Sometimes we freelancers have difficulty communicating our value. We want to lead, but end up following the whims of our clients, getting tossed and turned to please each one and losing our way in the process.
If you don’t have solid operating policies and a set of uncompromising values, you will end up in a state of constant gear-shifting to please this client this way and that client that way. You’ll give in to discounting for one client and not for another, and although you want to create excellent work for both, you won’t be able to because you’ll resent the client for whom you’ve discounted your work.
You’ll end up frustrated and spent if you shift gears for each client. Your creative process becomes muddy, resulting in low-quality work, and your creative energy is sapped. You lose your drive and have difficulty focusing. You’ll end up wondering what you’re doing this for in the first place and seriously consider giving up and finding a day job.
How do I know this? I’ve experienced this very syndrome. I was unable to attract good clients because I wasn’t able to communicate my worth to them. I accepted every client that came along, ending up not being paid in full or at all, many times. You can’t build your business and make a living that way.
Your success will come from promoting yourself as a high-value creative partner to the types of clients you prefer working with.
You’ll do as much work, spend as much time and effort for a discounted client as for a full-price client. I guarantee you that those discount clients will be more demanding than the higher paying clients, which leads to resentment and frustration on your part.
The difference between discounting your services for Client A and charging Client B full price is one of positioning and communication. Both of these are value propositions.
The problem is this: You want to do a certain level of work for a specific caliber of client. You want to work with people who value you. So let’s talk about how to communicate your value.
There are six things you should be doing to communicate your value effectively.
1] Create your communications plan.
Yes, you need to plan what out what to say and when to say it ahead of time. This is also known as your marking plan, which should be consistent with your brand promise.
Create a digital or paper calendar — or both — on which all your outreach communications for the upcoming quarter are posted. This should include touch points such as:
- Web site
- Landing page(s)
- Social media
- Email promotions
- Email newsletters
- Direct mail promotions (printed postcards, brochures)
- Entering competitions
Double-check and cross-reference so the calendar includes everything you plan to do.
Then, review carefully to see if there are conflicts or overlaps in the schedule, and if you are able to schedule the time required to do the work. In the past I’ve set too high a goal for some promotions because I was unrealistic about what I could accomplish.
2] Determine your focus.
You should already have an overall tagline or promise statement — what you’re known for — and are sure of the key benefits for your clients to work with you.
If you haven’t seriously considered the key benefits of working with you as opposed to someone else in your niche, you won’t be able to communicate your value.
Your goal should be to have a big impact in a small market.
Are you multi-passionate? That’s okay… you will have different audiences and will need to segment or your communications plans.
So take the time required to figure out what makes you unique — your special sauce. It can be approach, style, personality, longevity… Whatever it is, you need to land on it and make it a cornerstone of your communications efforts.
So the focus for the upcoming quarter is… what? What specifically do you want your target audience to know?
Maybe it’s a package of services offered for a set fee. Maybe it’s the advantages of a retainer with you. Maybe it’s an offer of analytics along with web design services. Maybe it’s a personal project you’ve been working on, or a case study of a particular client project.
3] Position as a problem-solver, not an artist.
What problems do you solve for your clients? Narrowing your focus will increase your perceived value.
How do you solve those problems differently and more effectively than your competitors? Your approach will narrow your target audience and increase your perceived value.
In your communications plan, write down your answers to these questions:
- What specific problems does your audience have that you can solve effectively with little risk on their part?
- How do you solve problems for your clients so that their situations are transformed?
- In what ways can you communicate your value so that you’re perceived as the least risky choice in your niche?
- How will you differentiate yourself in relation to your competitors? How will you stand out and become known?
Be sure your communications focus is in line with your brand message. Consistency is key.
4] Describe your ideal outcome.
What response do you want them to have? Confidence in your expertise? Curiosity about your service offerings? Contacting you to discuss illustrating their next book?
Decide on the best call to action (CTA). What is your intended result, and how will you set up the ask?
Know in advance what you want to have happen will guide your communications efforts.
5] Plan your budget.
Think in terms of time as well as money.
You can always get more money. But time is not a renewable resource.
For time, how long will it take you to create each communication? To research, write, design, illustration, set up email, prep files for printing, design a landing page… and set aside the appropriate amount of time (with margin) to get it done. Block out the time on your calendar. Commit to it and follow through.
For money, figure out how much is required. Postage, email services, hosting services, printing, promoted ads, affiliate campaigns, sponsorships, directory ads, subscription services… Set yourself a realistic number that fits your budget.
6] Get to work.
With your brand promise and focus in mind, start working on the design, fonts, images, colors and verbiage of your outreach pieces. Plan out everything tall at once before you execute so that there’s similarity among all your efforts, and consistency so everything works together to build up your perceived value.
Consider upgrading your website. Your communication hub is your website. It’s the one piece of virtual real estate that’s completely under your control.
What if you don’t have your own website are are relying on Behance, Creative Hotlist or other online platforms? You need your own website to communicate your value! Just having your own website legitimizes you as a creative professional.
A poorly-crafted, confusing or non-existent website is a barrier to entry for high-paying clients. You want to create a site that’s a barrier to entry for low-paying clients.
Use the same visual branding — look and feel — from your website to your social media profiles to your printed collateral and business card.
Bring your work up to snuff
Your work must be consistent with the level of your brand promise. If you promise your clients something and can’t “prove” it with the work that’s in your portfolio, you have to level up.
Budget the time necessary to create the kind of work you want to become known for.
Similar to dressing for success — for the kind of job you want to get, your needs to represent the quality your prospective clients expect. Do what’s necessary to attract the caliber of client you want to work with.
Believe that you’re worth it
Self-talk matters. You can hold yourself back and become your own stumbling block through self-limiting beliefs.
Belief is an internal thing. But it plays out and becomes apparent in your decisions and actions. It shows up in the words you speak and the way your present your work. It shows up in how you treat people.
What you believe about your expertise, knowledge and value is what you’ll communicate in the marketplace. Are you worth more than you’re charging now? Do you solve small problems (I design logos) or big problems (I create your visual brand).
What you believe about your expertise, knowledge and value is what you’ll communicate in the marketplace.
Be aware of your self-talk. Do you complain a lot? Do you make excuses? Do you blame others for your current circumstances? Do you expect others to do what you need to do for yourself? Do you rehearse offenses over and over again? Do you accuse others? Do you put yourself down? Do you compare yourself with others, and your work with theirs?
Change your mind. Seriously! Get rid of limiting beliefs and harmful words that hold you back from doing your best work and pursuing the best clients. If you need to, write out positive affirmation statements and read them aloud to yourself every day. What you hear over and over again shapes how you think.
We will always default to our lowest level of effort. To increase your perceived value so you can attract better clients and command higher fees, you’ll need to make concerted, deliberate effort to change. You need to understand your special sauce, your uniqueness, and that you have skills and knowledge that can transform people’s lives for the better.