Why your clients can probably afford to pay you more

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By Joe Corey, founder of Subspace

You are a business


Freelancers of the world, it’s time to set down your MacBooks and fire your clients.

No, not all of them, and not immediately. But you do need to stop clinging to clients who don’t pay you what you’re worth. Your pay is not necessarily their fault – you may have undersold yourself. But if they aren’t willing to raise your rates, they’ll have to go. 

You, my friend, are a business, and I happen to know that your clients can afford to pay you more.

Why freelancers undersell themselves

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. But companies work differently.

Companies operate on a larger scale than most freelancers can 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. As in, how many multiples of $10,000 is something worth? This knowledge has seeped into how I price my work as a freelance writer.

When I negotiate with clients – the very same marketing executives who can afford pricey software – I “bracket” my expectations in terms of what they think things are worth. And as a result, I charge two to three times as much as my peers for similar projects. Companies are happy to pay these rates because the quality justifies it. But I only get there because I know to ask.


How to ask for what you’re worth


Asking for more than you in your heart of hearts believe you are worth is supremely difficult. I know it. I’ve been there, nervously hunched over the phone, voice pealing with fright, afraid the client might simply hang up. Yet there are tricks to overcome this fear:

  • Rethink your brackets - Whatever bracket you think is “fair,” can be changed. I was conditioned to think in terms of business pricing through exposure in sales. Find a way to get exposed. Talk to your friends who aren’t freelancers – especially those in accounting or finance – about their companies’ spending habits. Look at what big marketing and advertising agencies like Ogilvy and Huge charge for services similar to yours.

  • Take improv classes - Strange, I know, but a favorite tip of mine. Improv works wonders at loosening you up for talking to people on the phone and negotiating.

  • Write down your new rates and stick to them - You’ll be tempted to modify your rate on-the-fly based on your client’s reaction. Resist the urge. Write down your numbers 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 – the only thing holding them back was their own self-limiting belief about not being worth it. But you know who didn’t share that belief? Their clients, many of whom, rather than be fired, happily paid more.


Want more tips on making money as a freelancer? Read The Big Book of Freelancer Sales Strategy.

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