What Makeup Taught Me About Selling

DCF 1.0Sometimes the best way to build your business is by walking away from the sale, as I’ve discussed in the past. But what if you’re making a hard sell without even realizing it? Let me explain…

I’ve been experimenting a bit with makeup lately, and found myself at a department store getting all dolled up by a professional. I’d come in with a pretty limited budget, and asked for something really simple that I could wear every day, and that wouldn’t require intricate face painting skills I lack. As an athlete who mostly works from home, my idea of a makeup is lip gloss and sunscreen, so even stepping into the store was a big step for me.

Budget? What’s That?

As a writer, I often interact with clients who have flirted with the idea of starting a blog but are a bit nervous to get started. And I’ve noticed that many of them ask for the smallest packages I offer. They’re usually startups or solopreneurs on a tight budget, and would like inexpensive posts on a very limited basis. As someone who strings words together for a living, it’s sometimes difficult to really listen to or understand what they need, because I have a hard time relating. Next time this happens, I’m going to think of myself, walking into the makeup section of a store I’d never set foot in, plopping down on a stool with a mirror in hand and hoping for the best.

Feature Creep (Or Scope Creep)

So the nice lady asked me what my budget was, and I told her I was prepared to spend around a hundred. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit low, and I would’ve probably been able to be talked up to twice that, but we didn’t really talk prices. Instead she spent the next two hours extolling the virtues of different concealers, primers, foundations, lotions, brushes, etc. I think I had about a dozen products on my face by the time I was done, and the ‘natural look’ I was going for ended up with a really striking nighttime look. Or at least it seemed that way to me. And yet over the course of our session, I’d become somewhat sold on the virtues of items I hadn’t originally considered. Of course I had to get these twelve other things I’d never heard of.

I wonder if that’s how my clients feel when we discuss blogging. At first they thought they wanted a couple posts a month, or maybe a new ‘about me’ page and some product descriptions, but leave the meeting (or phone call) with a dizzying array of other options they never knew they wanted: social media, SEO, newsletters, etc. Is it possible that writers look at ALL the solutions they offer and fail to scale appropriately for people who are newer to the game? Or that our idea of ‘simple’ isn’t theirs? Like, we may think ‘simple’ is just blogging 2-3 times a week, when simple for them might be a newsletter once a month. Just like a makeup artist might thing that ‘simple’ is just three types of eyeliner (liquid? gel? pencils? black AND blue) and three shadows and two mascaras, and I think simple is eye shadow. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Another makeup example might be that someone who never wears makeup is not interested in buying three for the price of two of anything. She’ll want to buy one, and then another when it runs out if she still wants to use it. The discount really isn’t value added, and isn’t convincing. Telling a new customer that I offer an umbrella discount if I’m guaranteed a certain amount of work per month may make me feel like I’m offering a discount they can’t refuse, but it could be too much.

So after getting all dolled up and taking ‘after’ photos, it was time for the big sell. Turns out I hadn’t even thought about things like brushes or remover when thinking of the large set of items I’d compiled.

This happens with clients, too–they want the ‘cheap’ rate for work, but want all of the extras, too. The guy who wants blog posts cheaply and quickly is ALWAYS the one who has impossible deadlines, demands multi-sourced articles, wants excessive rewrites, and thinks these are included. In my mind, choosing not to pay a premium price means that one doesn’t get premium benefits. But perhaps my definition of premium doesn’t match theirs, and perhaps this isn’t intentional on their part. I didn’t choose to overlook the fact that I needed extras. I just hadn’t thought of them. So perhaps people who change the work required in an assignment or project but are shocked (shocked!) when they’re told it’s out of scope or would cost more simply should’ve been told upfront. Maybe the onus for expectation management is on the seller.

It Cost What?

So there we are, and I’m finally getting rung up for a shockingly large array of makeup which I’m hoping comes with instructions, because I’m not sure I remember how to use all of it. Or that I really need three colors of eyeshadow and three types of foundation/concealer/redness remover/whatever after all. Or which shades of what I’m supposed to mix together when. The grand total? $400.

Going from zero to $400 is insane. Maybe you can talk someone up from $100 to $200, but hot damn. And I wonder if this is what people who want services such as blogging and web development sometimes feel like. In MY mind (as a seller), people are asking for $400 worth of services and only want to spend $100, and then they get upset when they hear what a $100 post (for example) looks like. (Hint: nobody’s going to spend eight hours on it). It’s like they want premium work but don’t want to pay for it. So whose fault is that?

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but I think the onus should be on the seller. If I’m offering modified services for a bargain price? This is something I’ve failed to spell out. X amount includes ____ but not ____. Being very up front and startlingly clear about what exactly an introductory price includes–and doesn’t include–is something I haven’t done, but it’s easy for me to assume people should just figure it out. Perhaps giving them the benefit of the doubt would be wise–maybe they’re not trying to take advantage of me, but are simply unclear about just how much they want for how little.

The Whole Package?

So here I am with a $100 budget and a shocked look on my face, and a nice lady trying hard to make a $400 sale, and she immediately starts backpedaling, telling me that all of the makeup she’d spent hours extolling the virtues of is actually unnecessary. By then, it’s too late. I’d already been convinced each item was part of an essential ensemble, and it was all or nothing. I ended up being the worst customer ever and just walking out. (Feel free to hate on me if you want.)

What would’ve worked? Maybe not for everyone, but for me, knowing the price of each item in advance would’ve helped me determine which of them I considered the most essential. Then, when it was time to make hard decisions, I’d actually be prepared for it..instead of trying to figure out how I’d put on makeup without brushes, or trying to determine on the fly which of the items was actually something I wanted.

What if freelance services came with an a la carte menu? Yes, someone can write your post for dirt cheap, but not on a deadline, and you get one source, and you make any changes yourself, and post it on your own site. No, you can’t buy 15 pieces of sushi with a dollar in change…but you can get FOUR gumballs from the gumball machine.

So often, people think the glam and glitz of product offerings will entice people to pay more than they were originally willing. And sometimes that’s true. But other times, it’s best to be up front with people about what they’re getting into–especially if they really would have no clue otherwise. If it’s a product or industry I know, I’ll at least have an idea in the back of my mind of what it is I’m looking at. But with something I know next to nothing about? Not a chance.

Your turn: Have you had an experience where you spent way more time on a project for the amount you were paid? Or where you were sold a ridiculous amount more than you wanted to spend? Do tell.

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