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Why Attitude Makes Your Brand

Updated on October 12, 2010

You're Worth More Than You Think

I tried to pass on an important message to a beginning public relations consultant, who asked for advice on how much to charge for her services. I suggested she decide what she thought her services were worth – and then double her price. I did not mean to suggest, “rip off your clients,” but to question whether or not she was valuing her worth appropriately.

All too often, particularly when we are talented and experienced – and especially when too experienced – we find that our work comes easily to us. We undervalue it, forgetting the years of hard work, and all-too-often crappy work, we put in to reach the point we are at today. For example, I earned my experience at rock bottom of the pecking order in my first newspaper job. I was an obituary writer and gopher, and man, it doesn’t get more glamorous than that.

I also advised this beginning consultant to check out the Web sites of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and other organizations like the one hosted by the Freelance Writer’s Union, which offer terrific tips, price guidelines, and more for public relations, freelance writing, and related practitioners.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

The advice I gave this young woman is good for anyone starting out in consulting. It was passed on to me by an old friend after I complained about being cheated out of income by the prime contractor on a job for which I had been brought in on as subconsultant. Sobbing, I mentioned to this wise friend that I’d already invested much of my personal funds and time into the project’s pre-work phase, agreed to reduce my usual billable hourly rate, even turned down another job to land this work. It wasn’t fair!

Not so fast! said he, a very successful commercial photographer sought by America’s top agencies. He then told me a true story, one worthy of becoming a parable passed on through generations of consultants through the ages. When my photographer friend – let’s call him Bob – struck out on his own, it occurred to him that talented photographers are literally tripping over one another to find work.

Bob knew his work was good, even better than a majority of photographers whose work he’d viewed objectively during his pre-startup business research. Bob quite brilliantly chose to distinguish his services using a simple but effective strategy: he deliberately set his billable rate outlandishly high. He also learned not to blink when providing customer quotes.

Who Would Fall for That?, I Naively Asked

Joni, Joni , said my friend, as if chastising an inattentive and not particularly bright student. Most people, wouldn’t know true art from rubbish if it knocked them into the next galaxy .

Woefully, I nodded in agreement, thinking of a horribly expensive – and horrid – brown carpet I’d once purchased.

Too often, we confuse substance and quality, the intrinsic value of a person or a product, with how much a thing costs or a person has in the bank. (The exception here, of course, involves those persons deemed too experienced, in which case it’s all so topsy-turvy I can’t even begin to explain the value system in play).

To return to my friend’s parable, when Bob realized that clients would line up to pay too much for his work, he decided that his personal brand would be that of “Bob, the very expensive photographer.” Bob’s business was an instantaneous hit. Even though his work really is very good and worth every penny, Bob (who is now calling himself Roberé) credits his success to the fact that he has not once blinked when arrogantly quoting his exorbitant prices to prospective clients.

Remember That Older Guy with No Clothes?

Countless generations of sharp commerce merchants have recognized this easily exploited human flaw. Think of that centuries-old fable, The Emperor Has No Clothes , which is about an emperor and his town folk, who are convinced to wander about buck naked after a pair of con artists posing as tailors convince them that their “customized invisible garments” are this season’s must haves ).

In an earlier hub, I congratulated Apple’s frontman Steve Jobs for exploiting his arrogant streak beautifully. I think Jobs’ proves the point of the Emperor fable as well. His arrogance charms us; it feeds into his maverick image. Jobs “everything I touch turns to gold, so be gone with you” attitude is one that we Americans, especially, just love to love.

As for me, I’m taking my friend’s specific advice, but in increments. At his suggestion, from now on I hope to become well-known as "the consultant who doesn’t take crap from anyone." It’s hard work, but a goal worth aspiring toward. Remember that nasty contractor who stole my money? Well, she just might be seeing me in court.

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