Articles - 28th January 2021

How to give yourself a raise

Words by Albert Azis-Clauson
Illustration by James Merritt

So, you’re on a streak. After mixing it up in what I like to to call “the fumble years” for a while, you’ve finally started to make enough money to feel comfortable with consistent clients who understand your work. Congratulations, that’s seriously impressive, and you should be proud. I hope you’ve taken a second to celebrate yourself, how far you’ve come, and feel good about selling your skill set successfully.

Inevitably, however, you’ll probably just be starting to consider when and how you should raise your rates. And that’s exactly the right thing to do. But, from my experience, there’s some questions you should ask yourself to make the transition comfortable and make sure you’re not potentially rubbing the clients you’ve worked so hard to build up the wrong way.

 

  1. Before you even start working with the client, write a contract that puts in reasonable reviews of work based on time spent with client. Yeah, contracts are boring, but they will not scare a decent client away and they will give you leverage in this conversation. If you haven’t drawn up a contract with your regular clients, spend an hour putting one together and message your clients asking if it’s an option with the suggested contract attached.
  2. Have you asked the client for feedback first? And have they been positive? Now you can start the process of actually asking for the raise. But work through a review before coming and asking for a payrise, and then show them you’re noticing their notes.
  3. How much do you need to raise your rates by? And how much do you want to raise them by? Are you asking for this extra money because you’re in desperate need of working up a bracket, or are you asking because you feel you deserve more? This is an important distinction, as it can help you assess how you handle the conversation going forward. Either way, it will affect your relationship with your clients.
  4. Next, honestly assess whether now is the right time. Is your industry in the middle of a massive recession? Are there competitors out there who would willingly and credibly undercut you? Are any of your repeat clients flight risks? Or have you just not been with this client for the right amount of time? These are all the right questions to be asking yourself, and if the answers to these questions make you realise that actually now is not the time, then it probably isn’t. Take a breath, and come back when the answers here change and you can also show a little growth with that client specifically.
  5. Has your value to the client increased in a way you can argue? This can be a really difficult assessment of yourself, and you always want to answer yes, but can you honestly say it has? If you have added a new set of skills or have contributed a particularly strong piece of work to the client, or even to a different client, then the answer may be yes. But lots of time spent with a client does not necessarily denote additional value, especially if your space is over-subscribed. Which leads to the next question…
  6. How easy would it be for the client to replace you? This is a tough question, and I understand that it may be a massive stress point. But if there is the opportunity for the client to turn around and find someone to replace you with ease, then be very very careful about two things; one, how you phrase this ask to your client, and two, whether you even want to work with someone who acts like that. It’s a horrible way to treat freelancers. Get out of there as soon as you can.
  7. How are you going to convince unsure clients that what you’re asking for is fair? Be ready to have a conversation about this, if need be. The first part of this is making sure you give them appropriate notice for raising your rates. How annoyed would you be if you only got told about a price change when it came to checkout at the supermarket? Next, look at the percentage you’re asking for. Anything more than a 15% raise will raise eyebrows (that’s just how it works, don’t ask me why, boomers gonna boom.)
  8. Do you have a plan in place if they say no? Make sure you know how you’re going say you understand that they can’t do that right now, but also how you’re going to ask for a clear picture of what you need to do to get what you want. Ask for targets and set expectations for yourself clearly so you can go back in three to six months time with a clear picture of what you need to get that bump in your earnings.

 

These questions can seem bearish at best and really negative at worst. But these are all things that your clients may be asking themselves when you come asking for more money. Consider their bottom line, as well as the potential that they’ll have someone to answer to in management. And send your email to a friend you trust before you ask, just to make sure you’re hitting the right marks.

All of this to say that if you ask in a respectful, open, and honest manner that has valid reasons behind it, even if they say no, you can still come away with a sense of respect for each other and a clear picture of what you need to do in the future in order to get what you’re looking for. The essence of this process is communication, and it is so valuable to be open and honest with your client. Be confident, don’t second guess yourself (“I know this may be cheeky, sorry to do this, I understand if now is not the right time, are all things you should not say in this setting”), and be ready with your champagne, even if it’s just virtual.

 

What are your goals for 2021? To grow your business, or to just find your first client? No matter what stage you’re on in your freelance journey,  Albert and UnderPinned’s Ultimate Guide to Freelancing Course will make sure you’re on track to build a successful freelance career. The course starts February 1st and will consist of five jam packed weeks of learning. Find out more about the course and sign up here.

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