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Pricing Strategy

How much should you charge for your product or service?

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Owner of shop writing in notebook
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One of the most difficult, yet important, issues you must decide as an entrepreneur is how much to charge for your product or service. While there is no one single right way to determine your pricing strategy, fortunately there are some guidelines that will help you with your decision.

Before we get to the actual pricing models, here are some of the factors that you need to consider:

  • Positioning - How are you positioning your product in the market? Is pricing going to be a key part of that positioning? If you're running a discount store, you're always going to be trying to keep your prices as low as possible (or at least lower than your competitors). On the other hand, if you're positioning your product as an exclusive luxury product, a price that's too low may actually hurt your image. The pricing has to be consistent with the positioning. People really do hold strongly to the idea that you get what you pay for.
     
  • Demand Curve - How will your pricing affect demand? You're going to have to do some basic market research to find this out, even if it's informal. Get 10 people to answer a simple questionnaire, asking them, "Would you buy this product/service at X price? Y price? Z price?" For a larger venture, you'll want to do something more formal, of course -- perhaps hire a market research firm. But even a sole practitioner can chart a basic curve that says that at X price, X' percentage will buy, at Y price, Y' will buy, and at Z price Z' will buy.
     
  • Cost - Calculate the fixed and variable costs associated with your product or service. How much is the "cost of goods", i.e., a cost associated with each item sold or service delivered, and how much is "fixed overhead", i.e., it doesn't change unless your company changes dramatically in size? Remember that your gross margin (price minus cost of goods) has to amply cover your fixed overhead in order for you to turn a profit. Many entrepreneurs under-estimate this and it gets them into trouble.
     
  • Environmental factors - Are there any legal or other constraints on pricing? For example, in some cities, towing fees from auto accidents are set at a fixed price by law. Or for doctors, insurance companies and Medicare will only reimburse a certain price. Also, what possible actions might your competitors take? Will too low a price from you trigger a price war? Find out what external factors may affect your pricing.
The next step is to determine your pricing objectives. What are you trying to accomplish with your pricing?
  • Short-term profit maximization - While this sounds great, it may not actually be the optimal approach for long-term profits. This approach is common in companies that are bootstrapping, as cash flow is the overriding consideration. It's also common among smaller companies hoping to attract venture funding by demonstrating profitability as soon as possible.
     
  • Short-term revenue maximization - This approach seeks to maximize long-term profits by increasing market share and lowering costs through economy of scale. For a well-funded company, or a newly public company, revenues are considered more important than profits in building investor confidence. Higher revenues at a slim profit, or even a loss, show that the company is building market share and will likely reach profitability. Amazon.com, for example, posted record-breaking revenues for several years before ever showing a profit, and its market capitalization reflected the high investor confidence those revenues generated.
     
  • Maximize quantity - There are a couple of possible reasons to choose the strategy. It may be to focus on reducing long-term costs by achieving economies of scale. This approach might be used by a company well-funded by its founders and other "close" investors. Or it may be to maximize market penetration - particularly appropriate when you expect to have a lot repeat customers. The plan may be to increase profits by reducing costs, or to upsell existing customers on higher-profit products down the road.
     
  • Maximize profit margin - This strategy is most appropriate when the number of sales is either expected to be very low or sporadic and unpredictable. Examples include custom jewelry, art, hand-made automobiles and other luxury items.
     
  • Differentiation - At one extreme, being the low-cost leader is a form of differentiation from the competition. At the other end, a high price signals high quality and/or a high level of service. Some people really do order lobster just because it's the most expensive thing on the menu.
     
  • Survival - In certain situations, such as a price war, market decline or market saturation, you must temporarily set a price that will cover costs and allow you to continue operations.
Now that we have the information we need and are clear about what we're trying to achieve, we're ready to take a look at specific pricing methods to help us arrive at our actual numbers.

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