‘Where do I find my clients?’ is probably the question I hear most often about starting as a freelancer. The second must be ‘How much do I charge them?’ Finding clients has never been a big issue for me. The answer is simple: ‘everywhere’. But deciding on your prices, that’s a whole other ball game. The most important thing is that you understand which options are out there so that you can decide what suits your services best. Let me help you by listing some things to consider.
Perhaps the most obvious way to go is by simply charging an hourly rate. This is probably your best option when there is no way to know how long something will take you – and when the client understands that! Some examples of this include doing work that may require lots of revisions because the client doesn’t exactly know what he wants just yet, or when you’re working with startups and plans change almost daily. You may want to consider if you even want to work with those clients in the first place, but if you do, make sure you communicate clearly. If they change plans halfway, it may mean that all your previous work has to be re-done and they will still have to pay for that. However, if they realize that they need the flexibility to change their plans, they will be ok with an hourly rate.
One of the downsides of having hourly rates is that you’re never quite sure how much money you will make in any given month. If your rate is high, it’s not that bad if you have less work for some months, but if your rates are average or even low, a bad month can be a disaster. That’s one of the reasons why you may want to charge fixed prices. There are different options to accomplish that!
One way to get a somewhat-guaranteed income is by having retainer agreements with your clients. This basically means that they buy a fixed amount of hours of your services each month, usually for a discounted price compared to your hourly rate. For example, you charge €50 per hour but offer a monthly retainer of 10 hours. If they agree to a 6-month retainer, you charge €450 per month, saving them €300 over the full period while you can be sure you will have that €450 each month. When they need you only 8 hours, you’re getting paid 2 hours to go for a hike or watch Netflix. Be sure though to agree on your rate for any overtime!
Even though this is a fixed-price strategy and does guarantee you some income, it is still an ‘hourly mindset’. Again, in some cases, that’s simply the way to go, but there are also a lot of situations where hourly rates just aren’t ideal for you as a freelancer. I will tell you why when we look into the other options.
Monthly Packages & Fixed Project Prices
Monthly packages and fixed project prices are my favourite way to go. When talking to a client, I make sure that I fully understand what he or she needs and expects, that those goals are realistic and that we are all on the same page. When that’s the case, I send them a quote, exactly outlining the tasks that we agreed on for me. I’m a social media & content manager, so often it would look something like ‘Daily posts on Facebook & Instagram, Facebook Advertising, answering questions coming in via social media, weekly blog post & monthly newsletter.’ I then give them a monthly price for the full package. More one-off services, like setting up an ad campaign, building a website or giving a training are done with a fixed project price. In both cases, it’s very important to write down exactly what’s included in the price. If small things are sometimes added to it, I won’t complain, but if they expect something bigger, I simply send them a new offer. Here are my reasons why this is my favourite way to go.
The better you get, the less you’ll earn?
One thing I’ve noticed during my time as a freelancer is that you become much more efficient the more experienced you are. This is both in general – you implement better systems, use better tools, learn from previous experiences – and for each specific client. The longer you work with a company, the more you know, the easier it gets to write articles, answer questions, etc. So what took me a full day in the beginning, now takes me maybe an hour, and the result is probably of even higher quality than before. By charging an hourly rate, that would mean that I would earn less money now while delivering higher quality work. That doesn’t sound right, does it?
Time tracking can be frustrating and impractical sometimes. Lots of work can be done from your phone nowadays, so it happens occasionally that I reply to a question while I’m waiting at the metro or schedule a couple of posts while I’m already in bed. I don’t want to be bothered with tracking 3 minutes here and 5 minutes there. With fixed prices, that’s not an issue anymore.
Income Cap & Outsourcing
Another reason to avoid hourly rates is to avoid an income cap. After all, you only have 168 hours in a week and preferably you don’t spend all of them working. Of course, you can always increase your hourly rate, but at some point, high hourly rates may get hard to defend. One way to grow beyond your own capacity is by outsourcing. When I’m too busy, I have a few wonderful writers who deliver great blog posts. All I need to do is edit them a little bit; saves me an hour per post! Outsourced hours are hard to charge for with hourly rates, especially when the clients ask you to use tracking systems, but with a fixed price, you can simply allow for a bit of outsourcing-wiggle-room.
Charge Your Value, Not Your Time
However, the most important reason for me personally is that you should charge your value, not your time. Facebook ads are in my case the easiest example to explain this. Let’s say I run ads for a gym. A monthly membership costs €100 and members need to sign up for at least one year. Let’s say that with spending €100 on advertising cost, I can get them 5 new members each month. If I would charge €1000 per month, they would still make an extra €6000 – €1000 – €100 = €4900, and that’s assuming those people are only members for one year. If they stay longer, the profit will be even higher.
It will cost me a lot of hours to set up the ads and funnel, and even more to test the audience to get to the best target group. However, once that’s all set up, it can run itself for quite some time and I only need to go in every day and check that everything is still running smoothly. But as long as it’s delivering value, there’s no reason I should get charged less once it’s all set up.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of which pricing strategy suits your work best. However, there is something else to consider: should you charge the same for every project? Whether you’re working with an hourly rate or a fixed price, you will often find situations where things are just a bit different, either for you or the client.
In my case, I charge each client something different, because each package is tailor-made for them. They all have different needs and requirements. There is some structure to it, but I could never really articulate it. However, not long ago I read a blog that almost exactly describes what I had been doing unconsciously already; add a multiplier for different factors.
The idea is that you set a basic price (hourly, or fixed per task/project). Then you look at certain factors: if it’s a super fun project with a cool team, the multiplier is 1.0, but if it’s kind of boring you may want to have a 1.3 multiplier. The next one could be about the financial state of the client; if it’s a cool startup, you may want to keep the 1.0, but when it’s a well-financed multinational corporation, you may choose to go with 1.5 or 2.0. You can add all sorts of multipliers, whatever is important to you. You can even decide to do a 0.75 or less when you want to support an NGO.
Obviously, this is not something you want to communicate towards your clients, but I believe it’s a good approach for yourself to make some sense out of why you charge what to whom.
Again, I don’t believe there’s a ‘one size fits all’ pricing strategy. You have to figure out what works best for your services, your way of work and your type of clients. All I can do is stress how important it is to consider all those factors and then decide how you want to structure it.
This article is a bonus section of the Freelance Kickstarter – Client Acquisition course. If you know you have the skills, but you just don’t know how to land those first few clients, this course will show you what to do to kickstart your freelance career!