My Skills, Let Me Show You Them.

Justifying your rates to a potential client

There are (at least) three simple truths about charging higher rates for any service:

  1. It takes time to get your rates up.
  2. You have to work harder (read: smarter) than people charging less.
  3. You must be willing to saying "no" more often.

You're not trying to say "no," but we should know when to say it.

You're not going to charge $500/hour if you've been a designer for six months. And if you are, wow. You're smarter than me. Why are you reading this? Go play with your speed boats.

Okay. Let's talk about selling your work. And all of this is before any kind of (absolutely mandatory) written contract, once you agree to work with someone. This is just about selling your work, selling your rate, and setting some expectations.

Be courteous

Be confident and speak with authority, but always be courteous. Don't be a pushover, but be courteous. No one has to pay you. No one has to work with you. Treat people with respect.

Be specific

Be ready to explain exactly what you'd be delivering for your price, and be able to explain exactly what you won't deliver. Be redundant. Reply with specifics when they speak in generalities. For example:

Client: "Okay. I guess we can do without that feature for now. But if you think you can throw it in while you're building it, that would be great."
You: "Again, my deliverables will be very specifically defined before we start. If you require that feature, it has to be accounted for in the budget."

Put everything in writing

Never assume that you and your client are just "on the same page." If you don't clarify what they get (and what they don't get), in a detailed project proposal, I promise they'll expect more than you're planning to deliver. Every time. Part of justifying your rate to someone is showing them, in detail, how much work you're doing.

Speak with confidence

Never apologize for your rates. The way you talk about your work and your rates tells the client whether or not you're worth it. If this part is difficult for you, rehearse. Know what you're going to say when you're selling yourself. Know what you're going to say when they ask you about money. Write down your possible replies. Practice them. Use friends and family. Rehearse, and do it until it's easy and comfortable.

Control and protect your process

The design and development process is a mystery to some people. This is why they try to assume control. They don't completely understand what's going on. They don't want to get ripped off.

It's your job to remind them why they're hiring you. You're the professional. I'm a big fan of analogies. Use analogies to explain your skills. They work.

Potential Client: "We'd like to just skip [insert a crucial part of your process]. We think it will save money, and we're pretty sure it's not necessary."
Possible reply: "My process is something I've spent years building and refining, and it's crucial to our mutual success. Modifying it the way you're describing is not an option. You wouldn't ask a heart surgeon to keep you awake so you can give her pointers along the way. You need to trust me. I'm the professional. This is why you're hiring me."

Don't Argue

Potential Client: "It shouldn't take you that long to build my site. My sister/cousin/friend builds sites. It never takes her that long."
Possible reply: "I can't speak for your sister/cousin/friend, but I've been doing this for [x] years. I know exactly how long it takes me to produce high quality work. If I'm not the right person for you, that's okay."

If someone is trying to devalue you, don't help them.

Maybe they're trying to compare you to the rest of the field. Perhaps they've "done their homework," and they're certain what the going rate should be, and you're too high. Whatever the reason is, if someone is trying to convince you that your rate is too high, nip it in the bud. For example:

Potential Client: "I know this just isn't the going rate for design in 2016."
Possible reply: "There will always be more than one source for a product or service. I'm happy to explain why I charge what I do, but if we're not in the same ballpark, let's respect one another's time. I'm sure you'll find the right fit. It doesn't sound like it's me."


So you're not agreeing on price. You might still be able to save the project, if it's worth saving. And by "worth saving" I mean this person values your work. This person values good design. This person wants to work with you, but just has a budget limit.

You can definitely work for them, for less money than you'd hoped, but is has to be less work. This is very important. Never go down in price without removing some deliverables. Maybe they can accept some deliverables becoming phase two or phase three projects. Maybe they can set aside some features for a later date when they have the money to pay you.

Try this: take an armful of clothing to the register at Banana Republic (or your favorite fancy, over-priced store of choice). When they ring it up, say "Whoops, I didn't bring enough money, but I really need all these things. What can we do?"

Do you want to guess what the clerk's answer will be? Exactly.

There will always be exceptions. What if a really great company wants to hire you, and they have a lot of work, and they want to pay you a daily rate of $450 instead of your advertised daily rate of $500? Sounds like an easy compromise. You'll know when the compromise is worth it. Trust your gut.

And be the kind of designer who's willing to help out a friend or a worthy cause. But there's a wrong way to go about that. And it hurts. But that's another topic. Oh look, another topic!