Pricing your competition

This article is part of a series sharing a decade of experience supporting you to run open calls.

Pricing your competition

Choosing to raise funds from your programme will need careful consideration and require you to balance the positive social impact you wish to have (access) with your ability to make enough revenue to run a successful programme (sustainability).

This article covers:

    • How to price your competition
    • Alternative ways of creating revenue from submissions
    • Understanding your pricing strategy
    • Maximising your chances of getting paid submissions
    • Ensuring you don’t price out certain communities

To Charge, or Not to Charge

Choosing to charge candidates to submit is a big decision. It is a delicate balance of future-proofing your organisation and making your opportunity accessible to those who can’t afford the fee.

The larger the price to submit, the fewer submissions you will get. But allowing free applications may swamp you, and with the wrong process in place, lead to heavy administrative overheads.

Luckily, the decision need not be black and white. Other options exist to allow you to embrace alternative ways of requiring payment and lowering the barrier to entry. 

    • Donations (optional payments)
    • Early Bird Fees (making fees cheaper if candidates submit earlier)
    • Bulk discounts (submit to multiple submissions)

These are looked at individually later on in this article.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Making fees optional will allow more people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to get involved with your opportunity.

Impact from the Pandemic

When planning future call-outs, remember that the economic impact on some households from COVID will exist beyond the pandemic.

Using Zealous

Balance access and revenue for your programme with multiple tiers of fees.

Pricing it right

Your first step will be to understand who you wish will submit and understand their circumstances.

Should a majority struggle to pay you anything, you will need to think about alternative ways of funding your programme and keep your submissions free, or you might also consider donations instead.

If you choose to charge candidates, knowing “how much” is tricky. What will candidates need to sacrifice to pay for your submission? Is it a couple of coffees (£5)? Is it grocery shopping for a week (avg. £40 in the UK)? Or more?

  • Work backwards – work out how much the programme will cost (or how much you need to raise with submissions), then divide that by the number of applications you expect to get. 
  • Follow Competitors – check the prices of other programmes that resemble your own and price yours accordingly. 
  • Ask your community – tell your community what you are organising and ask a select few if they would pay £x to submit. 

Using a mixture of the above should give you an idea of the average price you can charge. This average price will become your point of reference when working out special deals, donations, etc.

Before moving to the next step, sanity check your price with two more critical questions:

    • Will the communities I am reaching out to be able to afford this fee?
    • What is the minimum amount of submissions I need at this price to break even (together with other funding)?

Edit your price accordingly.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Seemingly small changes to a price can reduce access to those with fewer resources. If you can reduce your average price as much as possible – or embrace early bird pricing (see below).

Impact from the Pandemic

If you’ve run your programme before, you may wish to go through the exercise above to modify your price to match the current climate.

Get buy-in

When candidates consider whether they should apply to your opportunity, they will be asking themselves the following:

    • Do I trust this opportunity?
    • Is this value for money?
    • Can I afford it?

Convincing candidates to spend their hard-earned money is anchored heavily on clear and concise communications of your brand and the benefits to candidates should they be selected.

Higher fees require a better offering (bigger prizes, higher-profile judges, a bigger chance of winning, etc.). Be sure to publish as much information about what candidates get, and don’t spare the details.

Needs Improvement

“Be published in our magasine” 


“Be published in our physical magasine (readership of 15,000) and have your story shared across our social media networks (following 152,000 – Instagram / 87,000 Facebook…)” with links to the appropriate networks as means of proof.

Needs Improvement

“Have your work seen by the Industry”


“Have your work seen by the arts Editors of Vice, Creative Boooom and the FT”. Link back to tweets from these individuals acknowledging their excitement to take part.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Include perks for the shortlist that could genuinely change someones’ life (e.g. portfolio review with someone high level).

Impact from the Pandemic

Asking for money to show candidates works in a physical context might lead to candidates hesitating. Make sure you offer alternatives should a physical show be cancelled or moved.

Using Zealous

Remind candidates why submitting is value for money by publishing all the information to get buy-in from candidates in your guidelines.

Remove friction

Adding a payment step to your submission process may lead to confusing candidates with a patchwork of services to need to visit to apply.


    1. View competition page
    2. Go to payment site (e.g. Paypal)
    3. Create account / Login
    4. Make payment
    5. Copy Transaction ID
    6. Go to the Application Form (e.g. Jotform)
    7. Fill out form
    8. Paste Transaction ID…

For each additional step in your process, you will lose candidates wishing to submit. You will also waste time on bloated administration (e.g. matching payments to submissions, dealing with refunds, etc.) or money patching these services together.

