Tarzan Kay


April 12, 2022

to you

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markups on payment plans—should you offer them?

People think we are super great for offering low or zero markup on our payment plans. I’ve also been applauded in the past for not doing pay-in-full bonuses.

I feel good when all those people pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing a good job. I’m hardwired for gold stars.

But the fact is, across industries most companies do markup payment plans. I pay my life insurance premiums annually because it saves me the equivalent of one monthly payment. When my internet provider offered me a payment plan on my modem without a markup, I was very surprised. 

Payment plans cost money to offer. Maybe not twenty percent, which is the standard for online courses, but they do cost money. 

Our automated systems catch some failed payments and recoup payments in a way that’s hands-off for my team, but ultimately, there are hours of follow-up required to chase down lapsed payments and expired credit cards.  

We know how much our students appreciate not having to pay a markup or miss out on a special bonus because they couldn’t afford to pay in full. 

“Thanks for not charging a ‘poor tax,’” they’ll tell me. 

Still, I’m careful about suggesting people follow my lead. Businesses cost money to run. It’s very easy to mess with your cash flow by being overly generous, doing business in a way that sounds good in theory but you actually can’t afford. 

Being able to offer zero markups on payment plans is a privilege. Most businesses like mine, especially when they’re starting out, need to incentivize customers to pay in full whenever possible so that we can continue to run our businesses. 

Without cash flow, you’re dead in the water. 

We want things to be affordable and we don’t want to exclude anyone, so we fuss over keeping our prices low and our payment plans markup-free, in the name of economic justice. 

Kelly Diels asked a question in her Sunday Love Letter a couple of weeks ago, “Do we usually call strategies that are known to be harmful ‘justice’?”

With that in mind, as my team and I are planning our summer promotion of Email Stars, our signature email marketing program, while we most likely won’t markup our payment plan, we’ve decided to bring back the pay-in-full bonus. 

I know some people won’t like it. Some people may think it’s off-brand for us. There was a time I would’ve felt like I was being bad, like some snake-y internet salesperson with my greasy bonus stack. 

But I’m nonplussed. 

It’s a straight-up business decision coming from a place of doing what’s right for the business and for my employees. I feel one hundred percent solid in it. 

This is where nuance is so important in conversations about the future of launching and what ethical use of persuasion might look like. 

Because it looks different for different businesses. There is no “ethical gold standard.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for Tarzan's 7-Step Checklist. 

(If you don’t have it already, listen to our audio series The 7 Scrubs For Writing High-Integrity Copy That Converts, which is the closest I’ll come to telling you what to do.) 

It actually feels good to come to a different decision, to do things differently than we’ve done in the past, based on new data. We are allowed to change our minds and in fact, no explanation is required. 

But even so—I thought you might like to have one. 



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