By Danielle Greason
Once you’ve taken the leap and secured your very first client as a freelancer, you’ve reached a significant milestone. From there on in, you know with certainty that this ‘working online thing’ is actually going to pay off for you.
So where to next from there?
When I talk to people that are just getting started working as a freelancer with their first one or two clients, one of the most common questions on their mind is: “How do I get a higher hourly rate for this work I’ve started doing?”
The goal is to be able to get your income up to the level you need it to be at, as fast as you possibly can, so that you can make the full switch to your new income source and sustain this new work-at-home lifestyle for the long term.
If you’re already well established as a freelancer, then your objective for increasing your hourly rate may be to reduce your overall number of work hours to suit your lifestyle, or perhaps, to comfortably afford a higher budget for living expenses and luxuries.
The sensational thing about freelancing is that you’re in complete control of your perceived value, and, therefore, the amount a client is willing and excited to pay you. It’s not at all like the corporate world where you need to wait in line for your annual review and pay rise, or build up your collection of credentials.
So what does impact your rate as a freelancer then? In large part, it comes down to the quality of your client collaboration and workflow practices – collaboration that saves the client time and brain power. Not only can they now hand over the work to you to get it off their own plate, but they can also minimize the personal time they need to invest in delegation, collaboration and review.
The collaboration practices we’re about to cover now are so incredibly effective in allowing you increase your hourly rate as a freelancer because:
“People aren’t paying for your time. They’re paying for theirs.”
I just love that quote by freelancing and virtual teams experts Chris Lema. As an extension of that truth, I would add:
If two freelancers are equal in skill level and work quality, then the one who can save the client the most time in the process of delivering that service will have the capacity to command the highest rate.
Okay, so let’s get specific here with five tips for putting this into action with your current or soon-to-be clients:
1. Always structure your emails in such a way that the client can respond succinctly.
Whenever you’re writing an email to a client, whether it’s to request additional details or to ask for their confirmation of completed work, get into the habit of considering how easy and fast it will be for your client to respond. Could they respond in a phrase or two? Could they type a reply on their iPhone whilst out and about going about their business or family life?
If not, pause for a moment to brainstorm how you could tweak the email slightly.
- Could the wording of your request be more direct?
- Could you include a screenshot link of your completed revisions so that the client doesn’t have to log into a website to view them?
- Could you send one separate email with the single high priority item, instead of combining it with other lower priority updates that make it difficult for the client to reply to just that one item right away.
It may sound like a convoluted process, but really, it’s more of a general mindset that you’re operating from, always on the back of your mind. It becomes a habit and you’ll do this without even thinking about it. Especially once you understand how much it impacts the value of your work in the eyes of the client.
2. Make good use of online tools to save the client time.
Building now on that first step of making your client emails easy to respond to, let’s consider how you can leverage online tools to make this approach even more effective. Here're my top three recommendations:
- A project management space. Depending on the clients you plan to work with, the project management system may be set up by the client, or by yourself. In either case, make good use of it by keeping focused task specific discussion threads that stick to just one component of the work at a time.
- Google Docs. One of the easiest ways to ask a client to for input, review or confirmation is to collaborate on drafts using the Google Doc commenting feature. Highlight the section of text or image you want to ask about, right click and select Comment. Gone are the days of starting an email with: “In the first sentence of the third paragraph down…”Your client may take some time to get familiar with responding to their incoming Google Docs notifications, but the clarity of collaboration is well worth a little client education time up front.
- Screen capture software. Using a free tool like Jing you can take instant screenshots, add arrows and annotations, and paste the link directly into your client correspondence.
When used in combination, these three tools allow you to make the process of collaboration with your client as smooth and clear as possible. And you know what that means right? Your escalating reputation will allow you to command higher rates!
3. Continue to set clear expectations for turnaround times.
When you start out working with a brand new client, the conversation will likely cover how long the initial tasks are expected to take. As the relationship progresses and the client requests support for new projects, it can be easy to forget the importance of assuring the client that their work has been scheduled and to expect it on a certain date or time.
Remember, even if the client knows you and trusts you, the value they perceive in the work is not just about the quality standard of the end result, but also how certain they feel that you’ll meet the timelines they're working towards.
If you’re offering that certainty by always advising and delivering on expected turnaround times, then the client testimonials and referrals you’ll generate, as a result, will have a massive impact on your bottom line. When you increase your rate according to that value you’re providing, new potential clients will happily pay it in exchange for the same experience.
4. Put minor task revisions at the head of the queue.
Without a good project management system in place, busy freelancers can often fall into the trap of using the inbox as a to-do list. A project management system allows you to keep tasks scheduled in priority order, and to see at a glance when any updates or revision requests have been received from your client.
So for example, let’s say that the e-newsletter you formatted and scheduled yesterday has been reviewed by the client and needs a new section added to it. Hop in and get that handled right away so that the client can rest easy and not be left wondering if you’ll get to it in time.
For you to have a high perceived value, make sure the client really gets that sense that you’ve got their back. To do this, set clear expectations on initial turnaround times and then move minor revisions to the front of your work queue to get them squared away.
5. Pay attention to the details so the client doesn’t have to.
When you’re providing administrative, marketing, technical or creative services to a client, there’s a lot of variables at play.
- What size should the image be?
- Where should it be located?
- How many links do we need?
- What heading styles are normally used on this client’s site?
- Does this need to be proofread beforehand?
And the list goes on…
Yes, your experience level and documented processes sure do reduce the brainpower required to rapidly make these micro decisions on behalf of your clients. But if your client doesn’t have documented processes or hasn’t delegated with all the details you need, then you’ve got one of two choices:
a) You can follow them up detail by detail to get the job done.
b) You can use your best judgment, do some investigation or brainstorming on unbillable time if need be and then be proactive about logging that extra 20 minutes for say, proofreading the text, even if it wasn’t directly delegated.
Guess which option results in you being able to increase your hourly rate, based on the new clients you’ll attract as a result?
In summary, the less mental energy, correspondence and review time a client needs to spend in collaboration with you on ongoing tasks, the more they’ll be willing to pay you, delegate work consistently and refer you to potential clients.
It’s not always the case that you can comfortably increase your rate with existing clients, although it absolutely can be done. But… if you follow these collaboration best practices we’ve talked about here, then your reputation will put the demand for your time well above the number of weekly hours you actually plan to bill. You’ll put yourself in a position to pick and choose your clients and that means you can set your rates right where you expect them to be. It’s a win-win for you and the business owners you’ll support.
Danielle Greason, the founder of Greason Media, teaches a skill development course for aspiring digital nomads.