A Danger in Selling Yourself Cheap

The Mall of Georgia

So I was at the mall last night with my little boy running errands for the wife. I passed by one of the many kiosk stands selling all kinds of wares. This one was selling hand lotions and manicure kits. Now, I should preface this story by saying that I am a VERY good avoider of the kiosk. I got my straight-ahead, “don’t-even-bother-to-look-at-me” stare down pat! I almost never get asked. And if I really want to avoid being solicited, I just furl my brow as I walk. Then I look like an angry black man, and Lord knows people are afraid of angry black men. However, when you’re walking down the mall with a 5-year-old bouncing all over the place, the angry black man strategy kinda goes out the window.

So the woman at this kiosk gets eye contact with me after getting the attention of the little one. She calls me over. I say, “No thank you” and smile. She says, “I’m not selling you anything. I want to give you something free. Do you have a girlfriend?” I tell her, “No. I have a wife.” She replies, “Oh, good. Look at this.” <sigh.>

Trust me, I am getting to the point of this post. 🙂

She then proceeds to take my hand and start polishing my finger nail with her polisher. It actually looks pretty darn good. She then does my thumb. I’m thinking “Wow. This is pretty cool. My nail is totally smooth.” She continues to tell me that this kit normally sells for $80 but today is the last day of a 50% off sale (wow, I got there just in time! Tomorrow I’d miss the sale. What timing!) I use the classic “I gotta talk to my wife” defense, but Grace (that’s her name) doesn’t relent. She then decides that she’ll do something special for me. She’ll give me the student rate for only $29. In five minutes the $80 kit was now only $29. (See where I’m going with this).

I kindly tell Grace that I need to get to Sephora to return this make-up, but I’ll call my wife right after and let you know. Now, to be honest, I actually did kinda want to buy it. I figured since I was getting a refund for whatever my wife was returning, it could be applied to this. $29 seemed like a reasonable amount for a hand lotion (made with minerals from the Dead  Sea no less) and an awesome nail buffer. Heck. What did I know.

After returning the Sephora merchandise, I call Tasra and tell her about the $29 deal. She laughs and says, “Thanks honey. But that’s okay.” Only slightly disappointed I return to Grace to give her the bad news. She smiles and says okay.

Now, regardless of how much I liked that nail buffer, I can guarantee you that I will never in a million years pay $80 for something that in less than 5 minutes was sold to me for only $29.

The moral of the story: if you sell yourself too cheap, you’ll establish a set perceived value for yourself that will be difficult to change.

Can you relate?

18 thoughts on “A Danger in Selling Yourself Cheap

  1. Greetings Ron,

    Funny that you tell this story. My wife went for the pitch. The same product (without naming) that you’ve described was purchased by my wife. I stood by and watched her be dazzled by the sales person. Yes, her nail demo looked very stunning. She looked at me and asked did I like it and what do I think. I said as always, “If that’s what you want, go ahead I support you”. I’ve learned not to say “No” when the wife is in her moment of excitement in a mall. Shortly after using the product (less than a month) she comes to me and said, “Well, this stuff doesn’t turn out the way the sales person did it. My retort, “Wow. Okay. Well next time look straight ahead and keep it moving!”

    On the note of filmmaking, I often have to just tuck in my pride and value my expertise than to low ball myself. Especially being an African American professional. Is there something stamped on my forehead that says “For Cheap”? Heck no, the rate is what it is, take it or leave it. No problem. I refuse to lower my rates. I value my work and the effort and investment I put into the craft.

    Ron this has been very helpful!

    Thank you,


    1. Thanks for sharing Marcus. It’s very wise of you to determine when you should and shouldn’t say “no” to the wife.

      Regarding setting rates, one thing I want to point out is that there’s a difference between low-balling, and offering fewer services at a less expensive rate. I often will give a prospective client a high, mid, and low figure, with services adjusted accordingly. Especially in this economy, that kind of flexibility is necessary. The danger is when people give the same service at the uber cheap level. I also want to say I’m not discounting the fact that some people may have HAD to lower their prices because of the economy. I understand the sometimes that’s just what you may have to do. But, the truth of this moral remains the same. It WILL be harder for you to raise your rates again with those people you lowered them for. Also, there’s a difference between lowering your rates 9-10% vs. over 60%.

  2. Yeah, I’ve noticed how my perception about the quality of a product and how much I need it can change depending on the price. Sometimes something I really wanted at a higher price becomes a passing fancy or just seemed “cheap” when it goes on sale. And yes, just because it was now a lower price!

  3. Ron, I feel you on this. One observation that this single person, single handedly devalued a product that others might be trying successfully and legitimately sell for $80. This happens in our industry a lot that one person undervaluing effects many other as well. Bummer, eh?
    Great post.

    1. Thanks for the comment Aaron. To be clear though, my post isn’t meant to encourage other photogs/videogs to raise their prices, or that by lowering their prices it hurts the industry. I think economic forces beyond our control affect our industry and that in turn affects prices (see my blog post “Jim Collin’s Take on the Photography Industry”). I don’t think individual studios should worry about what their pricing is doing to the industry. I just want to give them knowledge about the consequences (good and bad) of the business decisions they make. I think there will be people who can and will still sell $80 manicure kits to the right market with the right branding. Grace isn’t going to affect them.

  4. It was pure sales pitch. Nobody was even planing to sell that kit for $80. They were selling it for $29. Which is probably too much for it anyway. But to make you think you are getting a good deal, it is so special, only today, blah, blah, they tell you it is normally $80. It is a salesman trick. They knew no one would pay even $40, but who knows, and they offer it just in case. I am sure they didn’t sell themselves cheap. They sold it at exactly what they were planing to sell it – $29. But in your eyes it looks like hack of a deal – from $80 to $29. Some ppl may fall into it and buy. That what they target for.

    1. Oh. I totally know it was a sales pitch. I hope it was clear in my blog post I was being sarcastic. 🙂 I’m sure there’s a kiosk somewhere selling the same thing for $9.95. The truth is though, the value is what ever people are willing to pay for it. If Grace were on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills in a perfumed store front she could probably sell that same kit for $150. Location and branding have a lot to do with it. A cheap, small kiosk in a mid-tier shopping mall does not say “high end.”

  5. I saw a wedding photographer website just yesterday that was using a similar approach. There was a big 40% off sale on all the wedding packages. I was looking at the site with other friends, and their take was “wow, they must be hurting for business”. At least to me, the sale failed at the intended purpose, which was to put people in the bargain mode and easily convert prospects into customers because of this amazing deal. A discounting strategy CAN backfire, so I think we all have to be careful how we approach discount pricing.

  6. Excelllent post. My policy is simple: I don’t do discounts. My price is my price is my price. I don’t care if you are military, sad, desperate, or poor – once I tell you my rate, it’s not changin.

      1. I take a very missional perspective towards non-profit work. I don’t really think of them as clients. Instead, I do their video, look at their available budget, and then charge them something close, but less. It’s a way I can give. But non-profits are totally different than corporate clients or brides. Two different parts of my business entirely.

        1. Okay. What if Bono wanted you to do a video for a corporation he’s invested in that has a tight budget. He agrees to tweet you and the video once in exchange for doing the video at a discount. What then?

          1. As a hypothetical question, it makes a good point. There probably ARE situations in which I would offer discounts. In exchange for real, valuable advertising might be one of them. But for brides? I don’t do discounts as a standard policy.

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