The year 2019 marks my 10th year of self-employment as a web designer / developer. Statistically, they say that most new businesses fail. So, a solid decade isn’t a bad milestone!
Lately, I’ve come across many articles on how freelancers and self-employed professionals should set pricing. Most of the methods suggested are common-sense-oriented. Get to know the going rate, jump into the game with some reasonable figure, and start working. Over time, after you’re more experienced, ratchet up your rates. It’s not rocket science.
(Nor is the concept of value-based pricing, which you should also research if you’re unfamiliar with it.)
But, there is one aspect that I feel many of these articles miss. So, I’m going to attempt to explain it here. It’s only for experienced freelancers, though. (The tactic will not work for newbies. Sorry!)
Surviving the Early Years
As I mentioned, most businesses fail. That is … eventually. Statistically, they fail over time, usually a period of years. Typically, the freelance life tends to become cyclical — a “feast or famine” existence where you’re either doing client work or out looking for more clients.
Add to that the tough early lessons learned. Many start out with rates far too low, set at sub-market levels in order to attract initial clients based on price alone. (Fair enough, as you can’t compete on experience when you’re starting out!) But, then there are the realities of taxes and business licenses and equipment and health care— costs of doing business that newbies tend to overlook.
Soooner or later, living like this, you start to realize that your fees need to increase substantially if you’re going to make it long-term. That’s simple logic — it’s not only in your personal best interest, but also your business’ best interest, to realize higher fees.
Clients, on the other hand, often take the opposite view. The more they pay you, the less money they have for other services, and/or for themselves. So, it’s the classic clash, right?
I’m going to give you one strategy that plays into all of this. But first, I have to say this: You have to be worth it to begin with. There’s no getting around that part. But, I see a lot of people who are worth it, yet aren’t realizing their fee potential.
Ok, so here’s the lesson:
- Set your rates at a premium, and be able to justify those rates, alone, via various normal sales points. Those might include, “we’re more experienced, we’re highly efficient, we’re different / better / more thorough / etc.” I can’t say what “premium” means for you, or what the sales points are. That all depends on your field. But, I do mean strongly on the higher-end for whatever it is that you do.
- Explain to your client(s) that you’ve been doing this a long time and you’re not going anywhere (as opposed to your competition or your alternative). Let them know that it’s in their best interest to hire someone who’s not only proven, but also committed to staying in business for the forseeable future. (Driving home this last point is critical.)
Not all clients … but the better clients, in my opinion … tend to want both experience and stability when it comes to hiring freelancers. And, the value of stability is massive — probably significantly more than most realize.
Ergo, if you can show that (1) you’ve been doing what you do for a long time (or, at least several years), (2) are good at what you do, and (3) plan to keep doing this for a long time to come … that gives them an assurance that helps justify premium rates. And you may well be the only one being considered who is making this point.
The fact is, your survival as a freelancer is in more than just your own best interest. It benefits the client substantially. Clients *should* actively want you to succeed long-term, even if only out of their own self-interest — and you should convince them of this!
Summed up in two scenarios, it’s like this:
- Paying $50/hour for someone who may well be gone tomorrow is seen as an expense. There is no real ROI for the client, aside from having the work done. If your rates are $100/hour, you clearly won’t win work if the client will only pay $50/hour. So, you’re going to lose these bids, as these are clients who treat your service as a commodity, anyway. And really, this kind of work (at least in my experience) is worse in many ways, not the least of which is the quality of the client.
- Paying $100/hour on a long-term asset or partner (i.e., you!) is seen as an investment. The ROI here is that, over time, someone will understand their business more deeply, become efficient and agile in implementing new work and/or changes to existing work, and suggest better-quality, more informed solutions and ideas going forward.
You can’t forget that, what clients ultimately want is indeed the same as what normal people want. They want peace of mind. Bigger and/or more experienced clients have been in business for a long time. They’ve seen their share of disasters, and appreciate someone who will be there when needed.
So, my advice is to leverage your stability — alongside your other sales tactics, of course. It’s just one more thing that I suspect many experienced freelancers tend to leave out.