You are a freelancer — and, because you’re reading this blog, we think you might be a graphic design freelancer. You know what it means to struggle to pay the bills with your freelance earnings. It’s a grind. We know!
Fortunately, we survived — and we know you will too, because you’re here. You found us! We found you. Over the years, we took careful notes about the business development things we learned along our graphic design freelancing journey.
We know what steps to take and we have written them down for you. We know how to move the needle, and after reading this article, you will too!
Let’s start with a cold hard fact: Your rates are likely too low. We’ve met a lot of freelance graphic designers over our studio and academy’s many years now, and we’ve probably heard it all.
And we also lived it all, ourselves…we remember having trouble making ends meet. And we remember, too, the passion that took us from working for someone else (for $10 an hour!) to launching our solo freelance business. We were determined not to go back, so we figured it out.
So, listen up and pay attention…and save yourself some detours while you increase your freelance revenue. Raising your rates isn’t magic, but let us explain the details, so you’ll really understand what we mean.
By the end of this article, you’ll be empowered with the knowledge you need to earn more and start living the flexibility and freedom you originally dreamed of when you launched your freelance career. It’s not too late. Now is your moment!
How to Position Yourself as An Expert Graphic Design Business
Have you heard of the term “positioning” for businesses? Have you given any thought about your brand positioning? If your answer is “no” and “no,” or “maybe” and “not really,” let’s change that to a loud “yes” and “yes,” pronto!
Our lead creative Kady Sandel stated this truth succinctly. She said, “If you position yourself as an expert, people will pay for your specialized graphic design services…and they’ll pay more than they would for a generalist.”
Most solo entrepreneur graphic designers don’t believe this counter-intuitive wisdom. They think that if they specialize, they will eliminate potential clients, so instead they try to appeal to everyone.
Unfortunately, with this line of thinking they water down their message, devalue their expertise, and leave their business wandering the ocean looking for a drink of water.
The answer is simple. You need to niche down. You need to position yourself as an expert and be seen as such by the clients who pay well — because you are! Clients are looking for your services… that’s why there are so many graphic designers, after all.
But every designer can’t reach every potential client. Just like you would expect your client to understand their target customers so you can make an effective design, you need to know who your ideal client is, what their industry is, and possibly what their sub-section industry specialty is!
Let us tell you our story, as an example. We’ve grown from a startup to a freelance business to a graphic design studio. This was the progression of our “niching-down” process, along the way:
We tried to reach everyone all the time (and our founder didn’t get any sleep!)
Positioning Our Business
We decided to specialize in branding for health & wellness companies. We changed our entire website, portfolio, and marketing to reflect this, we started to get more traction. We also raised our rates so we could work with fewer clients.
Niching Down to Expand
Even though we initially planned to work with any health & wellness companies, we found that we especially love working with skincare companies. So once we were booked out and had a growing mastery of our niche, we are ready to focus even more specifically on the skincare industry.
Niche-down. Position yourself. Select the industry you most often get clients from – or, even better, the one you want to get clients from.
Maybe there is an industry you love — like the construction industry, or the restaurant industry, or maybe you want to work exclusively with local businesses right in your town. Maybe there are projects you know you rocked. That’s your niche.
Now, niche-down again, if you can. Know your ideal client and what they need.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, do a bit of research now. Does your niche have cash-flow to pay you, typically? Is there a decent number of your target clients in your area?
This is the market research part of your business plan. Think it through: if you planned to sell only logos and niched-down to wildlife refuges, you might realize that there aren’t enough potential clients to market to.
But if you targeted pet stores instead, you’re niched and there’s a client base ready to hire you. Make sure you choose an industry (or sub-industry, if possible) that is practical.
The 4 Methods That Lead to Increased Freelancing Rates
You know who your target niche is now. Using your ideal client profile, you are going to reach out and attract them to your website. See our blog article How to Create a Graphic Design Portfolio That Attracts Clients for step-by-step information on how to create a portfolio that will get you clients.
While we’re telling you about our free online resources, you might want to check out our free workshops: 3 Steps to Improve Your Graphic Design Portfolio & 3 Proven Steps to Attract Clients to Your Graphic Design Business. Our free workshops provide a wealth of practical suggestions and hard-earned, winning strategies.
Now, let’s go back to talk about what you can do to earn more money. How do you increase your freelancing rates, after all?
Here are the 4 things to do:
Practice communicating & selling
Use value-based pricing
Target bigger clients
We’ve explained the first activity. You know what your specialty niche is now. What about communicating and selling? Have you fully realized that you aren’t just a graphic designer anymore?
You are an entrepreneur. You are your own sales force. You need to learn how to find clients, how to understand what they need, how to provide them with solutions, how to talk with them effectively, and, critically, how to feel entirely comfortable selling your services.
You are the expert they are looking for and now you need to learn the role, in terms of communication skills and sales closing effectiveness.
We’re going to skip over point number 3 on our list, value-based pricing, for now. It’s so important that we’ll take time later in this article to explain it in more depth.
