Pricing Strategies for Small Business

A woman and a man, both wearing aprons discuss matters in a small shop. Behind them a man looks over the wares.

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Pricing strategy for your small business will set the standard for your product or service in the marketplace, and is an important dimension to both your bottom line and your competitive edge. Early in the life of your small business, research your intended market as deeply as possible, and pay close attention to past fluctuations in competition and demand.

Key Takeaways

  • Small businesses should avoid competing on the lowest price, as they lack of economies of scale required to drive down costs.
  • Pricing strategies for small businesses to try include value-based, cost-plus, and competitive pricing.
  • Small businesses can avoid a price war by building their brands, offering niche products or services, and conducting diligent market research to understand customer needs and price sensitivity.

Don't Compete on Price Alone

When developing a business plan, owners often make the mistake of setting their pricing strategy to match the lowest-price provider in the market. This approach comes from a cursory understanding of direct competitors, and the assumption that the only way to win business is by having the lowest price.

However, having the lowest price is not a strong pricing strategy for small business, as it invites customers to see your product or service as a commodity, and obscures the value of your offering. If you're operating within a niche market, larger competitors with the ability to lower operating costs may eventually enter your segment, and can destroy any small business attempting to compete on price alone—including yours.

Avoid the low price strategy through research on the market you intend to enter, and by repeatedly analyzing the following variables:

Ceiling Price

The ceiling price is the highest price the market will bear, which can be explored by surveying both experts and consumers, and by asking questions regarding pricing limits. Keep in mind that the highest price available on the market may not necessarily be the ceiling price.

Competitive Analysis

Don't exclusively look at your competitor's pricing; look at the whole value of what they're offering. Are they serving price-conscious consumers or an affluent niche? What are the value-added services, if any? How do you compare?

Price Elasticity

Price elasticity tells you about the responsiveness, or elasticity, of the demand of a product or service when nothing changes but the price. Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School told the Harvard Business Review that "marketers need to understand how elastic, sensitive to fluctuations in price, or inelastic, largely ambivalent about price changes, their products are when contemplating how to set or change a price. Some products have a much more immediate and dramatic response to price changes, usually because they’re considered nice-to-have or non-essential, or because there are many substitutes available."

Choosing a Price Strategy for Your Business

Once you understand consumer demand within your market, review your own costs, supply chain, and profit goals as a way to inform your choice on pricing strategy. Below are a few pricing models to consider:

  • Premium or Value-Based Pricing: The price is based on the perceived or estimated value of a product or service. There are few or no competitors for the product or service.
  • Cost-Plus Pricing: The selling price is determined by adding a markup to the unit cost. The goal is to cover costs and generate profit without exceeding customer expectations for price.
  • Competitive Pricing: Setting a price based on the price of the competition. This is commonly seen with commodity products.
  • Price Skimming: Setting the price high initially and then lowering as additional competitors enter the market.
  • Penetration Pricing: The price is set low to rapidly enter a competitive market and provoke word-of-mouth recommendations, only to be raised later.

Avoiding a Price War

A price war is when competitors continually lower their prices to undercut one another and gain market share. This almost never works out in a small business's favor, especially when competing against globalized pricing. According to Wharton School marketing professor, Z. John Zhang, the outbreak of a price war is considered a legitimate and effective business strategy in China. “In a growing market, there are all different companies competing—some good, some bad—and the industry finds a way to consolidate. The only way to do that is a price war, where you bring down the prices and squeeze out the inefficient [companies].”

But in the U.S. Zhang said, the markets are more mature and they offer, “oligopolistic competition among mostly equals and [therefore] encourages more finesse in devising marketing strategies.”


Oligopoly markets are markets in which a few suppliers dominate, which can reduce competition.

Below are tips to avoid a price war with your competitors:

  • Develop your brand name to build recognition of your small business and to build resilience if a price war ensues.
  • Find unique values which your business can add to stand out in the marketplace.
  • Provide products or services that are exclusive to your business to ensure further protection from falling prices.
  • Conduct diligent market research to understand customer needs and price sensitivity.

The Bottom Line

If you create sound market research habits early in your journey as a small business owner, you will have greater foresight when setting prices for your products or services, and an ability to adjust when necessary. Research will help you avoid taking a problematically low price-position in the market, and will provide valuable insights into how your future customers will spend money.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the simplest pricing strategy?

Cost-plus pricing may be the simplest strategy for small business. With this approach, you determine the breakeven point for your product, and then add a percentage-based premium or markup to arrive at the final price.

Why is pricing important for small business?

Pricing is the simplest and the fastest way for any business, including small business, to increase profits. According to McKinsey & Company, a 1% increase in price leads to an 8.1% increase in operating profit for firms listed in the S&P 1500. Meanwhile, a 1% decrease in price leads to a corresponding decrease in operating profit of 8.1%. Getting pricing right can have a significant effect on the success of a small business.

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Updated by Lars Peterson
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Missouri Extension. “Selecting an Appropriate Pricing Strategy.”

  2. Harvard Business Review. "A Refresher on Price Elasticity."

  3. Z. John Zhang. "How and Why Chinese Firms Excel in ‘The Art of Price War'." Knowledge at Wharton.

  4. OECD. “Oligopoly Markets.”

  5. McKinsey & Company. “The Power of Price.”

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