Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

3 Ways to Earn More Money from Client Work

The equation seems simple enough: if we want to make more money, we need to charge more for our work. Yet pricing is a fickle issue, wrought with our own psychological traps and misgivings.

Mainly, the thing working against us is fear. We’re afraid that if we charge too much, it’ll backfire and we’ll lose clients. We’re afraid that we’re not as good as we think we are. Or worse, that others will see right through us and realize we’re frauds.

The other obstacle is that we only want to focus on the work. Raising rates and negotiating pricing? That’s for sleazy salespeople. But counter intuitively, pricing has everything to do with the work. You pour your time and energy into work that you can be proud of — work that can make a difference. So it is in service to your talents and the work that you maximize the value you receive.

Never forget: Clients are looking for someone to help them solve a business problem and they’re more than happy to pay top dollar when you help them solve that problem. Not to mention that charging a fair price teaches them to value you and your work.

Ok, so how do we get there?

1. Master the art of up-selling

Up-selling lets you make more money by providing clients with additional services. It creates a win-win situation, but only if you’re willing to take the initiative and ask. Up-sell only natural extensions to your service, not unnecessary add-on products. A lot of people try to up-sell unrelated services, which make their proposals longer and clients hesitant. Smart up-sells – like a logo redesign to complement a homepage redesign – point out needs clients hadn’t even anticipated themselves. 

Don’t present your clients with too many options. Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University, conducted a study at Draeger’s Supermarket on two consecutive Saturdays. On the first Saturday, she set up a tasting booth offering 24 choices of jam. Only 3 percent of the shoppers who tasted jam made a purchase. On the following Saturday, Iyengar set up a booth with only six choices. This time, 30 percent of the shoppers who tried the jam made a purchase. 

The same goes for up-selling. We recently conducted research of over 25,000 estimates and proposals. That research revealed that up-selling with just one or two options converted the best. Additional options decreased conversion rates.

Up-selling with just one or two options converted the best.

Finally, resist the temptation to up-sell in your initial conversations with clients. Up-selling at the point of decision – when you present your services and price within a proposal – is ideal. Up-selling in your proposal doesn’t pressure clients like up-selling right away does, and it gives them complete control to accept or reject your recommendations.

2. Make your competitors’ prices irrelevant

When you go shoe shopping, you have a general idea of what you expect to pay. Unless you’re shopping somewhere like Gucci, seeing “$795” on a price tag would probably make you run for the exits.

Your potential clients do this too. Dan Ariely calls it “arbitrary coherence.” Making past purchases (or seriously considering purchases) influences how similar decisions will be made going forward. Understanding how this works is the first step to avoid getting lumped together with bargain-basement competitors in your potential clients’ minds.

“Similar” is the key word here. Arbitrary coherence only kicks in when the decisions are close enough in the prospect’s mind to trigger the previous price point. Starbucks customers don’t use Dunkin’ Donuts prices as anchors to consider how much coffee should cost at Starbucks. Why not? Both sell coffee, but each business creates a completely different experience. Dunkin’ Donuts is a blue collar, hurry to work place. Starbucks is a nice environment to lounge and relax. 

Starbucks customers don’t use Dunkin’ Donuts prices as anchors to consider how much coffee should cost at Starbucks.

Crafting a unique experience for your clients can make your competitors’ prices irrelevant. When you start out, you may be tempted to emulate the language of more established players, but check their price point. Do everything you can to create a distinct experience from people charging less than you.

One of my favorite examples is the proposal process. Take a close look at what lower priced competitors do when someone asks for an estimate. What does that experience look like?

Maybe, you see that it’s something like this: 

  1. Client submits web form asking for a price estimate
  2. There’s a brief email exchange nailing down project requirements
  3. A quick price estimate is given through email 

Compare that to higher-end competitors:

  1. Client submits web form asking for a price estimate
  2. A brief client questionnaire is sent back and minimum budget expectations are set
  3. Email exchange and/or phone call to nail down business objectives and project requirements
  4. A professional looking proposal is sent for approval

For high paying clients, the proposal process of higher-end companies is more inline with what they expect.

Look at everything from messaging on websites and emails, to the way they position their services.  You’ll avoid preconceived notions of what your price should be and make clients more receptive to paying what you’re worth.