The last point on the list, targeting bigger clients, is easy to understand. In your niche, you will have potential clients who have no money, and some with an incredibly large budget.
Think about the bigger clients. How can you reach them? What are their online haunts? Where will you attract attention as the specialist in your niche — in their industry! This is where you want to be.
You’ll pick up some smaller clients, and you’ll even pick up business that isn’t from your niche (some will be attracted to your portfolio, even if they aren’t in your niche industry). But you will focus on impressing the bigger clients and getting in front of them.
This might mean creating social media content that will get noticed and shows off your expertise. It might mean networking events. It could mean advertising or newsletters. You might even produce a podcast or a book!
Let Us Tell You Our Story
We told you that, in the beginning, we didn’t understand the power of positioning. We were still in splatter-fire stage. And we charged only $50 for a logo! Then, we niched-down and increased our prices. We went from splatter-fire to a specific expertise and an opening branding price of $15,000.
More recently, we’ve had great success and expanded our business to its current form as a graphic design studio. We have a great location and a wonderful staff. We have contract specialists and we’re well known and respected in our target industry. We built a social media following and published a book.
Now, we’re ready for our next rebranding. (And, yes, we’ll be increasing our prices to reflect our increasing specialization and expertise!)
If you’re curious about all of the steps we took to grow our studio, at Aventive Academy we’ve created the Level Up Kit as an intuitive, informative, self-paced course you can study online. We’ve packed it with all of the things we did — and the mistakes to avoid!
If you’d like to know more about what we did and how we did it, we lay it all out. We know it can help you to grow your freelance graphic design business to the next level, too.
When we finish our current rebranding, we’ll be continuing to focus on value-based pricing, so let’s return to discuss this particular aspect of raising your freelance rates in more detail.
What is Value-Based Pricing?
Value-based pricing has been significant for our agency’s revenue growth. And we were late to understand its importance so, good news, we’re going to explain it to you now, so you can start early.
You likely know that there are different ways to charge your clients (hourly, flat-fee, packages, or value-based are typical). When you start your business, you’ll need to pick an approach. When a potential client reaches out to you, they’re going to ask for a quote. They want to know how much your services are going to cost them!
With value-based pricing, your goal is to estimate the increase or benefit that your client wants to receive from your work, and then charge a percentage of that.
This means that you are saying, “My services will create the results your business needs to accomplish this specific goal, and you’ll gain a targeted financial increase because of it.”
This type of pricing is tricky to figure out at first, because you don’t ever want to promise financial results for a client – after all, a lot goes into making or breaking their business outside of your design work!
Think about what Nike would be willing to pay for a logo (a lot!) versus what a neighborhood bar would be willing to pay for a logo (significantly less).
With value-based pricing, you could work with both a giant company and a small company, but you would charge each client completely different prices even if they were receiving the same design services.
Value-based pricing can reasonably target a percentage of increased revenue in the 15 – 25% range. So, if your customer’s project will increase their revenues by $100K, you know that your services should be valued (priced) at $15 – 25K.
We talk about this concept in much more depth in our Money-Making Freelance Bundle, and we even walk you through a step-by-step exercise of how to set value-based pricing for your clients
Remember that you are the expert. Your client has a need. They’ve seen your portfolio and they like your work. They have a goal (a sales increase, a business expansion, a location addition, a rebranding, brand market awareness, etc.), and you will give them the creative products to accomplish their goal.
Your fee will seem a small price to pay to get great service, wonderful products, timely turn-around, excellent communications, and increased business strength. That’s value-pricing.
Value-based pricing is particularly relevant as you target bigger clients. Well-known businesses who are rebranding can spend $1M or more per year in the design stages.
In the end, they may have a design package that isn’t much different than a small business would receive. But, they aren’t comparable. In fact, the stakes are higher for the bigger businesses…and that’s exactly why they will pay more for your industry expertise!
Own the role and charge the price that your client will pay based on your industry confidence and knowledge.
The Results Make It All Worthwhile
Do you know how to assess if something is working in your business? It’s called “assessing the metrics” by the business experts. What they mean is that the numbers will tell you.
If you find your niche, market to them, understand them, communicate effectively with them, price your services for their value, and focus on the bigger clients, your revenues will grow.
It’s as simple as that — but following through and sticking it through those days when you might be tempted to doubt is the hard part. You will have doubts. You will have quiet times.
And then, the seeds you’ve planted will sprout. They will bring a harvest. And, you’ll see it in the metrics.
Your revenue will go up. Your bank account will look better. You’ll be able to pay your bills. You might start thinking about hiring your first staff member.
Most of all, the dreams you had for a career that gives you the freedom you want, the flexibility you aspire to, the finances you hoped for — you will be realizing all of this and more!
We’re so happy to be able to share our journey with you. We’d love to hear about yours. Help us to get to know you better. Reach out to let us know how you are using our tips to increase your rates and your freelance income today!