed to get my websites up to legal code in one evening — no need to hire someone for $150+ an hour (at least not yet).

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Facebook Lesson #3: Dental Care
Because healthcare is ridiculously complicated, picking my health insurance was just the tip of the stress iceberg. I quickly realized I needed to go to the dentist and I had no idea where to go.

The first dental office I called quoted me around $350 for an appointment without dental insurance. And I didn’t have time to call up random places and compare. So I went to Facebook again. Like before, I got over 30 responses, and I started checking them out.

The VCU dental school seemed like the direction I was going to go in for a minute. I called and scheduled an evaluation. That would be $75 (just for the evaluation, the cleaning would be an additional cost if I was accepted in — and I’m guessing a pretty substantial one because they wouldn’t quote it over the phone). Still feeling a little uncertain, I checked another suggestion I’d been given: Groupon. And I am so glad. I found a $60 Groupon deal for an x-ray, exam, and cleaning just 20 minutes away at a dental office that scheduled me in even faster than the dental school.

Turns out that office has a specific plan for uninsured folks: $275 for two appointments (each including an x-ray, exam, and cleaning) a year. Considering one of those appointments averages around $250 in my area, I saved $190 with that one appointment, and I’ll save over $225 if I start that annual plan this summer for my next two.

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Facebook Lesson #4: Vision Care
Just the other week I realized my glasses prescription has been expired for over 5 years. Womp. “Well,” I thought, “time to ask Facebook.”

About a dozen responses later I had a few places to check out. My previous eye place quoted me $80 for an exam to update my prescription with my vision insurance (which I was unable to get clear information about from my health insurance online account — still need to call them and ask them why that info’s not showing up). I set up an appointment since their waiting list was about a month long. Then I called Costco. Turned out they wouldn’t accept my vision insurance. I asked how much the exam would cost without it. Around $60. Alright, though. That was still better than the other place and they didn’t have much of a waiting list. I planned to cancel that other appointment and schedule with Costco on Monday.

Then, plot twist. FB notified me about another response: a friend suggested I check out America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses. So I did. And would you look at that, $45 eye exams without insurance, and I could potentially get two pairs of glasses as well for around $70-$100 total.

I’m saving $35 at minimum, and potentially a lot more considering the last time I got new frames I paid $100 for one pair alone (let’s say I’m saving $180 since two pairs of glasses and an eye exam with the last places I purchased those from would have cost me around $280 and I'll probably get glasses, too).

Totaling Up My Facebook Education Savings
Alright so let’s review. I took the following financial issues to Facebook and saved how much?

Healthcare (Primary & OBGYN): $300
Legal + Tax Advice: $275 + $400
Dental Care: $190 + $225
Eye Care: $180

Total: $1570

Now that's a number I can get behind (!!), especially since it cost me $0 to get the information that led me to the savings. While I learned none of this in high school or college, I did learn about economic theories back then. Now, if I recall the lingo correctly, this whole situation is basically how you can use social/human capital to save financial capital. Am I right? Did I get it? Either way... Class dismissed!

... Pssst. One thing. Do you have savings stories like this, or other thoughts, or questions? Share in the comments below.