I’ve freelanced for as long as I can remember. I freelance write, design and run a web design and programming firm with some partners.
Over my 12 years as a freelancer, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to become a successful freelancer – and how to curate a portfolio of clients that will help your business grow. I’ve learned a ton about freelancing – but never more than this last year.
This last year, we decided to try a new approach and consolidate our clients. Instead of working with lots of clients for for low to medium pricing, we decided to work with fewer clients but charge more.
I’ve met hundreds of freelancers, myself included, who don’t know when or how to pull the trigger and start charging clients more for your services. When I decided to take this route, I was worried. Worried I would lose clients. Worried no one would say yes. Worried I would lose out on business.
But this was all in my mind. It wasn’t long before I realized that my services were valuable enough to stand on it’s own. Without needing to resort to lower pricing to compete.
99% of freelancers compete with pricing being their number one weapon. The truth is, most clients – the best clients – care about 100 other things besides price. They don’t want to be just one in a barrel full of customers. They want personal attention and great service. They want value and amazing quality – and they understand it costs more.
If you can figure out how to balance the right clients and the right rates, you’ll be unstoppable. Here are a few things I learned while raising my rates.
Understand that raising your rates has nothing to do with money
Raising your rates is a statement. It means your services as a freelancer – whatever they are – are worth more than your competitors. It means you’re confident and seek a higher quality of clientele, and your work reflects that.
Raising your rates means you’re ready to work with higher caliber clients who expect more and will pay accordingly.
To do this successfully, you need to understand that raising your rates isn’t about just making more money. It’s about attracting the right kind of people.
It’s no secret the smaller projects and cheapest clients are usually the most difficult.
Shifting to a mindset of higher pay and better clients means everyone wins. You earn more and your clients get more attention because you’re not having to juggle tons of clients and spread yourself thin.
The first step to raising your rates is to understand why. The why is simple: you want to raise your standards.
2. Filter your projects and learn to say no
Charging more means you take on less and deliver better work. This means you need to go the opposite direction of what most freelancers do. They are used to saying yes to every new client or project that comes through the door, and getting as many of them as possible.
No matter what anyone tells you, earning $20,000 from 2 clients is far more valuable than earning the same amount from 2 clients. Those 2 clients understand your value. They have bigger budgets. They know more people to refer you to, who think the same as they do.
On the flip side, cheaper projects and clients will refer you to other cheap clients. They care only about price and your service and the quality you offer is only second to the figure they see on your proposal. You don’t want these kinds of clients – so you need to learn to say no.
This was the hardest part for me. When I had to say no to a project because I knew it be more work and more time. It would mean referrals to other clients who thought the same way. It’s a cycle that’s hard to escape.
Charging more means you’re making a statement about your worth. To keep your worth at a high value and caliber, you need to start looking for these red flags and say no when you come across them:
A client with a low budget that doesn’t fit your minimum – more on this later
Time consuming projects
One-off projects with no long term outlook
Difficult projects or clients
To charge more, you need to first attract the right clients. Declining projects that won’t pay more than you charge is the first step. Learn to decline a project gracefully and don’t take everything that comes through the door.
3. Set a minimum
The biggest difference between successful freelancers who charge lots for their services and those who take anything they can get is simple – they have no standards.
The successful freelancer has minimum dollar amounts and they won’t take projects or clients that don’t meet that number.
Desperate, low quality freelancers take anything they can get. Successful freelancers will never take a project or client that dips below their minimum because they know that in the long term, your business won’t grow going this route.
When you decide to raise your rates, set a minimum dollar amount in your head. Don’t take any project or client that doesn’t meet this number.
It will help weed out cheap clients and those who can actually afford your services. Even more, it will make your higher rates permanent and you’ll be forced to play at a higher caliber or business. You’ll start hunting for clients who only meet your minimum and in the process, your standards will skyrocket into a new level.
When I first started out freelancing over a decade ago, I would occasionally land a big client and I would be over the moon. Nowadays, these “big” clients are the only ones I work with.
