Perhaps one of the most common question social entrepreneurs have is how to set prices for their goods or services.
Pricing is a particular challenge for mission-based social entrepreneurs; in a mission-based social enterprise, the consumer is the beneficiary. For example, the product they sell (whether a good or a service)—such as environmentally friendly paints–is serving the social enterprise’s environmental mission directly. For them, good business means not only maximizing net revenue (using a higher price), but also maximizing the number of rainbarrels sold to mitigate water run-off. (using a lower price)
This can be a real conundrum.
However, pricing is not a guessing game, and need not be feared. Here are six basic principles for the new social entrepreneur to keep in mind when setting prices:
- Determine your pricing strategy: Are you trying to attract customers in a crowded market? Are you trying to maximize profits to fund social programs? Are you trying to get rid of excess inventory? Are you trying to maximize sales while covering costs? Each of these goals will inform your pricing strategy. Market penetration might require a loss leader, where your selling price is lower than the competion, but also may be below your cost. Freemium pricing allows you to give excess product away if another product is purchased at regular price. Value-based pricing will set a price based upon a consumers perceived value of your product, and will typically maximize profits, but this often requires strong marketing.
- Know your costs. No matter what pricing strategy you employ, you will need to know your unit cost. This is calculated by adding the fixed costs (overhead) to the variable costs (typically input costs of goods sold) and dividing by the volume produced. Generally speaking, prices that are lower than unit costs are unsustainable over time (loss leaders, door crashers, freemiums), prices at unit costs (absorption pricing) will sustainably maximize sales, and pricing above unit costs will endeavor to maximize profit (cost-plus, value, or premium pricing). An entrepreneur will always know and understand the unit cost of their products, and their pricing will invariably orbit around those costs depending on their marketing goals.
- Understand your competition. If others are selling something comparable to your product, know their prices, and take time to understand their value proposition. Their packaging, their branding and their public outreach will likely be designed to allow them to increase their prices based upon perceived value. If you know your costs, and you have a strong value proposition to compete with them, you can set your price closer to theirs (or above, see next point) in order to maximize revenue, or closer to cost to maximize market penetration.
- Be bold. Trust that your product is as good (or better) as any competor. Design it to be both needed and wanted by consumers. Don’t lower your prices out of humility. (only lower prices if it is jeopardizing your marketing strategy goals)
- Be flexible. If you lower your prices to below cost, do so with a limited time horizon. You may need to reduce prices if the market changes. Conversely, if demand is stong, you may want to incrementally nudge your product up to increase net revenues.
- Follow proven practices. Be aware of the value paradox, where consumers will not see your product as having any value if the price is too low (or free). Consumers see rock bottom prices as an indicator of poor quality or flawed goods. Try some pricing tricks like bundling (where multiple products are sold together), nudging, or decoy pricing. (read this great article on the decoy effect). There are many proven approaches to pricing and researching which best practices can be applied to your business is time well spent.
A word on sliding scales…many social enterprises express an interest in setting prices based upon the consumer’s ability to pay. They often ask about sliding scales or occasionally “pay-what-you-can” options. Although this approach may be seen as a way to promote equitable access to your product, it is a very difficult way to maintain a business, because input and overhead costs rarely are set on a sliding scale.
However, there are approaches that are more sustainable, while still being inclusive. Tiered pricing (also known as price discrimination) allows for a series of stepped prices based upon proven criteria: tiered prices can be set by age, by income level, by profession (like current preferred pricing for front-line pandemic workers), or by services offered (first class, box seats, etc). Social Delta frequently recommends setting the price, and then offering discounts or bursaries to those who qualify. In this approach, the perceived market value of your product is clearly associated with a specific price (which would cover costs), but your business is willing to sacrifice revenue to ensure that it is responding to the needs of excluded customers.
Setting a price for your product requires a clear understanding of your business goals, a rock solid knowledge of your business costs, and an awareness of your competition. There are no rules to setting the right price, and if there were rules, there would be many exceptions to each rule. However, setting price is not a guess, nor is it magic. Setting prices is 90% diligence and 10% good fortune
Social Delta can help you with determine which pricing strategies and approaches to consider to meet your goals.