Let’s be honest.
As a freelance service provider, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about pay. This is especially true if you offer a highly variable rate that is more project-specific than uniform.
In fact, you might not even think about it until the client asks, “How much?”
Regardless of how you approach payment, today I’m going to show you the approach that works best for maximizing freelance service payouts.
1. Generate more demand for your business.
If you leave with nothing else, understand that your ability to negotiate higher pay is directly linked to your ability to say “No” to a client unwilling to pay your desired (or deserved) rate.
If you can’t say “No” – if each client is a can’t-miss opportunity – you have zero leverage in payment negotiation.
The answer is to generate more and more demand for your business. This is a topic unto itself, but the basics include:
- Word-of-mouth from pleased clients
- Direct referrals requested from clients
- Inbound marketing leads
- Outbound marketing leads
- Cold-call pitching
Not all your leads are going to be able to afford your services, and that’s okay…. IF you have other clients vying for those services.
I would recommend identifying low-investment services on your end that you can offer to clients at a lower cost than your primary service.
For example, I’m a copywriter. I’m a very good copywriter. When I write copy for a website, it’s conversion rate immediately increases, which allows me to charge more for copywriting than most businesses pay for web design.
Accordingly, many of the people who contact me either don’t understand the value of copywriting or simply don’t have the budget to hire my services.
This is why I have a number of secondary options available:
- Content strategy consultation
- Email marketing optimization
- Web design for smaller websites
Each of these activities would take my clients a significant time and knowledge investment to accomplish themselves. Due to my own expertise, I can perform them relatively quickly, making it worth my while to offer them at a lower cost.
This allows me to provide a huge value to clients on smaller budgets without burning through my time and prohibiting me from taking on my primary clients.
2. Bid at the high-end of your accepted pay range.
You should always come into negotiation with an “accepted pay range”.
This range goes from your minimum accepted payment all the way up to the maximum you feel could be reasonably paid for the desired job.
While it’s important to feel out clients and adjust your negotiations accordingly, as a general rule, I would recommend making your opening bid at the top of your accepted pay range. This gives you a chance to maximize your revenue on the project while also giving you ample room to make a lower counter-offer that still pays wells.
Some people will tell you to open with an unreasonably high bid. Here’s why I think that’s a terrible idea.
A) Pitching unreasonably high makes it impossible to deliver value.
The job does not conclude upon reaching payment terms. That’s the beginning. Once an agreement has been reached, you now have to deliver the value your client purchased.
You should ALWAYS deliver value in excess of what you’re being paid.
If you exploit client ignorance in order to land an unreasonably high payment, you will fail to deliver a service worthy of that price, and your brand will suffer. There are plenty of charlatans in the marketing game. Being a value provider is far more rewarding than scamming your way into a few quick bucks.
B) Pitching unreasonably high will scare off legitimate clients.
Clients expect that there will be some negotiation to any hiring process, but this isn’t a third world tourist market. People don’t expect to negotiate an 80% discount.
If you have $500 TV budget and you see a TV on Ebay for $1,500, you aren’t going to try and negotiate the seller into your price range. You are going to forget about it and keep looking.
In the same way, if you pitch $4,000 for a project worth $800, your potential client is simply going to forget about you and move on. If you bid $2,000 and really sell them on your expertise, you can probably get them up to $1,200 quite easily, but at $4k, it’s a forget-and-move-on situation.
3. Counter just low enough for it to be meaningful.
Few price negotiations will conclude with an opening bid. You are going to have to actually negotiate most of the time.
Most potential clients of yours aren’t professional negotiators, and they aren’t looking to lowball you as much as they are looking to get a good value for their hard-earned money.
If your opening bid is countered or rejected, discuss why you charge what you do – aka sell them on your value – and then counter with a lower bid that is just low enough to be a meaningful price decrease.
For example, if you opened bidding with $15,000, and they tell you their budget is $10,000, countering with $14,500 isn’t really a counter at all. By dropping your 2nd bid to $12,500, you can make clients feel like you are making a genuine attempt to provide them with an exceptional value. This will typically activate the principal of reciprocity, and you will find your counter offer accepted more often than not.
4. Never go below your minimum.
Many of you probably do everything I’ve just listed.
- You bid high.
- You counter.
- You feel out your client.
But there comes a time when your client simply says “No. I’ll pay you _____ and no more.”
Maybe you don’t even get there. Maybe you bend over backwards just to avoid hearing that.
We’ve all been there. Nobody likes to lose a paying client, ESPECIALLY when you are just starting out and paid clients aren’t exactly an everyday opportunity.
I’m going to say this again as simply as I can.
If you want to get paid more, you have to be willing to say “No”.
Never, never, never go below the minimum you set for yourself in point #1. You might really want to in the moment, but here’s why it’s a bad idea.
- You will feel very dissatisfied while performing the job, which leads to lower quality work.
- If other opportunities open up, you will be tempted to treat this client as 2nd class.
- You will eliminate the possibility of higher pay by accepting the lower offer.
I have clients come back to me all the time after saying “No, that’s too high.” If you are good at what you do in a field with limited supply, there will always be demand.
But I don’t get those contracts at the desired price if I just say “Yes, okay, I’ll do it at that rate.” I may even have plenty of time to do the extra work, but I NEVER go below my minimum, and you shouldn’t either if you want to get higher pay from your clients.
Next Step: Upsell
You’ll never reach your earning goals by accepting every lowball offer that comes your way. At the same time, the initial contract you negotiate isn’t the final word on how much you earn from a given client.
Once you begin working for a new client, you have the ability to build trust, overdeliver value, and then upsell that client to a higher paying contract. By simply packaging and upselling my services, I was able to double my income practically overnight, and I’ve put together this guide to upselling for further reading.