5 things you need before raising your prices

Published by Nela Dunato on in Branding, Business, Tips for creatives

Ever since I published my article “The difference between the $100 logos, $1.000 logos and $10.000 logos”, I keep getting emails from designers who want my advice on charging higher fees. They feel like they “deserve” more money, but are confused about how to make that happen.

Typical questions they ask are:

  • “How much should I be charging?”
  • “How much is this logo design worth?”
  • “Where do I find clients that will pay what my work is worth?”

I can’t answer these questions for anyone else, but I also think these are the wrong questions to focus on. These designers are trying to skip some of the fundamentals of business which become more and more necessary as we’re trying to break into higher income brackets. (Sadly, they’re usually not open to hearing this, and just want a quick fix for their financial predicament.)

For those that are ready to take a hard look at their business practices, I’ll offer how one can really start charging higher prices.

I’ll be using graphic design as an example, but even if you’re a writer, developer, virtual assistant, coach, or some other type of service professional, you can use the following tips to raise your prices.

5 things you need before raising your prices

You may not be able to raise your prices overnight

Assuming you’re a decent designer with a strong portfolio…

The main factor in determining your prices is whether you can consistently find clients who are willing to pay your rates. More so than your years of experience and your skills, it’s about how desirable your services are to your clients.

If you’re overflowing with work, and raising your fees would actually help you hit the right balance of work and pay, that’s an easy decision. Fewer clients will agree to your rates, but they’ll cover the difference, so you’ll work less for the same or higher amount of money.

If you’re barely filling your schedule as is, then raising your prices (without changing anything else) is a huge risk that may leave you with no clients.

The higher paying clients have higher expectations.

If you’re not meeting those expectations, they won’t buy from you.

It’s not just about the money. (It’s never just about the money.) It’s about how you present yourself as an expert, and how you connect and communicate with clients. Money is a result of that. If you just change your pricing and nothing else, it might not work because the clients can’t see why it’s worth it.

So what are those client expectations and how do you position yourself as a high-ticket service professional?

1. Compelling competitive advantage 

Why should the clients choose you, instead of someone else? There’s a ton of talented designers out there, so clients can have their pick.

“I can draw really nice logos” is not enough. Choose a niche, or a style, or some other way to differentiate, so clients will want to pay you thousands of dollars.

I wrote a few articles on differentiation:

If standing out from your peers is your weak spot, read these articles, apply the advice, and you’ll start seeing a difference.

2. Appealing branding

I teach business owners that your price needs to reflect not only the quality of your work, but also your professional presentation. In my article “Is your business a bargain bin brand?” I described what happens when your presentation is not at the level that we tend to expect from “premium brands” (brands that charge higher fees). You can’t sell expensive champagne in a plain bottle, and you can’t sell $2000 logos on a free Wix website.

Take the quiz: Easy & Free Brand Health Check for Your Service Business

All this stuff we tell our clients—how having a great looking brand will help them get more buyers—is twice as important for us.

  • Your portfolio needs to look great, and be hosted on your own domain.
  • Use an email account on this domain as well, and not some free Gmail or Yahoo address. (See point #3 on professionalism.)
  • You also need an “About me” page with an informative biography and a photo that looks trustworthy.
  • Your services and competitive advantage need to be described either on your home page, or a dedicated services page.

This is the very minimum, and depending on how much time and resources you have, you can take it further. Here are some more articles on creating your brand:

3. Impeccable professionalism

Creatives are not known for their high levels of professionalism. The artist stereotype is disorganized, flaky, bad with money… And this doesn’t fly when you’re trying to run an actual business. (I’ve learned this lesson early in my career.)

Low-budget clients are often not quite professional, so designers get used to that kind of behavior and think it’s normal. They work without contracts, allow their clients to derail their creative process, respond to emails and calls outside of business hours, don’t take deadlines seriously, tolerate late payments, agree to speculative work… And when you show up like that in front of a serious client that is used to working with professionals, you look like a hack.

