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How I 10x my rates in less than 6 months

Catchy headline, isn’t it? It’s all true! Not only did I 10x my income, I was doing less work for more money. I know it can be difficult to accept your own worth.

How did I increase my prices so rapidly?

I had to embrace the idea my worth isn’t something that’s tied to the hours I spend.

When potential clients can envision the outcome of working with you and the impact it will have on their business – then you can begin pricing your services based on the value you provide – rather than time spent. I think you get the concept, right? The tricky part is being confident in what you are worth.

when your potential clients can envision the outcome of working with you - then you can begin pricing your services based on value and not time. Check out my 6 practical tactics for raising your project rates in a relatively short amount of time.

In the summer of 2012, I created Christine Marie Studio. I had a lot of experience as a designer, but my portfolio demonstrated work primarily in the corporate and industrial sector. The entrepreneurial women I wanted to work with couldn’t relate – they couldn’t picture a relevant outcome and I didn’t really understand what they needed.

I struggled to put myself out there – as an introvert + an ex-corporate employee used to a team environment. I’d never really marketed myself before.

That summer I picked up odd website maintenance jobs here and there. In the fall, I joined a business course full of women and put out the word that I was offering a full website package for $750. Now some of you might be thinking that you’d love to get that much money for a project. The practice of raising your rates is all relative – no matter if you are starting out at $200 and want to go to $2000… or are at $2000 and want to go to $10,000. With 20 years experience as a designer – $750 felt pretty low to me – but I wanted to break into a new market.

I got my first taker at that price point and created my first full website. Six months later, in March of 2013, I onboarded a client for the same exact service and charged $7500.

So how do you confidently raise your rates in a relatively short amount of time?

Choose a Client or Offering Type

You have to choose. Who do you want to work with? What are you best at? If you aren’t speaking to or connecting with someone about something specific – either unique client type or unique offering – then you’ll sound exactly like every one else. If you have no idea where to start, then think about those you can most identify with and pivot as you go. This is exactly where I started… women like me who had spent a lifetime in a face-to-face service-based career and now wanted to take their skills online.

My old website posed the question: How does one take a life’s work and experience – present it through the screen and still feel a personal connection? With clarity? With individuality? Those of you around the 45 year old mark might be nodding your head yes… right? That time before computers? I was targeting women, like myself, who had done their work before social media, before smartphones and the internet. I spoke to their unique problems and positioned myself as the solution.

Your marketing efforts will be more effective. You’ll be able to step into an expert mindset and stand confidently in your space as the solution when you choose.

Price it out

Are you charging what you think your clients can afford, rather than what you are worth? This is such an easy – and common – mistake to make. If you are pulling an amount off the top of your head (or looking at what other designers charge for the same thing), you need to take the time to price things out. Having a reason behind why you charge what you charge will give you confidence as you raise your prices.

How much do you need to bring home each month? This is typically 50% of what your business makes. Yikes. So what do you need to charge per hour to reach your income goal? It’s okay if you aren’t there yet, but don’t find yourself stuck in the same place, month after month.

Grab this simple pricing worksheet* and set some new money goals.

*Google document – save a copy to your own drive

Lead with Confidence

Lead with confidence, even if you don’t feel it.

Your lack of confidence in the outcome will bring out micromanaging skills you didn’t even know your client had.

Everything is figureoutable. Everything. Early on, projects I took on stretched my design and dev skills. That’s good. Sometimes I wasn’t entirely certain how I would create/build/accomplish stuff. That’s okay. Even after doing this a long time… I still learn with every project. I won’t learn unless I push myself. I’m not suggesting that you take on a project completely outside of your wheelhouse, but be confident that you can figure out something that stretches your skills.

A few ways to show confidence you may not feel:

  • Avoid passive language and messaging on your website and in general communication.
  • Invest in a headshot – I swear this is like wearing your most flattering power outfit on your website – you can change your client’s perception of your personal ability with a warm, confident headshot.
  • Establish a process so both you and your potential client know what’s coming next. It’s for you as much as it is for them.
  • Demonstrate expertise with solution-based case studies targeted to your ideal client.

Build a No Excuses Website

Designers, your website needs to be tight. Clean. Well executed. No excuses. Design your site for the kind of work you want to attract. Your site is your best advocate! Invest in a well-executed template if you don’t do custom dev work.

Make it easy for your potential clients to find your services and inquire about a project. Make it easy for them to view your portfolio.

