Are You An Expense, Or Are You Expensive?
There's a difference between the two things above. It was brought to the forefront in discussions friends of mine are having in regards to their business. They are currently debating the thought of creating a new line of products that hit a lower price point than what they currently offer. Why, you ask? They currently offer something that is of high quality, and beautiful design, it is handmade, and it is expensive. The current economy is pinching price points all over, so they are considering the new line. The real word needing to be talked about isn't why, but should.
Many think of expensive as a dirty word, particularly when your trying to sell something, say design services for instance. But this is a trap. A trap that works to the detriment of the profession (almost any profession really). If your doing design work and your client thinks of you as just another vendor, just another expense on the balance sheet, you are one sweatshop design firm away from screwed. Anyone can be cheaper. Any cut-rate designer can come in and offer "services" for less than you do. This is simply what happens if you present yourself, and design, as solely a widget of industry.
Expensive Is as Valuable Does
If everything you do is in partnership with your client, and everything that you tell them is truthful, and garners them insight, and helps their business, then you are valuable. An important thing to remember about valuable items, is that they are often expensive. But people are willing to live with expensive if the value is there. The high cost of a great partner is just what it costs. There's no haggling about it, it just is.
Cheapness Makes Life Expensive
The problem with reducing rates to land a client, not charging clients properly for materials, or time, or whatever is that the rest of the design community has to suffer because of you. Not with you, but because of you. We all lose in the end if we commodotize the industry. We lose time, we waste energy, we burn out resources and we become useless in the end to our clients. Everybody loses if we chase the bottom dollar. The clients we want to work with will understand this. The clients that want to work with you, rather you working for them, will understand that design is an investment rather than an expendable cog in the machine.
The Good Life
The upshot to all this is that being expensive will, in the end, allow you to do the work you want, when you want. Being expensive can make you exclusive, and seeing as designers like to think highly of ourselves, this is the greatest thing we could hope for.