Wrangle Your Insecurity & Raise Your Rates

Austin L. Church
January 25, 2016
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Do you know what keeps many freelancers on the feast-or-famine roller coaster? Insecurity. You must wrangle it before you can confidently raise your rates and earn what you're worth.Before I started freelancing in 2009, the most I had ever earned per hour was probably around $20, selling fireworks. When I started charging $40 an hour for copywriting services, I felt like I was living high on the hog. But charging that shiny new rate also made me nervous. Would people see through me, somehow figure out that other people had paid me less? What if potential clients had sticker shock and walked away?Though I didn’t expect people to laugh in my face—most people are more polite than that—I did feel like an imposter.

Why Insecurity Is Expensive

$40 was nearly three times as much as I had earned per hour in my first and only salaried position at a marketing firm. You can imagine my surprise when no one batted an eyelash at that rate. In fact, one seasoned creative told me I needed to raise my rates to $75 an hour, effectively immediately. (You can read that full "Pricing is Branding" story here.) I quickly realized that if I didn’t address my insecurity, my imposter complex, then it would cost me a lot of money.If you feel squeamish about your rates and almost whisper them in client meetings, then stop. Stop.That mental crap is burning money. You may as well start lighting $100 bills on fire. Fact: Many people around the world who offer the exact same services as you charge anywhere from 3x to 10x as much. Do you really believe their work is ten times better? You're only one tenth as good? And they create ten times as much value?The vast majority of clients aren’t paying for some definite quantity of quality. They may think they're paying for quality. You may think they're paying for quality. But they're not. Most of them don't have the expertise needed to evaluate your work and make a side-by-side comparison between it, and say, web content from another writer.

raise your rates

Photo Credit: Leeroy via Unsplash

Maybe 10% of what you're selling is quality. The other 90% is the experience of working with you.My friend, Jennie Andrews is a very successful photographer (and now real estate investor) in Knoxville. She put it this way: “I never set out to be the best wedding photographer in Knoxville. I just wanted to be easy to work with."You can imagine my delight when I read these words from writer Neil Gaiman's "Make Good Art" speech:

People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today's world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They'll forgive the lateness of the work if it's good, and if they like you. And you don't have to be as good as the others if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Your clients are paying for an experience, and they prefer to do business with people they like. Being easy to work with and being likable are what fill the gap between an $1800 wedding shoot and a $5400 wedding shoot.Copywriters who bill $400 an hour and designers who charge $10,000 per logo are selling swagger.If you've got the chops but not the swagger, you're leaving money on the table. Insecurity is expensive.

Why You Should Be Careful of Your Thoughts

Insecurity comes from a variety of sources, including family of origin, early experiences in business, worldview, one’s faith or belief system, and popular culture. For example, maybe you heard your parents criticize their affluent friends. As a result, your young mind started sorting people into two buckets: honest people who work hard for a fair wage and do good, and other people who make a lot of money for themselves.Stop and ponder. What do you believe about money?

Maybe you’re still learning that many people make a lot of money because they do good. They make millions because they positively impact millions of lives. They create significant value, and the money follows naturally.

Maybe you grew up in a home where money and resources were scarce. You would feel weird about making more money in a month than your mom or dad did in six months.

Maybe you heard at church that money is the root of all evil, and you never, as an adult, revisited those teachings, the exact words, their meanings, and nuances: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

[Emphasis mine.] You'll think about money. You’ll make it. You'll need it. Okay. But it doesn't have to be the sun around which you orbit.

Maybe you’re afraid if you charge more then you’ll lose clients and be even worse off than you were with lower rates. Fear and anxiety, which often masquerade as "good sense," make your business decisions for you. You’ve never experienced this phenomenon: charging more enables you to attract more respectful clients with bigger budgets.

Maybe you believe that using your art and creativity to make money represents some sort of artistic compromise. You think you’re bastardizing your talent. But you fell asleep during the history lesson: Many of the world’s greatest works of art, literature, music, architecture, photography, and film were commissioned by wealthy individuals. In other words, the artists got paid to make something for someone else. Art and commerce have always been bedmates.

Maybe you grew up in an affluent home where everything was handed to you. You never really learned how to work hard, and you need to wake up and realize that your parents and the world and God don’t owe you anything and that you need to nip your sense of entitlement in the bud and quit being lazy.

Maybe the idea of “business” makes you squirm. You can’t help but think of guys with slicked back hair selling used cars, ambulance-chasing attorneys, pushy life insurance salesmen. I live two miles away from David Hensley, Jr., who gives people good deals on reliable vehicles. I go to church with G. Turner Howard III, who uses his education, intellect, and skills to get fair settlements for people who have been hurt. My dad, Bruce Church, is a kind, patient insurance executive who would never sell you a policy you didn't need. Blow up your stereotypes. We’re all in sales, honey. Becoming better at sales is the same as becoming better at serving your clients. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll thrive.

Want to be cash-starved forever?

Good. Keep believing what you believe.

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. – Chinese proverb

Want to stop worrying so much about money?

Resolve your relationship with money.

You won’t make more money until you have resolve your relationship with money and feel good about making more of it.Starting now, you must address whatever conflict you feel about earning a lot of money. Some of what you do you’d do for free. Great. That’s a sure sign that some of what you do is indeed what you should be doing. You’re on the right track.On the other hand, a lack of confidence in your rates, pricing structure, and billing will trip you up. Imagine trying to sprint when your shoes are ten sizes too big. You can't set your personal record in clown shoes.Closing deals and earning what you’re worth is about funding your desired lifestyle. It’s not about survival, or even stability, but about thriving. You have the capacity to earn more money than you need now or in the future. You can bless your family, friends, community, and world as a result.Or you can be the cheaper option. The choice is yours.

There's no better time to start than now.

Draw a line in the sand. Step over it. Glance back at the line. You used to undersell yourself. But now you earn what you’re worth. Now turn around and look at the beach stretching into the distance. That’s your future: carving out time to travel and pursue hobbies and passion projects and enjoy life.You’re going to charge a premium so that you can give generously.Copy these bullet points in a place where you can read them once a week:

  • It doesn’t matter what your friends or family earn. You’re going to earn what you’re worth.
  • Never be embarrassed about what you charge.
  • Never apologize when you raise your rates. You're worth it.
  • Never let people talk you down on price.
  • Offer discounts and do pro bono work only when you care deeply about the project and people involved.
  • Don’t let sob stories short-circuit good judgment.
  • People who would manipulate your emotions to save money don’t make good clients.
  • The more pushy a prospective client gets, the less you need his money.
  • If a conversation makes you feel weird, there’s probably something the other person isn’t telling you.
  • People have more respect for expensive things, including consulting and creative services.

There you have it!If you found value in this blog post, please sign up for my weekly newsletter. I’ll send helpful freelancing tips your way.