What would you say to doubling or tripling your rate within the next six months? Worthwhile? Or would you rather keep hanging on to the lower rungs of the freelancing/contracting ladder?
Pick a profession or set of skills, and I all but guarantee you'll find a wide range of salaries and other compensation schemes. Lawyers are famous for making ridiculous amounts of money, and many do, but there are also plenty who feel lucky making $40k a year. Janitors are assumed to be at the bottom of the wage pool, and plenty of them are barely making minimum wage, but there are others who can probably afford a nicer car than you.
In the world of freelance/contract work, the disparity is even more extreme. Not only is there an international pool of talent competing for much of the same work, but it's up to each individual freelancer or company to try and figure out what the "market rate" is and what they should be charging for their graphic design, video production, web development, copywriting, and so on.
Here's the thing: there is no market rate. I know US-based writers who still think $0.02/word or $20/hour is a great gig, and I know writers who won't get out of bed unless the job pays twenty times that much. I know video producers who chase after actors, trying to edit reels at $100 a pop, and I know small production companies charging five figures for every minute of a completed sales video.
If you're ready to ditch the small stuff and focus on higher-end, higher-value clients, here are five things you'll need to do.
1. Charge More
So, duh. If you want your clients to pay you more, you're going to have to charge them more. And yes, that means some of your current clients will leave and may even feel somehow offended, and other prospective clients will flee from you in horror and find someone on Fiverr that suits their needs instead.
Let them go.
The prices you charge don't just reflect the value you place on your time. Your prices reflect the value you create for your clients. If you want higher-value clients, you need to show them that you produce higher-value work. You can't do that with bargain basement prices.
2. Be a Son of a Niche
Your first foray into the world of high falutin and fancified clients needs to be targeted.
"I want high end graphic design work" is bad.
"I want to design logos for tech start-ups that have already acquired more than three million in capital during an initial round of funding" is better. You've got a specific product (logos) and a very specific client (startups in the tech world with already-eager VC backing).
Now, might these tech startups have other design work for you besides their logos? And might they also introduce you to friends at other startups and companies that don't quite meet your criteria? Yup. And that can turn a one time gig into a steady revenue stream at the higher rates you've been looking for. Getting your foot in the door is easiest when you focus on as tight a niche as possible and go after it aggressively.
3. Let Them Do the Talking
This one is so amazingly simple to put into practice, and actually works at all levels of client acquisition—and even more so with higher end clients.
They will talk themselves into the sale if you give them room to do it.
During your initial conversations, let them do the talking. Answer direct questions completely but as briefly as possible, and don't explain lots of details you think are important but they haven't asked about. The more you talk, the less you are listening to your potential clients needs and business objectives.
Give them the space they need to talk about their needs, objectives and what keeps them up at night. If they believe that you understand this better than anyone else, they'll be willing to pay you beaucoup bucks for the execution.
4. Answer, Cater, Deliver
Customer service is important everywhere, but if you want high-end clients as a freelancer or small contract-based business you need to step up your game.
The people who are willing to shell out top-dollar for goods and services expect a top-shelf experience in return. Be ready to answer immediately following any contact from them, be succinct yet comprehensive in your replies, find out what special add-ons and working methods they're after and cater to those desires, and deliver everything you promise and more at or before your deadline.
Look at your client relationships as service-oriented rather than product-oriented, and be a world-class concierge.
You want to take your pay from "good enough" to "the sky's the limit." The clients that will enable you to do that never settle for "good enough," either, so be prepared to stretch your limits in your approach and interactions. (This doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't fire "bad clients" when they crop up, but more on that in a future post).
5. Be Really Good at What You Do
I'll close this out with another "no duh" that is unfortunately overlooked by many in the freelance and contractor world. Just as you have to charge more if you want to earn more, you need to be really good at what you do if you want to attract clients who appreciate the value of work well done.
This means taking an objective and even critical view of your own work—there is always room for improvement. You don't have to tell your clients that, but when it's a genuine part of your internal practice it shows in the quality of your output. Learn, keep on top of relevant trends in your field and in your clients' industries, and make sure what you offer is making the most of the current environment.
Take all feedback objectively, whether it's from a client or someone else, and see if there's any merit to it. Rejecting an outside perspective because you simply don't like a guy or because you don't think they know what they're talking about is a defensive move that keeps you from improving. Some criticism is plain old bullsh*t, of course, but you'll never know it if you don't poke it with the toe of your boot and sniff around a bit.
Examine your work and the feedback you receive, and make sure you're up to snuff. When you're sure you're ready for the big leagues, the field is wide open: head out and start swinging.