Business from the inside out

“Pay What It’s Worth” is Not “Pay What You Can”

by | May 3, 2011 | Featured, Pay What It's Worth Pricing

As a practitioner of Pay What It’s Worth pricing, I see the business approach of asking a client to pay-what-they-can as a very different thing. Each approach communicates very different things about your brand, and the exchange you seek. Care to explore this with me deeper?

Exploring Pay What You Can Pricing and What It Communicates

As a business owner, communicating that others are free to pay-what-they-can for your work positions you as willing to sell your work in charity. (You may want to consider at this point whether your business, or your clients, is, in fact, a charity.) In many cases neither party is a charity, so what you are truly communicating is that it’s okay for a client to pay whatever they *think* they can, and that you are open and lenient to allowing others to value your work at less than it’s worth, so long as the person deems they need it.

Now this is only my opinion, but I feel if you are responsible enough to identify a need and seek a solution for it, than you are also responsible enough to find the means for fulfilling that need — i.e., if you want it, you need to find a way to get it. I see no long-term value in not holding people (and businesses) responsible for fairly paying for a professionals energy and time. If you can determine that you want the service, and you go out and seek it, then you need to have a plan for how you are going to obtain it fairly.

By stating that your clients need only to pay-what-they-can, you are first, and foremost, communicating that you see them as lacking (you can’t afford what I think this is worth so I’ll let you pay me what you can), and encouraging them to act in this scarcity mindset. Secondly, you are encouraging them not to consider the long-term value of what they are receiving but instead to focus on what they *think* they can afford in the moment.

An initial question I would ask about this approach is: What leads you think that your potential clients have a scarcity of money and need to pay only what they can? Secondly: Of what benefit is it to encourage scarcity thinking around money? Do you see money as scarce? How do you think this scarcity message might affect the mindset of your buyers when they pay you? Unknowingly, you are positioning your work to be undervalued and attracting clients who are looking for a deal, rather than attracting clients who seek a fair value exchange.

With Pay What You Can (PWYC) pricing, the value exchange is focused on “what I can get”, where you are letting the customer receive what they need and pay what they feel they can afford, despite what the work may be worth. Communicating this message may be doing both your business and your potential clients a disservice, unless your undertaking an act of charity.

Exploring Pay What It’s Worth and What It Communicates

As a business owner, positioning your business offerings as Pay What It’s Worth (PWIW), you are communicating that you are willing to sell your work at it’s perceived value, as determined by the client. With this position, you are challenging your client to think deeply and honestly about the value you bring to their business and to pay you accordingly. You are not communicating to your potential client that they cannot afford your services. If anything, you are communicating that you trust the client, and the excellence of your work, enough to let them determine its value. Pay What It’s Worth pricing makes no judgments about the financial abilities of the parties involved. With this strategy, you are essentially challenging potential clients to look at the value exchange occurring, and to focus not on what they can get, but what they can give in gratitude for what they have received. You are also asking them to consider the standard prices for things, and question whether those market prices accurately reflect the true value of what they are receiving from you.

You are not judging what others can and can not afford, you are simply stating that if you agree to work with someone and they employ your services, you trust that they will pay you fairly for what you provide to them. You are supporting both your Self and your clients in truly and honestly identifying and determining a value for what each party contributes to the exchange, monetary and otherwise.


There are distinct differences in what each pricing system communicates — about your business and work and about the people who can best benefit from it. What message do you want to send?

Tara Joyce

Written by Tara Joyce

In 2008, I started this blog as I began working for myself. It is a reflection of my innerpreneurial journey, growing myself to grow my business. ABOUT ME

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“Pay What It’s Worth” is Not “Pay What You Can”

By Tara Joyce Time to Read: 3 min