As a startup, a lot of pricey products and services can seem out of reach. Here’s how we’ve dealt with that challenge…
“Uhhhhh… can you repeat that?”
I had just finished a demo of a really slick marketing automation app.
It was the kind of app that I could definitely see us using and getting value from.
And that’s when the founder of the company told me the monthly fee.
I thought I heard it wrong.
It’s not that the cost was unreasonable. Thousands of companies pay it — and much more — for the valuable product.
But in my lean-early-stage-startup mind (this was more than a year ago), the price I was quoted was multiple times more than I was expecting, and there was no way we could swing that kind of spend so early on.
I know I’m not alone in this.
I’ve talked to a lot of founders who get sticker shock when they hear the price of a lot of business expenses. Not just for software, but for talent, events, memberships, ads, everything.
Even Groove, at $15 per user per month, gets dozens of discount requests every week.
I’m not saying that these things are overpriced. I’m a big believer in paying for the best people and products you can afford, as the payoff is often much greater than skimping.
I am saying that these things are expensive. And often, they seem too expensive to many startups and small businesses, especially in the early stages.
But what we’ve learned along the way, that too many founders don’t know, is that almost everything is negotiable.
Three Ways We’ve Hustled Our Way to Huge Savings and Extra Value
We don’t discount our product. Not anymore, anyway.
And we don’t expect discounts for valuable resources that are worth every penny they cost.
But we do believe in mutually beneficial partnerships that help both companies get real business value.
1) Leveraging Our Product
When I heard the price of the marketing app, I was surprised, but I wasn’t done.
In fact, here’s the exact email I sent to the sales rep that same afternoon:
Within two hours, he responded: “sure.”
We still use and love the software today, and we still pay a deeply discounted price for it.
Takeaway: Don’t let price be a dealbreaker without exploring other options first. If your product is just as valuable as the one you’re trying to buy, a swap might work.
2) Leveraging Our Skills
About a year ago, we needed another designer for a growing number of tasks, but we weren’t ready to hire someone full time.
None of the part-time designers we talked to seemed like a good fit, and we were getting frustrated.
Eventually, I remembered that I had been introduced to the founder of an elite design and development agency.
Their designers were incredible, but as I learned when I asked him, they were also off-limits.
“We don’t rent out our designers,” he told me (and rightfully so).
But in our conversations, I learned something else: the agency was trying to figure out how to do content marketing and generate more leads.
As it turns out, we’re pretty good at content marketing.
So I made him an offer: we’d share everything we know and help them get set up with the right strategy, tools and approach — something a top consultant would charge many thousands of dollars to do — in exchange for a few hours per week of their designer’s time.
He readily agreed, and we’ve since gotten many thousands of dollars of designer time because of the arrangement we made.
Takeaway: Don’t limit yourself to only thinking about your business’ main product or service as your trading leverage. You have other skills that you’ve had to learn as you’ve grown your business, and those can be very valuable to others facing similar challenges.
3) Leveraging Our Partners
Early on at Groove, there was yet another piece of business software that I wanted to buy.
It was expensive (to us), but looking at the numbers, I figured that we could probably make the spend work.
But before I pulled the trigger, I decided to see if I could use this opportunity to help get even more value out of the deal (in a way that would also be fair and valuable to our partner).
The sales rep responded right away that he would have to check with his CEO, but ultimately, they agreed, and we ended up getting some great early exposure for Groove.
Takeaway: Hustling isn’t just for discounts. You can also often get more value out of deals than you would have, simply by asking. Sometimes, the things you can get might not have been available to you otherwise, but because you’re already doing business with your partner, they’re incentivized to work with you on what you’re asking for.
You Have More to Offer Than You Think
Let’s say you’re pre-launch, and don’t have a product to offer yet.
Or your product isn’t relevant to the person you’re trying to strike a deal with.
This is where thinking outside of the box comes in handy.
Have you solved a unique business challenge that you can spend some time helping your partner work through?
Have you built a unique automation or process to make things more faster that you can share or help your partner implement?
Do you have readers or customers who might benefit from being exposed to your potential partner?
On that note: never, ever, ever try to do the last one secretly. First of all, it’s probably illegal. Second, it’s a betrayal of your readers’/customers’ trust, and that’s not worth any amount of money. We’ve never traded exposure on our blog or email list, but if we ever did, we’d either a) be upfront about it on the blog, and b) truly believe that whatever we’re sharing can be of real, positive value for our audience.
Takeaway: Even if you don’t have a product or service that would be interesting to your potential partner, you still might have something non-obvious to offer. This is where thinking outside the box pays off massively.
How to Apply This to Your Business
I’ve been told “no” a lot, too. And that sucks.
But the value we’ve gotten out of hustling is worth a thousand no’s.
You can’t get everything by bartering, but you’ll never get anything by staying quiet.
As with anything, you should practice always asking for what you want.
Think about everything you have to offer, and how it aligns with what your partners might benefit from.
And always keep thinking about how you might be able to get more value for your business by adding unconventional “enhancements” to your deals.
I hope that by sharing this, I’ve helped you — and other startups and small businesses — realize that there’s almost always more than one way to pay for what your business needs.