Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Addison Duvall, author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.
As a freelancer, raising your rates after a certain point is essential not only to your growth as a creative business owner, but to the quality of clients you have access to. The cheaper you’re willing to work, the less interest you’ll attract from high profile clients. No top shelf client is going to want to work with someone who is cheap. Why? Because, to them, it means that you’re probably not very good.
Psychologically, something happens in our brains when we see a product or service on sale for cheap. We automatically devalue it – even if it’s of good value. That’s why, as a designer, it’s extremely important not to be seen as the cheap solution.
It’s incredibly hard to get out of that rut once you’re in it. But not to worry, we’re going to go over how to overcome that hurdle, so that you can have access to the quality clients you deserve.
Ask Not What Your Client Can Do For You…
Here’s how most freelance designers attempt to raise their rates. They start with a nice, slightly timid email that goes something like this:
Hi so-and-so, just wanted to let you know I’ll be raising my rates. Sorry to have to do this, but well, you know how it is.
Okay, maybe it’s not exactly in those words, but that’s the general idea.
There’s a reason why this doesn't fly with many clients, and it’s not because they’re all cheapskates who don’t understand the value of your work. The reason this approach rarely works well is because your client has mentally locked you in as being “worth” a certain amount of money.
What’s Your Value?
They probably haven’t done it maliciously, but regardless, that’s how they see you. Your amount of value for X amount of dollars. The way to get around this hurdle is to approach your clients from a value-based perspective, rather than a money-based one.
Rather than simply announcing that you’re going to be raising your rates, think about the kind of value you can provide your clients that would make them eager to pay you more.
If you don’t know the answer, ask them to fill out a client survey. If you’ve done client surveys before, make this one a little bit different. In this survey, you’re trying to figure out what your client’s major concerns are in their business.
Keep the emphasis on what they need; ask what you could do that would make their business more successful.
A Little Bit More
After you've learned what, specifically, your client is looking for in terms of value, it’s time to send them an email detailing your rate change.
First, remind your client exactly what you’ve already done to provide value. This is crucial toestablishing yourself as a freelancer who has been an important asset to your client’s success. (This is your time to brag, so be specific). You didn't just design a website, a logo, or a branded image. You revitalized their business: helped them improve their traffic flow, increased their visibility, helped them make more money.
Based on your survey results, which hopefully you've done with all of your current and recent clients, you will have gotten a sense of the general things the majority of your clients are looking for. The next thing to include in your email is some sort of acknowledgement of this need.
This will be your ‘bait’, so to speak – you’re going to reel the client in on the strength of this next offer. If your clients are really looking for a specific way to get more Twitter followers, for example, try offering them that one service, free of charge. That’s right, this is one time where working for free will actually be a benefit.
The purpose of this offer is not to give away valuable services for free. You’ll want to restrict it to just one service offer, for a limited number of hours. Just a taste of the value they’ll be getting at your newly adjusted rate.
Now if this is a good client whom you've had a good run with, be sure to let them know that. You've helped them with some very important parts of their business – their online presence, their brand, their reputation with their customers. This makes you and your client part of the same money-making team.
Make The Announcement
So now you've detailed exactly what you've done for your client so far. You've offered to provide even more value going forward. You'velaid the foundation to announce your new higher rate. Be clear about what your rates are now, and what they’re going to be in the near future. This is no time to get wishy-washy or timid, no excuses or apologies are necessary – or appropriate.
You work very hard to provide a valuable service to your clients. If you really believe you deserve a raise, your client will believe it as well. If you don’t believe you deserve a raise, they’ll believe that also. So be firm and give a solid ‘no’ to any offers to haggle. If this means you lose a client or two, then so be it. Perhaps you can refer them to another service provider who is more in line with their price range.
The Icing On The Cake
But don’t just stop there! There’s one more important step to cinching the deal and making your clients thrilled to give you more money. The final part of your email ought to include some sort of plan of action you intend to take in the next 2 weeks, 30 days, 3 months, or whatever block of time you feel is appropriate to the work you do.
Give your client something to look forward to, so that they can immediately see the benefit to keeping you around. How long would it take them to find another designer as organized and dedicated as you are? If they are a valuable client, they won’t be interested in finding out.
Why take time out of their schedule to find someone cheaper to do an inferior job when they have a superstar offering them the perfect solution right now? When your clients know they are getting real value, saving real time, making real revenue, they’re less likely to quibble on price.
If all of this sounds like more work than you may have signed up for in the beginning, that’s a good indication to re-evaluate your relationship to providing value for your clients. If you think about it, you’re already getting paid a certain rate for the type of work you do.
Logically, there is no reason to request more money for the exact same thing you’re doing now –going above and beyond your current level is the only way to confidently ask for a raise. As the saying goes, the more you give, the more you get; and nowhere is that more true than in the freelancer-client dynamic.
What Do You Think?What are some strategies you use to raise your rates? Is there anything you can improve on in order to create the kind of valuable relationship with your clients that you want?