The One Lesson Every Freelancer Must Learn

When I started traveling around the world, I did freelancing work along the way.

I fought for whatever work I could find with other freelancers – internationals who were often able to undercut my already-modest rates by an obese margin.

And while I didn’t need much to live on with my travel hacking techniques, sometimes scraping the bottom of the barrel doesn’t cut it.

For instance, I was in Kuala Lumpur and my computer got stolen. This created a catch-22 where I needed to make money to buy a new computer, yet I needed my computer for work.

Shucks.

Had I been earning more than a couple bucks a day (seriously, $10 a day was a healthy profit), I might have saved up enough for just such an emergency.

After the whole ordeal was over and I was back on my feet line, I knew I had to change something.

I was tired of fighting for the “scraps,” the bargain basement jobs that you hope to land just so you’ll make enough to get by.

I was tired of having to compete with the entire global workforce, many of whom have rates lower than I could reasonably charge (though don’t get me wrong, I realize the individuals in such situations have it way tougher than I did).

And whether we’re freelancers charging $1, $10, or $100 an hour – or we’re rocking out at our office job, chances are we’ve felt this money crunch before, and want to know what to do about it.

If so, then it’s imperative you learn this lesson I’m about to share.

Keep reading.

Freelancing For Fun and Profit

I have been freelancing on and off for over 10 years now.

It all started with my first love: the guitar.

I started playing when I was 16, or as some people like to call it, “too late.”

So naturally, it wasn’t long before I was playing at weddings, doing private lessons, and getting accepted into the University of Manitoba Faculty of Music.

That led to even more opportunities: Jazz halls, rock shows at bars, even a bizarro-world jazz quintet at a truck stop at the edge of town.

After getting tendonitis and indefinitely putting my final year on hold, I freelanced online – doing SEO, copywriting, and marketing consultations.

Finally, it was world travel, where English lessons became my #1 opportunity.

And no matter what field I worked in, I found the same thing. Time and time again.

Finding high paying clients that were good for repeat business was hard.

Often, I found myself desperate for any paycheck, and I’d take any offer I could find.

Because if there’s one thing I like more than anything, it’s a nice hot meal. Made of chicken.

So I’d settle for getting by, instead of getting the rates I felt I deserved.

The days of feast or famine.

Sound familiar?

This is,sadly, just about the average experience when it comes to doing freelancing work.

And for me it might have stayed that way if not for one fortuitous encounter.

The Breakthrough

There was this one local social network I was doing outreach on, trying to find new language-lesson clients.

Where one prospect I reached out to told me something that rocked my world:

“I don’t need a lesson. But you’re a native speaker, you shouldn’t be charging $7.00/hr. You should be charging $30/hr – or nobody is going to trust you and take you seriously!”

Up until that point, I only had a single student – and one that wasn’t particularly reliable. Often canceling, changing the time, and otherwise not being committed.

So I decided it wouldn’t do much harm to raise my rates and see what happened.

Short story even shorter: It worked.

I went from making less than the Canadian minimum wage back home, doing something I’m rather proficient at, to making 5-7x that!
As in, in 90 minutes I could make what I would have previously made in a standard, 8-hour work day.

All because I learned this important lesson:

Nobody is going to value your time and your work as much as you do.

Nobody, whether you’re bidding $2, $20, or $200 per hour is going to say, “why not make it more?”

Or at least, counting on such a thing happening is madness.

That doesn’t mean that you can just raise your rates and offers will come flooding in. I’d be unworthy of being taken seriously if I made such a ludicruos claim.

However, if you don’t start asking for the pay you believe you’re worth, nobody else is going to come and do it for you.

And there are unexpected side benefits: Clients paying more are also way more motivated to stick to their end of the bargain. They want the result. They show up. They’re motivated. They’re proactive.

People shopping for the cheapest option want to save money.

People looking for the most expensive option value something else.

Hopefully, it’s quality. The quality of our services. But it may also be exclusivity, prestige, novelty, or some other trigger.

Whatever it is, we can benefit from it.

They can also make us feel like “oh shit, this is too intense, maybe I ought to stick to my weekly pittance and just be grateful for anything.”

That’s part of the learning process.

I’d take a tough job I can really engage in and grow from, earning 5x my old rate than fighting for the table scraps behind Denny’s with the rest of our nation’s out-of-luck freelancers because I didn’t succeed whilst fighting for freelancing-scraps.

So the question you probably want answered is: How?

How to Increase Your Rates Without Scaring Off Your Client Base

You know perfectly well that a sudden 500% boost in your fees will scare off all your existing clients.

So don’t do that.

As it pertains to your particular situation, I would recommend doing something along the lines of retaining your current clients, but doing future prospecting at your new, dream rate.

This way, you keep the work you have that lets you “get by”, while doing the only thing possible to escape the bargain basement – raising your rates and your perceived value.

And if you have no clients and no income, then do both at once.

The relative impact of adding 1 high-ticket client vs 1 normal client is enormous. You need to start immediately.

If you’re in the fortunate position of having steady work while you’re investigating freelancing – then for goodness sake start with an ambitious rate. You don’t need the money urgently and can afford to take the time to learn how to land valuable clients.

Marketing Yourself

Aiming for high-ticket clients is different than trying to land any client.

You don’t want to position yourself as the cheapest or as an express service.

You want to provide the most value. Exceptional service. A better and deeper understanding of the client’s needs. Value added services. A system with a name.

That’s highly valuable. A system or method that has a benefit-rich or benefit-implied name.

For my English lessons, my pitch is that working with me you’ll develop fluent spoken English in 3 months. I leverage the fact that I am an experienced writer who has been read by half a million people and that I have some English tests ranking in the top 1% and 4% of the world. I have 10 years+ of experience teaching and coaching people, and my own methods that I use.

It all adds up.

When I first heard about this idea, it was from internet marketer Lee McIntyre. “Raise your rates” he said. “It’s the best thing you can do for your business.”

I didn’t listen then. It didn’t make sense logistically. I thought I’d lose everyone I already have and be incapable of finding anyone who wanted to pay a premium.

But it’s possible. Keep going with what you’ve already got. And start putting out feels for that next level. Even if you just spend 30min a day. Even if you doubt your ability to succeed.

I did too at first. I was wrong.

When you get that first client that pays you what you feel you’re worth, everything changes.

Your confidence goes up. You’re goals move from trying to survive to beginning to thrive. You have more time. You have more money. You can look up to the next big and exciting challenge, whatever it is.

Heck, you have more time and energy to devote to providing outstanding service. If you have 8 low paying clients and replace them with 2 or 3 high paying ones, you can devote yourself more to each project and make damn sure that your results are consistently exceptional.

This is the sort of breakthrough that changes everything.

Imagine: More time, more money, the opportunity to do your best work – meaningful work, for appreciative clients. Imagine how that would change your life.

Done?

Great.

Now go make it happen.