Would ‘pay what you can’ work for you? 

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Recently, I launched my first ‘pay what you can’ offer and I wanted to share my experience with you. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, but I never had an appropriate offer to test it out on… until now! 

So read on to discover my lessons learned and see whether this pricing model could be a good fit for you. 

What is the ‘pay what you can’ pricing system? 

Before we go any further, let’s explain what pay what you can means. It allows the buyer to nominate their own pricing – based on what they can afford. It may also encompass the value they attribute to the product/service on offer, but the two don’t necessarily go together.  

For a person with a low disposable income this makes a product, service or membership accessible. 

It’s important to note that the perceived value of the purchase may not be reflected in the price paid, as an individual’s financial constraints will influence what they can afford to pay – no matter the value of the offer. 

woman holding card which says 'together we rise'

This is different to ‘pay what you want’ which is a pricing model designed to give people access to a product or service before determining the value they feel it’s worth. 

This is also different to sliding scale pricing which is a method of reduced rates for people on low incomes – to level the playing field. This offers a service at a predetermined price on different scales that meet people where they’re at. 

Essentially Pay What You Can Means: If you can afford more, you pay more. And if you can’t, you pay less.

Pay what you can promotes equality

For me, ‘pay what you can’ pricing allows equal access to products or services that people in a variety of circumstances otherwise couldn’t access. 

It levels the playing field somewhat. 

Where sliding scale pricing often requires evidence or a declaration of a person’s economic position, ‘pay what you can’ leans on trust and good faith that people will pay a fair price that matches affordability for them (decided by them). 

red background with cut out paper people with inclusion written beneath it

Let’s look at some examples of pay what you can pricing in action

1.Double Down News

Double Down News is a news channel that seeks to share honest journalism that debunks the bias and myths shared via mainstream media. They consider themselves a progressive media outlet, championing empathy, evidence and community. 

They offer three pricing options for exactly the same membership – making it accessible to people from all walks of life and economic positions. 

They rely on the trust they build with their audience to build a community who will genuinely pay what they can afford. 

Double down news pricing structure showing 3  pricing models ranging from £2 a month to £10 a month for the same membership

2. The Ethical Move

The Ethical Move promotes ethical marketing practices and their membership supports business owners and marketers in marketing without sleaze, trickery or dishonesty.

Again, they attract an audience with values that match their own, which allows them to lean on trust to support their flexible pricing model. 

Ethical move pricing structure showing a range of memberships at £15 - £60 for the same membership

3. Underdogs Unleashed

Underdogs Unleashed is my marketing course for ethical dog professionals. It’s designed to take dog business owners through all the elements of marketing their business in bite size steps. 

Just like Double Down News and The Ethical Move, I rely on the trust and value I’ve built with my community to encourage people to be honest with what they can afford. 

Underdogs Unleashed pay what you can screenshot. Shows two payment options side by side - 1. A one time payment of £450. 2. A pay what you can option where people nominate their own price.

Is ‘pay what you can’ pricing profitable?

Based on my personal experience, I’d say that this pricing model can be profitable, at least in the short term. But it’s about so much more than that. 

For me, I’d created an online course that wasn’t selling at the price point it was pitched at. Based on the feedback from people who’d taken the course, I knew the content was incredibly valuable…. 

But I wasn’t willing to put in the amount of effort required to sell it at the original price of live delivery at £750. I decided I’d rather more people could access it – rather than putting a monumental amount of time and effort into selling it to less people for more money. 

man pushing a large hay bale up a hill

I *could* have sold it at £750. I would have had to go down the launch marketing route which is very intense and requires A LOT of time and energy. 

And it likely would have still reached a lot less people that needed help than opting for the ‘pay what you can’ pricing model. 

In one week, I made over £1000 and 37 people who may not have accessed the course tapped right into it. 

In 7 weeks, I made £5660 and enrolled 226 students which I can guarantee wouldn’t have happened without Pay What You Can pricing.

What did people pay when offered flexible pricing?

It varied massively. Some people paid £1, some paid £30, some paid £200.

In the seven weeks my ‘pay what you can’ pricing was available for Underdogs Unleashed, 226 people signed up and I made £5660. 

That’s an average of £25.04 per person. 

But it goes way beyond the income generated. 

That’s over 220 positive dog bods who’ve accessed help they may not have otherwise been able to get. And it’s 226 new people who may return to me in future with positive feelings and who appreciate the value of what I shared. 

They may leave me great reviews and share the results the course has helped them achieve. They may recommend the course to their peers. And most importantly, they may reach more dogs and their humans who need help.

N.B. At initial launch, I directed people to a standalone transaction page which had no in depth detail about the course or a guided price. When I change the link to a sales page with all the info (and a suggested price), the number of people who chose to pay £1 reduced significantly. 

