5 Valuable Lessons For Winning 5-Figure Clients
When I first started designing, I literally charged $10/hour for logo design.
I shake my head when I look back, knowing what I know now, but back then I thought I was making good money!
Here’s a screenshot of one of my early invoices.
I soon discovered that the amount of work I put into my projects was disproportional to what I was getting back.
I realized that if I wanted to actually make a living doing what I love, then I’d have to raise my rates to something sustainable.
But how the heck do you go from charging $500 for your services to $5,000, or $10,000, or even $30,000?
I’ve done each of these and it feels like a huge leap to take, which it is in some ways, but maybe not the ones you think.
It’s more than just getting lucky and it’s not just for people who have been doing it for a long time.
Charging 5-figures to your clients isn’t some kind of mysterious black magic skill that only the elite in your industry can do.
Essentially, it all comes down to closing the gap between you, your client, and the destination they want to arrive at.
When you first meet, that gap may be pretty big, especially if you’ve never worked with them before, but each of these 5 lessons can help bridge that gap and make it easier for you to ask for more money and for them to agree to pay it to you.
Don’t ask, “How can I get them to see I’m worth 5-figures?”
Ask, “How can I make this worth 5-figures for them?”
People won’t pay you more because they think YOU are worth more, they will pay you more because you can PROVIDE THEM with more value.
THAT’S what makes you worth more.
You can’t double or 5x your rates without upgrading the level of service or the scope you’re providing to the client.
The Value has to match the price. They are intertwined.
High price x low value to client = Ripoff to client
Low price x high value to client = Ripoff to you
Low price x low value to client = Not worth either of your time
High price x high value to client = Win-Win
How you can increase the value of what you’re providing to the client:
Skill is the baseline, customer experience is the differentiator
Things like the visuals you create, in-depth presentations of your work, detailed explanations of your creative decisions, the frequency and rhythm of how you follow-up, and how you guide them through the process are all ways you can upgrade your customer experience.
You can stay at a hotel and sleep in a bed at either a crappy motel or at a luxurious hotel, but the experience is completely different, which is why one costs $50/night and the other costs $500/night
Upgrade your brand presentation
If you ask for $5,000 but your business looks like you haven’t done anything bigger than getting hired by your aunt, then there’s a big gap between what they see and what you say you can do.
Your website, social media, promotions, and even your personal experience needs to nonverbally communicate, “I do this for a living. You can trust me. I’ve done this for others and I can do this for you too."
Two different restaurants could have equally great food, but you will be more likely to step into the one that doesn’t look like a hole-in-the-wall, and you’ll probably feel more comfortable paying more too.
Expand your services
Offer more comprehensive services - Ex: Not just a logo design, but stationery, a website, marketing materials, digital graphics, etc.
Charge for your brain - The strategy, consulting (advice), and problem solving that you do as a natural part of your process is VALUABLE and you should definitely be charging for it. Most people can learn the technical skills of what you do, BUT nobody has your specific combination of skills, experience and way of thinking.
Charge for convenience & ease to your client - Take things off of your client’s plate, save them time (quantify it if possible) - Ex: “You’re currently spending 5 hours a week asking for customer information. I’ll create a form on your website that will eliminate that step to help you get back that time. Over the course of a year, that will save you 260 hours, which is 6.5 workweeks of time!”
Offer tiered pricing - Position the price you want with two alternatives on the high and low end. It’s psychology (Here’s a great reference article: Nobody Bought The Cheapest Option)
Deal with your limiting beliefs about money
People will see you through the lens that you view yourself, and if you view yourself as being low-value, then you will only get clients who think the same way.
This is similar to the saying, “We accept the love we feel that we deserve."
Your limiting beliefs will limit your business:
I’m just a beginner
I’m not worth it
Asking for lots of money is selfish
Rich people are greedy/mean/stuck-up
It’s easy to do so it should be cheap.
A client will only feel comfortable paying you $10,000 if you feel comfortable asking for $10,000. And you will feel comfortable asking for those numbers if you believe it’s worth it to the client.
You’ve got to SELL YOURSELF on the value FIRST in order to sell the client on the value.
It’s not just a matter of asking for more. You have to BELIEVE you can deliver.
This is HUGE.
Minimize or eliminate risk for the client
Risk is one of the biggest factors considered when clients are making a decision of who to hire.
The more money involved, the higher the risk.
If it doesn’t work out and they spent a bunch of cash, then they’ve messed up big time and it’ll be hard for them to recover (especially if they’re a small business).
The more perceived risk there is with hiring you, the less likely they are to do it.
The more you can give them confidence that you know what you’re doing, and that you’re the least risky of the options, the more likely they are to work with you.
Also, the higher the risk to the client, the more money you should ask for.
This is why branding jobs can cost so much. It’s because you are taking on the responsibility of how your client is perceived by the world; if you succeed then they win big, but if you fail, then it could seriously affect their business.
Risk factor EXAMPLES:
Lack of experience/professionalism
Lack of a track record of previous successes
Disproportional cost to their perceived value – (UNDER-bidding a big job or OVER-bidding a small job) - Accurately bidding a job is a reflection of competency and experience.
Lack of self-confidence – Having confidence in yourself will give them confidence in you
Lack of organization, direction or structure - You are the professional, the guide, and you should be able to have a clear path to lead your client on. You need to give them an idea of what this journey looks like before you even start.
