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Take the Money and Run: How I Regularly Convince Clients to Triple Their Project Budgets

“I wish I was a poor starving artist,” said no freelancer ever.

When I started freelancing, I was making next to nothing. (And I know I’m not the only one.)

I scraped by with a mix of low-paid blogging gigs, Craigslist projects, and the odd guest article.

Nowadays, I’ve ditched the low rates, I haven’t looked at Craigslist in years, and my guest articles (like this one) are part of a deliberate, planned strategy to further my business – not to pay the bills.

No matter how many clients you take on, you can't seem to increase your freelance income consistently. Here's how to triple your clients budgets.

In my last article, I mentioned how I’m just coming off a $5,000 month. And while it’s true that I’m earning more than 3x more money than I was when I started writing, I’m doing about the same amount of work (or maybe a little bit more.)

So how did I do it?

I looked at the clients I was working for and I developed a strategic plan to convince clients to pay me what I’m worth.

And today, I’m going to show you exactly how I did it. I’m going to show you the secret recipe I use to convince clients to fork over serious cash.

Getting Inside the Client’s Head: How Your Intake Process Influences Your Fee

Before you can charge high rates, you need to present yourself as a professional – and that starts with having a well thought-out intake process.

Suffice it to say that a quick phone conversation simply isn’t enough for you to form a quote. There’s no opportunity to figure out what it is your client really wants (as opposed to what he says he wants) and there’s no chance for you to get inside your client’s head.

That’s why I ask questions that reveal several key things, like:

  • Why is the client coming to me now?
  • How familiar is this client with my work?
  • What preconceived ideas does this client have about copywriters? How do those ideas help/hurt me, and which of them do I need to challenge?
  • What aspect of my branding do I need to play up in order to win this client?

Note that these aren’t necessarily the questions I’ll be directly asking the client – rather, these are the questions I keep in the back of my mind when I’m chatting with the client. Because the more I know about what it is the client really wants, the better equipped I’ll be to provide them with a desirable solution.

Note that I deliberately use the word wants. Not needs. Wants.

Why is that an important distinction?

Because the budget can stretch for wants.

When you can sell the client what they want, not just what they think they want or what you know they need, you can get them excited about the project and convince them to pay you more money.

The Lost Art of the Project Proposal: Justifying Value and Increasing Desire

If you’ve been a freelancer for longer than a couple of years, you’ve probably sent a few project proposals.

A project proposal is a fantastic way to showcase your skills and value – and demonstrate to the potential new client what working with you is going to be like.

That said, the common mistake that I see a lot of freelancers making is treating their project proposals like an annual report for a large corporation.

A project proposal isn’t a static document. It’s not something that you just send as a formality. It’s your method of winning the sale.

That’s why you need to write your project proposal like an advertisement.

As an example, let’s take a look at an excerpt from a standard project proposal that a newbie freelancer might produce to win a contract with an agency. (This specific example is a college student’s final project for a business course, but if this is what we’re teaching our future business owners, God help us.)

MikeSAug1

(Source: Sample Project Proposal Design Document by Arturo Pelayo. Excerpt published under the Fair Dealing provision for the purpose of education as per Section 29 of the Copyright Act of Canada.)

This is only one page out of a 14-page proposal, but it’s enough to illustrate some of the principles I’m talking about.

Can you identify some of the major problems with this project proposal?

Let’s start with the fact that the project proposal jumps straight into who the service provider is.

The big problem here?

Nobody cares who you are.

They just care about how you can solve their problems.

Another big issue with this project proposal is that it’s written in a terribly bland manner. And finally, it fails to set up the problem before introducing the solution.

When I send project proposals, I use high-impact sales copy type statements to highlight the client’s problem, get emotional buy-in, and then present the solution.

Want an example? Here’s an excerpt from a recent project proposal I wrote that landed me an initial $1,500 project and an $1,100 follow-up project:

FACT: Generating online sales is hard.

Today’s solopreneurs and business owners are stressed out, distracted, and busier than a one-eyed cat watching nine rat burrows. When they’re not on the phone talking out details with business partners or attending conferences trying to get sales, they’re typing out vision documents and trying to find ways to make their most creative and out-there misfit ideas meld together into one cohesive whole.

And while they have big visions and big goals, they often get too caught up in the day-to-day to actually figure out, let alone stick to, a strategic plan that breaks goals into achievable milestones.

They’re disorganized, distracted, and dismissive of anything that isn’t immediately relevant to the things they want right now.

Without a persuasive sales pitch, you’re left shouting through a megaphone as crowds walk past you with their eyes dead set on what they think they need, not realizing that what they actually need is someone who can mentor them and help them grow their business.

The proposal then goes on to list project components, fees, deadlines, testimonials, and past project samples before proceeding to a call to action.

The project proposal isn’t just a formality; it’s a sales asset that you can use to prove your value. And by including testimonials, portfolio samples, and “problem” statements that show you understand the client’s challenges, you can justify charging a higher fee.

You’ll also want to use a simple website builder to draft your project proposals instead of Word. (Personally, I recommend Strikingly.) A website builder makes it easy to give your project proposals a variety of appealing visuals, so they look more professional than sending a simple Word doc.

It really is that simple – you can command high fees if you know how to justify your value. And that starts with the project proposal. With a professional-looking (and human) project proposal, you can not only win the project, but get clients to pay extra for the privilege of working with you.

Mike Straus Mike Straus is a freelance copywriter who helps businesses of all sizes to stand out, do something different, and get heard. He founded Brand Gesture Marketing to help startups, freelancers, and established businesses that are tired of “just okay” marketing. Tired of “content”. Tired of the same old stuff. Businesses that want to nix the cliches and do something that works.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Great post, Mike. I especially love your point about selling what the client “wants”.

  • Hey Mike,

    Great Article. I was wondering if you use a different approach to increasing your rates with your current clients vs. your prospects.

    Thanks!

    • Hi, Joe!

      It’s great to hear that you’re thinking of increasing your rates with your existing clients. And yes, there are very different processes and approaches to use depending on whether it’s an existing client or a prospect.

      For prospects, I don’t typically bother with even telling them that I’ve increased my rate – I simply say, “Here’s what I’m going to give you, and here’s what it’s going to cost.”

      The important thing here is to be direct and confident. State your price as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. State it like it’s a proven fact. State it with the same certainty as if you’d just given someone the time. And then stop talking. Once you’ve thrown a number out there, the first person to speak loses.

      For existing clients, you usually want to say something like this:

      “Hi [Client],

      First of all, let me say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with you over the past [however long they’ve been your client]. I think we’re doing a great job of [outcome that client wants to achieve] and I’m eager to continue building on that work in the future.

      That said, I need to alert you of some important across-the-board changes that are happening over at [your company name]. I have some big plans for the future that will greatly improve the level of service I’m able to provide you [give examples], but in order to do that, [your company name]’s base rates will need to increase. Effective [date in the near future], all [kind of work] projects will be billed at a rate of [your new rate].

      Given that [insert reason – ex. “You’re one of my oldest clients,” “you’ve only just come on board,” etc…the reason doesn’t really matter that much as long as you have a reason], I’d like to make a goodwill gesture and provide you with an additional three months of support at a grandfathered rate of [old rate]. This means my new rate won’t be reflected on your invoices until [date three months from the current date].

      Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. I look forward to providing you with even more specialized service in the future, and I’m pleased to have you on board as a part of [your company name]’s journey as we continue to grow.”

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