June 10, 2021

How to increase rates without losing clients

Written by Martin Baxter

“Know your worth, and then add tax”. Have you seen those slogan t-shirts doing the rounds on Instagram? We’re not usually ones for sharing inspirational quotes, but this struck a chord with us – because it’s the ideal message for freelancers, who all too often undervalue themselves and their skills. And so the idea for this article was born…how to get the rates you deserve, without losing the clients that you love.

To be honest, for much of lockdown, most of us have been grateful just to have any work at all, never mind agonising over the idea of putting up our prices. But now that things are starting to return to something approaching normal, it’s time to reconsider your rates.

Asking for more money can feel awkward and uncomfortable, and there’s always the fear that a client will turn around and say no. But that’s pretty unlikely, particularly if your work is of a high standard and you go about it in the right way. In this blog, we look at how to ask for a rate increase, without losing clients.

Do your research

Of course, first, you want to make sure that the increase you are asking for is fair. But how do you know what’s fair? One of the best ways to check what you’re charging is to compare with other freelancers doing similar work. If you have some trusted contacts in your industry who are at a similar level to you – ask them if they wouldn’t mind comparing rates. If not, you could trawl through some websites or look at freelancer listings on sites like Upwork or Fiverr to get an idea. If there’s a professional body for your area of expertise, they sometimes collate industry averages for different experience levels to give you some idea of what to charge.

Start quoting higher

The first step to take is to raise your rates for new approaches and enquiries – especially if you’re already quite busy with existing clients. Advertise your new rates on your website or anywhere that you usually tout for new work. This allows you to test out the new rates against the rest of the market in your industry. If these clients don’t baulk at the price, you’re onto a winner. Make sure you have a good portfolio, CV and recommendations in place though (e.g. on your website) to demonstrate why you command this rate.

Give clients notice

Then it comes to dealing with your regular clients – these are the scary ones because you don’t want to lose their business. But the chances are, if they are happy with the quality of your work and services, then they don’t want to lose you either. However you word your announcement of a rate rise, the key thing is to make sure you give your clients plenty of notice. This will help them budget and plan for the increase and give them time to make the case to any higher powers-that-be that need to sign off on the payments.

For new relationships – wait a bit

If you’ve only been working for a client for a short period of time, consider delaying your rate hike for a while. If you’ve only recently quoted them for work, it could seem a bit flaky to suddenly come in at a higher price. This will also give you time to prove your worth and make yourself indispensable. After a few months have passed, you might then have positive feedback from them, or statistics like an increase in their web traffic, an uptick in sales, or successfully delivered projects, to support your request for more dollar.

Outline the context

Prices and the cost of living are increasing all the time, and in most industries, it’s normal for wages to rise at least once a year and for employees to be eligible for promotions and bonuses. Raising your rates is the freelancer’s way of making sure you aren’t missing out on what you’re due. But it may help your case to outline this to your client. Let them know that you haven’t increased your rates for a long time (and don’t be afraid to be specific on the date of your last increase!).

Demonstrate your worth

As well as highlighting that you’ve held off an increase for as long as you could, it’s also worth briefly outlining the things that you think make you worth the extra outlay. Outline the additional experience, skills, training, affiliations and success stories that you’ve gained since you first started working at this rate. This will help the client account for the extra value they’re actually getting from the new rate: a more skilled and experienced professional than when you first teamed up with them.

Set a yearly increase

To make future increases less awkward and more routine, and to ensure you don’t undervalue yourself in the market, you could set an annual point for rate increases. If you have regular, long-term clients, they will then know to expect this as part of the yearly calendar and will be able to factor it into their budget planning. You could use markers like the cost of living, average rates for a freelancer at your level, and the volume of other work you have on to determine what the change in rate will be.

No one likes having awkward conversations, but sometimes it’s worth going through it to make sure your wage matches your skills. Freelancing work can be a fulfilling and profitable way to make a living, but not if you’re working for next to nothing. Setting your rates at a fair level commensurate with your experience will mean you’re free to take on fewer projects, meaning that your clients get more of your attention, and you might even find yourself working towards a better work/life balance. Isn’t that one of the reasons you became a freelancer in the first place? Some freelancers also find that setting higher rates attracts more high-quality clients, clients that are better to work for because they understand that professional services and expertise deserve a decent rate of pay.

To make sure you match this level of professionalism, ensure that you have a proper professional indemnity insurance policy lined up to protect yourself and your clients if there’s a mistake in your work or if things go wrong. We can provide cover for hundreds of freelance professions, so drop your details into our online form for a quick quote, and let us take care of the rest.

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


Subscribe to our exclusive mailing list for the latest stories, newsletters and freelancer tips from the Dinghy team