Factors for lowering risk:
Testimonials - “See, I’m not the only one who thinks I’m awesome.” – One of the most powerful methods because it gives you 3rd party credibility.
Strong examples in your portfolio of work - “Here’s how I’ve done this before for others.”
Bring Clarity - Connect the value dots so they see WHY this gets them to their ideal destination – “Here’s exactly how this solution will get you the result you want. I’ve created a custom-tailored plan for your specific needs.”
Get a small win first
Nearly all of my large client projects first started with a small project.
Before you have a big ask, people want to test the waters. They want to do a trial run that is low-risk that can help them get comfortable
I’d recommend picking just one of the items they’ve mentioned to you and tackling that first to help give them a sense of what it’s like to work with you.
You can even do a paid consulting session or a roadmapping strategy session that helps lay the foundation for the bigger project - it’s a win-win. I HIGHLY recommend you do this for all large projects.
You could sell them a training session that teaches them some basic skills as a scaled-down version of what they need. (An example I’ve done: $200 for 2 hours. These have led to design clients as well as purchases of my online course)
Don’t write off small projects.
Just because a client comes to yo with a small project first doesn’t mean they’re cheap.
Learn more about the client by asking good questions, because often times clients have greater ongoing needs than what they initially approach you with.
You as the professional have a deeper knowledge of what their future needs might be, so don’t leave it up to them to ask for it. Make suggestions for other ways you can serve them and explain how those solutions could help them achieve their goals easier, faster, more effectively.
They may not even know that you offer a certain service until you mention it!
By the way…
You know that client I only charged $10/hour for logo design at the beginning of this article?
They’ve ended up being my longest-running clients for my business, our projects have easily paid me $100,000+ combined over the years, they’ve referred me to other new clients, brought countless work opportunities, and they’ve also become super-close family friends.
It goes to show that no matter how small the work, it’s important to perform with excellence, to help your clients succeed, and to continue to challenge yourself to grow alongside them. The end goal should be to build a long-term working relationship with your community of clients, rather than just perform a transactional exchange.
PS: I charge them much more then $10/hour now 😎
Sell the end result, not the product/service.
Too many of us get hung up on explaining the technical details of the project rather than looking at the bigger picture.
Figure out what your client is REALLY buying when they hire you.
Here’s a perfect example from Seth Godin’s book, This Is Marketing:
DON’T SELL THE DRILL BIT
Theodore Levitt, a Harvard marketing professor, famously said,
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
But we can take this further: someone wants the hole so they can put a shelf on the wall; which lets them keep their stuff tidy and on display; and, they want to feel good about doing it themselves.
In other words: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want to feel safe and respected.”
They don’t want the thing you have made, they want what it will do for them and how it will make them feel.
YOU buy for emotional reasons too. Your clothes, food, trips, experiences... Use that knowledge to serve your clients.
ANother example: They aren’t hiring you to design a website.
They’re hiring you to help them look more credible so they can get more clients/customers, which creates more revenue for their business.
Don’t stop there!
More revenue for their business means their bills are paid, which means less stress at home, which means they can be more present with their spouse and kids.
This leads to a greater feeling of fulfillment and joy in their lives, which in turn makes them more driven, passionate, generous, peaceful, and any number of intangible results...
Uncover what the real emotional benefit to the client is.
Significance, credibility, prestige, acceptance… There’s really only a handful of core human motivators that drive us human beings.
According to a study, these are the 16 core motivations:
Acceptance, the need to be appreciated
Curiosity, the need to gain knowledge
Eating, the need for food
Family, the need to take care of one’s offspring
Honor, the need to be faithful to the customary values of an individual’s ethnic group, family or clan
Idealism, the need for social justice
Independence, the need to be distinct and self-reliant
Order, the need for prepared, established, and conventional environments
Physical activity, the need for work out of the body
Power, the need for control of will
Romance, the need for mating or sex
Saving, the need to accumulate something
Social contact, the need for relationship with others
Social status, the need for social significance
Tranquility, the need to be secure and protected
Vengeance, the need to strike back against another person
Not all of these apply to a business context (hopefully!), but you can probably notice some of them that might be more closely connected to their desire to grow their business.
If you can uncover your client’s core motivations and understand them, then you can have the confidence needed to guide your clients to that end point.
You need to ask questions to find out what their goals and aspirations are.
Ask what it would mean for them to achieve their business goals, so you can find out their emotional motivations.
Find out what would consequences happen if their problem doesn’t get solved.
Find out what success on this project would allow them to accomplish.
It’s a given that you need to have the technical skills and experience to execute the project. But if you can connect the dots and show them that you are the right person who understands their deeper aspirations and can actually take them to that destination, then that’s one of the most powerful ways to sell high-profile jobs.
I encourage you to try these out.
Maybe even one at a time so you can get comfortable stretching your limits.
Gradually increase your rates to be just outside of your comfort zone. Chances are if you feel comfortable with what you’re charging, you may not be charging enough.
Think of this as just the beginning of an ongoing journey of learning about money, pricing, and working with clients.
It can be fun! (Even if it’s scary at times) Just always keep pushing yourself to grow.
Here’s some more great resources for learning about charging more:
Double Your Freelancing Rate - LOADS of super helpful articles
Double Your Freelancing Rate Course by Brennan Dunn
BURNOUT AND RAISING PRICES | Honest Designers Podcast Episode 70