When is ‘pay what you can’ pricing a bad idea?

The course I sold was an online, self paced course. It was already created and required no more time from me other than marketing. It did require me to pay platform and transaction fees, which is an important consideration to ensure it doesn’t end up costing you money to offer pay what you can.

For me, this worked. The content is there and I want as many people as possible to reap the benefits of it as possible. 

how much is enough text on grey background

I would not offer this pricing model for done for you or 1:1 work – because it requires much more of my time and would leave me at a financial disadvantage.

I believe if you have a digital course that’s already made – then a ‘pay what you can’ pricing system can help more people (and deliver you a better revenue stream with less marketing effort). 

But for services or products that require more of your time and energy, it may not work so well. Sliding scale pricing would likely be a better fit here if you want to make your services more accessible.

 

Do you still have to market ‘pay what you can’ offers? 

Yes. I have a small business, with a small email list, and a teeny social media following. Within a couple of months, I still have to market my course even with this affordable pricing model. 

However, a substantial number of my students heard about the course because it was shared widely by others and recommended. So many of my clients and colleagues shared the offer on their socials and told their peers about it… and the low cost offer made making sales easier. 

My own email list has grown substantially because of the offer and I have a wider audience who I can support with both paid and free content going forwards.

sigmpost with marketing opportunities text in various directions

Off the back of this offer, I have been invited into two membership groups to deliver guest expert sessions. These opportunities would not have presented themselves without my ‘pay what you can’ offer. 

Those speaking opportunities gave me a new audience to promote the course to – introducing more people to an affordable way to level up their marketing. But they also introduced me to to people who may be interested in my other copywriting services and my membership group.

My marketing around this topic is far from done – but it’s at a much more comfortable pace for me than launch marketing. 

How do you market a ‘pay what you can’ offer? 

Personally, I started by promoting my offer on social media and to my email list. And this is what I would recommend to you if you’re thinking about launching a pay what you can offer.

Start by promoting your offer to your warm, engaged people who’ve been waiting for a way to access what you have to share. And don’t be shy about promoting it far and wide.

I felt as though I was being incredibly spammy at points during marketing Underdogs Unleashed – but I still received DMs from people asking how much it was and wanting to learn more.

The moral of the story is – whether you’re promoting something at pay what you can or full price – you have to talk about it. And you have to talk about it A LOT!

Growing your audience

Finding new places and audiences to promote your offer to is crucial for growing your business and helping more people. 

When you’re first meeting new prospective customers, a low cost entry point that delivers them results is a no brainer. The alternative of asking them to invest in a big offer from a low touch point would be very hard. Essentially, giving people a low risk/cost investment makes it easier for people to say yes.  

This allows you to demonstrate your value and give people the results they are looking for.  

Two squares - one saying hard, the other saying easy - with arrows in opposing directions

This creates a snowball effect: these people will be more likely to recommend your course/service to other people and potentially return to you for more support. 

But, if you have a small audience, your tank will run dry if you don’t keep marketing your offer via different avenues. 

Ultimately, whether you’re promoting a low cost or a high ticket offer, you still have to market it to maintain momentum. But lower priced offers don’t require the same scale of marketing nor as much time to move people into action that full price/high ticket offers need. 

Should you run ‘pay what you can’ pricing? 

My absolute favourite thing about running this offer has been both the appreciation from people who’ve accessed it AND the messages from people telling me they’ve been inspired to pay it forwards. 

Underdogs Unleashed Thank you message

Some people have felt guilty about what they could afford to pay, but I’ve done my best to reassure them that I have no expectations. And some people have been given some relief when at a very low point.

If you have a revenue expectation, ‘pay what you can’ pricing may not be for you. 

It’s unpredictable (just like any other sales avenue), but you’ll get so much more out of it if you come from a place of wanting to help people. 

four dice on a yellow background spelling help

If you want to reach and help more people – this is a FABULOUS way to do it. 

The revenue can be a happy side effect – particularly if you have a product sitting there doing nothing. But there are NO GUARANTEES. 

When people have reached out and told me they’re going to pay it forward and do something similar, I’ve absolutely rejoiced. 

Not everyone is in a good financial place. There are plenty of people with good hearts that want help with their marketing, their dogs, their life… etc. 

Pay what you can pricing opens things up to good people who may be struggling. Levelling the playing field and giving opportunities to people who may feel stuck. 

If that’s your motivation – go for it. 

We need more of that in the world. 

AaBb

Written by Rikki S

Hi, I'm Rikki. I'm a copywriter specialising in helping pet businesses with copy that attracts, engages, and converts.

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