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Chocolate bars taught me how to price my freelance services

How the battle of Whitaker’s vs. Cadbury perfectly encapsulates my market positioning strategy.

Image from New Zealand Herald

I love chocolate.

Not that milky kid’s stuff. Real, rich dark chocolate. Minty, orangey, nutty, spicy, salted-caramelly — anything at least 60% dark.

Here in New Zealand, we have two main competing chocolate companies: the multi-national Cadbury, and the local hero Whitaker’s.

Cadbury is cheap and ubiquitous. They have the advantage of being around much longer — being a household name before Whitaker’s even started. They have the advantage of scale. They have the advantage of price.

But I don’t know a single person who would buy Cadbury when they could purchase Whitaker’s instead. Whitaker’s is superior in every way. More quality ingredients, better taste and texture, locally owned and operated, and an unmatched level of brand trust and loyalty.

This chocolate company has been voted the most trusted brand in NZ for seven years running! People like Whitaker’s more than they trust the worlds most successful sporting team (All Blacks), and one of the highest-rated international airlines (Air New Zealand).

Whitaker’s cost roughly 20–30% more than Cadbury. But it’s worth every cent.

So how does this story about chocolate relate to freelance pricing and personal branding?

Be too expensive for the masses

Cadbury must only survive because it’s cheaper. People buy it who cannot afford an extra $1. They don’t care what value for money they are getting, they simply want the least expensive option, even if it’s not very good. Cadbury buyers equate to what I call cost-clients. They are tire-kickers and budget shoppers. This type of customer will always exist in abundance, but you don’t want cost-clients. You don’t want to be Cadbury.

Whitaker’s costs a fraction more, but it’s vastly better. Measuring value for money, it would be difficult to argue that Cadbury was worth purchasing even though it’s cheaper. People who buy Whitaker’s buy it because they want quality at a reasonable price. Whitaker’s isn’t rich people chocolate — there are plenty of brands far more expensive (like all the fancy-pants organic fair-trade, single origin ones; or even premium mass-market chocolate like Lindt). Whitaker’s is still very accessible, but it’s for a more discerning customer.

Whitaker’s buyers are like value-clients. Value clients are what you want. They lead to better and more enjoyable project outcomes. They become loyal long-term customers.

This is how Whitaker’s has carved out a huge chunk of the local chocolate market, and has grown a level of brand trust and loyalty that’s unheard of.

You can do the same for your business if you position your personal brand and pricing carefully within your market. Be too expensive for cost-clients, with just the right balance of quality and trust for value-clients. The kind of customers you attract is hugely important to the trajectory of your freelance business. Once I figured this out — and started adjusting my marketing and pricing to attract the right kind of clients — my business became more profitable AND more enjoyable.

Avoid pissing off your customers

Duh!

But Cadbury don’t seem to get it. They closed a local confectionary factory despite public outcry, which amplified Whitaker’s local appeal and practically handed them market share.

They keep decreasing chocolate block size with little matching decrease in price — a move that always brings backlash due to its opaque profit-grabbing motives. This is out of desperation — a poor reaction to losing more customers to Whitaker’s. They want their bars to look even cheaper in comparison, despite them being much smaller. They are doubling down on winning over the budget shoppers, because they know they’ve lost the ones who actually care what the product tastes like.

Meanwhile, Whitaker’s serves up thick, beefy chocolate slabs at a classic 250g size. Cadbury’s 160–180g bars look puny sitting next to them on the shelves, and their price per 100g is only fractionally cheaper.

A brand is only as good as its customer experience. And in modern times — more than ever before — upholding a premium reputation is vital. Yet Cadbury keep shooting themselves in the foot, while Whitaker’s grows an adoring fanbase. The message is simple: do right by your customers/clients. Put their needs above your profit margins, and take care of your reputation above all else. It will pay off big in the long-run.

Whitaker's build social trust because they're open and honest with their customers. Just today they announced they would have to be increasing their prices due to raising ingredient costs, but instead of a negative reaction they were flooded with responses saying "No worries, it's still well worth it compared to Cadbury." If you raised your prices, would your clients react in the same way?

A strong reputation, unrelenting reliability, and complete transparency are qualities that have helped me build a freelance design business that earns over $15K in good months.

Partner with other premium brands

Whitaker’s has done amazingly well with cleaver strategic partnerships. They’ve teamed up with premium brands in related food verticals to create new Whitaker’s flavoured products, surrounded by much hype and fanfare. This has helped them expand their customer base, and grow their reputation by association.

They partnered with beloved premium dairy brand Lewis Road Creamery to create special chocolate flavoured milks. These were in such high demand that they couldn’t produce them fast enough. National news stories told of how quickly they sold out at supermarkets, which amplified the demand even more.

They teamed up with premium ice cream brand Killinchy Gold, and perennial kiwi favourite Tip Top, to create custom Whitaker’s flavoured ice cream tubs and bars. Always priced a bit higher than the usual fare, because they have unique flavours that are more delicious than the rest. (I could eat the Killinchy Gold / Whitaker’s chocolate mint ice cream all day long).

You can use this same strategy for your freelances business, by aligning yourself with collaborators who are seen as the best of the best in their craft. Boost your own services with complementary skills provided by reliable, trusted partners. You’ll all benefit by association, and you never know when those relationships pay off and lead to more incoming work down the road.

Get your marketing on-point

Whitaker’s has a killer social media game. That’s what helps drive the hype around their new products and special partnerships. But it’s not successful because they spend more than Cadbury (I would guess their budget is far less). It’s successful because their fans are devoted. Because they love what Whitaker’s is giving them, and they want to share that love with everyone they meet.

I don’t advertise at all on social media. My business doesn’t even have an Instagram account or Facebook page. What I do well — just like Whitaker’s, but through different channels — is getting referral clients. That’s a level of client acquisition that’s far cheaper and more effective than any kind of advertising, social or otherwise. And it has the benefit of delivering clients preloaded with trust.

I tell people about Whitaker’s. I want then to see the light, and buy Whitaker’s instead of Cadbury. Not because Whitaker’s pays me to, or I get any other direct benefit. It’s simply because I love what they do. When people love something, they like the rave about it. They like to help their friends and family love it too.

Be Whitaker’s, not Cadbury

Be the loved, trusted, reliable brand that has your customer’s best interests always at heart. It doesn’t matter if that premium services comes at a premium cost. In fact, the perception of that higher cost is usually beneficial — not harmful — to attracting the clients you really want.

If your freelance business was a chocolate bar, wouldn’t you want it to be the most delicious and trusted brand in your country?

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Benek Lisefski

Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 18 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.

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