Testing the market allows you to see if you can earn more for what you’re doing, aligns your growing experience with what you’re producing, and can push you up to the next income bracket (because who doesn’t like making more money?) However, like asking for a raise, convincing someone to pay you more for the same work that you did yesterday at a lesser price is hard. But it’s vital to survive in business.
In more than 10 years of owning a business, plus talking with many other business owners, I’ve seen that the business owners who are the least confident are the ones who most need to just go for it and increase their rates because they’re usually dramatically undercharging.
Here are four strategies that I recommend people use when making the ask to earn what they believe their work is worth.
1. Set a high (and low) standard.
In addition to thinking about the rates you would like to start charging, set a standard for the minimum rate you will now accept. This means that you may choose not to do certain projects anymore, if you can’t negotiate a higher fee. Or that the one-off assignment for a few hundred bucks no longer makes sense, unless it can be a recurring thing. Or that the time-consuming gig that has an unfavorable hourly rate is no longer in your best interest. By establishing an earnings floor, you ensure that you’re not diluting your increased rates with lots of low paying work.
2. Factor the value of your skill and experience into the going rate.
When something comes naturally to you, it can seem wrong to charge a large amount of money for it. And the more you do something, the easier it becomes, causing you to think about charging less to, say, paint a sign that now takes you two hours to complete rather than the four it took when you were starting out. But don’t discount your skills or experience level when factoring your rate. Something that takes you a short amount of time might be impossible for your clients to create on their own. Plus, many professionals, from lawyers to plumbers, are paid certain going rates, regardless of whether their job was easy or difficult. Similarly, you should be compensated for the value you contribute. Factor your skills and experience into the going market rate and charge that amount, rather than calculating how long or simple the job is for you.
3. Step past clients up slowly.
If you’ve charged the same amount for a long time and now want to make a jump, it can make you nervous to share the news with past clients. One way to overcome this challenge is to change your pricing structure from hourly to a package or project fee, so no one gets sticker shock. If you’ve gotten faster over time, even better. There will be little change in what you’re invoicing, but you’ll free up more time for billable work.
Another strategy is to let clients know the full increase but note that because they’re a valued customer, you will offer them a lower rate between your old rate and new rate. Finally, if clients resist the increased rates you can consider continuing to work with them at your current level with the understanding that in six months you will renegotiate the contract. This gives you time to build up other higher paying clients and for them to adjust their budgets.
4. Begin by starting new clients off at your new, higher rate.
If you already have a steady stream of work or multiple clients on retainer, one of the best ways to raise your rates is to ask for a significantly larger number the next time a new client reaches out for a job. Maybe it is a figure you’ve been contemplating charging, but haven’t yet done so with current clients. Since a new client is coming to you, you’ve got some leverage in the matter. And, if they say yes, you’ve just broken through to a new earnings echelon. If they say no, then you can always negotiate something closer to your normal fee, which will then feel like a bargain to them.
How about you?
How did you negotiate higher rates for your services?