Your own website is not about pulling out every fancy design trick in the book, it’s about showcasing your ability to translate other people’s visions.

What do I mean by that? Lead with what your potential client is there to see. Your portfolio. Help them understand right away what you do best and who you do it for. Demonstrate the results you’ve achieved for others. Make it easy to browse your work and connect with you about starting a new project.

Since 2013, I’ve worked pretty continuously to uplevel my own positioning, branding, photography and copywriting to support a base price of $15k per project. If I can do it, you can too.

Showcase Your Portfolio

You can sell a potential client with a small portfolio, if your own website is stellar. Have a process in place for gathering testimonials and use them near the portfolio item they go with. Social proof goes a long way in selling a potential client before they reach the inquiry stage.

To rapidly increase my rates, I did each project as a next-tier project. I gave all my energy and ability and then some. My $750 website project looked like a $2400 project, my $2400 project looked like a $3600 project and so on. I provided 150% of effort into those early website projects. I went above and beyond providing an experience so that my portfolio would support my increased rates. Before taking on a project, ask yourself if this work will grow your portfolio in the right direction. I still do this with every project.

A few ways to showcase your small portfolio when you are just starting out:

  • Use a slideshow and separate out elements to make it feel bigger than it is. For one brand you might have done a logo, website and ebook, show all 3 as separate pieces.
  • Use projects that are coming soon – it’s okay that they aren’t finished yet. Say coming soon, show the design concept and add the website link after launch.
  • Use rejected concepts to show your design ability (I did this).
  • Create your own designs and templates to demonstrate your ability.
  • Only take on projects that are portfolio-worthy. Don’t bog your time down with projects you can’t showcase – this slows down your ability to raise your rates and makes you unavailable for the projects that can really grow your brand.

Establish a Design Process

Bleh. Establishing systems and processes can be hard for creative types. I resisted this for years. Because, well… it’s boring stuff.

Here’s what happens when you start to write down conversations and repeatable processes (yes it’s this simple to get started establishing a process!):

  • You can create a system for bringing on clients that saves you time by weeding out the wrong clients. You’ll only invest talk time with the right clients.
  • You can delegate some of those steps to an admin.
  • You can stay on top of what you need next from clients. You can give them plenty of time to react and still stay on schedule. Your client won’t be surprised and will always know what’s coming.
  • You can exit a client out of the process smoothly without being stuck in never ending tiny requests.
  • You’ll save a tremendous amount of time and energy within your process – think about all the emails you send, or the explanations you give – over and over!

Create a Client Experience

Identify what the experience of working with you should feel like, then work to achieve it. Your clients should know what to expect. Put yourself in their shoes. Have you ever invested a lot of money into something and been unsure of the outcome? What did that feel like? What do you want them to feel about you? How can you help them collaborate without leading or micromanaging you? How can you keep them engaged without bombarding them?

Every designer is different, so every experience is different. I personally aim for a spirit of collaboration – but I lead the process – and I start out of the gate leading. I let my clients know that due to my own expertise, I will push them outside their comfort zone with ideas and possibilities. I want them to think big, but I won’t hesitate to let them know if they venture out of scope.

My onboarding process is geared to help me choose clients who trust me and as a result, will value you my contribution as more important than dollars for time. This creates an amazing experience for us both.

Improve your “strategic” design skills

Am I the best designer? no. Am I good at translating my client’s ideas into a design they love? yes. Am I good at collaboration without drama? yes. Am I good at understanding where stuff needs to go on the page to help my client achieve their goals? yes. Can I charge a lot for those last 3? YES!

Clients are looking for real results. They want more than just design, they want credibility, conversions, ease.

If you’d like to improve your strategic design skills so that you can command a lot more for the work you do, then check out my strategic design course, opening soon. Get on the waitlist here and receive a big early bird discount.

To raise your rates successfully, you have to dig deep and embrace your own worth as a designer. Use these value-adding tactics to help you find the confidence you need to get there.

What keeps you from raising your prices? Talk to me by commenting below.
How to raise your design rates and charge what you are worth as a freelance designer.

13 Responses to How I 10x my rates in less than 6 months

  1. Whew! What an incredible post this was. First off that’s amazing in 6 months the leaps you made. I definitely know my struggles right now is to get a professional headshot, and also to start posting via a blog, sharing valuable tips. Tightening up the process is also very helpful. Definitely bookmarking this one.

