How to upsell your next design project

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Whether you work at a design firm or as a freelance designer, finding the perfect amount of clients to pay the bills and do the quality of work you desire can can be a huge challenge.

One tactic many designers forget to take full advantage of is upselling.

Mastering the art of upselling can take your graphic or web design business to the next level. You don’t have to be the world’s best salesman to upsell your design project. You just have to have a good understanding of what your client needs, establish a relationship of trust with the client, and have confidence in your work.

This article will explain what upselling is, why you should consider it as a viable part of your design business model, whether it’s the right choice for you, and how you can do it most effectively.

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What is upselling?

Essentially, upselling is an age-old sales technique where the salesman (or designer in this case) informs the client of upgrades, additional services, premium opportunities, etc. thus making the sale more profitable.

Upselling involves informing the client of services or opportunities they didn’t know about previously. As a designer, upselling could mean offering discount printing to graphic design customers, hosting to web design customers, and more.

We’ll explore a lot more options at the end of this article.

Why would I want to upsell?

While the answer seems a little obvious, let’s explore the real reason you may want to attempt to upsell your next design project. When you find a new design client, they may have an initial plan they hope you can accomplish.

Maybe they hired you because they appreciate your talent in logo design, for example. It’s possible, this new client has no idea that you also offer web design, print design, or photography services.

Adding any of these services to the bill will not only help your client be more successful, but will also make the overall project more profitable.

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Is upselling a good choice?

As always with ethical issues, there are two sides of this coin:

Advocates for upselling your design project would argue that business is business. While running a business is more about building relationships and learning, in the end, you’re in it to make money. Upselling is simply a tactic used to get the most money possible out of your clients.
Critics of upselling would argue that such a strong focus on money can damage relationships and goodwill: the foundation of a healthy business. Yes, you might get more money out of a client for this job, but they are much less likely to return to you for their next design project.
The answer to the question of upselling can go either way.

Here’s my two cents: upselling is perfectly fine as long as you keep your client’s best interest in mind. Never offer to do work for your client just because you can.

Frankly, if they don’t need a web site, don’t offer. If they only want to spend enough money to get a good brochure out of you, don’t push the issue.

Timing, trust, and patience are everything when it comes to effectively upselling. Inform your client of other services so they can call you in the future, but if they aren’t in a position to increase the bill now, don’t push it!

Tips for upselling your next design project

Now that we have discussed the pros, cons, and meaning of upselling your design project, let’s talk about a few ways you can effectiveley upsell your next project.

Below are a series of suggestions. Not all these steps are necessary in the upselling process, but in my experience, upselling a design project goes much more smoothly when attempted as follows:

1. First, establish a relationship of trust with the client. Become somewhat of a mentor for your client. Guide them in their design decisions and take time to learn about their company and its needs. As you genuinely care about the client and their needs, you will find the best way to upsell the next design project.

2. Second, Begin by offering friendly suggestions instead of pushy sales pitches. Not every upsell has to be pushy. You may just choose to casually mention another project you are working on, diverse ways you can help your client, or additional services you offer. Phrases like “I just thought you might like to know for the future…” work great and come across more casually than pushy.

3. Third, only push services that the client really needs. Remember that, while you are in the business to make money as a designer, it should never be at the unneeded expense of your client. Never offer to provide services for a client just because you want to make a few extra dollars.

4. Learn to accept ‘No’ for an answer. Sometimes when you upsell, you should settle for simply informing your client in case they need help in the future. Never push an issue too far. Your client knows what they can handle budget-wise and what their company needs right now. Never become pushy or you will most likely never be working with that client again.

Have you tried it before? Share your experience

Do you have an upselling story to share? Maybe questions about the best way to approach this tactic? Contribute to the conversation by adding your thoughts.

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  1. Great post. Thanks, Preston. I would LOVE a follow-up article with a list of possible products/services we can upsell as graphic and web designers.

    You mentioned hosting, and that is one of my favorites. I charge $35/month for a “Hosting/Maintenance” package. It includes hosting, backups, updates, security, and a half hour per month for any edits and updates. With ManageWP, I can automate most of those tasks, so it is a great source of (mostly) passive income and it provides a valuable service to my clients.

    What are some more upsell ideas that clients love?

  2. I have an idea how to use the upsell method for logo design.

    Once you have designed the logo, you can upsell the holiday version of that same logo for a discounted price. (For example you put a Santa Claus hat on that newly designed logo for an extra 20% fee)

  3. The thing that’s really important about upselling is that you have to get the primary job done first, and then try to upsell your client with some additional services. I’ve been in many situations where someone was trying to upsell me before the original deal even had a green light to start.

  4. Hi Preston, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I’ve really enjoyed this article because I think that sooner or later almost every designer will face this situation, so it’s more then helpful to have also the sight of the other designers.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of ethic, it’s just our work as designers. I’m not talking about “we’ve to pay bills, so every tactics to make more money is worth to do”. What I’m saying is that as designers we’re asked to solve the client problems. In some circumstances upselling the project telling the client that for the purpose of its needs it could be necessary to do some other steps it’s our role. If the client have decided to hire a designer is because he/she knows that needs help. And we must give it.

    Naturally, as said before, we’ve not to drain the client asking even more and more money just because we have a lot of expences to pay. We need to be correct and, rightly, be prepared to receive a kindly “No” to our proposal.

    Thanks again Preston!

  5. Nice article Preston. I don’t find anything wrong with up-selling, unless you are doing it for the wrong reasons. If a company contacts you for a new identity or rebranding, it would be ethical to ask that they should consider a new website to compliment the new appeal for the company. Show the client the reason, don’t just say “well heck you need a new website as well.” It’s important that the client’s see the benefit.

    Also, let’s face it, as much as we are designers, those who freelance are also business men/women, and in all aspects of any business we need to know how to talk and sell our business and services. Anyone that owns their business and says otherwise is lying, but as long as your truthful and professional in your intentions of the upsell, I say go for it. 🙂

    1. Brian,
      Thanks for the great comments. You hit it right on the head: as freelancers especially, we are business owners. While business is about making relationships and other things, in the end, if your business doesn’t make you money, it’s pretty hard to stay in business.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts on how to approach this tactic. Best of luck in all.

  6. Yeah, I only upsell when the client really needs it. Slightly different than upselling, but in the same vein… after I finish a job and the client is very satisfied, I ask them point blank (usually via email) if they can refer me to anyone or pass my pdf portfolio (attached to email) along to anyone who may be interested. Works really well. Timing is key though! I do it a day after the successful project is officially complete. That way, the client is still swelling with happiness! 8)

    1. @Jonathan Patterson,
      That’s a great tips as well, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing. What other tips can you share with us on asking for references after a job is completed?

  7. I’ve upsold a few small bits – starting with a logo, then website re-design.

    I tend only to ‘push’ things which I think would make a big improvement to their business – I’d get a load of statistics and details together before I approach the client about them as well. and, as you said, no means no!

    1. @Dan Howard,
      That’s a great strategy, Dan. When the client can see that you care enough to go through the trouble of doing research and learning about what will best help their company, it really makes upselling a pleasure. Plus, then they know you aren’t just blowing hot air-your upsell has a purpose.

      What kind of research do you do? How or where? Would you mind sharing with us? Thanks for contributing!

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