This morning has me sitting at my kitchen table, mug of coffee safely close by, contemplating value. I’ve learned a lot about value these past couple of months and I think that some of these lessons are worth sharing. Not necessarily in the cautionary sense; but there are some words being thrown around by people today who I don’t think truly comprehend what they’re saying.

I keep thinking about two clients – well, one client and one ex-client. An interesting thing happened between these two clients within 8 hours of each other this month, and I think it’s a story worth telling.

We’ll start with Client A. Let’s call them…Client A.

The time had come to renegotiate the terms of the contract under which I was providing Client A with services. We’d built a long relationship together and I’d played an integral role in crafting the content and setting the overall tone for a few of their flagship products.

The problem was that our relationship started back when I was still brand new to all of this and making rookie mistakes – mostly around pricing. I was pricing to obtain clients; not to build a viable business, and I was providing work that was orders of magnitude better than what my clients were paying for.

This model might work for a discount department store selling at volume, but for a writer working on a couple of specific contracts at any given time – well, it didn’t take long to learn that this simply wasn’t sustainable.

When the time came to correct that situation, Client A chose to find another copywriter rather than pay a higher rate.

Enter Client B.

At the same time, client B and I have been working together for an equally lengthy period of time. The work is different but the goal is the same – use words to push the client’s product forward and appeal to the market this client wants to serve. We’ve been working on this goal for a while and the client has benefitted tremendously from the work we’ve done together.

Client B had been with me through a previous contract renegotiation and didn’t bat an eyelash when my price for his services doubled overnight. Not only did he not bat an eyelash, he said he was happy to pay a higher rate if it meant that he could continue to work with me.

The same day Client A left, Client B sent me a surprise bonus for the work I’d been doing on his behalf. 

Talk about a strange day! In virtually the same breath, two companies showed me polar opposite representations of the value I was providing to them.

So, what the hell does all of this mean?

It boils down to one thing:

You can’t tell someone how valuable you are to them.

In trying to keep Client A on-board (because I really did want to continue the relationship) I detailed everything we’d accomplished together. I outlined specifically how the new pricing structure would benefit them; increasing both efficiency and management satisfaction. I even demonstrated how this would carry forward into their new work and make this year one of their best ever – and I was excited to do just that.

And they still left.

That same day, just hours later, a bonus arrived from someone to whom I hadn’t said a word about what we’d created together. There was no detailing of past accomplishments, no strategy layout for moving forward – no discussion of intrinsic value and my role in their livelihood.

There was just a payment and a note of thanks.

Whether or not clients find value in the work we do is completely up to them. No number of words from you will convince a client that you’re a valuable asset to them – you can write until your fingers fall off; talk until you’re blue in the face.

It’s binary. You either are or you aren’t.

And it’s 100% up to them.

I wish I could say that this was a blog post about “providing value.” It’s not. What it is, however, is a blog post about understanding where you, as the provider, fall in this whole “value” relationship.

See, a lot has been made lately of the whole “value-based pricing” model – a model that might have certain merits but is rooted mostly in the idea that you can tell a client exactly how valuable your services will be to them.

You can’t.

The equation of value in the client-provider relationship is weighted completely in the client’s favor. Charging a certain percentage of the client’s potential income from your work is asking the client to gamble against themselves; to say that they could make X number of dollars from your work before they’ve ever made a single cent. Given the same circumstances, is that a bet that you’d take?

Most wouldn’t.

In the end, what this story ultimately taught me is that the only impact I can have on value is my own work. My pricing and proposal structures are built on one primary variable at this point: the amount of effort that will go into executing a project. Note that I did not say “the number of hours.” I said the amount of effort.

It is a structure that says “whether you make $50k from this work or $500k, in the end, I charged enough to be fairly compensated for what I put into it – nothing more and nothing less.”

I know what I bring to the table and I have clients around the world that can tell you about the impact I’ve had on their businesses. Whether that has value however, well – in the end that’s going to be completely up to you.