Integrating Notion in consulting projects is relatively new and novel, so being one of the few Notion Certified Consultants is highly advantageous in a fast-growing and evolving market. I’m often asked by other aspiring consultants as well as our students who are considering offering Notion consulting services about how I talk to customers, how I execute work, how to assemble contracts, and especially how I price our services.
(hint: I always start by recommending Dan Mall’s Pricing Design book to new consultants—can’t go wrong with any A Book Apart book, to be honest).
Having done software consulting as an indy founder since 2010, I’ve got quite a few years under my belt when it comes to this stuff, so I’m sharing some of what I’ve learned as well as how to price and bundle consulting offerings with Notion in mind.
Building in Notion is not unlike a software engineering project. When a potential client comes knocking, they’re more than likely going to have some idea of what they want. The first thing you want to do is identify the difference between what a potential customer wants and what they actually need.
What is a want, and what is a need?
Back when the first iPhone came out, I excitedly started hacking and decided I was going to make iOS games. In 2010 I shipped a Ceelo dice-rolling game that used the very first version of GameKit. I shipped an open-source framework, GKAchievementNotification, for displaying achievements in an Xbox Live style (this was before Apple’s own Game Center shipped!). My co-worker at Typeoneerror Studios (one of my previous companies) and I also shipped a fun “runner” called ShibaShiba.
Those were the days! We quickly got known as folks that could design and build apps. We had 100s of requests per year with statements like “we need an app”. In many cases, what these folks were asking for was actually a “want”. They wanted to get an app made because [it was cool, we’re going to make millions, our competitor has one, they won’t take us seriously without one] they didn’t know any better.
The thing is, most of the app ideas coming across our desk were actually businesses, not apps.
You don’t just launch an app and set-and-forget. These things take years of dedicated effort, maintenance, and focus to get to profitability, if they do at all.
After a few unsuccessful launches based around apps (including our own silly games), I got fed up with shipping stuff that was just something people wanted and not something people needed.
So we started doing two new things…
We made people pay us to sign their NDAs
Oh, boy, did this piss people off! But it was such a good way to avoid wasting time with people who had “ideas” and just needed you to sign their NDA. When it came time to hear the idea it was always something like “Facebook, but for dogs”, or “We want to build Instagram, but better” (I got tired of telling potential customers that Instagram was indeed started with a $500K seed).
To save myself a lot of time and headache, I started charging to review and sign NDAs with the assumption that they were committing to a discovery project as well. This cut down on tire-kicking as well as forcing people to commit to their thing as more than just an idea by putting some cash on the table.
Which brings me to…
We started charging for discovery
Discovery projects are small paid projects where you do one or a series of interviews with owners and/or key stakeholders of the company. Notion pro August Bradley helpfully describes the process as “diagnosing…problems and figuring out what [customers] need through discussions and research.”
What comes out of the discovery process can be a project plan and an estimate to get the project done. Even if the company decides not to move forward with you as the vendor, these still provide a lot of value to the customer because it gives them time with a subject-matter expert to advise them on good practices and next steps.
Advantages to the customer:
- It’s a low-cost, low-risk purchase to see if you work well together.
- Unknowns are often discovered through this process like:
- They need a key hire to get to where they want to go.
- They don’t actually need expensive custom software to achieve their goals.
- “Actually Notion isn’t a great fit for this need, but we can definitely do X for you” (where X is a different service you provide).
- The process can clarify priorities and key decisions.
Advantages to you, the provider:
- You get payment up-front for a small, well-defined scope of work.
- You can deeply understand and clarify areas of concern, and potential pitfalls before committing to an execution plan.
- If you don’t feel like the relationship was enjoyable, you can end it before you get into a lengthy build, while still delivering key insights to the client.
- You gain lots of insight into the way organizations work, thus making future services more valuable. Over time, you’ll have seen every problem, and solving them seems like magic to the customer.
