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AT THE END of a recent workshop on negotiation someone asked the question: “It’s all very good talking about negotiating new work but what about trying to increase your rate to an existing client?” The room fell silent as everyone thought, good question and this got me mulling over how we think about ourselves when it comes to earning more money.

If you were selling apples, you would work out what it cost to grow them, pick them, package and transport them, add something for profit, compare that with what other people are charging, adjust if necessary, then just get on with it. When it comes to selling our own services, for many of us there is almost an embarrassment that we charge for what we do!

I blame Oliver Twist. Generations of us have sat in front of that film and empathised and absorbed that famous scene, so that as grown professionals, we still approach our clients, mentally with bowl in hand, and whisper, “Please sir, I’d like some more”, fully expecting our clients to turn into Harry Secombe screaming, “MORE?”

It’s not rational is it? If they didn’t want or need what we do, we, or others like us, wouldn’t be being paid to do any of this in the first place, would we? If you accept that, it’s really just a matter of degree regarding how much they pay.

Earning enough is one of the biggest worries for most freelances, and, if this includes you, then we have some suggestions that may help.

More of the same

The obvious place to start looking for more income is to find ways to increase what you are already doing. It may even be possible to get additional work from your existing clients. You don’t know unless you ask. Or they may know other people and be prepared to recommend you, again, don’t assume, ask them.

The advantage of doing more of the same is that you have a track record, contacts, and a body of work. It’s very easy to get lulled into thinking that you are doing all you can in any one area. So take a look at what you do with fresh eyes, imagine you are a candidate on The Apprentice with Sir Alan Sugar breathing down your neck, having set you the challenge to find 10 additional opportunities in your area of work. What would you come up with? Once you have your ideas, go speak to people and see if you can make them happen.

Other work for the same clients

Another area where we can become blinkered is to limit what we offer to existing clients to what they have always used us for. If you are hired regularly as a musician by someone, but are technically very skilled, you might be able to offer your services there as well. Or perhaps you teach for an organisation, where you could also perform. Or perform where you could also write.

It’s important to keep looking for opportunities that lie right in front of your nose. In marketing speak this is called ‘low hanging fruit’. Clients are likely to remain blissfully unaware of your many talents if you don’t enlighten them.

Diversify – what else?

What else do you do that you are the ‘go to’ person for your friends and family, but which you don’t actually charge anyone for? Most of us have hidden talents tucked away, some of them have the potential to be good earners. Look at those people who have such a passion for organisation and order, who have managed to create a lucrative business out of sorting out other people’s cupboards and lives. I’ll bet no school careers officer would have suggested that one.

The problem with these special skills that we all have is that they come so easily to us, we often don’t rate them and we harbour the belief that, if we can do them, anyone can, when the truth is quite the opposite. So start off by asking your friends and family what they think you are good at, and see if there is a money maker in there somewhere.

Stop giving it away

This is sticky point for many. While there are times when a foot in the door for no pay or expenses is a genuine opportunity, more often than not you should be charging for what you do. Agreeing to do work for nothing not only devalues your work, it undermines every other professional in your field who is trying to charge appropriately for what they do. Also on a practical level, signing up for unpaid work makes you unavailable to even look for paid work.

Increase your rate

We don’t live in a world where prices are static for us. Pretty much all of our expenses constantly creep upwards, e.g., food, travel, accommodation and power, so without an increase in our rates, we are actually taking a pay cut. When you think about it like that, it seems crazy not to keep this under regular review and periodically adjust your rate.

You’ll need to make a case that explains to your client why you are increasing your rates. Without sounding apologetic, present the facts - I have maintained the same rate for you for X years now, in the meantime, my costs have increased by X %, therefore, I have to increase my rate to £X. I would also suggest giving them some notice of one or two months, rather than saying, “Oh, I forgot to tell you my rates went up this month.”

Most people will recognise the necessity of this, and if they don’t, you have to be prepared to negotiate. You could suggest doing less time for the same money, or maybe there are other benefits you could barter. If they are really not interested in paying you more or making any concessions, you may want to consider walking away. Obviously this is an option you need to think through fully before you open the conversation. Decide what your minimum acceptable outcome is, and what your best alternative options are, then you can make some choices and plan your strategy.

So, forget all about Oliver Twist and get out there to see how you can use the many skills you have to earn more for what you do.

More info

  • Effective negotiation e-course
  • Diversify your portfolio e-course
  • Pitching for work - quick tips

Business skills training
for creative freelances