How many times have you poured your energy, creativity and strategy into a customer’s request, only to have them say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? It’s all too common—after all, we want to impress potential clients with unique, creative ideas and insights that we’ve gained from our experience in the industry. 

One of the biggest mistakes distributors make is giving away ideas for free. If you’re not charging for your creative services, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Your creativity and ideas are worth something to your prospects, and clients don’t recognize the value of the services you’re providing if those services are given away for free. And if you don’t address up front how much your creative services will cost, it is too late to be compensated for those services once the order is placed.  

Where Is The Disconnect?

If you find yourself giving away strategies and ideas to prospects for free, you’re far from alone. For 22 years, our company played the part of a traditional distributor. We didn’t charge a penny for our branding work or creative ideas. We didn’t even recognize the value of the services we were really providing. Then the light bulb went off and we realized our model was broken—we were giving away massive value, and our clients weren’t seeing the impact it was having on their businesses.

Why does this happen? Too often, the distributor is happy for the chance to quote an opportunity. Many of us have been in this industry for a long time, and we’ve picked up valuable insights that we are eager to share with prospects. Let’s take the example of a prospect who is looking for trade show giveaways. Distributors often share ideas with the client about goal setting, how to capture leads, how they should dress at a certain event and which promotional products their buyers would enjoy the most. We have so much knowledge, but many distributors have never charged for this insight. Guess what? You’re not simply chatting about ideas. You’re providing strategy—and that is the truly valuable part of your relationship with the client. They need your help and will gladly pay for it.  

Defining Your  Company’s Role

The first step toward getting paid for your creative services up front is figuring out what kind of company you truly want to be. Many promo distributors call themselves marketing and/or branding agencies. So, the question is, are you a distributor or an agency?

Here is a self-assessment that will help you determine your company’s role in the marketing landscape. Answer these questions to begin thinking about how you see your business moving forward.       

1. How creative is your agency on a scale of 1-10? You will need to answer at least an eight if you plan to charge for creativity. You need to be able to demonstrate creative strategy and added value, not just arrange printing of logos on products.

2. Are you a distributor or a brand agency? As a distributor, what value can you bring to the client? As a brand agency, you have more resources to be the trusted expert. If you are not charging for design, you need to at least be working at a very high margin and not relying on selling based on price.

3. What is preventing you from charging for design? (Hint: Nothing. Start small; you will be surprised how much your clients will pay for creative services.) 

How To Charge For Creative Services

At our company, we knew we needed to make a change and stop giving away valuable services. Once you take this brave first step, it changes the purpose of your company and how your clients think about their relationship with you. You transform from a seller of commodities into a trusted advisor and partner. 

Start by establishing the cost up front. If the client knows ahead of time that there will be creative charges, they will approve your quote nine times out of 10. If they don’t, it is a sign that they don’t value your services and will price-shop you in the future. We began charging a monthly fee to clients that asked for our help with their overall marketing efforts beyond just ordering products. We charge separately for strategy and for design. If your client or prospect is working with you instead of Amazon or Walmart, it is because they need your help. Don’t be afraid to charge what your time is worth.

At our agency, we needed a way to demonstrate credibility so that our creative strategy had even more weight behind it. We created our proven process using the Entrepreneurial Operating System methodology that can be found in the book Traction by Gino Wickman. With our leadership team, we developed a process that we use in sales and share with prospects before the discovery call (read more on this below). 

Now that we have a proven process in place, we charge more for the value of our services. Note: I said value, not time.

Our process demonstrates that we are beyond simply being order takers. It begins with discovery. We take the time to learn about our prospects’ event, budget, timeline and past products. Then we build an ROI-focused product strategy that aligns with their goals and their audience. We also emphasize adapting product strategy based on changes to the prospect’s company and audience—providing the perfect opportunity to continue providing value while sharing higher-priced product ideas.

Key Takeaways

1. Charge for the value of your creativity, not just the design hours.

2. Start small,  but get started.

3. Focus on adding value by providing strategy—and get paid for it. 

David Houston, president of industry distributor Delta Marketing Group in South Burlington, Vermont, started the company more than 35 years ago as a creative firm. But as the world of marketing changed, so did his customers’ needs. So, he shifted DMG’s approach to help clients become results focused. Today, as the leader of a results-driven marketing agency and certified HubSpot partner, Houston is also a speaker and trainer with the mission to grow businesses by transforming the way they approach marketing and sales.;