- You develop better communication skills by talking to folks at every tier in company hierarchies.
When it comes to Notion consulting, I don’t (generally) write quotes for builds before engaging in a paid discovery. My discovery projects sometimes do include a bank of “implementation hours”. Sometimes I install a basic “Business OS” and that’s enough for some businesses, but my consulting is typically multi-months and multiple touch points. Loads of interviews. Sitting in on client meetings, attending strategic sessions, etc.
At least 75% (sometimes more) of the work is interviewing the company, building org charts, identifying workflows, etc. The amount of actual Notion building I do is actually quite minimal.
I’ve billed a current client $15,000 for their build, and we just kicked off a new phase, bringing the total engagement to $15-20K before we’re finished with the project. This engagement started with a $500 coaching call which we then extended to a $2,500 discovery project, and then onto the 5-figure price points.
Coming in hot with “it’s gonna be at least $20K” right out of the gate can be a tough sell, but once you get in and deliver value on a small project (and build trust along the way), it’s easier to scope larger or ongoing engagements.
Using a paid discovery engagement helps you earn revenue and identify the problem space, giving you new opportunities for growth.
Here’s one of my discovery offerings by the way (in case you want to get a feeling on how I present these types of productized services): https://tinyurl.com/notiondiscovery
As you can see above, it can be lower risk to sell a tiny contract before you give a massive bid on a full build (especially since most business owners won’t fully understand what’s involved in an effective Notion build-out).
Here’s an example of how it might look for our business:
- A customer wants to learn Notion and finds one of Marie’s videos or my videos on YouTube. They get a feel for what’s possible. Cost: FREE!
- Once the customer has more exposure to our business (possibly signed up for newsletter, saw a Tweet), they make a purchase. That might be a $5 template or a year of training and course work in our program for $799.
- Attending one of our live office hours, the customer gets an idea of our team training and Notion acumen beyond what’s obvious in the program and/or publicly available content. “Okay, I need to hire these people, they seem to know their shit”.
- At this point I might have a call with them and say “Hey, I don’t know if we’re a good fit to build with you, but let’s start with a Discovery engagement”. At this point I would deliver this offering and charge them $2,500.
- Through Discovery we might discover we’re not such a good match. In this case, I would typically refer them on to one of our incredible students or a fellow Notion consultant. However, it might be a great fit for a build or some custom programming work. And our discovery indicated that they need some team training, so we can give them a custom price based on the impact the work would have.
You can see here how because we have products at almost every price-point we can iteratively sell a customer up on services. Even if the last step was like “Yo, this is a wild amount of work, we need custom programming and it’s gonna be multiple 5-figures,” at that point the client knows our work and we’ve built some trust so it’s not going to be a “whoa, whoa, whoa… that’s a lot!” (well, it still might be [lol], but you’re in a much better position having iteratively sold them).
Which brings me to…
Talking about money (oof)
This is probably the hardest conversation to have with anyone. Some folks are more comfortable talking about the details of their sex lives before they talk about how much they make or what they charge.
If you want to be a successful consultant, you have to get comfortable talking about money.
Ask potential leads about it right away. Practice talking about it with your partner, practice with a co-worker, your fellow Notion consultants—whatever you can get. Get used to hearing amounts way higher than you feel comfortable charging and amounts way less than you would work for.
I never let a first meeting go by without asking obnoxious questions like:
- How much are you willing to spend to solve this problem?
- What would you say this problem is currently costing you?
- How soon do you want it?
These types of questions typically dictate budgets. Some things to consider when listening to answers to a question like “How much are you willing to spend…”:
Do they say:
- “this is killing us, we’re losing money without this solution, it’s a mess”, or,
- “it would be nice if we could…”
The former is an indicator that this is an expensive problem for them. What if it was costing a company $100,000/month? I think they’d be likely to spend upwards of $100,000 to fix it right away, even if the solution was easy for you to implement.
