Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve had to negotiate a fair rate with a client or remind them that “exposure” won’t pay your bills?
Even the best designers and developers have trouble finding good clients that value their work and are willing to pay them what they’re worth. Oftentimes it’s because the designers and devs don’t charge enough, undervalue or undersell themselves, or are just looking for the wrong clients to begin with.
You need to put yourself in the right position so that the clients you want will find you, and you need to offer them more of what they want: traffic, links, leads, and sales. The good news is that there are several ways to do both.
Think Like a Business
While the term “freelancer” in and of itself isn’t a negative word, there are certain connotations that clients associate with it. For instance, some will turn to freelancers when they want a project done cheap and don’t want to shell out money to hire an employee.
Others may turn to freelancers because they know that a freelancer’s income depends on making the client happy, and they will often work longer hours (for less pay) to do the same work as someone at an agency.
Clients often assume they’re getting the better end of the deal by underpaying and overworking their contingent designers. Freelancers themselves may perpetuate this by approaching their work as if the client were doing them a favor.
They’re grateful for the gig, so they don’t complain when a client treats them poorly or underpays them. This continues a cycle of poor clients with poor payments.
One of the ways to avoid this cycle is to treat yourself like a business. Don’t work for free. Charge a higher rate. Don’t work without a contract. Dump clients that don’t treat you well. And most importantly, take yourself, your role and your skills seriously.
Make Your Sales Proposition Unique
Once you start treating yourself as a business (you’re not just a hobbyist working for exposure!), you have to present yourself to clients in a way that screams, “You’ll be glad you worked with me specifically.”
The reality is that there are hundreds and thousands of other designers and developers out there, some of whom may be technically more talented than you. So how will you stand out? How will you make clients want to hire you?
The key is having a unique sales proposition. Yes, you design websites, but you design websites for whom in order to accomplish what?
Do you design websites for restaurants in order to make customer service easier and increase sales? Do you design websites for other freelancers so they can make more money? Do you code mobile apps for businesses looking to expand their reach?
You also need to think about the benefits your work has produced. Do you deliver faster turnaround than other designers in the same space as you? Do you have proven ROI for certain types of clients? Do you deliver a design style unlike any others?
If you can come up with a one-line pitch that encapsulates your unique selling point, you won’t have to sell at all. You can target your ideal clients and they will be more willing to listen because you have what they want.
Productize Your Services
When it comes to pricing, designers and devs often charge far less than they’re worth. The workaround for many freelancers is to raise your prices to make more money, or alternatively, to offer more services.
The downside to this is that clients are often aware of what a fair market rate for your services should be (you’re probably not the only freelancer they’ve worked with), and unless you have a stellar reputation (and a truly unique selling point) they may question why you charge double for the same work they can hire someone else to do.
Offering more services doesn’t always work, either. For one, you only have so many hours in the day, and unless you subcontract out work (which will eat into your income), you can only do so much.
One of the biggest workarounds to the “charge more” or “work more” dilemma is to offer productized services.
Productizing, in short, is a way to package or bundle your services as if they were a single product that someone could click to buy. Productizing allows you to exchange a specific set of services for a specific price (non-negotiable and often higher than standard hourly rates). Because it’s a single “product,” it can also be scaled in a way that regularly hourly work cannot.
As WP Curve puts it, “Even an imperfectly productized service is better than pure freelancing because it will serve as the springboard for you to do something that can be properly automated, delegated and scaled.”
Productizing gives you a deliverable that’s more tailored for the client, gives them exactly what they want, tells them up-front what they’re getting (so they know whether or not to buy-in as soon as they see your website), and lets you avoid overworking on things you’re not getting paid to do.
Use Strategic Marketing
Another common error that designers and devs make when it comes to finding clients is not marketing in the right ways. Having a website isn’t enough – you have to think more strategically.
It’s important that freelancers define the exact clientele they want before they set out to promote themselves. In some cases, getting any client may feel like enough, but in the long run it can be harmful to your business just to take on anyone who will pay you.
Once you’ve defined your ideal client, however, you need to know how to reach them, or, better yet, make them come to you.
You can target specific social media ads, for example, to find businesses in the industries you want or in specific locations. You can find places around the web where your clients are asking questions (Reddit or Quora, for example) and give answers and offer your services.
One of the best ways to market strategically is by creating a lead magnet on your website that gives them something they want, like ebooks, short guides, or a checklist that improves their online presence.
You can also use lead magnets to capture emails, which can then be used to grow a following or to do strategic email campaigns, launch a web series or other creative projects that can set you apart as a leader in your industry.
Really, there are many different ways you can market to your core audience, but the key is to first know exactly who you want to target, why they’re coming to you, and what you have to offer that will help solve their problems.
Package that up into something easily sharable, and you can market yourself successfully.
Getting higher paying clients isn’t always a matter of charging more for your services. You have to truly set yourself apart in an industry with high competition. To start, you need to have higher standards for your own business, and yes, you’re running a business, not working for free.
You also need to identify the things that make you unique, and, if possible, package them up in a way that clients can buy from you without having to negotiate work scopes and contracts (productizing is a great way to do this).
Finally, you need to get creative in the ways you target your ideal clients. Bring them to you with strategic lead magnets on your website and with targeted ads that show them you know their pain points and that you (and only you) can get them the results that they want.