Lawyers are not good at charging their true worth. They take their expertise for granted. They go out of their way to deliver for clients. But if you charge your true worth, you will generate more income without having to get more clients. Vanessa Ugatti explains

Do you undercharge for your work? Do you discount your fees for no apparent reason? Are you even doing work for free? You may be doing all three, which means that you’re losing money hand over fist. The more often you’re doing these things, the more money you’re losing. You’re also probably spending far too much time working to make up for the shortfall, so you’re overworked, stressed, tired and even resentful. Sound familiar?

I now know from working with experienced, talented, conscientious lawyers, just like you, that this is a really commonplace problem. And it has nothing to do with your intellectual ability or your competence as a professional.

If you hesitate or feel nervous when discussing fees, unfortunately that will come across to the client

You may think, as professionals, that logic drives you and your practice. In fact, self-worth, not logic, is at the heart of everything you do. It drives your behaviour. If you don’t feel 100 per cent worthy (and lots of intelligent, capable professionals don’t), then you will find it impossible to charge effectively.

A few years ago, I came up with a concept I call True Worth, to help professionals charge appropriately for their work.

Back in December 2012, I was in a state of inner conflict. I was already coaching small businesses to help them overcome the mental barriers which stop them from moving forward, but I knew there was something missing – I just didn’t know what it was.

One night, I was browsing online and stumbled across a marketing programme specifically for coaches, which said you have to have a niche. I had no idea what my niche was at the time, let alone how to create it. I signed up for the programme and in the first workshop, they asked us to come up with some ideas for our niche. Among my own was helping businesses with value or worth. At that point, I had no idea where the idea had come from or why. The course-leaders said that it was marketable, so I took a leap of faith and decided to run with it.

It wasn’t long before I discovered where the idea had sprung from. When I turned the spotlight on myself, I realised that I was clueless when it came to charging, and just really, really uncomfortable with it. In fact, I was worse than anyone else I had encountered!

One night, soon after, I was lying in bed in that half-awake, half-asleep state when the unconscious mind is activated, and I had a lightbulb moment: a formula appeared in my mind which completely encapsulated the subject of how to charge what you’re worth and get it. I instantly knew that it was correct without actually knowing how.

The formula is: UV + CV + CD = CW

This means: understanding your value + communicating your value + comfortable discussing fees = charging what you’re worth.

In the rest of this article, I provide my top five tips for building your capacity in these three key elements, so you can start to charge what you’re really worth.

1. Don’t be the person doing it cheaper

There’s nothing more to say! Make that decision and stick with it. If you do, you’ve successfully jumped over the first hurdle. Well done.

2. Look honestly at the value you bring

You have a significant amount of expertise in your field, and yet it’s not easy for you to understand your value. The longer you have been utilising that expertise, the easier it has become to you, the more you take it for granted. That’s just human nature.

If you don’t first demonstrate the value of what you do, the client will always regard the quote you give as high

Spend some quality time, preferably with someone who can help you, to really reflect and understand the true value you provide for your clients. Make this a priority – if you don’t, you may well be losing out on revenue which is rightfully yours.

To help get you started, consider the following questions:

  • How long did it take you to become a qualified lawyer?
  • What did it cost you or someone else?
  • What did you have to give up while training / learning / studying?
  • How long have you been a qualified lawyer?
  • If you were to rate yourself in terms of how good you were when you first trained on a scale of one to 10, what figure would you put on it?
  • If you were to rate yourself in terms of how good you are now on a scale of one to 10, what figure would you put on it?
  • What new information have you learnt and applied in your business in the last 12 months?
  • How has this added value to your proposition?

Are you starting to see your value yet? Of course, I’m just scratching the surface here, but it’s a start.

Don’t only focus on what you do for your clients – that’s simply the features of your service. The benefits are what the features of your service mean to the client. So, to turn a feature into a benefit, you can add the words ‘which means that…’.

For example, if you tell a client, ‘I can sort out your finances following your divorce for you’, that’s you describing a feature of your service. If you then add, ‘…which means that you’ll have the money you need to maintain your lifestyle’, that’s the benefit loud and clear. Then you can ask, ‘so what would that be worth to you?’.

If you don’t first demonstrate the value of what you do, the client will always regard the quote you give as high. You have to get them to shift from looking at the price to seeing the value. When they see the value, then the price you quote will seem more acceptable.

Nevertheless, if you don’t understand your own value, it will be unlikely that your clients will. Understanding your value is something which takes time. You also need to review it on a regular basis.

3. Make sure your clients will appreciate your value

Are the clients you’re working with in general the sort of clients who will pay you on value, or are they looking for cheap and cheerful?

If it’s the latter, then clearly you’re working with the wrong clients! Whatever services you offer, there will always be those who charge less and those who charge more; in fact, the range of fees may be extensive. Decide to only work with clients who really appreciate your offering and are willing to pay accordingly for it. This means that you must be willing to turn down potential clients who do not fit into this category.

This may seem challenging at first. Turning down clients is not something that comes easily for many lawyers. But it often turns out that clients who are particularly price-focused are actually the most troublesome and time-consuming. What’s more, working with this sort of client erodes confidence, creates self-doubt and makes it harder to find clients of the right calibre. It’s a vicious circle which needs to be broken.

Whatever happens, if you want to charge what you’re worth, you must target those clients who will value your service and pay you accordingly. This may well mean making some radical changes in your business to be able to achieve this.

4. Eliminate limiting beliefs

By now, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. If that’s the case, I apologise. However, I’m not one of those fluffy people who will tell you this is going to be easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it! You’ll need focus, patience and determination to get to where you want to be. And you’ll need to work on more than just marketing and what you do practically; you will also need to work on yourself. If you fail to do this, you’ll potentially limit your revenue and feel frustrated into the bargain.

What limiting beliefs do you have which are getting in the way of your success?

Limiting beliefs are what you say to yourself about yourself which stop you from taking the action which would be most beneficial for you. You can identify these by:

a) paying attention to your thoughts, and

b) paying attention to how those thoughts feel.

If they don’t feel good, you can be pretty sure that you have a limiting belief.

Examples of limiting beliefs include:

  • I can’t possibly charge that.
  • The client won’t pay that.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I don’t feel confident.

Write your own limiting beliefs down. Find a coach to help you overcome these.

One of my clients, let’s call her Anne, recently told me that because of the work we’ve been doing together, she is now charging top fees to her clients and getting them, whereas before, that wasn’t happening.

Even though there are others in the marketplace willing to charge significantly less (and their competence level may or may not be as good as hers), she is able to charge her true worth, because she now understands her value, both consciously and unconsciously, and has no qualms stating her fees.

This is key. If you hesitate or feel nervous when discussing fees, unfortunately that will come across to the client.

In addition, you must believe that your prospects need you more than you need them! This is not arrogance. It’s not that you don’t care – far from it. You care about the following:

  • Am I the best person to help this prospect?
  • What value can I bring to them?

That and that alone should be your focus. Nothing else. Paradoxically, if you adopt this practice, you’re almost bound to convert more prospects, and you get to feel good in the process.

However, if you go into a meeting with a prospect feeling you need them, then you are:

  • feeling fearful and may then sound desperate (definitely the wrong energy)
  • not fully present with your prospect – you’re focused on whether or not you’re going to sign them up, rather than how you can serve them at your highest level.

5. Get help

You can’t do this alone. Be willing to invest in yourself and the firm. Investing in you and your fee-earners will help the firm flourish. Find the right people to support you on your journey. And remember, asking for help is a strength and not a weakness.