Photo Credit: Dmitri Popov via Unsplash

Are you stupid to charge an hourly rate for freelance projects?

Most freelancers want to raise their rates.

One way to do that is simply to charge more per hour.

Over the years, I have ratcheted up my hourly rates, and I now charge, on average, 3.5x more than I did back in April 2009.

Still, I have encountered problems with charging hourly:

1) Charging hourly caps your income.

Your working hours are your inventory. To increase your income, you must work more hours. But you can only leverage your productivity up to a certain point before you totally exhaust yourself. You can only wring so much out of the towel before it is dry.

2) Charging hourly penalizes your efficiency.

For nearly a decade now, I have written copy and content. I’ve gotten faster and better with experience. Though I will never stop learning and improving, I have, through practice, developed an intuitive grasp of copywriting’s tricks, techniques, and tactics.

A first draft that once required three hours to write now takes me an hour, or maybe just thirty minutes.

I can write something better and get it to the client faster.

By writing something three times as good in a third of the time, I should be earning more money.

More experience, expertise, and efficiency should equal more value for the client, and more value for the client should translate into higher billing and higher profits for the freelancer.

Should… should… should… but…

With charging hourly your reward for working faster is earning less.

Do you see the trap that is charging an hourly rate?

I can attempt to spring the trap by pushing my hourly rates higher, higher, higher: $40, then $75, then $100, then $125, then $150, then $185, then $205, and up from there.

How high can I go? What can the market bear?

Eventually, I will price myself out of range of even my highest-paying clients.

Higher and higher hourly rates may not be a sustainable, long-term solution — a “forever” tactic — but charging an hourly rate for freelance projects isn’t stupid. We all must start somewhere, yes?

Despite my grim analysis above, the best next step for you, business wise, is raising your hourly rates by 10–15%. You need to walk before you can run.

(I’ll cover several more freelance pricing fixes in the days to come.)

Why do otherwise smart, talented freelancers continue to charge low, “competitive” hourly rates?

Some of my friends and freelancers I mentor feel bad about raising their rates: “These people have helped me get to where I am. It seems like small thanks to raise my rates to the point where they can’t afford me.”

I applaud this loyalty. The world needs more of it! But when I dig deeper, I find other emotional drivers like anxiety and fear:

  • “What if a price increase freaks out my loyal clients?”
  • “What if all their clients leave?”
  • “What if the ravenous T-Rex roams the earth once more?”

Fear may sometimes help us survive, but it rarely helps us thrive. And I can attest from long acquaintance with what I call “the drippy faucet” that anxiety makes a crappy business partner.

My coaching clients benefit from injections of cold logic.

  • If you raise your rates, will all of your existing clients leave you? No.
  • Will all the clients who do leave have a bad taste in their mouths? Will they think less of you because you asked for more money? No.
  • Were all the clients who left cool ones with interesting projects whom you really wanted to stick around? No.
  • Does loyalty flow both ways? Yes.
  • If you raise your rates by 10–15%, are we talking about a significant price increase for most projects? No.
  • Is that a small price to pay to keep doing business with you? Yes.
  • Do your clients raise their prices from time to time? Yes.
  • Do things generally go up in price? Yes. This is called inflation.
  • Will some of the clients who leave come back once they can afford your new rates? Yes.
  • Do you fire your local gas station when they raise their prices? No. You may not like paying extra, but you still need transportation.

Like you, your clients buy gas and coffee. Like you they make 100–200 purchases during any given month. Like you they have their guilty pleasures: Starbucks, hot yoga, duck fat fries.

If the quality of your work and the experience of working with you truly valuable to them, then they would find the extra $100 for the two blog posts per month.

An extra $100 per month isn’t going to leave most business owners destitute.

Your incremental price increase isn’t robbing them blind.

Yet, one or two clients may huff and puff.

  • “That’s too much!”
  • “I can’t believe after all these years…”
  • “I’m taking my business elsewhere…”

If you take a step toward sustainability in your business, you’re bound to offend someone.

Freelancing is hard on people pleasers. Sorry. Keep your chin up, bucko. Disappointing people whose approval you don’t need is an acquired taste.

Steel your resolve with these questions:

  • When was the last time you raised your rates?
  • Are you even keeping up with inflation?
  • Do you have the confidence to raise your rates?
  • Do you have the grit to stick to your guns when the odd client tries to make you feel bad?
  • Do you take every opportunity to demonstrate your value with results, reports, case studies, gifts, and freebies?

When you have cemented your value in your clients’ minds, they won’t blink an eye at your new rates. They may not like it, but neither can they imagine working with anyone else.

Finding someone to replace you would be more painful than paying you more.

To raise your rates from time to time is both reasonable and rational. Your reasonable, rational clients understand this because they raise their prices too.

Let’s answer one last question.

Why don’t more freelancers raise their hourly rates?

They’re not sure how exactly to broach the subject, so they procrastinate. Because they haven’t found the right language, they default to saying nothing.

Do you want to fix that “I’m not sure what to say” problem right now?

Click on this link, enter your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link for the email template that I use.

I’ll explain the process, step by step, so that you use the right words to break the news to your clients without scaring them away.

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