Throughout the course of 2021, my prices increased by almost 900%.
Yes, that’s how little I was charging in January.
Pricing is a touchy subject; a savvy business owner must account for time, value, taxes, profit, expenses, industry standards, their competitors, and the needs of their customers. And a savvy person-in-the-world must account for price accessibility. Often, those goals are at odds with each other.
Before I dive into anything, let’s start here: When I’m not designing brands and websites, I am a theatre actor and artist. I grew up in a low-income situation with two parents who were musicians. Right after high school, I promptly left my small Wisconsin hometown to go live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and surrounded myself with dozens of other “starving artist” types. For context, was not uncommon for me to be competing against 600 other young women my age for a role in a show that paid $400/wk. (Yes, I’m serious.)
So, it’s easy to imagine why the pricing aspect of entrepreneurship continues to be my biggest hurdle—both logistically and mentally.
On top of that: my politics are progressive, I have qualms with capitalism, I started my business because I love it, and I genuinely want to help. All in all, it’s a recipe for chronic undercharging.
So, imagine my surprise when I found the freelance marketing world and realized that:
1.) There are industry standard prices for specific services—and yes, you guessed it, they’re way higher than anything in the theatre world.
2.) Especially in service-based business models, pricing can and should be based on value received, not time spent.
3.) Your dream clients want to spend the money—and you’re actually a red flag if you’re not charging enough.
Mindblown? Same. Let’s begin.
Often, when we’re talking about how to raise your prices, we’re actually asking two different questions: how to find higher paying clients, and how to find the bravery to ask for what you’re worth. Let’s save the former for a different blog post—today, let’s focus on the latter.
1.) How to Raise Your Prices by Creating Lower Priced Offers
You might be thinking… Sarah, I thought we were talking about how to raise your prices, not lower them. Hear me out—if you love what you do, one thing holding you back from raising your prices might be the underlying fear that someone who can’t afford you will desperately need your help.
In my case, one of the biggest qualms I had with raising my custom design rates was knowing that half of my audience—actors and artists—would never be able to afford them. I couldn’t stomach the idea of alienating 50% of my supporters (and friends!). SO, I created a few lower ticket offers: website audits, actor website templates, and template customizations.
At different tiers, these three cheaper options achieve the goal of what actors usually come to me for—gorgeous websites that get them in the audition room. But they require less time from me than a custom design project does, and they provide me with an actual solution to offer instead of just saying “this is my rate, so if you can’t afford it, you’re SOL.” It’s the best of both worlds.
2.) Surround Yourself with the Right People
Quick storytime—my business bestie, Sara, is a copywriter and marketing mentor. Ever since we became friends on Instagram, she has been a few
steps jaunts ahead of me in the freelance marketing world. So not only has she become an incredibly close friend, but an invaluable business mentor to me as well.
One day, Sara randomly texts me and goes “Hey—you know what you should do today? Increase your prices.” (She’s alllllways begging me to charge more. She even begged me to charge HER more for the website I designed for her.)
I don’t know what was in the water that day, but I was feeling audacious enough to take her advice, so I said “hmmm, ok!” I logged into my website, added an extra $500 or so, and pressed “publish”.
About four hours later, I got a new inquiry in my inbox. Someone filled out my form! And in the box where I ask “what is your budget?”, my new lead answered with the exact amount I had just raised it to.
Here’s the thing: they could have always afforded that higher amount. I was always worth that higher amount. But had I not just bit the bullet and raised my price because I had a good friend encouraging me to, I wouldn’t have gotten that amount. (And, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that client.)
Surrounding yourself with the right people is one of the most important aspects when talking about how to raise your prices. This is another reason why “community” has become such a trend and buzzword in the marketing space. Business is hard, and without other business owners lifting each other up and holding each other accountable, it’s even harder.
Go find a business bestie. (Or you can hire mine to yell at you like this, too.)
3.) Strike While the Iron’s Hot
If you spend enough time undercharging, it will catch up to you. Take it from me.
At three separate points earlier this year, I was burning the candle at both ends in an extremely unhealthy way. Waking up at 5am, working until 7pm, losing weekends, not sleeping, eating trash and not moving my body. I was irritable towards my loved ones and I was starting to resent my clients, even though they did nothing wrong.
And the worst part? I was broke. I was charging so little and taking on so many people just to make ends meet, and those ends were barely being met.
It feels weird and vulnerable to even admit this publically on the blog. I was trying so hard to be accessible and agreeable, to be a good friend, to help. But I was also actively going into debt and dimming my own light in the process. I was extremely frustrated and unhappy, and I knew that if I still wanted to run this business, I had to raise my prices. It was the only way.
As it turns out, “accessibility” from a money standpoint is not always the flex you think it is. If you started a business because you genuinely want to help, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. That means: earning enough money to thrive, having enough time in the day to eat, sleep, and get outside, AND having enough resources to refill your creative cup so that you can use that energy to help others.
So, strike while the iron’s hot—next time you’re feeling burnt out, frustrated, and on the verge of quitting, take it as a sign that you’re not charging enough, and then use that energy to confidently raise your rates. (Oh, and make sure you remember that frustrated, dark feeling when someone tries to barter you down cheaper, too.)
4.) Do Your Research—”Expensive” Doesn’t Exist
When I started out on this design journey, I thought I knew what “expensive” meant. I had assigned a specific number to its definition, and it was based on my upbringing and the community I surround myself with. Had I done a little more research in the beginning to see how much people actually expected to pay for website design, I would have been able to earn a higher amount much quicker.
It wasn’t until I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for women in marketing & business and started to pay attention to the comment sections of various posts that I started to realize… oh wow, I am severely undercharging.
Pricing is relative, so “expensive” doesn’t exist. My services might be incredibly cheap to one person and incredibly unaffordable to another. The question to ask is: if you were to raise your prices, do you know where to look for clients who could pay those rates? If the answer is yes, or even “maybe”, go for it.
Note: it’s also important to recognize that we should not be assuming what any singular person can afford. Unless you have access to their bank account, you simply don’t know. So when thinking about how to raise your prices, try to take the assumptions out of it.
How to Raise your Prices: The Conclusion
Pricing yourself is one of the hardest parts of business. When I first started out, I felt like everywhere I turned, there was a business coach screaming into the abyss: RAISE YOUR PRICES! Somehow, I thought that was for everyone else but me.
Sometimes, all it takes is a kick in the pants, a few bad experiences, a great friend, and paying attention to the market.