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How to charge more for your work without adding deliverables

When you demonstrate real value to potential clients, you can charge more for your creative work. This means doing more than simply adding deliverables to your package.

Profitability Wo Deliverables

What does it take to successfully charge more for your work? Great question, isn’t it?

Something inevitably happens on the journey to building a successful business. We complete a few projects, work with a few great clients, and refine our processes. Then we book a few more projects, help a few more clients, and feel pretty successful in general.

Then we look at the numbers… and we realize we aren’t making enough to keep the lights on.

We’ve all been there – trading way too much TIME for far too little $$$. We’ve looked at the circles under our eyes from late nights wrapping up a big project OR worrying about cash flow, and we’ve felt discouraged. We’ve questioned our skill set, wondered where the good clients are and thought about quitting.

The solution seems simple. Just increase prices and justify it by adding deliverables. Unfortunately, though, this strategy doesn’t create real profitability. It’s more like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. The ship is still going down, but at least you feel like you’re doing something. Why? Because this strategy keeps the time/value ratio the same, it just adds more time and therefore higher prices.

To successfully increase your prices and your profitability, you must demonstrate a higher level of value without adding deliverables.

Your goal is not to charge more for a project with a bigger scope. Your goal is to charge more for a project with the same scope… to get more $$$ for each hour of your time. That’s profitability, and adding deliverables just doesn’t get you there.

How do you demonstrate a higher level of value? You shift your mindset, listen to the client, and speak your expertise into his/her situation. Not sure how to do this? Keep reading…

Shift your mindset because YOU are the expert.

Imposter syndrome… self-doubt… or the favorite in my family, good old “realistic expectations” are the enemy here. Your mindset is a huge limiting factor in your ability to charge more for your work.

Inside your mind (and mine) is a little voice that tells us lies like these:

  • You’re not good enough.
  • No one will pay that much, not in this market.
  • Who do you think you are, anyway?
  • The economy doesn’t support that pricing.
  • Expert? Ha! You’ve only been doing this for [months, years, decades.]

Time to replace those lies with truth. YOU are the expert here. You are the one with the creativity, the skills, and the drive to serve your clients. You serve them by using your perspective, insight, and ability to give them results.

Can they do this work on their own? Nope. They don’t have the time, the skills, the insight, or the ability to do what you do. How do I know this? They are talking with you, right? There’s a reason for that inquiry… and it’s not because you’re a charity case (unless your first cousin is offering you a project to help you get started or something, but that’s another deal.)

Real people come to you to discuss a creative project because you are an expert. Period. So, start acting like one, okay?

  • You ARE good enough. You can probably improve in some way (we all can) but you have demonstrated enough ability to create interest in your work. You’re good enough to get the job.
  • I guarantee that clients like the one in front of you are paying more than you charge for the same package of services. It doesn’t matter where you’re located or what market you’re in. When a potential client understands the return he/she will get from the investment, price is not the issue. Cash flow might be, but that’s a different problem.
  • Who do you think you are? You are a skilled, creative individual with a unique set of talents and abilities. Your perspective is a special combination of your personality, values, and experiences. When you charge too little for your services, you devalue yourself and your ability. STOP!!

Here’s the thing » clients respond to our confidence and the way we present ourselves and our work. Price is part of that presentation. When you charge too little, discount deeply, or apologize for your pricing, you tell the client you don’t believe in your own value.

That’s the mindset you need to shift… because it isn’t serving you.

Listen closely to clients and ask questions. Seek to truly understand their needs and the issues that motivate them to contact you.

Talking to clients on an initial inquiry call or consultation is tough. You’re nervous… you are interested in getting the work… and you are probably a bit introverted. Oh wait, that’s me. Sorry!

If you’re like many of us, you come to the call ready to answer client questions about your work, your experience, your portfolio, and your prices. But, do you come prepared to ask questions of your own?? Maybe not, but you should.

The purpose of that initial call (whatever you call it) is to ask a lot of questions, listen closely to the client, and understand what motivates them. Sure, you’re also going to talk about project scope a bit… but that’s not what’s MOST important. Scope doesn’t matter nearly as much as the underlying reasons for the work in the first place.

You want to understand:

  • Why this project at this time? What’s triggering interest in this work?
  • What will this work mean to the client professionally?
  • What will this work mean to the client personally?
  • What will this work mean to the client financially?
  • Why is the client talking to YOU at this time? What motivated the contact?

To get this information, you need to take control of the call and ask a bunch of questions. Keep things conversational, but ask the tough questions and really listen closely to the answers. Ask “why” a lot if it makes sense… get to the root of the issues that drive this client. (You have my permission – by the way – to use the questions listed above in your calls if you like.)

Confirm your understanding by speaking it back to your clients.
Say things like, “So, once we complete this website redesign, you’ll be able to get more revenue?” or “Taking this project off your plate would let you spend more time with your family? I get it.” Your goal is to get your client to agree… you want to make sure you really understand. Be patient here… sometimes it takes time to uncover what the project really means to your clients.

Instead of asking about budget, ask what this work will mean to the client financially.
Don’t focus on what the client will spend. Focus on what the client expects to gain after the work is completed. Most clients are actually more concerned with return on investment than on the investment themselves. Think of it in your own life… wouldn’t you happily pay 25% more for advertising if you knew every $1 you spent would yield $10 in increased revenue? Your thoughts would shift from “how much” to finding the money inside your current cash flow.

Don’t shy away from difficult questions. Ask them confidently.
Clients respond to confidence with increased trust. When you are hesitant, so are they. When you avoid a difficult question, it communicates insecurity and doubt. You don’t want to do that, do you? After all, you’re the expert. See what I did there?

Present your work (and your pricing) in the context of their need as you understand it. Use their own words to communicate value.

Now that you and the client have agreed on what’s at stake (the reasons why this work is happening now) and the value of the work itself (what it means to them professionally, personally, and financially) it’s time to talk project scope and price.

You can do this through a custom proposal. That’s actually what I recommend for most creative entrepreneurs. But, a proposal isn’t required. You can also do this verbally on that same call.

You can say things like…

  • You’ve shared that this website revision is important because you have a pretty significant revenue goal for this year and you know your current site isn’t going to get you there. But, after this project is successfully completed, you’ll be in a position to expand your company. Great! Here’s what I recommend… [project scope + investment].
  • Wow! This is an exciting time for your company. I’m confident that by working together, we can help you move into the new market you mentioned. Here’s what I recommend… [project scope + investment].
  • Oh, I get it. Money is tight because your current website isn’t delivering results. Based on my experience, I know that once we [project scope] your cash flow will improve quickly. Your investment is [quote]… so let’s get started!

Obviously, I can’t script your exact conversation with the client. But, the points above demonstrate how to use what the client told you as context for setting scope and quoting a price.

This is actually a bit tricky on a live call – which is one of the biggest reasons why I recommend a proposal. When you create a proposal, you give yourself (and your client) time to reflect on the opportunity before moving forward. In my experience, this is best for everyone. But of course, the choice is yours.

The key to charging more for your work is improving the way you demonstrate value to potential clients.

Your ability to control the conversation during an inquiry call, embrace your status as an expert, and quote your prices confidently within the context of client need is crucial. Spend time working on this skillset… I promise it’s the fastest way to improved results.

Struggling with increasing your pricing? Not sure how to best ask questions during an inquiry call? Dealing with a mindset that seems impossible to shift? Hop over to the Drama Free Design Collective on Facebook and comment. Just tag me to start the discussion.

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.