It can be nerve-wracking the first time you have to talk to a client about raising your freelance rates. After all, you don’t know if your client will negotiate. You could end up earning less if they choose to stop working with you, instead.
The great thing about being a freelancer is that you are in charge, not your client. But you also have to consider your client’s viewpoint and make it easy for the client to say yes to a higher rate.
That’s why it’s essential to give yourself the ammunition you need to make the rate-raise conversation go smoothly.
There are four steps you need to take:
1. Figure out the “going rate”
Some clients have a maximum figure in mind for writing services, which may not match your ideal target. So it’s helpful to know what other freelancers charge for services similar to yours.
Check out The Contently Freelance Rates Database (mostly U.S.), The NUJ Freelance Fees Guide and Rate for the Job service (mostly U.K.), Writer’s Market, The Editorial Freelancers Association, and Professional Writers Association of Canada for helpful rate resources.
Since each writer and writing job is different, these so-called “going rates” are a way to help you assess the value of your services and help you to set a baseline. This industry knowledge will boost your confidence as you start to think about asking your client for a higher rate.
2. Track your work
Another way to build confidence when considering asking for a rate increase is to work out exactly what you are doing for your clients, because every service has a value.
You have to remind yourself about your value over and over. I learned (again) working for a third-party client via a marketing firm. They itemized a bunch of services I’d hadn’t thought of charging separately for. It made sense, because they all took time and they all added value for the client.
Here are some ways to think about the true value of your work:
- Use a tool like RescueTime to track what you spend your time on each day, or a simple time tracker like Toggl.
- Itemize the subtasks involved in each job. For example, if you write a blog post, remember to include research time, finding images and creating social media messages, if these are part of the job.
- Remember any value-added services you provide, like matching your client’s voice if you’re a ghostwriter.
- Include long phone calls and email handholding on your list. This takes up time and stops you from doing other work.
- Check your client contract to see if you are delivering services above and beyond what’s listed.
Those steps will help you to understand how much work you’re putting in, but there’s one more thing you can do. Track social sharing statistics for the content you create (Buzzsumo is an excellent tool for this).
Social sharing means increased attention, higher search engine prominence and increased authority for your client, so it’s a powerful indicator of the value of your writing.
3. Show your value on your website
When you combine the going rate with the actual value you bring to clients, update your website accordingly. It’s up to you whether you display ideal rates or not, but at the very least, show clients what they get when they work with you. It really makes a difference when you get to the negotiation stage.
When I started freelancing, my website had a bulleted list of services, but no rates. Since then, I’ve expanded it so I have a full page explaining what my clients get from my main services and what those services are worth. That has resulted in better offers, better clients, better pay rates, and less time wasted.
4. Raise those freelance rates!
Once you have an ideal rate in mind — a figure that makes you slightly uncomfortable is a sign that you’re on the right track — you’re ready to have the conversation with your client about raising your rates.
A good starting point is to show clients what they’re getting. When I looked at my work for one client, I realized I was doing way more than we originally agreed. I itemized the value I brought in terms of writing experience, research capability, subject matter knowledge, SEO, and technical ability and compared that with the rate offered by similar clients. I got a hefty raise with no questions asked.
Other ways to raise rates for existing clients include:
- Having a contract and stating up front that rates will be renegotiated at the end of the term. It sets client expectations and makes the process easier.
- Implementing a regular cost-of-living increase. I used to do this every January. I’d give clients a few weeks’ notice, then bill at the new rate when the time came.
Look out for opportunities clients provide during your relationship. One of my clients updated their writing guidelines and sent an email to let me know. I replied and asked whether the update came with a pay raise, and I got one. It wasn’t much, but it covered the additional time needed to comply with the new guidelines.
There’s also a law of increasing returns with successful negotiations. Once one client agrees to pay more, you have more negotiating power with others so your overall income can get a nice boost.
So what if clients say no?
It happens. My usual approach to this news is to make a graceful exit. I try to recommend another freelancer who’s in line with the client’s budget, while freeing myself up to look for higher paid work.
In all cases, I’ve maintained friendly relationships with my former clients and some of them have come back to me when their budget increased.
That’s my approach. How do you handle those tricky rate raising conversations? Good luck!