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Freelancers of the world, it’s time to set your MacBooks and spreadsheets down and fire your clients.
No, not immediately, but eventually: you’re going to want to find new ones who pay you what you’re worth and if your old clients won’t raise their rates in response, they’ll have to go. That’s because you, my friend, are a business, and your business clients can afford to pay you more.
Why you’re probably underselling yourself
There’s a great disparity in what most freelancers accept and what companies are willing to pay. This is due to a psychological principle called “bracketing.” It’s something you learn about in sales, where I started my career. It works like this: All value is relative. If you’re used to paying $1,000 per month in rent, $2,000 is expensive. And if you’re used to $2,000, $3,000 seems high.
As a freelancer, you’re very likely basing the amount you charge your clients on things you personally pay for. A coffee is small, a dinner is medium, and rent is big. You might rejoice if a client is willing to pay “big,” but you’ll accept medium. Companies, however, work differently.
Companies themselves are big and operate on dramatically larger scales than freelancers typically imagine. I should know—I used to sell marketing software to businesses in packages ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 per month. I worked with marketing executives who thought in blocks of $10,000, as in, “How many tens of thousands is something worth?” And this has seeped into how I price my work as a freelance writer.
When I negotiate with clients—the very same marketing executives—I “bracket” my expectations in terms of what they think things are worth. And as a result, I charge 2 to 3 times many peers for very similar projects. But, while the conclusion that you should be charging more is obvious, the path there often isn’t.
How to ask for what you’re worth
Asking for more than you in your heart believe you are worth is supremely difficult. I know it. I’ve been there—nervously hunched over the phone, voice pealing with fright, afraid they’ll simply hang up. Yet there some tricks to help you overcome this fear:
- Recondition yourself - Whatever bracket you think is “fair,” can be changed. I was reconditioned to think in terms of business pricing by being exposed to it in sales. Find a way to get exposed too. Talk to your friends who aren’t freelancers—especially those in accounting or finance—about their companies’ budgets. Look at what big agencies charge for similar services to yours.
- Take improv classes - A strange tip, I know, but a favorite of mine. Improv works wonders at loosening you up for negotiations and talking to people on the phone.
- Write down your new rates and stick to them - You’ll be tempted to modify these on-the-fly based on your client’s reaction but resist the urge. Write your numbers down and stand firm.
- Ask for more than you want - This is practically the first rule in all negotiations: If you want $1,000, ask for $1,250. Only two things can happen: the customer asks for a discount and you end up with what you originally wanted or they say yes and you get more than you expected. Plus, if you do offer the customer a discount, they’ll value your service more highly than if you hadn’t. They’ll be thrilled to get a “deal.” If they balk and buy nothing, no sweat. That wasn’t a client you wanted anyway because they can’t afford to pay you what you’re worth.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy
It takes tremendous effort and serious courage to stand up and ask for more money. It will push you beyond your comfort zone. But I can tell you from experience that more often than not, you’ll be met with little to no resistance. Countless peers have tried this and reported having an epiphany that the only thing holding them back was the self-limiting belief that they weren’t worth it. But you know who didn’t share that belief? Their clients, who rather than be fired, happily paid more.
Want more tips on making money as a freelancer? I wrote an entire guide on the subject: The Big Book of Freelancer Sales Strategy. It’s free and I’d love to hear what you think.
Chris got his start selling software and now helps B2B companies ditch the jargon and grow by telling stories. Join his newsletter for writers: https://findaway.media/newsletter.