“You Can’t Afford Not To”? Actually, You Can.

Every single day, I come across dozens of sales pages, blog posts, and social media updates created by people, mostly women, in the online business world. I devour the content, but there’s one commonly used sales phrase that leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

“You can’t afford not to buy this/hire me/invest in yourself!”

Are you sure about that?

This is an example of a fear-based marketing technique. Fear-based marketing is when a company uses tactics like false or unnecessary scarcity (remember the Lilly Pulitzer or Target disaster?), “limited time” deals (even though every time you go to the website, they give you the same 20% off coupon), and anything else that’s supposed to make potential customers say “OH SHIT, I need this ASAP.” Essentially, anything meant to deceive or “trick” the user into buying now rather than later.

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Although I understand why people use this language, because it can work, we have a responsibility as business owners to not deceive our customers in the name of profit. Telling somebody that they automatically can’t afford to work with you is kind of pretentious, don’t you think?

I know that you change lives, business coaches. I see you creating amazing work, fellow graphic designers. I see you ramping up sales, copywriters.

But you’re not irreplaceable.

Here’s the thing – if somebody tells you during a sales call or through email that they can’t afford to work with you, most of the time they aren’t lying. It means that they legitimately cannot afford to work with you. It means that working with you could potentially cause financial strain on them. And, yes, it could also cause the hidden fears and emotions that your pro.

Think of the startup entrepreneur who cries at night because she can’t afford the business coach she’s desperate to work with – the coach who keeps screaming at her “you can’t afford not to work with me!” She ends up believing the coach and goes into credit card debt to buy from a coach who doesn’t even deliver what she promises. Now she’s left with $4,000 of debt plus interest and a fear of working with anybody else.

Think of the freelancer working a full-time, low-paying job to pay the bills who didn’t even want your email course, but after your ‘This is essential to growing your business and making tons of money! You can’t miss out on this!” email newsletter they’re thinking “Well, maybe I’ll sacrifice a dinner or two to get it…after all, I can’t grow my business without it!” Not okay.

I see a lot of sales articles that tell people who say they can’t afford a service to tell the potential customer a ton of reasons why the service provider is “indispensable” or why credit card debt is essential to growing a business if you don’t have money.

Yes, you are unique. Your gifts are amazing. You deserve to get paid well for the work you do.

But at the same time, you are not indispensable. You are not a guaranteed magic bullet. You are not invincible.

You’re just human. And humans don’t need to feed off of other people’s desperation to survive. Show your value, and you won’t need to.

Sierra Elmore

Sierra Elmore is a high school senior and the owner of 13 Elm Streets. Part graphic design studio and part creative resource, 13 Elm Streets helps whip-smart women create playful and profitable businesses. She created three successful businesses by the age of seventeen and is in the process of starting a nonprofit. When she's not obsessively designing, Sierra enjoys reading and writing young adult fiction, studying psychology, and playing with Bronx, her cat.

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