Now if a company is like, “I don’t know how much,” this tells a different story. That doesn’t sound like there’s much appetite to fix this problem, so there might be more push-back on your pricing in this case.
The inevitable push-back: “Why so much?”
One thing that’s become more common (especially with a recession looming) is clients having more sticker-shock (especially with Notion consulting). As Notion becomes more ubiquitous and there are more opportunities for customers to shop around, it may be more difficult to price Notion builds at higher levels.
This may be for reasons such as:
- The assumption that everything in Notion is templated and “easy”
- The assumption that no-code in general is less valuable than, say, custom code and design
- The increasing availability of AI-assisted technologies that may make building from scratch easier
I’ve had the “why so much?” question many times in my career, even well before Notion. It might sound something like:
Why would I hire you for $XX,000 when I can buy this $X00 template?
Why should I hire you if Designer A said they’d do X for half as much?
You should definitely plan for this question repeatedly in your career. Write answers to it. Practice answering it out loud so you can address it confidently on Zoom when it comes up (and it assuredly will).
Know with confidence why you’re worth as much as you’re charging. Figure out what makes you unique compared to your compatriots in the Notion space.
Offering training services
Lately I’m noticing that after 5+ years of Notion being on the market, companies are finally becoming wise to the fact that, at a certain size (I like to say around 20 employees, sometimes even less depending on the organization), it is much more cost-effective and beneficial to hire full-time staff to manage and oversee Notion as an operational pillar in a business than it is to bring on a temporary consultant.
It’s relatively easy to spend money on a Notion consultant and get a build done quickly, but what happens when:
- You need to extend the build
- You break something in the existing build and don’t know how to fix it
- The consultant becomes unavailable or uninterested in continuing to work with the team
- A new Notion feature ships that changes the entire way you were doing things in Notion to begin with
So consider that as Notion become more ubiquitous, you may now be competing with Notion champions, the internal Notion experts.
One thing that makes this competitive challenge interesting is champions may already know the business inside-and-out. They already might know who to lean on to get adoption leverage.
They’ll likely also already have some ideas to the answers of my favourite interview questions such as:
- Who makes the final decisions on technology?
- Which teams/individuals are going to resist this change?
- Which teams have secret software silos that other teams don’t know about?
One thing champions might not be so good at though? Training. We’ve encountered a number of folks in our programs that are amazing at Notion and building things their teams need, but not so good at the educational stuff (and not everyone wants to teach!). They look to outside help for this.
So how could you bundle your offering with training to further entice customers? Bonus here: training is one of the highest ticket, highest ROI offerings you can offer as a service provider.
Speaking of bundling…
Bundling builds and templates with enhanced offerings
Any Notion pro worth their weight can build a project management system. So how can you differentiate your services to turn a $100 template into $10,000 offering?
I offered some ideas for how to go “beyond the build [template]” in this Twitter thread:
I got into a specific way that I enhance my consulting offerings by Using Notion to Run Office Hours as a Consulting Service.
You can sell office hours to benefit from:
- Deeper hands-on training
- Solving technical issues in real-time
- Discovering new product opportunities
- Uncovering issues at the company that initial stakeholders might’ve missed
One way to make your services more valuable than the next Notion provider is to do something no one else is doing. If you use the same egghead avatar and makes the same ultimate brain template as the next person, why should anyone purchase your offering over the other?
How do you stand out when everything is literally templated?
I wrote a blog about standing out in the Notion creator economy to investigate this very question.
So what is your unique positioning? Does it need to be a product? Not necessarily! You could position yourself uniquely by language, by location, by integration, by design, by almost any identity.
Figure out who you serve and be the champion of that segment.
A few consultants recently expressed frustration that their bids had been turned down in favour of someone who was in a different market and could offer the work at a lower cost.
We work in a truly global market and this is always going to be a challenge. The reality is there is always going to be someone who will be cheaper, and there always will be someone who will be more expensive. Remember that price is not always indicative of quality.
