By Lyssa Zwolanek
A big problem that sometimes occurs a couple of years into demonstratorship happens when we realize we need to raise our prices.
Prices are raised for any number of very legitimate reasons, including increased costs, whether of raw product, supply costs, or gas prices; new costs such as developing babysitting expenses or having to rent a larger space; or simply the realization that one is making only pennies for precious time spent away from family.
However logical those reasons may be, raising your fees can be a deal-breaking moment for some of your periphrial customers and is not for the faint of heart. Many of us raise them incrementally, hoping customers will not realize it, and others come to the end of their ropes and "rip the Band-Aid off," so to speak, getting it over with quickly. There are things to be said for both views.
Sometimes demonstrators assume that because the price of gas and groceries has gradually gone up, customers will also be reasonable and realize the same is true of the costs of cardstock and shipping. Not to be a discouragement, I'd like to warn you that this in not usually the case.
When people realize they are paying more for the same product or service, there is a very normal negative reaction. Now, we hope that this negativity is immediately tempered by rational internal dialogue, with the end result being the customer swiftly comes to the conclusion that you had no choice but to raise prices. In reality, some will not be able to overcome that initial negative reaction and it will take them time to adjust to the "new normal."
If you choose the "rip the Band-Aid off" method of raising your prices, I encourage you to be prepared in advance for lower attendance, upset emails, and a few who drop out entirely. It is not subtle and it should be accompanied by a simple, short and sweet explanation just to your customer friends that are affected (no mass emails). It should also not be undertaken lightly or without a good deal of forethought and feedback from trusted, experienced sources. However, there are cases where this approach is completely necessary, and sometimes it is not as bad as you think it is going to be.
I once came to the realization that I was providing too many projects for a monthly hostess club. I continued to do so for months simply because I was afraid I would lose them by cutting down the projects, and I didn't feel good about raising the minimum order required each month. If I might say so frankly, that was very foolish. I do not work my tail off full time in order to subsidize my friends' hobbies. I looked for ways to sub in cheaper supplies and save on paper, but it was not enough. So eventually I had to bite the bullet and tell them I was cutting one of the projects. And you know what? I didn't lose any of them.
I encourage you not to wait until you have lost a lot of money, or a little money gradually over a long period of time. Here are some take-away tips to remember when considering your pricing structure.
- DO YOUR MATH so that you know exactly what your costs are. Be sure to add all incidentals like gas, room rental, food, paper goods and business forms, too, as well as any assistants or babysitters you paid. You might be surprised at how little the projects actually cost, but how much the "extras" do.
- Be intentional when setting your prices–never pull a figure out of the air and NEVER just price a class the same as always just because that's what you've always charged.
- Stick to your guns. Remember how bad you felt when you realized you did not make any money at all, rather paid some out of your own pocket, for that one event. Recall the feelings you experienced as you drove home that night and did the math, coming to the conclusion that you had paid people to come to their friend's house and use up your stamping supplies.
- The less involved your customers are, the less likely they are to accept the changes with postivity. So the best advice I can give you on raising your prices is to do your level best to provide even more excellent customer service and foster that sense of relationship with your stamping friends. Up your intangibles in equal proportion to how high you are being forced to up the tangibles.
- You are not here to subsidize anyone else's hobby. No reasonable person, no true friend, could possibly expect that. Some customer friends may need fuller explanations or more time to process the changes and get over your new fees, and you should try to stay calm and professional and try not to get upset or take it personally.
- If you do lose some customers, it's ok to look at your fees and reevaluate to make sure you are being reasonable, but don't cave in right away. You can tell them truthfully that your business is a work in progress, and you will be analyzing the results every few months and reassessing the situation. You may not revise your prices at all in the end, but your customer will have time to adjust, to ponder the reasons you outlined for the increase, and eventually will probably work it out.
While raising your prices may not be popular, it may be absolutely crucial to the survival of your business. I'd encourage you to leave comments here if you would like to relate any additional tips or personal experiences for your fellow demonstrators. And then take a moment when you're planning out your upcoming classes to make sure that you are being intentional with your prices, and realistic as to the actual expenses you face. Your business will be the better for it, I promise.