Freelance rates are tricky. As you find your footing, how much you charged at the beginning of your career may no longer reflect your skills and experience level. And while it’s difficult to propose a rate increase with existing clients, that doesn’t mean you can’t increase your pricing for new contracts.
From choosing a niche to providing professional freelance quotes, use these tips to maximize your ability to secure higher rates from new clients so you can continue to grow your business.
How to Negotiate Higher Freelance Rates
As a freelancer, you can’t rely on an employer to pay you a fair market wage. Instead, you have to set your own rates, which can fluctuate based on the project, client, and your experience level.
Because you can’t rely on an annual raise, you have to determine when and how to charge higher rates for yourself — a task that’s often easier to accomplish with new clients versus current ones.
To convince potential clients you’re worth more than the average freelancer, you’ll need to demonstrate your value and give off an air of professionalism, which you can do in a number of ways.
1. Curate Your Portfolio
A portfolio or website is often a client’s first impression of you and your freelance services. Although it may be tempting to fill it with every project you’ve ever worked on, doing so has the potential to dilute your most relevant samples.
Instead of using your portfolio or website as a place to display everything you’ve ever worked on, curate the samples you feature on it with care. Select a handful of samples that:
- Demonstrate your core freelance skills
- Feature well-known clients
- Were completed in the relatively recent past
- Are visually appealing
- Provided a positive outcome
Use these projects to give clients a general overview of the freelancing services you provide. Once you establish a dialogue with a potential client, feel free to send them additional samples from your private collection that are directly related to the work they’d like you to do for them.
Having a professional, curated portfolio helps you showcase your most impressive projects to prospective clients. In turn, this can help you to charge higher rates because it highlights your most valuable skills and shows that you have experience under your belt.
2. Highlight Recognizable Clients
In your portfolio and on your professional social media accounts, highlight the most recognizable clients you’ve worked with.
Bigger clients are more likely to work with you if you’ve had contracts with similar companies in the past. And, they tend to come with larger budgets than individuals or small-business owners, meaning they’re typically in a better position to pay a higher rate.
If you work with well-known clients, and you aren’t held back by a non-disclosure agreement or copyright clause, advertise your relationship by:
- Including them on your LinkedIn profile
- Featuring their logo on your website
- Using completed projects in your portfolio
- Sending relevant samples to prospective clients
Showcasing recognizable brands contributes to your professional reputation and helps to show prospective clients that you have experience working with similar businesses. Often, clients will be willing to pay a higher price if you demonstrate an existing knowledge of their customers, industry, or product.
3. Choose a Niche
It takes time to find a freelancing niche, but working within a specific industry can go a long way in maximizing your earning potential.
For example, a junior web designer may take on any and all websites, regardless of the industry or functionality. But a senior web designer who focuses on a specific type of website, like home service businesses or retail, has more in-depth knowledge about what a client in that niche needs and how their website will be used.
Choosing a niche doesn’t have to be industry-centric, either. You can also work with niche clients, like software-as-as-service (SaaS) companies or startups with a particular business model regardless of their products or services.
Experience in a niche helps to place you as an expert, giving you an opportunity to set higher freelancing rates based on your targeted knowledge and skills.
4. Build a Professional Brand
Everything from your website and logo to your email address and invoices impacts your professional brand. And the more professional your vibe is, the more potential clients will be willing to pay for your services.
Some basic ways to build a professional brand include:
- Having a well-designed website with a logo
- Creating a business email address separate from your personal one
- Using freelance business documents like contracts, quotes, and invoice templates
- Featuring a professional photo on your website and business-related social media pages
When possible, it also helps to get featured in industry-specific publications like newsletters, social media pages, and websites. For example, a freelance writer could submit an article to a popular publishing platform within their niche. If published, they would be able to use it as a way to validate their professional skills to prospective clients.
Networking and making professional connections also influences your brand and can even lead to referrals, more business, and better clients.
The more professional your brand, the higher-quality clients you attract, boosting your chances of getting paid a higher rate for your work.
5. Grow Your Skill Set
If your skills stay stagnant, so will your freelancer rates. In order to make more than your current rate, you need to add to your professional toolbox by learning new skills and offering additional services.
