Your clients aren’t the problem. Your confidence is the problem.
Have you ever found yourself in Charlie’s shoes?
He said this in a recent email:
“Every time I work with a client, they are happy with my work and promise to work with me again in future. But I rarely hear from them, and if someone does come back, then they expect me to work at the low price from three months ago. Please give me your opinion. What you think about this? How can I save myself from the fear of not getting new work?”
I can empathize with Charlie. In June 2017, four of my monthly retainer relationships disappeared. A fifth got cut in half.
All told, my monthly recurring revenue took an $8,500 hit.
Yet, my clients raved about my work. In fact, the owner of the CPA firm sent me this testimonial without my asking:
“For the first time in our 5 year history, I can say I see definitive results in our marketing. Just this week, I have submitted two proposals to business owners that said very directly that they contacted us because they found us through Google and, more specifically, because of the positive reviews we had. One of those proposals has already been accepted.”
Lesson learned. Just because something is wrong doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
I did excellent work for my clients. They still left, some rather abruptly, due to circumstances beyond my control:
- A software development company hired six new employees and they were refactoring their operating budget. But the work we did together? They loved it.
- A consulting company had over $50,000 in accounts receivable, and they couldn’t afford to pay me until they got paid.
- An in-home care company got acquired, and the marketing work they had outsourced to me would instead be rolled up to corporate.
- A holding company for various portfolios of mobile apps slashed their spending so that they could pay off debt.
- A CPA firm cut back on their marketing once their busy season ended.
We freelancers have two options in situations where
- Wallow in self-pity and wail, “Woe is me!”
- Learn what we can, restructure our businesses as needed, and focus on the things we can control
Human beings love control. (We love control almost as much as we love comfort and self-destruction, but that is a conversation for another day.)
What can Charlie, the freelancer I mentioned earlier, control?
- He can control his branding and positioning.
- He can control the quality of his work.
- He can control whether or not he asks for a testimonial.
- He can control whether or not he stays in touch with his clients.
- He can control whether or not he asks for repeat business.
- He can control whether or not he asks for a referral.
- He can control how much time he spends on marketing.
- He can control his pricing.
Charlie feels cornered by his clients’ expectations: “They expect me to work at the low price from three months ago.”
But we freelancers set our own prices, right?
Why would Charlie continue to charge low prices for his freelance services?
Because he is afraid that the prospects who come to him will reject higher prices. Because he is afraid that past clients will replace him.
You probably never be able to silence all of your fears, so you must choose which ones you prefer to live with?
So I would tell Charlie to pick one of these two fears:
- Fear of being stuck in the same feast-or-famine cycle forever
- Fear of missing out on work because you raised your rates
Of course, this is a false dichotomy. Most of my clients have opted to keep working with me after I raised my rates.
The fear of missing out on work was invalid most of the time. And finally saying no to low-paying projects just felt so good — like finally breaking up with that toxic boyfriend or girlfriend who made you feel small.
How big do you want to be?
Write down your fears. Mull them over. Which ones are keeping you small? Which ones would force you to grow? Choose the fears that make you bigger.
It’s true that, if you raise your rates, your past clients may abandon you. You may come up short one month. You may be late on a few bills. You may question the prudence of your decisions. You may spiral into a chasm of darkness and depression.
Okay, I have coached too many freelancers over the years to believe the last eventuality will happen. That was for dramatic effect.
Do you want to know what happens more often?
You raise your rates. Most of your clients stick with you. Even if a few do leave, you still make more money than if you had kept your rates the same.
And because you’re making more money working fewer hours, you have more time left over to meet new people and market your services. Because you market your services and maintain your pipeline, you get more leads.
Because you get more leads, you can be more picky. You say yes to the high-paying projects, and you politely decline the less desirable ones. Your feast-or-famine cycle becomes a virtuous cycle.
High-paying clients free you up to find more high-paying clients.
Face your fear of missing out on projects.
But before you can level up your freelance business, you must face your fear of missing out on projects. You must take the leap and say no to low-paying work. Focus on what you can control.
(Here are four responses to help you do that with class.)
Freelancing will test your mettle. Freelancing will call up your worst fears of professional failure and financial ruin and social rejection and pain and humiliation. You know those dreams you have about speaking in front of the entire student body in middle school in all your naked pubescent glory?
Yep. Freelancing taps into those fears.
We want to succeed because we believe that success will make us safe. That safety will come in the form of financial independence and an unambiguous sense of belonging.
No amount of success will keep you safe from yourself.
Respect for your work starts with you.
Clients won’t beg you to raise your rates. You have to be the one to do that.
You will struggle to attract better clients until you raise your rates, and you will struggle to raise your rates until you start believing you’re worth it.
You’re worth it. Summon your courage. Give your fear a pat on the head. Raise your rates by 10–15% today — not tomorrow but TODAY.
Your clients aren’t the problem. Your confidence is the problem.
Those words may sting a little, but if you are honest with yourself, you will see their truth. Here’s some sugar to help the medicine go down: For every one freelancer who finally finds her swagger, there are a hundred other freelancers who still operate out of a scarcity mindset.
The only way around your fears is through them.
Which one will you pick? I sincerely hope that you will face your fear of missing out on work because you raised your rates by… raising your rates.
Are you not sure HOW to raise your rates?
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.