3. Use persuasive words to command higher rates

One tiny word can make the difference between winning and losing a client. In a Carnegie Mellon University study, Professors Scott Rick and George Loewenstein tested phrases to describe a fee associated with shipping a DVD box set by overnight delivery. Here are the two variations they tested:

  • “A $5 fee”
  • “A small $5 fee” 

Just by adding “small,” the second phrase improved the response rate by 20 percent. Pay attention to how you word your estimates and proposals. Using words like “small,” “minor,” and “low” might not seem like a big deal to you, but they matter enough to clients to justify higher rates. 

Just by adding “small,” the second phrase improved the response rate by 20 percent.

If your proposal offers “Design Services” and a simple price quote, you aren’t separating yourself from your competitors. You blend into the pack, which increases the likelihood of clients relying on price anchors set by lower-priced competitors and rejecting your bid. 

Reframing your services as solutions to clients’ problems helps them focus on the value you can deliver instead of the price. “Increasing Customers Through a Redesign” is more persuasive than “Design Services,” and is more likely to justify higher rates. 

“Rebranding for Company” doesn’t demand top dollar like “Rebranding to Enter Billion Dollar Market” does. Or if their goal is to double online leads and they want a new design to help accomplish that; instead of “Website Design for Company” you’ll be a better match if you say, “Doubling Online Leads with a Website Design.”

You’ll also want to make sure you use the most persuasive words you can. What are the most persuasive words a client can read? Their own words. 

Use the client’s own language when describing what you’ll do for them. This can be a very powerful technique if you’re using words that have a lot of energy behind them.

You can do that by asking the following two questions: 

  1. “What’s the biggest concern you have with this project?”
  2. “What’s most important to you about the person/company that you hire?”

Listen to their answers and pick up on the words that they use. For example, a client may answer: “We’re looking for a reliable company. We had a terrible experience with another company. They kept missing deadlines and our project kept being delayed.” 

From that answer, you’ll get a better idea of what they’re looking for, and you’ll have several persuasive words you can use in your estimate or proposal (reliable, deadlines, and delayed).

How About You?

Have you ever struggled to get paid what you’re worth? What did you do to change the situation? 

More insights on: Clients, Money

Ruben Gamez

more posts →
Ruben Gamez (@bidsketch) is the founder of Bidsketch, a web app that helps freelancers create professional looking proposals in minutes. He’s also the author of a free guide that teaches freelancers how to get more clients with a perfect proposal.
load comments (27)
  • Nela Dunato

    Hm, I see “Doubling Online Leads with a Website Design” as tricky because you essentially promise that the client will double their leads, and well, can you really guarantee such a thing?

    • davisandrew884

      my friend’s step-mother makes $73 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for 7 months but last month her pay was $7220 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web sitePAYRAP.COM………………………….

    • Jehn Glynn

      Agreed.. I try to stay away from promises like that. Unless you have an ongoing process that involves A&B testing.

    • Ruben

      It would be if you’re guaranteeing that outcome, but a title like that should be goal-focused. These goals should come directly from the client. This way you’re letting them know that you’re directly aligned with their goals.

    • WoolyBully

      “Rebranding to Enter Billion Dollar Market”

      This is even worse and a red flag to stay away from this person/enterprise

      • Ruben

        Not sure if you mean that you’d stay away from a client who’s strategy is entering a much bigger market, or if you’d stay away from a designer that mentioned this in their proposal.

        To be clear, this shouldn’t be a guarantee of results, the statements you want to make are to show you understand the client’s goals and you’re approaching the work from that perspective. So in those examples, those are the client’s goals being repeated back to them.

        As far as clients with these types of goals go, it’s very common from well funded startups (not just enterprise companies). It’s important to work with the types of clients you like, but I wouldn’t dismiss a company that has a big goal like that, especially when they have the funding to swing for the fences (even though I prefer to bootstrap).

  • celso

    sometimes is better you chose two or three options than a million. its true! Many options plays tricks on consumer minds.

  • Walt Kania

    Two counter-intuitive ideas I swiped from freelancers who were smarter and richer than me:

    1. This sounds odd, but put your fee smack dab on page one, in the first or second line. It shows you’re not apologizing or waffling or hedging. Now you can spend the rest of the proposal explaining what they get for that fee. (NOT what ‘you will do’, but ‘what they get.’) There’s a difference.

    2. If you’re cornered into giving a ‘ballpark’ or a budget range shoot HIGH. Much higher than your first guess. “Normally an identity and packaging update involves 13K to 20K. Tell me more about what you’re hoping to do, and I can give you a more definite budget in a few days.” Then, when you come back around 11K, the number sounds like a bargain.

