How designers can charge more without having an awkward client conversation

raise-design-rates-graphic-design-blender
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You all know April, right?

If you don’t yet, I would recommend you read through some of her posts here at GDB. She’s quickly becoming a seriously great author on this blog.

Not only does she write about some awesome stuff (as evidenced by the number of comments, tweets, and shares that her posts get), but she’s also a great business person. (At least I think so, after you read this post, let me know if you agree or if I’m completely off my rocker.)

Why April is a good business person and what you can learn from her…

I learned just how awesome she is recently when we had a business discussion of our own.

After she wrote a great guest post, I decided to bring April on to write a post about once a week here at GDB and we agreed on a price that worked for both of us.

Then we agreed that after 90 days, we’d talk about our arrangement and see how it works out. (This is a really long lead in, but I’m getting to a super-helpful point here.)

Turns out, that 90 days expired recently and April emailed me to catch up.

I told her I couldn’t raise my pay right now since the blog just couldn’t support it to which she came back with this reply:

“Glad you want to keep me around! I’m really enjoying writing for GDB….So another contract for 90 days?”

See what she did there?

Did you catch it? I almost missed it.

At first I thought she just committed me to another 90 day agreement.

But that’s the genius part of it (get it?) – she wasn’t only committing me to the next 90 days…more importantly, she was saying:

In 90 days, we’ll talk again about how much you’re paying me.

(That’s right, April. I’m on to you. I’ve got you all figured out.)

What this means for you

So what does this have to do with freelance designing or running your own design business?

Imagine you have a client who you do steady work for at $100/hour.

Have you ever realized that, after working at that rate for a while, you need to increase your rates in order to stay profitable?

That leads to a very awkward conversation.

So how do you avoid the awkward conversation? Train your client to expect to discuss money with you on a regular basis. For April and me, it’s 90 days. In 90 days, I fully expect her to contact me and ask how we’re doing money-wise.

And it won’t be awkward.

Now, I’m not saying you’ll necessarily get more money out of your client. But if you know (and your client knows) that you’ll be talking about it every three months, the likelihood of a rate-raise happening when you need it is much more likely.

A caviat

I can already hear some of you saying: “But this only works with long-term clients. I only have short-term clients.”

I get it.

But if you only work with short term clients, then just raise your rates whenever you need/want to. You don’t have to charge every client the same fixed rate.

This is a great solution for long-term clients: the ones that will be paying you on a regular basis for continuous work.

Does this work?

Thanks, April, for such a great idea. What do the rest of you think? Will this work? I haven’t personally tried it, but I’m definitely going to with my long-term clients! What about you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. That’s a great way of going about it. However, what would you do if you were in the situation where you’ve passed the point of agreeing to a discussion every 90 days? So at the time of taking the job I agreed to their rate … is there a way to bring it up without it being awkward if you don’t have the terms you’ve stated above?

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Amelia,
      That’s a great question…let me think about it and I’ll try to get a blog post up in the next couple weeks that reflects my thoughts on it. Thanks!

    • I’m in a similar situation. I’ve been working with a long-term client for years, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s just not as profitable as it used to be. However, I have no idea how to approach a talk about a pay raise. I’d love to hear if anyone else has experience with this.

      • I personally find that developing a price list that you send out to new/old/current clients with a clause that states you annually update your prices usually helps. It is a preemptive strike and makes the conversation much easier when there is a shift in price. They will usually expect the increase, similar to how prices on certain goods or rent may increase during the course of a year.

  2. Clever, April.

    I think freelancers need to just ask for what they want and stick to their guns. The first time someone asserts that your price is to high, you’ll wince. But eventually you’ll find people that value your work and when the next “el Cheapo” comes around you can look them in the eye and say, “That’s just how much it costs”.

    • Travis:

      Thanks – that’s kind of my philosophy, too. I explain that I have to pay the bills, too, and I can’t afford to give away my expertise. You have to be careful, too, because you’ll have a much harder time raising your rates once you’ve started low with a repeat client.

      I’m happy to refer them to someone else who might charge less.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Travis,
      Good to see you at the blog again! I agree with you and April on this one. I had a boss once that taught me you can always lower your price in an instant. Better to always start high and then go down. But sometimes you think you started “high” and you realize a year later that you need to go even higher. That’s where this particular strategy comes in. Thanks, Travis.

      So do you always bid high for your clients? How many of them try to talk you down?

  3. Wow, I’m blushing and laughing at the same time! Great post, Preston…you caught me!

    Truly, though, I have BOTH Preston and my best interests at heart. I take it as a bit of a personal challenge to write such epic posts that readership goes up, advertising goes up, ebook sales go up, and *wink* I get my raise.

    Secondly, I hate awkwardness. It’s no fun. Whenever I can use humor, hints, or playful sarcasm to diffuse the stiffness in the air, I do. It worked really well when I had to “be the boss” and pester someone about their repeated mistake, and it continues to work well in freelancing, particularly when the issue of money comes up.

