I recently took part in a great round table discussion with a group of freelancers in Seattle. I knew going in that our topic - pricing our services - was going to provide some great dialogue; I just didn’t realize how complex the process of establishing a pricing strategy truly is as a freelance professional. After about 90 minutes in and numerous rounds of coffees, beers, and horror stories, we had really just scratched the surface of this when we called it a night.
That was last week and now the Northwest Freelancers Association is in the process of developing a series of workshops and templates to help our members fully address this topic and feel confident that their prices are not only fair, but will also sustain their personal financial goals throughout the future.
In the meantime, below are three nuggets we came up with that should provide a solid framework to build from when trying to establish your prices in your own freelancing business:
1) Discourage ambiguity
Every freelancer is asked the awful question: How much does X cost? Regardless of what X represents in your business, the answer should always be the same - At this point, I’m not sure. You absolutely have to dive deeper into the conversation and fully understand what the client is trying to accomplish.
Without fully understanding a client’s needs, it’s impossible to provide a fair and reliable estimate. By blindly providing a “rough estimate” at this point without engaging deeper with the client is only setting the project, the client, and your reputation up for ultimate disaster. The advice seems basic, but in reality is a very common and an avoidable outcome I see all the time.
Additionally, hold yourself to the same rules you provide for clients. Don’t ask for or assume something without providing a clear picture. What’s your budget? is less likely to yield as reliable answer than How did you establish your budget? Bottom line: be specific.
2) Maintain your consistency
One of the most difficult things to do when pricing your services is to take a step back and evaluate how your pricing structure may influence the way client’s perception of you and your professionalism.
While it’s a nice thought to offer different rates for various types of clients or services (for profit v. non profit or coding v. testing), this is generally a bad idea. If you bill, and therefore value, an hour of your time for Client A at $100 then why would you only value yourself at $75 for Client B? If you charge $100 per hour writing HTML then why do you only charge $45 per hour for site testing?
Don’t diminish your value to meet a client’s needs, rather, modify the scope or hours involved instead. By doing so, you will ultimately avoid any conflicts in the future as well as help yourself maintain consistency in your service, communication, and professionalism.
3) Be confident and firm in your pricing
As long as we’ve put in the time and effort into establishing your rates and providing your client with an honest estimated cost for the project, then the price shouldn’t change. Don’t become a bargain bin freelancer and turn yourself, your team of freelancers or your work into a commodity.
Price and psychology go hand in hand. If you present an estimate to your client, who in turn wants you to knock 10 or 20 percent off, which you then do, you may think that you’ve won the job when in fact all you have done is told the client I was charging too much in the first place. If you want to work with this client, then do some things to alter the project, but don’t alter your rate to fit a client’s budget.
We all need work, but we also need referrals and repeat business. By allowing ourselves to be negotiated down, we open the doors for lower future payments, lower quality referrals, and lowered expectations. Regardless of what you do or how much you charge, there will always be someone that can do it for less money, and guess what, you are doing it for less money than someone else. Be confident in your pricing and value your time appropriately.
These are just three simple reminders to keep yourself honest and help the freelance industry as a whole. Being a freelancer is an incredibly challenging responsibility. It’s not just you that you’re representing, but you help to represent an entire community of other independent professionals working just as hard as you are to earn a living by doing the work we enjoy.
Pricing your services fairly, delivering on your promises, and maintaining your professionalism will help you to spend less time chasing dollars and more time booking clients.
Justin Knechtel is the Founder and Managing Director of the Northwest Freelancers Association, an independent non-profit group dedicated to promoting, cultivating, and representing the freelance community of the Pacific Northwest. You can connect with him on Twitter or About.me.