When I worked in real estate, the adage, “Location, location, location,” was often overruled by “Pricing, pricing, pricing.” The team I worked for, all experienced realtors, knew that entering the market at the right price was key to getting the best offer for the seller. Too high, and the house might sit on the market for months, causing potential buyers to wonder what was wrong with it without even stepping inside. Pricing too low might cause the same issue, or leave money on the table. Price anomalies could also trigger red flags for lenders and appraisers and jeopardize the transaction. But a house priced appropriately for its location, size, and finishes would likely garner multiple high-quality offers to choose from and a smoother closing process.
Similarly, pricing your freelance work properly can help with more problems than cash flow, such as workload and client management.
Problems You Can Solve By Raising Your Rates
Most of the questions I get about pricing come from a desire to earn more money. But a lot of the other complaints I hear can also be solved by adjusting prices:
“I’m working all the time.”
“My clients are driving me up a wall.”
“I never have time to work ON my business.”
Fortunately, raising your rates can help with all of these issues. Here’s how.
This is simple math: If you net more per hour, you can work fewer hours. If you go from charging $20/hour to $25/hour, you can make $200 in 8 hours instead of 10. That’s 2 hours you just got back! Think how much time you could regain if you raised your rates from $20/hour to $50/hour. Raising your rates also means you can take fewer projects at once. This means less sales, administrative, and client communication time, which, in my experience, typically does not scale proportionally to project size. (In other words, I don’t spend significantly less time selling and managing a $1,000 project compared to a $5,000 project.) My rates are now to the point where I can choose to only have one major project running at any given time. While I’m still working a similar number of hours, I save a lot of mental energy being able to concentrate on one client instead of having to get myself up to speed on a different client every week. (Of course, working faster and smarter is another way to raise your rates without actually changing your prices.)
I was as scared as anyone to raise my rates. I was afraid of running out of clients, but I was also worried that as I asked for more money, the clients would demand more from me. More meetings, more edits, more hand-holding and back-patting and ego-stroking. The opposite turned out to be true. As I raised my prices (and started offering more comprehensive service packages), my clients trusted me more, asking fewer questions, fussing less over revisions, and just handing me the reins to do the thing they hired me for.
I have a few theories about why this happens. For starters, higher rates does weed out those with smaller budgets. (I mean, duh.) There’s nothing wrong with only having a small amount to spend, but in my experience those folks are more reluctant to part with their money, and justifiably so. Secondly, clients with larger budgets tend to have more mature businesses, which they’ve been able to build by understanding their own value. Clients who understand the value of their own time are more likely to respect the value you bring by saving them time and doing the work right the first time.
I’ve always detected a low to medium undercurrent of resentment in the online business community. (And I used to feel it too!) Freelancers complain about needy, indecisive, or flaky clients, and while it’s completely valid to be upset about an unpaid invoice or changes in scope, I also hear a lot of grumbling about regular meetings and emails. Possibly unpopular truth: providing good customer service is part of your job description. If you started your business in order to never deal with people again, I have bad news for you. I think the resentment sets in when we don’t properly account for client emails and meetings, rounds of revision, and other client care tasks. Charging more allows you to deliver a better client experience, which also generates referrals and helps even out the bumps of freelance cash flow. Speaking of which…
Contracting is notoriously unstable, since you never know where the next client will come from or if a current client will decide to break up with you. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Higher billable rates means you can afford to spend time on business development and lead generation. You likely won’t close every prospect you encounter, but if you close 25% or 50% at high enough rates, you can pay for the time spent on the ones who got away.
Busy But Not Productive
Ever wondered where all your time goes in your business? You’re not only doing the work and getting the work, you’ve also got invoices to send, a website to update, email to keep up with, and six thousand other things to do. With more revenue, you can purchase tools or hire help so you can focus on doing your best work. (Ironically, this is a lesson I learned from an otherwise terrible employer who valued her time negotiating contracts at $250/hour and mine…printing emails and designing ugly things in Microsoft Publisher…at $22/hour.)
Now, I always say that money isn’t magic. Plenty of businesses earn lots of revenue but their owners are unhappy. You can, however, improve many common business complaints by adjusting your prices. To see how much you need to bill your clients in order to meet your income goals, sign up below for my free rate calculator and other pricing tips in my newsletter.