How My Pay What You Want Marketing Experiment is Paying Off After 5 Projects

When I started the Pay What You Want Marketing agency as a side project a few months back, I had no idea what it would lead to. I knew I wanted to explore the ideas relating to value creation, but I had no idea what kind of projects to expect. I figured I would get a few tough projects as I figured out how to approach clients and the work. I expected I would probably have to work on some pretty uninspired projects. I definitely thought I would be getting well below my average per hour retainer.

Having completed my fifth project, which granted is a small sample size, I’m been quite surprised. The quality of projects has been excellent. It’s been smart clients, doing cool work, from innovative medical startups, to DJ’s to photographers to gourmet popsicle makers to budding artists. The money – the pay being the first word in the agency name – has been surprisingly at about my average!

This is a learning experience for me – by design – and as such I’ve been taken judicious notes to improve my workflow and to be able to profit from this project in the long run.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had so far:

People understand value

My hypothesis is that is that I can provide real value to clients. My experiment: Let them decide value. My control group? Well, I consider what my other clients pay me as the yardstick. With a small sample size of 5 projects under my belt, I’m happy with the results because of several factors;

  1. Inevitably, people should discount what they pay if given the freedom to choose what they want. And seeing a fair payout suggest people are fair (or generous…).
  2. I’m dealing with (to date) small businesses primarily, whom might not have had experience with marketing consultants. How do they gauge the value I provide? I would assume they consider the outcomes of the tactics I suggest and price accordingly.
  3. Establishing terms as 5 hours or less likely determines their pricing strategy, or the range at the very least, before I deliver any work. However, the work delivered will likely determine whether that number is pushed up (or down – unlikely considering I inevitably work to over deliver).

Considering there is no explicit bargaining, where I can push the (price supplied & price demanded) equilibrium upwards, I’m happy to see how close to my average hourly rate I’m getting. This all suggests the work I’m generating is creating real value.

Saying No

This is the toughest but greatest exercise for any agency out there. Rarely is it easy to say no to a client. I’ve had to do it several times, without having the luxury of investing significant time into researching the client. That means trusting my instinct.

Saying Yes!

The flipside is honing the recognition of a great client, who has the capacity to take what you’ll give, and not just run with it, but connect the dots and take it further. The greatest value a marketing consultant can provide is the insight of an outsider approaching your business challenge, with connections and ideas being generated outside the echo chamber. Saying yes to clients, is recognizing a client who understands their business and challenge well, that I believe will recognize value (back to that word!).

The Small Business and Access to Good Marketing Ideas

To date, my clients have all been small businesses, some startups in their first few months, some have been around for years. Either way, they generally don’t have a dedicated marketing team (yet). A good marketing idea can have a great impact in the immediate term for a small business. Small businesses need to capitalize on their flexibility, risk tolerance, and ability to make quick decisions, especially and despite facing limited resources. Yet the first marketing hire is often somewhere quite far down the list. Therefore, the impact of sound marketing advice is incrementally much greater than medium to larger businesses.

The Need to Create Flow

With a 5 hour maximum, the room for inspired ideas can be challenging. Great ideas come from percolation rather than deadlines. At the outset I was attempting to do the work in one sitting and found myself unsatisfied with the results, because good ideas happen slowly. Then I found myself working at the projects when I had 30 minutes here and there. I ended with some good ideas, but I found the results to be fragmented (the deliverables were still tactically rich and valuable). Though I only have 5 projects under my belt, I’ve got it down to 3 steps:

  • Drafting (including research) (Max 4 hours)
  • Fattening – aka the bacon ( Max 1 hour)
  • Finalizing/Delivering (Max 1 hour)

Yes, it has taken me over 5 hours on a couple occasions, but as I get more projects like this under my belt I’m getting faster at the less creative and more evergreen elements.

Narrow vs Broad Focus

I wrestle with what to provide in terms of deliverables. Do I write an entire business plan for a client? I could, and have found myself starting to. And I stop there. This especially happens when I start getting into a client’s digital presence. Having written probably a dozen or so business plans, I have the tendency to try to cover all the bases. Which is not what the client needs. The client at this stage is looking for a few actionable items to implement with little resistance. This is a very important lesson in value – it’s not in what you believe someone needs, it’s what they can and will act on.

Familiarity vs Research

Working in the agency world provides insights into an incredible range of industries. I’ve worked on projects for logistic companies, comedians, airlines, hotels, data architects, countries, cities, events, festivals, car companies, all kinds of startups, non-profits, documentaries, solar energy etc. A lot of them very recognizable names…But when I got approached by a medical startup I realized how little I knew about the industry. I had worked on a pharmaceutical client, but what do I know about how doctors adopt technology? Could I provide value without familiarizing myself with the industry? Not enough. This required an extra couple hours of work on my part. Compare that to a 2 hour session I had with a photographer looking to build a stronger online brand. As an amateur photographer, I was able to provide immediate value. Which should I go after? That’s for my clients to decide. There are plenty of consultants who specialize in specific industries, and I respect that, it works for everyone involved. But I relish discovering new industries – it’s a big motivator behind the project. It importantly allows for a network of ideas to take shape that focussing on one space could never provide.

So far it’s been a really rewarding experiment. It’s inspired several interesting explorations beyond the immediate projects and nearly led to several longer term engagements (a secondary goal). Most of all, it is rewarding to see the utility and value that people place on marketing. Often times in the industry we can’t see the trees for the forest. Every time I deliver one of these projects I’m reassured that I’m doing this for the right reasons.

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