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Freelancers: How to Charge More For the Work You Do

If you're self-employed, follow these steps to get fewer clients and larger bills


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We’ve all heard the saying “work smarter, not harder,” and when it comes to being paid for your work, it’s possible to put in the same amount of effort — or even less than you do now— yet still make more money.

If that sounds ridiculous to you, it’s not — but higher paying clients don’t just fall into your lap, it takes ongoing effort. While it might be simpler or safer to work with a slew of lower paying clients, freelancers can swim upstream to position themselves to charge more for their services and receive higher fees. However, the number one challenge freelancers have is consistently getting more — and better-paying — clients.

Increased Competition? So What?

Far too many freelancers believe there’s too much competition in the world of work. There are too many other freelancers, and low-cost offshore providers exasperate the issue by bringing down rates and fees. Additionally, freelancing platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer and Outsourcely ultimately create an even more competitive environment by commodifying freelance work.

According to Ed Gandia, co-author of “The Wealthy Freelancer” and successful freelance copywriter, speaker and coach, “there’s a related assumption that economic uncertainty is putting a squeeze on everyone and making it really difficult or even impossible to land good projects, good clients, good fees.”

But part of that is due to the notion that not all freelance work is created equal. Not every client is going to have the same wants, needs and expectations, and as such, different levels of client work ought to receive different compensation.

Think of it like a pyramid that as we move up, the number of opportunities are decreasing toward the top. Most of the available freelance work exists at a level that’s being commoditized, and most clients are unwilling to pay good rates for this work, but remember: you choose your pool of prospects, they don’t choose you. While there are so many clients looking for freelancers at this level, it’s a race to the bottom floor, the bargain basement, if you will.

The next level is an evolution beyond looking for the lowest-cost provider. Clients want better quality — and are willing to pay for it — but they still treat freelancers as easily replaceable. While cost isn’t the main factor, it will play into a prospective client’s decision whether to work with you.

The third level is where we start to see a difference in the client-to-freelancer ratio. Here, clients are not necessarily interested in getting bids from multiple providers, they want a trusted partner who can add tremendous value. This level requires freelancers to leverage their background, expertise, creativity and experience working in different industries and with different clients. Go the extra mile, and position yourself as a trusted expert — higher paying clients will follow.

Due to the perception of increased competition, a lot of freelancers feel that clients are not recognizing their true value and paying them accordingly. While many freelancers feel like they might not be able to charge more for their services for whatever reason — be it intense competition or the commoditization of creative work on digital platforms — there are steps self-employed service professionals can take when it comes to building trust and ultimately charging more for the work that they do.

Step One: Determine Who Your “Ideal Client” Is

When it comes to finding your ideal client, what worked for one person may not work for others, but if you are compatible with a client, that’s where the higher paying and more satisfying work comes. Finding clarity surrounding who your ideal client is will be essential to your success. 

Create a persona —  if you’re choosing who you want to work with, then you should have a good idea of what industry your ideal client operates in, what size their business is, what their wants and needs are for a particular project, whether your primary contact has decision-making power, whether they value you as a key member of the team and perhaps most importantly, whether they’ll have consistent work for you.

Take your past experiences and look at the positive occurrences, then develop personas for those favorable clients because determining your ideal client is an ongoing and evolving process.

Step Two: Pursue “Hungry” Markets

Another way to attract higher paying clients is to focus on hungrier markets, or markets that would be willing to pay more for your services. Clients in hungry markets can pay double or triple what other lower paying clients in different industries would pay you for the same or similar services.

Step Three: Market Yourself to Attract the Clients You Want

If you only prospect for clients when you’re out of work, then you’re probably going to take the first project you can get. That’s not only a recipe for the worst possible compensation, it also creates a vicious cycle.

Create a system for evaluating good and bad clients to assess what’s working for you. Focus on the positive experiences and ask yourself how you found that client. Did they come to you? How did they find out about you? If you went to them, what was your approach? Determining the answers to these questions will begin to paint a clearer picture of what’s working and what’s not when it comes to attracting better, higher paying clients.

The next step is turning this process into a habit, not something to be done only when the well runs dry. Consistency makes all the difference in attracting your ideal client because you’re not scrambling to find work.

Step Four: Deliver Exceptional Service

Easier said than done, delivering exceptional service truly is the key to landing higher paying clients. Beyond the actual work that you do, service involves the way you interact with clients and bending over backwards mile to truly make them happy. 

Beyond that, take an active and sincere interest in your client’s business or industry. Think about what they’re doing or what else they could be doing to be successful. Consider what you can bring to the table that would help them grow. When you’re invested in your clients, they’ll begin to see you as part of their team and place a higher premium on your input.

In the end, not all freelance work is created equal, freelancers that intentionally work to become valuable partners their clients can trust put themselves in a position to receive higher fees. Figure out who your ideal client is, pursue hungry markets, market yourself to attract your ideal client and then deliver exceptional service. These steps will allow the dedicated freelancer to earn more in less time, doing work they love for better clients.

Brian Clark is a serial entrepreneur and the host of Unemployable, a podcast and newsletter that helps freelancers and entrepreneurs build powerful small businesses.

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