How to raise rates (particularly an approach for dealing with legacy clients)

my trick to help you raise rates

If you've been doing freelance work for years, then you likely have clients that have anchored on your early prices from way back in the day. That's not a problem if you don't mind getting paid way less than you are with new clients, but most people do mind.

So how do you raise rates without annoying those legacy clients? 

That's the question, isn't it.

Before I share with you the insight that has helped me, let me share how I came upon it.

Let's talk haircuts

I normally get my haircut at SuperCuts. You know, the perfect place for people who really don't care much about haircuts.

Yet, for not caring much, I met a hair stylist there that was awesome. She seemed to do a perfect job every time, which is saying a lot since most of my haircuts weren't all that consistent.

Anyway, over time I really came to appreciate Suzanne. She was excellent and I started only booking appointments with her.

Then, one day, she let me know she was moving to a different company to cut hair – a salon a few miles away.

Now I had a choice

On the one hand, I could keep paying the same rate I had come to expect, staying at the same place, but change the person cutting my hair (and potentially impact the consistency of my haircuts).

On the other hand, I could start getting my haircut elsewhere – but at a different price.

And that's when I had an “aha” moment.

The price I was used to was tied to the service, not the person delivering it.

If you think about it, the real issue you have with talking to your legacy clients is that it feels like you're changing the rules on them. They'll feel it, and you'll feel it.

But you don't need to change the rules. You just need to realize that there were two parts to those original rates:

  • What would be done for that rate
  • Who would do it

And once you realize that the rate is actually tied to the first, and not the second, you'll see the freedom in how to have the conversation.

Because it's the same conversation my hair stylist had with me.

You have two options

When I talk with people, especially really old clients, I don't even talk about a “second” option. Instead, I simply tell them that the service they want (a quick website, a fast logo, etc) is still available at those rates. But it will be with someone else. Not me. That's when I introduce them to:

  • Someone I've hired to do the work at that rate
  • A partner who does that kind of work
  • An online service where they can get it done

The rules aren't changing. The service is still exactly what it used to cost. Because if they only value a logo for $100, then they should only pay $100. (That's a whole different discussion, by the way.) But it won't be me doing a logo for 1994 rates. Instead, I'll send them to a site with pre-made logos available for $99.

Of course, some people will say “But I want you.” And then we can talk about option two. The option where I do it but I charge my current rate.

See, by decoupling the who from the what, we can have a much easier and better conversation about rates.

I don't know if it will work for you, but it has worked for me – with both options.

Some folks have chosen to stay with the lower rates and others have moved up. But it's been their choice and by giving them options, it's not been an antagonistic conversation.

I hope it helps.