Boy did I have a reaction to when Jeffrey talked about pricing. He was sharing with us a story about when he was starting one of his businesses.
From the first day Jeffrey opened his doors as a wellness practitioner, he charged quite a bit more than anyone else for his service in a well-established industry with accepted pricing caps. Jeffreyshared with us about the necessity of believing in the quality of what you have to offer (provided that you’re offering something of quality) and how the right pricing can allow for more attention to each customer, better service, and a superior experience for everyone involved. As soon as there was a break in the session, I approached Jeffrey.
“This doesn’t apply to me!” I said. “I know this stuff is supposed to be universal, but my situation is different. In my industry, you can’t just do that. If I charge more, I’ll get laughed at. If I charge more, I’ll get fired. If I charge more, people simply won’t show up.” I was pretty damn worked up.
I’m a professional musician. There are legitimate caps in every part of this industry. Especially in the early stages, it’s hard to ask for more money from a venue if you can’t prove that you can provide a better result. “Results” tend to be measured in dollars, not in the quality of the performance or music you provide. It’s hard to charge more for tickets than other acts as the new singer in town when most of the acts competing for attention and ticket sales are established in the market.
So the very suggestion that Jeffrey’s pricing example applied to me was an affront to my belief system. I was one of a kind, dammit… unique… a special snowflake… no one else had the same problems as me… right?
Of course those arguments can apply in almost any industry. And my fears and insecurities in that regard are common. I know they’re shared by a lot of the people Jeffrey works with in CareerHearted. It’s natural to feel certain that something is impossible when you have a lot of experience to support that conviction.
I found the perfect metaphor for this when I was reading the other day, and I stumbled on this passage from The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. It’s about training circus elephants (it’s relevant, I promise).
When (circus elephants are) young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned that they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be “chained” with a slender rope.
So once they’re grown up… even though they’re massive and capable of pulling down the whole tent… the instant they feel the slightest resistance, they stop trying – because they already know it’s impossible.
I think almost everyone is living out a version of it in some part of life.
That’s why I was stuck in my head. That’s why I thought that none of Jeffery’s examples applied to me specifically. I had learned about all of the limitations of my industry when I was just starting out. At the time I really had tried and had managed to convince myself that I couldn’t go further.
Jeffrey calmly answered my concern.
“I recognize that your situation does have some differences. I’d invite you to consider that there are other possibilities. Maybe you’re playing in places you’ve outgrown. Maybe the other people in your market could charge more for tickets and just don’t. Maybe your beliefs and experiences are determining the success and failure of your business far more than the limits of what’s actually possible.”
It wasn’t particularly profound nor was it meant to be. In fact, I initially considered it to be a copout. I mean, what did he know about the music business anyway?
But over the next couple of hours and days, I started thinking about what his response really meant from a practical standpoint.
When I first got into this industry, I had no idea that it was even remotely possible to earn a real living with what I was doing. As modest as my income was at the time of the seminar, in many ways it was a dream come true. The ability to live off of music had once been something beyond my consideration. I mean I’d always had the rock star dream and all that; but in the real world of jobs and rent and car insurance and cell phone bills… I had been totally certain – not long before – that I would be forced to subsist on various forms of menial labor until I made it really big; or gave up and settled for some other career.
There had been a lot out there that I hadn’t known about and had only discovered by happy accident. Maybe… just maybe… my circumstances weren’t as relevant in this context as my beliefs. Maybe Jeffrey was right.
After the course was over, Jeffrey and I would occasionally meet up for a bite to eat to talk about my business. We kept running into this sticking point I had over pricing and possibility. I kept arguing that he just didn’t get it, and he kept encouraging me to open my mind to the idea that the limitations in my head were likely obsolete.
I’m headstrong, and I argued the point consistently over the course of several weeks, until I had kind of worn myself out talking about it. And I finally thought: “Hell! Why not at least try?”
So I started asking venues for more money every time I was calling to book new shows. I know I’m worth it, but every fear I’ve ever had, managed to find its way into the forefront of my mind when I was trying to name a price. I was like a thirteen year old trying to ask a crush to the 8th grade dance when I was booking and it wasn’t particularly effective. Most of the venues said no early on and my confidence was shaken. But rather than using those rejections to support my old beliefs, I just kept calling. And just as I was about to call Jeffrey and say something smug about my rightness…
I got a call from a friend I had recently gone out to support at an open mic performance. He asked me if I wanted to play a four day week of two hour shows in Southwest Montana. The pay? Nearly double what I was used to thinking of as the very high end!
That changed my concept of the whole game. I had been so sure that I was right, that discovering the truth had a really big impact. If I had been wrong about this, what else was I wrong about?
To make a long story short, it worked. I have been successfully charging a lot more for performances since then, and my whole life and business has changed as a result. Not only that, but when it came time for me to do a live recording and fill a venue that had hosted many top class acts in the past. I charged one and a half times the standard ticket price and sold out… sold standing room tickets at the door… got yelled at by one of the venue owners for overfilling the place.
The impact of this discovery on every part of my life has been epochal. A new world has opened up, and a lot of locked doors and thousand-foot walls have simply disappeared.
And thankfully, Jeffrey has been kind enough to refrain from goading me with “I told you so.”
Obviously, this isn’t about my story or pricing or the music business… or any business for that matter. It’s about possibility. It’s about belief. It’s about the fact that every one of us – in some important area of life – is living like a full grown elephant that thinks it can’t break a tiny piece of string because it was unable to break a giant steel chain as a baby.
The limitation is obsolete. We just don’t know it yet.
So here’s my invitation: Think of something you’re absolutely certain is impossible for you or your business… then be as innocent as you were before you tried and failed, before you fell on your face, before you gave up, before you decided it couldn’t be done. Test the strength of those chains.
You might just find out that you’re already free.