Purchasing power is also a thing. Folks in different markets will be able to offer services discounted or more expensive (compared to yours) as the cost of living (CoL) is different all over the world.
It also depends on the end-customer. Many Silicon Valley startups will think nothing of spending 5/6 figures+ on consulting and just “want things done”. But there are also individuals in that same market that will balk at any amount of money and expect you to work essentially for free. I based my first website business on servicing agencies and startups in San Francisco and Seattle (where I lived). I was able to charge much higher in those markets than I would if I was doing WordPress sites for non-profits (like when I started out). It’s highly variable, and you will need to think about pricing constantly to adapt to market demands and circumstances.
Realistically, you should be reviewing your pricing regularly to test different price points. You might think of it like A/B testing pricing. I’ve had offers that were selling off the chart and I was overbooked, so I doubled the price. This caused purchases to dry up, so I cut the price raise in half which lead to better outcomes.
The current CoL in Vancouver has rent/mortgage at an astronomical 75-125% of income. So folks in high CoL areas like mine often necessarily must charge more. So the same service provided by me versus someone who lives somewhere less expensive is going to be a big swing. Which is why I tend to say “definitely buy that if you will get the same or better from that vendor!“. I trust that I am good at what I do, though, so I don’t think much of it when people think I charge too much.
After making pitches and proposal throughout my career, there’s been times when I’ve been insulted, shouted at, and ridiculed. Some folks are awful and sometimes a higher price point can reveal very, VERY helpful information about potential clients before you’ve worked with them. 😅
I’ve seen Notion templates priced from $1 to $1,000s of dollars. Noah Reinisch asks on Twitter:
How do you price templates?
I think this largely depends on the target audience and the problem being solved. As an example, let’s look at something I have to do that I loathe.
Every month I have to break down our transactions from Stripe and explain them in FreeAgent, our bookkeeping software. This takes me almost a full day every month and sometimes longer. If you built me a solution that did this for me, I’d happily pay $1,000s of dollars for it. Now, if you built me a template that has a journal database with some fancy formulas, I probably wouldn’t even buy that for a dollar. I can make it myself in a few minutes or already have it.
The difference is the former solves a problem that repeats and costs me a lot time-wise. The latter solves a problem one time that is easy for me to solve myself.
So if your audience is people who have to do shitty bookkeeping tasks, you price the hell out of that template. That is a very expensive problem to have, and I am a person who can afford to spend a lot on that problem.
For more on this awesome “expensive problem” to “purchasing power” crossover, I highly recommend investing in Jonathan Stark’s Value Pricing Bootcamp (and related programs).
So what I can say about pricing templates is that you should first think about expensive problems and find the people that have them. The pricing will work itself out because people will be throwing money at you to solve their problems.
The most expensive templates solve expensive problems OR they do something that Notion doesn’t do out of the box. For example, could you:
- Make software that enriches the data via Notion’s API or through custom visualizations
- Bundle a template with Zapier zaps or Make modules to do the same
- Offer a 1:1 coaching call with your template
- Use a template to deliver productized consulting
You can see a common pattern here that monetizing templates tends to work more effectively when you are doing something custom or involving a personal touch in some way. Higher-touch, higher-cost.
Delivering the work
Notion creator and Ambassador Thomas Frank asked on Twitter:
“What kind of legal agreements/protections does one need to have in place before: (a) delivering templates/builds, or (b) accessing and working in client workspaces.”
Of course, I always start out by saying IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but I do feel comfortable in saying that you should always work under an executed contract that defines your engagement. And this applies to both folks selling Notion services, but also the companies buying the services.
Work under a contract with a confidentiality clause along with clauses for intellectual property transfer.
What does this mean:
- You should have a contract that stipulates that both you and the client will keep the nature of your engagement private and each others’ data private.
- You should have a contract that stipulates that the build you create for them is theirs to enjoy, modify, and, if appropriate, re-sell.