It all starts with setting a minimum dollar amount that you’ll take on for any project – and sticking to it.
4. Don’t wait – start the transition
A common mistake I see freelancers make is they are afraid to raise their rates in fear of losing business. They wait and wait and wait – but nothing happens.
There’s never a good time to start charging more. Do it gradually but do it. Get started and don’t look back.
Many freelancers don’t want to estimate or send out a quote that feels too high so they revert back to low balling. They’re afraid to lose business. In reality, you may lose some business or potential projects. But there’s only one way to find out what it will look like. You’ll never know until you start.
When you decide to raise your rates, just so it. I don’t mean double your hourly or project minimum overnight – but let your clients know you are in the process of raising pricing and being more selective with your projects – so they can expect your prices to increase over the next year.
Tell them you are raising your standards – and so you’re looking to take only a certain number of clients a month, and to dedicate more time and energy to each project, you’ll be charging more. Clients will appreciate your honesty. But you need to get started.
Any clients worth having who appreciate your work – and can afford it – will stick around. The less loyal people who only care about the price tag may leave – but you can’t build a successful freelancing career working with short term clients like this anyways.
5. Create more value for your customers
Increasing your rates isn’t the same as raising your prices. By deciding to charge more, you’re reclassifying yourself as a higher end provider – not just increasing the price tag on your work.
It means you are sending a message. One that says you will take only a select number of projects for higher pay and provide better work.
To do this, you need to justify it. The only justification that clients will care about is quality. It’s the only thing people will pay more for, so don’t be shy about letting them know.
Chipotle is my favorite restaurant. They raised their prices 3 times in the last 2 years. Each time they did, they didn’t secretly raise their prices and hope no one would notice.
Instead, they put up colorful posters that said they are raising their prices so that they can provide hormone-free, higher quality meats and ingredients. You know how many customers stopped coming to Chipotle? Almost none.
This is because people are willing to pay more for quality and value. You need to do the same thing as a freelancer. You need to create more value to your customers.
This doesn’t mean giving away free work or piling on discounts. It simply means that you need to let your customers know they are paying more for better quality – and you can’t do better quality without taking less projects, which in turn, will cost more.
So go the extra mile. When I do freelance writing for clients, if I find a particular piece of copy that isn’t helpful or if I have suggestions that can help improve the quality of the page, I let them know about my ideas. I rarely just do the work and call it a day. I provide input, opinions and suggestions to make it better.
Why? Because I charge a lot more than other freelancers. But my clients are happy to pay more because I provide them with more ideas, opinions and suggestions for their project. I create value.
I don’t resort to discounts or lowering my price. I simply offer more whenever possible. It’s a trait that’s mandatory for anyone raising their rates.
Find small ways to add value and vocalize it whenever you can. Let them know you have an idea. Make it known why you’re charging more than your competition by providing value outside of just a lower price tag.
Raising your rates so you can provide more value and better quality work for fewer people is a recipe for success.
Let them know where you’re headed and create more value for them in return. Don’t think of price a deal-breaker. It rarely is.
While most freelancers are only interested in offering a lower rate than their competition, they forget that by doing this, they are stating that their pricing is all that differentiates them from their competition. Don’t be that kind of freelancer.
The most successful freelancers know that clients are willing to pay more for more value and higher quality.
Curate your portfolio with those customers who are willing to pay more for better service and value – and focus on those people exclusively. Charging more means you’ll have less clients, but if you do it right, you’ll thrive.
You may lose some clients but in the long run, you can stop playing the game of “who charges less” and start charging for your best work to those who appreciate it and are willing to stick by you.
Simply getting more projects and more customers isn’t a long term solution. Those who care only about price will jump ship to another provider if they can beat your quote – and they won’t help you grow your freelancing career.
Don’t be afraid to let your clients, current and future, know that you’re more expensive for a reason. Those who understand this may be fewer, but you’ll be surprised how much farther you can get when you’ve got the right customer base by your side.