    Thanks for your kind words, Preston. I’m so very glad to be writing for GDB: to have such a great promoter of my posts and to have a fabulous community that enjoys and learns from my advice (and shares their thoughts) is truly wonderful. My cup runneth over.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      April,
      I’m thrilled to have you on board. No need to blush–I obviously thought it was a great business tactic and I wasn’t offended at all. Perhaps that’s something I should have added to the post: most clients totally get it when you ask for more money. Money makes the world of business go ’round. Most of your clients get that.

  4. She’s much more lenient than myself, I’d have discussed the 90 day contract ahead of time with a mandatory pay raise after the initial “try out” period.

    There’s no point in freelancing if your clients are the ones taking the reigns with how you run your business.

    • Taelor,

      I probably wouldn’t be writing for GDB if I weren’t willing to compromise. Sure, I want to make more money…who doesn’t? And sometimes sticking to your guns and saying, “no, that’s not reasonable for me” is the right thing to do. For me right now, though, I get personal and professional fulfillment (besides a paycheck) from writing for GDB, and blogging certainly isn’t the bulk of my business.

      I find that compromise – even the illusion of compromise – makes people feel more satisfied than making demands.

      I appreciate your comment and your perspective; it’s great to have a community that’s willing to discuss different viewpoints and challenge each other to really understand our stances!

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Taelor,
      I totally see where your coming from. Have you ever tried this tactic, though? Demanding a mandatory pay raise is pretty hard to do if you base it solely on time (90 days in this case).

      What if you slack off or do terrible work? I don’t know a single client that will agree to paying you more regardless of the work you do in the first 90 days.

      If I’m wrong, please enlighten me. I’d love to know how to demand more money after 90 days regardless of my results.

      • Preston D Lee says:

        I should also mention that the pay situation with April has nothing to do with underperforming. April does an amazing job and I’m happy to have her on the GDB team!

      • With other areas of freelancing (coding mainly) a client will receive a project brief with an outline of either hourly costs or as a project on a whole. If the quality of work is sub par then one would expect feedback and the opportunity to make changes.

        It’s a little different than the journalism aspect, but it’s obvious that your employer is very happy to have you!

        • Very true – with other aspects of freelancing the feedback is a bit more immediate. Journalism can take a bit more time when you’re trying to build a readership and gauge what readers generally think of a writer. Sometimes it also takes time to determine what issues are popular and what topics are duds…and that can be surprising.

          Thanks for sharing!

  5. I never let the client know my hourly rate unless they ask. I always charge by the project. There is no need to spell out everything and how much each task costs.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Behzad,
      Interesting. Thanks for sharing. If you don’t share an hourly rate, what happens when you go over your expected hours on the project?

      • Then that is a hit I have to take for not doing my research. It comes with trial and error and experience. If at anytime the client expects more work/deliverable than what is pointed out in my agreement, then I issue a new quote.

        • Smiling Cat says:

          I quote (and re-quote) the same way. Let’s face it, some days you’re more creative than others. A design can come to you in minutes and others it seems like your having “designer’s block”. My clients don’t need to pay for that and I benefit when things take less time than projected. I find it all balances out in the end.

  6. April, you are a fantastic writer and have a good head on your shoulders as well as having a big heart. Perhaps evolutionary from great parenting!!!!! Teeheehee!

  7. I think the conversation with April went well, however, I find myself with a different one. As more and more computers are sold with “low-level” graphics programs, the industry is getting overrun with “Graphic Designers”. I hear from my clients how “John Doe” is selling his services for $25/hr why do you charge $75/hr. My usual response is that you don’t get a Corvette on a junker budget. Good and cheap don’t usually come together. Something on these lines usually works, but there is always the exception.
    I can’t tell you how many contracts I have lost to people that have no skills what-so-ever. On the basis of the afore mentioned, it is almost impossible to get these clients to raise the rates.

  8. athena windelev says:

    Great insight. BUT what if you have a client let’s say – packaging client. A new client who wants to do a 1-to-1 only with you (me in this case). We were working on the front of one of her products. And she loved it, absolutly loved it. Always nice to hear. Then came the backside. She was going abroad to 3 major cities to present our work, and here she wants the backside of her package too. Not just txt but ‘a design matching the front’. NOW we had only discussed the front and payment thereafter. When I mentioned that I would be spending just as much time on back as front – she complained, that she has already spent too much money already. What can I use that for.

    I have already spent too much time already.

    Another example. A client had tried 2 other agencies to design-program his website. He was desperate, he didn’t like any even though he paid. Contacted me and loved my work. BUT would only pay me a fraction of what he had paid the others (though he did not like them at all.) Loved mine, so why should I be the one getting the short end here.

    Suggestions._ I would love to hear from you about how you would handle these.
    Best

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