For example, a software developer could learn a new programming language. A graphic designer could learn to use new design software.
You can grow your skills by:
- Taking courses or programs
- Attending conferences and seminars
- Using online learning platforms, like LinkedIn Learning or Skillshare
- Joining professional associations and groups
Honing your skills and adding new competencies to the list of services you provide increases your professional value and helps you to justify a higher rate.
6. Stay in the Know
Aside from building your skills, it’s also important to make sure that you follow industry news and trends to maintain a sharp competitive edge. If you don’t, you risk not only a lower rate but getting left behind entirely.
Stay in the loop by reading articles, listening to podcasts, following industry leaders, and connecting with other professionals. Pay special attention to any updates that could affect you or your clients. Becoming an authority within your area of expertise, and offering advice and guidance to clients, increases your professional value.
This leads to higher freelance rates from new clients because it shows you’re passionate and knowledgeable about what you do and you can be trusted to do what’s best for the client.
7. Pick the Right Clients
If you pick low-budget clients, you can expect a low rate. Take a look at your current clients and consider whether you think you’re underpaid. If so, determine what these clients have in common so that you can look for different clients in the future.
For example, let’s say you get the majority of your clients from a site like Upwork and you’re typically unsatisfied with the rates you get offered. Maybe it’s time to start looking for clients elsewhere, like by reaching out to your professional connections or even cold emailing companies that you admire to ask whether they work with freelancers.
New freelancers may not be able to pick and choose who they work with, but as you develop your reputation and brand, customizing your client roster becomes more of a possibility. This gives you a chance to work within larger budgets, sign long-term clients, and ultimately increase your rate.
8. Make Your First Client Meeting Count
During your initial meeting or consultation with a client, your confidence, knowledge, and professionalism will influence how your value is perceived. If you follow an organized process, ask good questions, and take the client seriously, they’ll get a better idea of your skill set and experience level right off the bat, demonstrating that you’re worth a higher rate.
If your first meeting with a client is less than stellar, you may have a hard time convincing them to pay you a top-tier rate.
9. Provide High-Quality Quotes
The next step after an initial client meeting is to provide them with a quote. How that quote is presented makes a big difference in how legitimate your business looks.
For example, an informal email that only includes the total cost of a project, but no fee breakdown or payment terms doesn’t exactly exude professionalism. Compare that to a branded quote with a project outline, tentative due dates, and deposit information. It’s easy to see which presentation a client may be more willing to accept.
When you use high-quality quotes as part of your process, it helps clients to see what they can expect from you going forward because they demonstrate your organizational skills, professionalism, and legitimacy as a freelance business owner.
Plus, clients who are given a cost breakdown and clear expectations when it comes to payments, deadlines, and what you offer are more likely to be open to higher rates than clients who have been left in the dark.
10. Have Clients Cover Costs
If you don’t feel like you can charge more than your baseline rate, you have another option for getting a higher freelance rate. Instead of covering all of your business expenses yourself, consider which you could reasonably ask a client to cover. For example:
- Software, subscriptions, or materials specific to one client
- Traditionally non-billable hours, like client meetings or emails that take a significant amount of time
- Travel costs
If you’ve been covering these costs yourself, start fresh by having new clients cover them from the get-go — especially if they’ve impacted your bottom line in the past. You won’t have to charge a higher rate, but you’ll end up with more money in your pocket because you won’t be covering as many expenses on your own.
11. Evaluate Your Rate
Every so often, you should evaluate your freelance rate to make sure that you’re charging an amount that reflects your skill set and experience level. Talk to other freelancers, research your competitors, and review your budget and expenses. This will give you an idea of what you should be charging, helping you to calculate how much of a price increase you should aim for.
When you’re a new freelancer, it’s hard to know how much to charge. You don’t necessarily have a well-rounded portfolio to back you up, making it difficult to demonstrate your abilities to prospective clients. But as you grow your client list and build up your skills, your rate should reflect your professional growth.
When you take on new clients, don’t automatically charge them the same rate you’ve charged others in the past. Instead, consider whether it’s time for you to give yourself a raise based on the expertise you’ve gained and the new skills you’ve learned. And bolster your value by showing off your best projects, choosing a niche, and staying up-to-date in your industry.