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Trust and the Art of Asking for Your Fee

June 17th, 2013 . by Richard Earls

“I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, “How do we make people pay for music?” What if we started asking,”How do we let people pay for music?” ~ Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking TED Talk Feb 2013

I recently watched Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk titled “The Art of Asking” and I recommend it to everyone, in every profession. I find it particularly engaging and challenging for travel professionals. Our own industry has suffered many of the same disruptive economic forces as has the music industry.  I think, too, we sometimes ask the question “How do we make people pay for our services” rather than “How do we let people pay for our services?

The idea is both startling in its simplicity and frightening in its execution.  Interestingly, whenever you speak to travel professionals about fees  a discussion of fear is usually somewhere nearby.  We are afraid of not getting the business because we ask for a fee.  We are afraid of rejection by the consumer who can “get it cheaper” on their own. It is too often fear preventing us from asking for what we most deserve: a fair exchange for our insight, knowledge and expertise.

To allay some degree of fear, let’s be sure we see the true boundaries of Amanda Palmer’s insight.  She isn’t talking about “giving away” talent or work for free. Instead, she is suggesting if we pose the questions the right way, if we build our connections to clients on relationships of trust and engagement rather than on contracts of mandates and stipulations, perhaps people would be more open to understanding the transaction taking place as a mutual exchange rather than as a “fee.” Notice the number of times the word “trust” is used in her talk.

In April I wrote a column entitled Can You Trust Your Clients?  An equally interesting question is whether your clients can trust you if you don’t trust them. We trust people who are authentic, who clearly understand the value of a relationship. We trust business people who demonstrate a client-centric business ethic. Amanda’s talk has something to say about that.

And the media asked, Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?” And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you.

Here’s what I’m suggesting. Maybe the reason some travel professionals don’t ask for fees is a lack of trust because where there is fear, trust has a problem taking root. Perhaps the fear is borne of misunderstanding. We haven’t adequately explained our value to the world, we haven’t done a good job at explaining the exchange. We have spent all of our time figuring out how to make people pay fees before we have fully made the connections necessary for the kind of exchange where they actually WANT to pay our fee.

I think the challenge is there. Can we let down our guard, authentically explain our value and then ASK for our fees? Know this: if your clients don’t understand your value it isn’t their fault.  It’s your task to make yourself understood and to be so valuable as to elicit not only a fee, but a profound “Thank you” as well.

PS. I only learned after watching Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk she is married to Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors. Those of you who know Mr. Gaiman’s work will appreciate my delight at that small synchronicity. Those of you wishing to sample Ms. Palmer’s music, I think you might be pleasantly surprised, can do so here. I recommend The Bed Song for starters.

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Join the Discussion - Post your comment  5 Responses to “Trust and the Art of Asking for Your Fee”

  1. Barbara Oliver Says:

    Great way to start the week! Thank you!

  2. question Says:

    I think sometimes the challenge with fees is that it is not explained well in trade press. Often I read articles saying some successful elite travel agency charges fees of thousands or tens of thousands and their clients pay gladly. The articles make it sound so simple and like there is a segment of consumers that almost like to pay fees. This goes against traditional models of travel agencies for decades and against the standards of many service industries. We pay lawyers and doctors fees because that has always been a standard and they don’t get paid commissions from suppliers like travel agencies have a reputation for (though of course some suppliers have low or no commissions like air). As a consumer myself who is frugal, I am not going to pay thousands or tens of thousands for a family trip and then be willing to also pay an upfront fee which is very high unless I am doing a very complicated trip or have no other choices or have such unlimited income that this doesn’t both me or want to ‘tip’ the agent with perhaps a good long-term relationship. If the majority of consumers though are looking at price/value, telling them upfront that before we start I need to be paid several hundred dollars regardless of if you book through me or not just seems foolish. Who would do that in terms of a normal middle class consumer? I wish the industry would better address this point in its articles about how we should all charge fees. The consumer mindset is completely ignored or articles just make it seem like we can readily convince consumers to hand over hundreds of extra dollars just for the privilege to have us spend time with them. That’s not reality especially today when consumers scrap and save – though for higher end niches it can be. Just hope these thoughts can be considered too as the counter argument.

  3. Richard Earls Says:

    “Question”:

    The consumer will only be willing to pay fees where real value for those fees exist. If the travel professional can demonstrate value in the context of a relationship then the consumer will pay for the demonstrated value. One of the reasons many agents cannot charge fees is they don’t have confidence in the ADDITIONAL value they bring to the table. I would stress again this type of exchange must take place in the context of a relationship. ~ best, Richard

  4. question Says:

    That is key Richard – the relationship. When an agent tells a NEW customer especially upfront hey you have to pay a fee to have my agency do any work to try to help you with a trip, most people would say no thanks. However if you have a relationship already then it’s certainly easier for a customer to agree to this. You hit on a key – the existing or context of the relationship.

  5. Ann Bartholomew Says:

    Question;

    And to a new customer I say, based on something Richard stated in an article on the perfect elevator speech: ‘Remember the pain, confusion, and frustration you encountered the last time you tried to book a vacation on the Internet? I take care of that for you. And my research fee is: $x. People will pay you to take away the pain.

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