    • whataboutchris

      Thanks Walt. Good advice. Worth a try. #2 I have done and should do more often. Clients always want a bargain. #1 is bold and right up front. I like it!

    • Ruben

      Nice ones, Walt! I would probably consider adding context to #1 by pairing the price with a clear (and persuasive) short description about what they’re getting. Because, as a friend of mine who’s a pricing expert always says, “It’s not the price they don’t like, it’s what they’re getting for that price.”

    • Lee

      I agree to an extent with #2, but more often than not the client will already have a list of quotes from other places. If you’re too high, they are just not interested and you never hear back from them.

  • andressbidle

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  • Carolina Buzio

    Terrific article with several good tips. Thank you for quoting researches: it goes from an article of opinion to a well-informed and useful one.

    • Web Outsourcing Gateway

      I agree with you Carolina. Quoting of researches gives credibility in an article and makes the author more reliable in his/her future posts.

  • Mahya

    great tips!
    “… resist the temptation to up-sell in your initial conversations
    with clients. Up-selling at the point of decision – when you present
    your services and price within a proposal – is ideal”
    I’ve always struggled with up selling and appropriate timing for it, this sounds like a very good trick.

  • Lesly Simmons

    I use the “High End Competitors” proposal process for every one of my clients, even those I’m doing the occasional pro-bono project for. I also send a complete project review deck in the end. It makes a major difference in setting the tone of how we will work together and has helped me get repeat clients and new business from people who were impressed with how I handled even small jobs. It makes a difference!

    • Ruben

      Love it. It definitely makes a difference.

  • Bill Van Eron

    Thanks Ruben, These are helpful reminders even when we take on more strategic assignments. I am personally excited about the shift from a left-brain dominated world and weighted skills to a world that will finally value and prioritize right brain attributes. Reading Dan Pink and Brian Solis work helps to clarify a new vitality that creative people will be able to offer. This new mindset – to your point – will raise the bar on some high concept and high touch skills, so yes, professionalism as shown in the higher level well thought out proposal will garner a higher wage. I am about a month away from my own reveal of what Solis and Pink are referring to as a new, more vital marketing model but the core of it is work I did as a martyr the last 20 years in left-brain dominated technology environs. Good luck to all of you. Bill

    • Ruben

      Thanks – and good luck on the new direction!

  • wishmylove

    Very nice article. Thank you!

  • Tania Diego

    Hi Ruben, this article is one of my favorites from this blog so far, it’s been really helpful. I just have one favor to ask you, Could you explain further this point?
    “2. A brief client questionnaire is sent back and minimum budget expectations are set”

    ‘Minimun budget expectation’ sounds to me close to ‘give an email price’ how to address that?

    Thank you

    • Ruben

      Thanks, Tania! Sure thing. Many agencies and freelancers set minimum budget expectations by mentioning somewhere that the a minimum budget is $X on their smallest projects. This isn’t specific to the project that they’re asking about, just something to clarify what’s the smallest budget they’re able to work with. It’s not something that everyone does, but does tend to send a strong signal when done the right way (higher dollar amount for the minimum).

      You can typically scale down a project to fit into a minimum budget if needed, but it may not work out if the client expects more for that price.

      • Tania Diego

        Thank you, that was really helpful

  • Liam O'Leary

    Great article! The use of language is so important and listening to clients is the number one way to make sure you’re on their wave length. Thanks Ruben

  • Lanterna

    I’ve got a fast question as a layman in this discipline: is there a name to identify the style of grafic of the first image?

    • Liz V

      it has a modernist feel to it. bold shapes, very two dimensional.

    • xaigo

      It’s called flat design style.

  • tomango

    Great post Ruben.

    One tactic we find useful is in the way we answer that first hit-between-the-eyes question “how much do you charge for a brand/website/online marketing campaign of whatever.

    Instead of giving them our entry point fee, we tell them “on average, our clients spend around £XXXX”. This gives them the quick answer they’re looking for to size you up, but doesn’t paint you into a corner where you’re stuck trying to justify why their project costs more than your lowest fee.

  • Wilde, Gooz & Chase

    Well, not just freelancers, but creative employees too should read this article. One should have an understanding of how this business could ideally operate, and how the creative person’s contribution plays a role with respect to price. Often, we find the agencies falling into the bargain-basement category while somehow getting obligated to deliver high quality designs. It is unfair to both the creative guy and the agency. Really insightful post. Thanks, Ruben.

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