Grow your submissions, raise more funds and simplify admin by choosing a service that seamlessly integrates payments within the application process.

e.g. Streamlined Process

    1. View competition page
    2. Register / Login
    3. Fill out Form
    4. Make Payment

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Complicated processes will indirectly alienate communities who struggle with technology, have little time to apply and have specific accessibility needs.

Impact from the Pandemic

Furlough has led members of our communities to have either too much time and too few resources. Or too little time balancing the work of others and a stable income.

Using Zealous

The beating heart of Zealous is to make the submissions process as simple as possible. Our platform makes payments seamless for both your candidates and yourself (refunds, invoices, etc.) and even allows you to view where people drop out when submitting.

Simplify your submissions in minutes

Experience our submission management platform with a customised online tour.

Get the Timing Right

Although the creative industries is a gig economy, most of the industry still depends on having stable work on the side. Most of your candidates will be dependent on a repetitive cash flow cycle. 

When you close your submissions will impact whether candidates have the money in the bank to submit. Make sure to:

    • Close your submissions just after payday (usually the last Friday of the month).
    • Watch out for periods that are capital intensive for your communities (e.g. religious festivals). Close your submissions at a payday, or two, later. You don’t want to make candidates think about whether they can submit or afford Christmas, Eid, Hannukah, Divali etc.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Understanding when your communities expenses are due across the year allows you to remove the additional stress of thinking of paying for your programme at the wrong time.

Impact from the Pandemic

A large portion of society has lost the security of regular payments. Rethink the timing of your programme, and if possible, reduce the costs to impacted candidates.

Using Zealous

There’s no need to be at your computer on a Sunday at midnight. Zealous automates the process of closing your submissions (although we would always advise you to close submissions on a weekday).

Rewarding Early Birds

Giving candidates better prices when they submit earlier solves a few problems:

    • Get cash in the bank earlier by inspiring candidates to submit before the deadline. (70-80% apply in the last couple of days before the deadline).
    • Give candidates with fewer resources the ability to afford your opportunity if they submit earlier.
    • Keep the higher fees that will allow you to afford to run your programme effectively.


    • £5 before the 3rd of May ’21 (Monday right after payday)
    • £10 before the 15th of May ’21
    • £25 after the 31st of May ’21 (Monday right after payday)

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Offering free/heavily discounted prices for early submissions ensures you don’t price communities out.

Impact from the Pandemic

Allow those who currently have spare time but no current income to submit before their peers for a heavily discounted price. Everyone else is likely to apply at the last minute.

Using Zealous

Let candidates know about future changes in pricing. Publish a list of upcoming prices and keep them disabled until the time comes to switch them over.

Donations / Tips

Likely, taking a mandatory fee won’t be an option if you get public funding. But this doesn’t mean you can’t use your initiatives to allow your communities to sustain your efforts.

Allowing candidates to donate fixed amounts whilst submitting will generate additional revenue to support your programme.

e.g. Pricing Package

    • Free Submission
    • £3 Donation
    • £5 Donation
    • £10 Donation

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Removing mandatory submission fees guarantees no one is priced out and helps make a positive case for your funders.

Impact from the Pandemic

Some sections of society have benefited economically from the pandemic (no eating out, no transport costs, etc.). They may be more inclined to support you at this time.

Using Zealous

Allow for free submissions, and create additional packages for all your tiers of donations.

Bulk Discounts

Creating incentives to submit multiple times could allow you to raise more fund and increase the candidates’ chances of being selected for cheaper.

The steeper the discount, the more likely you are to upsell more submissions to candidates. Getting more applications will come in handy when making a case to sponsors/supporters for future call-outs. 


    • One submission – £8
    • Three for Two – £16

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Special deals still favour those with more resources and won’t make submitting more accessible to lower-income individuals.

Impact from the Pandemic

With people’s income being uncertain, special deals might be just the right tool to persuade candidates can take part (e.g. a COVID discount).

Using Zealous

Create as many packages as you would like, switch them on and off as your call progresses.


As the gap in society widens, pricing will become increasingly contentious. 

Price yourself too high, and you are removing your opportunity from those that may need it the most. Price yourself too low, and you could be putting your organisation at risk.

Serving both is a delicate balance that will require you to think beyond a regular “pay to play” business model. A balance of alternatives models (donations, early-bird offers, special deals, etc.) will allow those with resources to continue to generate revenue for you and guarantee those without still have access to opportunities that could enrich their future.

About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy