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How to Start Charging Your Dream Rates (and Get Away With It)

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Are you charging your dream rates yet? If not, why?

In this post, I want to explain how you can start charging your dream price for work. I'll also be outlining three key factors which will determine whether a client will accept the fees you've proposed.

Even better, there are some concrete steps you can take to increase the likelihood of clients saying "Yes" to the price you've always dreamed of charging.

Test the Waters With No Win, No Loss Clients

A note: If you're struggling to make ends meet, I'd suggest building a stable financial base before attempting to charge your dream rates.

When you receive an expression of interest from a new potential client, try proposing your dream rates. For a client to accept, three factors need to align:

  1. They need to believe you're worth it
  2. They must be able to afford it
  3. They need to believe that you wouldn't do it any cheaper

Here's how you can secure each of these factors:

Convincing Clients that You're Worth it

Think of your credentials and portfolio like a film trailer. The aim of a film trailer is to show only the portions of the film which make it look as attractive as possible to potential cinema-goers. Too many freelancers fall into the trap of covering everything, rather than just the best bits.

Explain what you can do for clients -- they're not interested in your design, your coding skills, or your writing ability for its own sake. They're interested based on what they believe your skills will do for them. A new design is only a means to a more impressive web presence, something that will lead to more traffic and links.

You might have an English degree, but clients interested in your web writing or blog posts are mainly concerned with the kind of traffic your writing will bring them. You can sell your work more effectively than most freelancers by focusing on the results your clients really want to hear about.

Less can be more -- if you have three pieces of work that you and your clients were incredibly proud of -- work that you believe is a level above anything else you've done -- showcase only those outstanding jobs to potential clients.

List other jobs under 'experience', but there's no need to showcase them in detail. If all your clients know of you is outstanding work that they like, they will see that as the kind of work you're going to bring them.

Once you start admitting anything but your absolute best work into your portfolio, you're doing nothing but increasing the chance that clients will see something they don't like.

Carry yourself like you're worth it -- if you're worked for high profile or well-respected clients, make sure your potential client knows about it. Freelancers are often judged by the quality of the people they work for. If you've done three jobs for high profile, impressive clients and a hundred jobs for Average Joes and Janes, mention in detail only those three high profile jobs.

Everyone else does it -- saying things like "For the same price, previous clients have received..." reminds the potential clients that other people have paid the price you're asking. This can help make the price seem more reasonable to them.

One important, overarching tip is to think of the things you show clients, and the way you communicate, as a flashlight you can use to highlight certain aspects of your freelancing business and leave others in shadow.

If you focus on what makes you outstanding and don't introduce your clients to anything else, to them, you will seem outstanding in everything you do (because outstanding is all they know about you).

Can the Client Even Afford Your Dream Rates?

If you've failed to convince clients that you're worth it, your work and payment proposition may be ignored in disbelief. If this is a common experience for you, you might need to work on better convincing clients that you're worth it, or explore some new strategies for finding work (and in doing so, start to attract different types of clients).

If you've succeeded in convincing a potential client that you're worth your dream rates, another obstacle remains: whether or not your client can actually afford them. If you try to charge your dream rates to a client who can't afford them, you're not going to be successful even if the client agrees that you're worth what you've proposed.

It can be difficult to determine in advance whether a client can afford your dream rates, but these general rules can help:

Established businesses, companies and brands can generally afford to pay top dollar, because the money that you'll be paid usually doesn't belong to the person contacting you.

Small businesses are slightly less likely to accept your dream rates, as the payment you've proposed will often come from the pocket of the person who's contacted you for work. That being said, it's still worth trying for your dream rates.

Individuals are the least likely party to be able to afford your dream rates, unless they are wealthy, or if your freelancing work has the potential to help them earn more money than they've spent on you. If you're being commissioned for work that doesn't have the potential to earn the client much money (for example, a hobby or personal project), you can expect your dream rates to be out of their reach.

Another point to remember is that if you find yourself wondering how a client can afford to pay you, they probably can't. Charging your dream rates to clients without a lot of funds may increase the likelihood that they'll disappear when it's time to pay you!

Does the Client Think You're Bluffing?

Unless a client has a lot of respect for you and what you do, they're probably going to propose a rate lower than the one you've suggested if they have reason to think you'll accept it anyway.

If the way you communicate portrays a lack of confidence in your ability to charge the rates you want, clients will pick up on it. Phrases like: "Let me know if these rates suit you", "But I'm open to negotiation," and "Let me know if this is more than you can afford" all say one thing and one thing only to clients: "I hope you'll pay me what I've asked, but I'll easily work for less".

One common mistake freelancers make is to assume that if a client doesn't want to pay the price you've proposed, they'll never contact you again. In fact, if you've convinced the client that you're worth it, and they can afford your dream price, clients will generally be willing to pay it. In some circumstances, they might try to negotiate you down first, in order to save some money.

Be firm when proposing your dream price -- firm statements like "This will cost ...." and "I charge ...", or "My standard fee for all clients is ...." indicate confidence in your dream price. Your wording will decrease the number of clients who believe you'll work for less. To be even firmer, you can list your dream price as "the minimum rate I do this kind of work for," which will discourage potential clients from trying to negotiate you down.

Don't succumb to bluffing -- If your client tries to negotiate a lower price without explicitly stating that they can't afford your dream price, you can bet you're being bluffed. By not stating unequivocally that they can't afford what you're proposing, they're not burning any bridges when it comes to accepting your initial price (if it turns out that you won't budge).

In a friendly but firm way, let the client know that your dream rate is the only rate you believe to be fair to both you and them.

A final note

You'll have a much easier time convincing clients that you're worth it if your work is outstanding, or if you increase your potential to do outstanding work by building your skill-set and capabilities.

Part of charging your dream rates is a personal transformation into the kind of freelancer you've always dreamed of being.

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