    • Thank you Sasha-Shae. All this can get overwhelming, but it’s really a constant process of evaluating and improving and making time to work on your biz rather than always in your biz.

  2. Love how intentional this journey was for you. You’ve tied the decisions we make in our business to the results we achieve… great post! As a copywriter, my business is a bit different but still SO similar. Great point about working each job as a “next level” job – delivering 150% of the value clients expect in order to grow your reputation, skills and rates.

    I think the constant challenge is stepping outside myself and my own impressions of the value I provide to a place of evaluating my work through the eyes of my clients. What did they value most when working with me? What little things can I add to my process to provide encouragement, added value, and build trust while we work together?

    Sometimes an extra conversation or compassionate email helps clients feel valued and understood as we work together. I’ve needed to build steps like this into my process in order to serve my clients intentionally and keep emotional needs during our work together top of mind.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Thank you Michelle! I think sometimes it’s hard to see that result so it’s easy to put off working on your own stuff and defaulting to a client’s project – somehow that feels more productive. In creating a good process – it allows more space (both physically and mentally) to think of ways to provide additional value.

  3. This was amazing! Thank you! My biggest issue right now is, honestly, that same one I’ve had for a while – updating my website and setting up a system. I know I HAVE to, I just never seem to have time.

    Any advice on how to update my stuff while working with full time clients – with a two year old?

    • Yes! This is a great question and I’m going to add it to my blog editorial calendar to expand it further into a post. I have always struggled with working ON my business (working IN my business is never a problem). It’s been a while since I’ve had babies, but I’ve got a preteen and teenager who can’t drive yet so the demands on my time are similar but different.

      For setting up a system – start by creating a Google doc, or if you use Asana or Evernote – those work too. Just start keeping track of conversations, emails and things you have to repeat each time you work on a new project. Start creating a simple structure within the document of the main phases of your project and then fill in details as you work on a project (just keep it open and take notes). A simple system starts with being able to copy/paste rather than reinvent the wheel for every conversation you have with clients.

      For working ON your business — this is tricky with limited time and little ones, but you have to look at “ON” business time as growth (it does pay off even if it doesn’t equal an hourly rate at the moment — it might mean you can double your rate on the next project – what is that worth?). I would try to set aside a block of 2-3 hours, one or two times a week where that’s what you spend you time on (preferably a whole morning, afternoon or evening if you can swing it. If find a block of time is more productive than something like one hour per day. Resist the urge to work on a client project 🙂

  4. I am loving all your articles! I started web design a year ago by building a site with WIX for a former employer (a really nice restaurant!) I have designed 9 since. I’m still new and I use Webydo for my designing and hosting platform. I am a homeschool mom of 4 (under 6) so trying to balance my time as a mom, wife, teacher and designer can be hard. My working hours are usually from 4am-7am and 8pm-10pm. I would like to learn WordPress to be more flexible but with how much I am invested in Webydo i’m not sure its worth me even looking at it. Any tips for the mom who is trying to do 2-4 websites a month would be great. I am considering joining your course depending on how much it is. thanks! p.s. (i’d love your feedback on my website!)

    • Hi Leanne,
      I used to work similar hours and I don’t envy you. It takes SO much discipline. Excellent job. WordPress is going to give you a wider client base and more options so you might consider it for that reason. I think you’ll find that with working with customizable templates might come fairly easy to you. As for tips — processes, processes, processes. I hate them, but they save SO much time in my business. If you can get your interaction with clients documented and run everyone through a process, you’ll be able to get more work done in those precious hours you DO have. Great job making it work!

  5. Christine, thank you so much for your post and for actually reading my mind and my life and putting it in print LOL

    I’m in a similar position, but I have been undercharging for my services, until now or rather this weekend when my coach gave me a smackdown and made me realize that I am discounting my awesomeness. Your article is right on time and I totally agree with you about knowing who my clients are and using that knowledge to attract them.

    I worked this weekend on valuing my work much more so that I attract the clients who will pay my fees for what I will provide for them.

    Thanks again!

    • It’s so easy to not charge enough for something that comes naturally to us! Changing your mindset around your value takes effort but is so worth it in the end. xo, Christine

  6. Christine, once again, your post has given me immeasurable insight into my situation. I just started my web design business and I have one client, (two counting my niece). I have nothing to show for the type of sites I want to develop. The most common response I get is, “Really nice site. But no work examples”
    So, you just gave me some great ideas to create my portfolio with.
    Thank you!

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