Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut with your pricing? Do you want to charge more per hour or per project, but for some reason you keep falling back into charging your current rates or being asked to discount? Do you want to go from being a $25.00/hour freelancer to a $100.00/hour freelancer?
First, understand that you don’t have a pricing problem. You have a perception problem.
You’re not alone. Everyone wants to make more money. Money is a necessary tool for living and it’s not immoral to want to make a living from the creative work you love to do. Thousands of freelancers want — and need — to increase their revenue. But many clients are looking to pay as little as possible. They’ll end up looking on Fiverr or another project bidding source, and we can’t compete with that.
I pursued one prospective client a few years back that appeared to be a perfect fit. It was a marginally successful catering company serving the private jet industry. The owner wanted to grow her business and needed cohesive and consistent branding, which she didn’t have. I met with the owner several times, discussed her needs in detail and parlayed over budget and timelines. When I offered the proposal, she sat across from me and told me I was charging too much. Item by item she crossed out my figures and wrote in her own. In my eyes, the overall branding program was worth several thousand dollars. Her revisions totaled less than $400.00. Her rationale: She could get it all done cheaper elsewhere.
I agreed with her. Then I explained, “But you cannot compare my expertise, experience and track record to that of a twenty-five-dollar-an-hour designer. I’ve helped businesses and organizations build their enterprises and enjoy long-term success. I’m not a technical support person who’s simply creating a brochure. You can get that anywhere, very cheap. I’m a reliable creative partner who will come alongside, understand your business and become your very own visual evangelist. What’s that worth to you? If it’s not worth much to you, I’m not your designer.”
I walked away from that meeting realizing that I hadn’t done well in communicating my value to her. I hadn’t taken the time to truly understand her industry and position myself as a reliable creative partner to help her scale her business.
Here’s the thing. You can be in business 30 years or more and you’re still going to run into clients who expect you to be charging the same rate as an entry-level designer. Or they’re going to compare you to everyone on Fiverr. There is no getting around the general perception that all creative work should cost the same and all creatives are equal in caliber, experience and wisdom.
Raising your creative rates comes down to two principles:
To charge more… you need to BE more to your clients.
To charge more, you need to communicate that you ARE more.
What’s the difference between a $25.00/hour freelancer and a $100.00/hour freelancer?
To charge more, you need to bring more to the table than your talent and craft. Stop pursuing projects and start pursuing clients. You need to bring vision, insight and knowledge along with your skill and talent. If you have natural talent but you’ve not channeled that into disciplined skills, your talent has no value. The world is full of talented people. Creatives who thrive follow certain paths to success and do the hard work of building a business around their talent. It’s hard work.
You need to walk in with a vision for their success in their marketplace.
Beyond that, you need to be able to go deep and wide with your client, guiding them to form their messaging and overall brand. And then you need to craft the most excellent visuals for their marketing and client retention efforts. And then you need to be able to help implement and manage their brand, even if you don’t continue with the client after the creative work is completed.
You need to walk in with a vision for their success in their marketplace. Here are two scenarios to consider:
Designer Kevin has an impressive portfolio of package design work. The client asks him to design a label for a their new product which is launching soon. They discuss project specs, work out the terms, and Joe comes back with a couple of initial concepts. One is chosen, and Kevin follows the specs to the letter, creates the final design and provides the mechanical art for printing. Kevin moves on to his next project.
Designer Kurt is also a polished packaging designer. During his initial conversation with the client he asks about their vision for the product, about their preferred customers and the needs the product fulfills. Kurt, who has done some research on the client before meeting with them, asks how the new product will fit in their current offerings. He asks questions that encourage the client to share more. Then he responds with a description about how he can help the client build awareness for the product, how he can create designs that differentiate the product and increase its perceived value. Kurt positions himself as a creative partner, not a wrist. He follows up with a comprehensive design proposal based on their conversation. He creates the design, has meaningful discussions with the client about direction along the way, and provides the mechanical art for printer. He works with the printer to ensure quality, and stays in touch with the client throughout the process. The client asks him to develop packaging for their next product.
Designer Kevin followed the specs and gave the client exactly what they asked for. Designer Kurt took ownership of the project and nurtured not only the design process but the relationship with the client by taking up the client’s cause.
So, you can give a client exactly what they ask for and call it done, or you participate in the client’s vision and improve on it.
What’s more valuable? Following the client’s direction or leading it on behalf of the client? What will the client pay more for?
I’m at my creative best when I own the vision for my clients and they’re trusting me to run with it and bring them along. It’s on me to envision and create a platform that will elevate them in their marketplace. I need to do more than technical execution on a design. I need to help my client grow their enterprise.
If I don’t do that, I’m just one more creative wrist competing in the vast sea of creative wrists. Creative wrists are tech support and don’t command more than $25.00/hour.
To build your revenue, get the client to see you as the visionary they need, who has the resources and ideas they need to get their message out into the world in a significant way.
Command premium fees by bringing creative vision. Take the lead in providing ideas and insight. This is what consultants do.
Five ways to become more valuable to your clients:
Invest in their vision for their business. Really and truly take up their cause as a creative. What I mean by this is that you care for their branding, marketing communications and photographic identities as much as you care for your own, for as long as you’re working with them. Understand what’s at stake for them if they don’t succeed.
Learn about their industry. Find out what the over-arching industry concerns are. How can you position your client to not only rise above their competitors but actually impact their industries for the good.
Use comprehensive project proposals. Instead of sending a simple cost estimate for creative services and expenses, take the time to create a well-designed multiple-page proposal package complete with front and back covers, a table of contents, a summary of the client’s situation and purpose for the design, item descriptions, schedule, and budget breakdown. This will impress upon the client up front that you’re bringing something valuable to the table and you’re not just another type of mechanic creating mechanicals.
Take the lead. Instead of expecting your client to spearhead the project, take the point and guide them. Don’t wait for the client to tell you what to do. Initiate each and every next step. Ask many questions — intellgently. Be proactive in moving the project forward.
Upsell. Suggest other designs. Being on social media is all well and good, but the client may not realize that to succeed they also need lead magnets and marketing funnels. You can suggest these to them as ways to further increase awareness and build customer loyalty. By doing this you’ll also create more work for yourself for which the client will gladly pay when they understand the value.
In summary, to rise to the $125.00/hour level, you need to change how your clients see you and their understanding of your role in their long-term success. Know your clients and their industries, improve your craft, keep your skills up to date, always create your very best work, and be a reliable leader, adviser and advocate for your client.