- You want to make sure that you retain ownership to any tools you might use to build their space so that you can continue to use them in other builds. This could be outlined in something called a “Non-exclusivity clause”, meaning you’re a contractor and you can utilize the same methods for other clients without breaching intellectual property agreement. In general, all you can build in Notion is buildable by someone else. It is a template system at the end of the day, so there’s not a lot of concern for you not being able to reuse your own templates here.
Now, again, I am most assuredly not a lawyer, but I recommend you grab a boilerplate contract and hire counsel to help you develop it into a contract that suits your company’s needs.
Things that you should always include in contract that you may not think about:
- Liability (what happens if something goes wrong with your work… are you responsible?)
- IP (intellectual property…does the company own the work you did for them? When does ownership transfer to them? Many companies might throw their own contract at you if you don’t give them one.)
- Governance – if something does go wrong, which country’s/locality’s laws will be used to decide legal outcomes?
- Non-payments (it’ll happen eventually, don’t you worry about that! how will the parties resolve it? what happens if you don’t get paid?)
In terms of “(b) accessing and working in client workspaces”, your contract should cover that you will keep anything you have access to confidential. And usually contracts will stipulate that you must “destroy” any data you have about the company if a contract is terminated (termination can indeed happen on good terms as well as bad). Notion works for us here because the client can simply remove us from their workspace to “destroy” our access.
Where Notion hinders us is due to the way third-party support works in Notion. Activating support access gives a third-party company outside of Notion access to your account. In some cases, my contracts with my customers have prevented me from turning on support access because the company I am working with is storing sensitive data and disallows support access across the board. Unfortunately, because Notion doesn’t allow us to scope support access to an individual workspace, this makes support a non-starter for my primary accounts.
In terms of actually building in client workspaces, I take two different strategies:
- Build directly in their space
- Build in a holding space and then make the build public briefly while I duplicate it into their space
Why do I do one of these? Well, because Notion’s “Move to…” functionality is partially broken and moving a build from workspace to workspace will often leave you in a broken state. Unfortunately I’ve found #2 to be the best option for working with clients. If you need to share access to a work-in-progress build, you can always invite the client into the space where it’s being built.
I typically write about my process in the roadmap document I develop in a discovery engagement to make it clear where the build is happening and when the customer will take ownership of the build.
Further, I often align delivery of the build with payment. Building in your own space first can be the trigger event for getting paid. Okay, payment received, now we install in your space. Done and done.
Another way to deliver Notion services is by allowing your services to be retained by a company. Another consultant asked the ambassador’s community:
Any suggestions on pricing/negotiating retainer agreements?
Here were my initial thoughts on pricing retainers and contracts:
- Be clear about what the terms are. A traditional retainer is you being paid to be available to do work at-will, meaning you’re guaranteeing to be available when needed. Those are for big customers and should be priced accordingly.
- A more modern “retainer” means more “paying a fixed fee to be available up to a certain scope”.
- If the modern thing is what you’re after, consider the scope of work performed for this client up ’til now. Based on their needs, how many hours per month will they need?
- Personally I charge MORE for retained hours as you are saying “I will not be able to claim this time at will”. So add a % to your standard hourly rate.
- I highly recommend starting with low-risk, paid discovery engagements to better understand your clients’ needs and build trust before committing to a larger project.
- You should also consider iterative selling and bundling builds and templates with enhanced offerings to differentiate your services from competitors.
- Experiment with pricing and price anchoring to increase revenues and diversify your product offerings.
- And of course, don’t forget to put in place (and curate over time) your legal agreements to protect the investment in your business.
Hopefully this was helpful! As always, you can find me on Twitter @typeoneerror with additional questions.
Editor’s note: images in this article generated with the Midjourney prompt:
complexity, network, complicated, black and white, low contast, consulting, building, lattice work --c 100 --ar 2:1