The clients we’re aiming for are also hiring lawyers, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, interior decorators… So that’s the professional standard we need to match.

If you want to earn 4–5 figures per project, it’s time to quit with the amateur hour.

Seriously, if you only remember one thing out of this entire article, let it be this: start acting like a professional and people will respect your work more.

I know creatives hate admin and organization, but that’s no excuse. I’m an artist with an ADHD diagnosis, and I hate admin as much as you do. But at one point in my life when I realized how much my lack of organization was holding me back, I pulled myself together enough to create a system that my clients praise. You don’t have to do it all at once like I did, but at least do something.

For more tips on how to impress your high paying clients with your professionalism, read these articles:

 4. Demonstration of expertise

Designers often fall into the “portfolio trap”—we may think that our skills are obvious to anyone, so we don’t need to talk about our specialized knowledge.

This is only true if your work sells on the basis of visual style. Some designers have a strong, unique style, and the clients that want that specific style may be persuaded through visuals alone.

Most designers are not like that. We adapt our style for each project, and bring other strategic skills to the mix. But these skills are not obvious to laypeople, so if we want them to notice and appreciate our expertise, we need to call their attention to it.

How do we do that?

We explain the work that goes into a successful project through:

  • Case studies
  • Articles
  • Lectures
  • Panels
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Interviews
  • Social media posts

Other signs of expertise include advanced degrees, industry awards, or media features. I wrote about this topic in more detail in the article: “How to get clients to see you as an expert.

Tip #5 is coming right up after this short announcement…

Join my online workshop on August 2nd 2023

Online workshop: Position Yourself as an Expert and Build a Powerful Human-Centered Brand

I’m joining forces with my client Sarah Santacroce of Humane Marketing to deliver a 90-minute workshop for service professionals on positioning yourself as an expert and building a powerful Human-Centered Brand. In the workshop I’ll share:

  • How people evaluate potential service providers, what it has to do with your brand and what to do about it so that you’re the one they hire.
  • How visual branding affects the perception of expertise and what it takes for you to ‘Go Pro’ in order to attract better clients.
  • How pricing and branding are related so that you can work towards raising your prices.

Learn more about the workshop

5. A network of colleagues that respect you & recommend your services

Are you regularly getting to know new people who might become potential clients, or refer new clients to you?
Do you have a great reputation in your community, so that colleagues, former clients, and acquaintances recommend you to others?

If the answer is no, then you’re missing out on the most effective way to find new clients.

People think that the internet is the end-all be-all for finding clients. But as the design market gets more and more saturated, I noticed that it’s getting more difficult for new freelancers to break through.

Even online, supportive relationships mean a lot more than social media following or website traffic. It’s all about who you know.

Get to know the kind of people you want to work with.

The biggest challenge with finding higher paying clients is getting inside their social circle.

Creatives tend to hang out with other creatives, because it’s fun. Even in business circles, we’re more likely to run into struggling startup founders than successful seasoned business owners. Just think about it: who has the time and motivation to hang out with other business owners at very non-exclusive events that are open to newbies?

Successful business owners are picky about where they show up because it has to be worth their time.

Where might they show up?

  • At events hosted by an organization they’re a member of.
  • Or events they’ve sponsored.
  • Or ones they’re invited to speak at/participate in a panel.
  • When they’re being presented with an award. 

How many events like this are you even aware of? How do you get in, and more importantly how do you start conversations with people there?

Selling services to the people you meet is not the goal.

They may or may not need them. But those people associate with other business owners with a similar level of experience. They might introduce you to others who do need your services.

Just a few of these clients may eventually lead towards a whole new lucrative niche.

No one wants to hear they’re not ready to raise prices.

When I suggest this, some people get defensive. I realized that most of them don’t want actual advice—they want my encouragement and compliments. Compliments feel good, but they don’t pay the bills!

That’s why I will no longer engage in these discussions. This is my last word on raising prices on this blog.

I hope it will be helpful to you. It’s hard work, but it will pay off.

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...

Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

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