I have an idea of what you were afraid to find when you clicked on whatever link brought you here today and while I’m known for not pulling any punches when it comes to my choice of words, today’s post isn’t about the see-you-next-Tuesday. It’s about a word we hear (and say) too often and we need to:
- in many cases, eradicate from our lexicon, or
- stop misusing.
That word, my friends, is cheap. You’re going to sit down and listen to this shit because this is a Bitch Slap long overdue. First, we’re going to dish about cheap in the eyes of a business owner and then we’re going to talk about things from the consumer/client perspective.
On Cheapening Ourselves
There are two sides to cheap when it comes to being a business owner: how prospective clients treat us and how we treat others. Every business owner knows the ear-piercing sound of a client who wants to get something on the cheap. It’s not unlike someone putting an Avril Lavigne song on repeat on your iPod and deleting all of your other music – annoying mental flypaper that pretty much ruins something you love very much in an instant.
Don’t people see what I’m worth?
How could they ask that?
Are they shopping me around?
But it’s time to insert some tough love (and love that I’ve learned the hard way): we cheapen ourselves.
Early on in my career, I took a gig doing copywriting for those SMS horoscope message services. Text-a-day, limited to 100 characters…my job was to come up with something witty to say about Scorpios in 33 different ways. For ten cents per message.
You read that correctly.
It was one of the things I did to get work as a writer and validate the fact that Hey – I’m a professional writer! Look at what I get paid to do! Yeah – here’s the thing: nobody gave a shit. I haven’t once used that laughable gig as a reference or sample anywhere. It’s never gotten me a lick more work. It just took up my time for a paltry $100 payday once a month.
When businesses begin, we think we’re doing the right thing by taking work at a lesser rate so we can build our street cred. However, what we’re generally doing most of the time is cheapening ourselves. We all have to start somewhere, but if you’re going to take work at a sweatshop rate, make sure it’s something you can:
- put in a portfolio AND use as a client testimonial
- create a white paper from
- put on your website
- show off with pride.
Later in our careers is where we do the real damage to ourselves, though. We’ve built our business and have a delightful array of satisfied clients and we send out our bids and show our wares with a commensurate price tag attached. Then, we get the call/email: sticker shock. Can you do it for less?
Why the hell would you say yes to that question?! We don’t walk into Best Buy and point to a 52″ flat screen and ask the guy in blue if he can give it to us for $400 off the sticker price. We don’t ask an orthopedic surgeon if he can fix up a shattered ankle for less than the proposed $16,000. Why do we let prospective clients treat us as if our proposals and bids are merely launching pads for a Middle Eastern bazaar-type negotiation?
There are reasons we all might take work for less than our usual rate (on occasion) and those reasons are our own. We cheapen ourselves way too often and it’s time we started using the word “value” and all its iterations in place of discounts. Because here’s the thing: when we give discounts, we’re doing the same work for less money. On the cheap. Perhaps the smarter route is to design a less expensive product or service and sell that Toyota to clients who can’t afford the BMW. It’s not cheaper – it’s different and has a price attached to it that reflects its value.
But as business owners, we’re always looking for a better margin so we can build our business the smart way. If I buy a widget for $30 and can sell it for $75 – maybe I’m thinking that’s good business for my business. But if that $30 widget is a piece of shit that breaks and jams my phone lines with customer complaints, is it really good business? The next best widget maker comes in at $45 per widget, killing my margin by $15 per sale. But hey – it doesn’t break, my phone lines don’t blow us and customers are now sending their friends.
On Cheapening Others
We can always find something we want to buy for less money. Consumer products are easy to price shop because it’s the exact same thing across the board. When it comes to intellectual property, experience, tone, voice and style, however – you can price shop that package all you want but you’re not going to get the good stuff for cheap. Keep that in mind when it comes to your contractors, employees and other vendors (and get ready to lose the good stuff to people who are willing to pay more). You should never pay more than something is worth and worth can change over time – but don’t cheapen others because you’re looking to make a few more bucks.
Cheap in the Marketplace
There’s a reason why Nordstrom’s has one of the most well-known shoe departments across the retail space: they’ll take anything back at any time. They are not, however, in the business of carrying cheap shoes. They carry well-known brands known for quality construction and great consumer reputations. It’s not a discount shoe store. A further distinction on cheap versus value is this:
If I’m looking for a great value, I’ll go to the sale rack at Nordie’s or to DSW Shoe Warehouse.
If I’m looking for cheap shoes, I’ll go to Payless Shoe Source or Walmart.
There is a distinct difference between cheap and getting a great value and it has to do with brand integrity. Here are some definitions of “cheap” from Dictionary.com:
- costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive: a cheap dress.
- costing little labor or trouble: Words are cheap.
- charging low prices: a very cheap store.
- of little account; of small value; mean; shoddy: cheap conduct; cheap workmanship.
I think it’s odd how we don’t have a better grasp on the differentiation between cheap and good value, as each have their place. I use this example often, but I’m not looking for cosmetic surgery. I’m looking for a good value, and that’s a function of surgeon reputation, examples of his or her work, office demeanor and how comfortable I am with this person putting me under anesthesia and cutting up my body. (No, I’m not shopping for a surgeon, but it’s a fine example.) Moms aren’t looking for cheap car seats – they’re looking for ones with great safety ratings and if they find it on sale – booyah.
Stop Being Cheap for the Wrong Reasons
I’ve gotten better at this over the years. Growing up in a single-parent household, we ate cheap. We shopped cheap. But as I grew up, my mom taught me the awesomeness of great value. Designer clothes could be had for less and I quickly learned the difference between cheap and great value. You know the difference between cheap and a great value – it’s tangible, visible. Cheap ends up in the garbage or the bags we take to Goodwill a couple times a year. It’s in the pile of crap we keep in the garage or the closet (because that’s where put crap). Cheap is crap and crap is cheap. Treat yourself better and learn from mistakes. Cheap belongs scrawled in Sharpie on the walls of bathroom stalls, not in your business plan. Value? That’s a mainstay. Stop misusing the words as they’re not interchangeable. Make sure you and the people you do business with are intimately familiar with how those two differ.
You’ve been slapped.
Erika “I may be easy but I ain’t cheap” Napoletano