Raise your prices by thinking like a consultant, not a freelancer

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A key difference between freelancers charging low rates and freelancers charging premium rates for their services is how they portray themselves to potential clients.

Freelancers charging higher rates see themselves as experts in their field and act more like consultants instead of freelancers. They position themselves as problem solvers (not order takers) and charge accordingly.

They can charge more because they focus on fixing the underlying problem the client has.

They don’t just do the work the client has brought to them and execute that work.

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So rather than letting the client decide they need a brand new website, the consultant seeks to understand why they think they need a new site.

Once they figure out why the client believes they need a new site, then they can start having a conversation about the best way to go about getting the result the client wants.

Remember, no client wakes up and rolls out of bed saying they want a new website.

What they want are more customers, more revenue, more free time to spend with their family, etc.

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They want their problems to be fixed.

If they believe a new website will help them accomplish those goals, they’ll seek to get that website built. But their assumption might be wrong. That is where you step in to test that assumption and use your experience and knowledge to guide them to the best solution.

The right type of client

Not all clients are open to having their assumptions challenged. Often, you’ll get prospects that know (or think they know) exactly what they want and are inflexible about how they want it done.

That type of client is looking for someone to execute on their vision—a hired gun so to speak. “You tell me where to point it, and I’ll shoot.”

That type of arrangement is fine, and there will always be someone willing to execute that work, but I like to work with prospects I know I can help solve their problem and who are willing to follow my lead.

These clients tend to be more open to collaboration, treat you in a more respectful way, and are willing to pay more for your services.

Start acting like a consultant

So how do you act more like a consultant? You start by asking better questions.

These are tough, open-ended questions that will make your prospect think.  And stay away from asking personal preference questions like, “What’s your favorite color/font?”

That type of question follows an order-taker mindset of asking the client how they (the client) want the work to be done.

Instead, as a consultant, you examine their situation and make recommendations based on your expertise and past experience.

Below are five questions I ask prospects to get a better understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.

1. What does success look like for this project?

We need to know what would make the project a success from the client’s point of view.

This question helps uncover the “why” behind the project. It’s not a question about “how” it will be done. It’s a question about what the results or benefits the project will get for the client if all goes well.

You could also just come out and ask them why they want a new website, but this question comes at it from a more subtle angle and can unearth additional insights.

2. How can failure be avoided with this project? What are you worried might go wrong?

Asking this question brings up the client’s objections and gives you an opportunity to overcome them and help put the client at ease.

Letting them point out their hesitations early on also helps build trust.

Sometimes, when a client has had a bad experience in the past—with another freelancer for example—they’ll mention it, and that will give you insight into to how to avoid making that same mistake.

For example, if you know the person they worked with previously always blew past deadlines and was hard to get a hold of, you can reiterate your communication policy (i.e., I always respond to emails within 24hrs) for staying in touch.

3. What will happen to your business if nothing changes?

What happens if the client doesn’t achieve success? Will they go bankrupt? Will they have to fire employees?

Knowing their fears will help you better understand what they are dealing with and give you a better sense of the value of the project.

Identifying the risks for not taking action is another reminder for them of why they need to undertake this project.

Maybe the client is losing market share and is trying to stay relevant by reimagining their brand image.

Knowing this vital piece of information is critical when it comes time to price the project and also later on during the project when you are explaining your design decisions. You can go back to this stated project goal and explain how your design supports it.

4. Where do you see your business a year from now? Three years from now? Ten years from now?

This question will help you see the big picture and understand where it is that they are looking to end up.

Sometimes you’ll find that the thing they came to you for doesn’t align with the goals for the business or there is an easier way to get there. But first, you need to know where you are headed to be able to make that assessment.

5. What is the single hardest thing in your business right now?

Sometimes a problem in one area of the business is a symptom of a larger problem elsewhere in the business. But you need to discover any underlying problems the client might have to be able to make that connection.

Once you’ve got answers to these questions, set up a call to continue the conversation and keep asking questions. Keep digging and uncovering insights into their business.

What you learn will give you a much better perspective on how to help this prospect and it will paint you as an expert in their eyes.

What if they won’t answer the questions?

A lot of freelancers are afraid to ask probing questions like these thinking that it will be a turnoff to prospects.

What I’ve found is that people actually love talking about their business—especially if you have shown you are there to help them achieve their goals.

To the few that refuse to give helpful answers or are guarded and don’t want to open up, I just choose not to work with them.

There are plenty more out there willing to answer your questions. And don’t be surprised to get comments from then saying how impressed they are with your great questions.

Here are some responses I get:

“You’re questions are really good and have given me more to think about.”

“I love the questions that you are asking me, it’s getting me going!”

“Ian, I love these questions. you’re offering real value to people with your work.”

Where to start

  • Start by thinking more like a consultant and instead of a freelancer and look for goals rather than deliverables.
  • Find the “why” behind the project and drive the process instead of asking the prospect to tell you how they want the work done.
  • Ask better questions to get the prospect to start seeing you as a trusted partner instead of a hired gun.

Do you have any other successful ways to approach a new project? Let’s talk in the comments!

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About Ian Vadas

Ian Vadas is a designer and the author of Work With Clients You Love. Get the eBook to learn how to select clients that pay well, treat you with respect and allow you to do your best work.

For tips on getting paid and maximising your freelance revenue, join the FREE email course Pricing For Freelancers.

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Comments

  1. Such an awesome work of advice! One of the most honest and valued topicsi have come across in a while.

  2. Such an awesome piece of advice, and great topic for many freelancers.

  3. Great points Ian!

    This is exactly what differentiates a real professional from someone who just executes orders – with awful results!

    A real professional has to ask the right questions, shut up and listen carefully to his/her clients and then not just offer a solution to their problem, but educate them.

    Some freelancers think that if they do this they won’t be in demand anymore.
    In fact, the complete opposite happens.

    Educating our clients and prospects is the only way to build trust and become valuable to them.

    • Thanks Mania!

      I agree; results are what really matters. What’s the point of working on something that ultimately won’t get the job done for your client?

      I think this also creates a more satisfying career for the freelancer: you become closer and more trusted by your clients and you get to truly help them succeed—or point them in a better direction that will help them succeed.

  4. This was great! It really summed up what I’m going through right now and framed it in a helpful, executable way. Thanks for the good ideas for how I can position myself on the next level!

  5. Good article. I did notice a typo: “You’re questions are really good and have given me more to think about.”

    It’s “your”

  6. Jorge García says:

    Great post Ian!

    Now a day´s freelancers need no add more like project manager, and consultant skills to the job offer strategy.

    It´s like if the clients where hiring more with less and that´s the challenge..!