How To Raise Your Rates With Existing Clients

If you want to get paid more by your existing clients, the formula is simple:

  1. Communicate (or be willing to communicate about a challenging subject).
  2. Accept the challenge.
  3. Understand how you add value.
  4. Be okay if they part ways with you.
  5. Give them an extended ramp-up period.

You aren’t always going to succeed. (I think you’ll rarely succeed.) But this is a bullet that’s worth firing off. (Why is it worth doing if you might fail? Because as I touched on in yesterday’s letter, you want to start raising your rate when you’re in demand, booked solid, or in an otherwise stable position. That means you’re somewhat insulated against the risk.) 

Let’s dive in.

First off, this boils down to ‘use your words.’

If you refuse to have a (potentially hard) conversation with your client about compensation, you will never get paid more. Full stop.

You need to be willing to have that hard conversation. If you aren’t willing, you won’t get to earn more from this client.

Second, accept the fact that raising rates on your existing clients is challenging.

You’re an outside contractor/freelancer/consultant. They aren’t your employer. You aren’t their employee. They owe you nothing!

On top of that, you are — ideally — a fixed, non-variable cost in your client’s business. They (mostly) know what your costs will be in a given month/quarter/year. When you show up and say, “Hey, the price is going up,” it can result in some unpleasant feelings on their part.

Plus, your contract might specify things about your rate. Or how you can increase it. Or if you even can increase it. If that’s the case, this turns into contract negotiation. (Call your lawyer.)

So, again, it boils down to communication. Use your words.

Third, understand that value > price > cost.

You need to make sure that your value to your client exceeds your price.

When someone buys something from you, they have a Value (V) in mind for the service they’re buying.

They decide to purchase your service because they perceive the Value (V) they’ll receive by purchasing as higher than the Price (P) you’re charging.

V > P

Your Price (P) for your service shouldn’t equal your Cost (C) for the service — your Price should be higher than your Cost. That’s how you make a profit.

(From: https://kaidavis.com/v-p-c/)

If you’re considering raising your price, you should first make sure you have a grasp on:

  • Your value to this client. What are you doing that’s valuable for them? How (or why) is it valuable? Is it saving them money, making them more money, or saving them time/effort?
  • Your price to this client. How much are you charging? How much do you want to charge? How does that price line up with your value?
  • Your costs. How much does it cost you to perform this work? What’s your profit margin look like?

And, additionally, you should have a grasp on:

  • Your client’s best alternative to working with you. Just like you need to understand your Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) in a negotiation, here you need to understand your client’s alternative to working with you. If you got hit by a bus (heaven forbid), what would they do? Hire another contractor? Task an employee with handling what you were handling? Something else?
  • Your client’s cost for their best alternative. If they needed to hire another contractor to handle this work, how much would that cost them? How does that compare to your cost?

Do you know what your value is to this client? If not, you should immediately start there before working on raising your rates. Have a conversation with your client to understand what’s working well, where they see the value, and what could be working better.

Fourth, be okay if they part ways with you.

Again, raising rates on an existing client is a challenge. Going into this conversation, you have to be okay with all possible outcomes. Maybe they’ll decide they don’t want to pay more (or choose to head in a different direction with this work), and you’re out a client.

You need to be okay with that, or else this isn’t a conversation you should have.

Consulting Grand Poobah Alan Weiss recommends firing the bottom ~10-20% of your client list every year. That’s how you can make space for new, better, higher-paying clients.

If your attempt to raise your rates on an existing client goes south (and they’re no longer your client), think of this change as you making space in your business for new, higher-paying clients. It isn’t a failure. It’s you making room for better clients.

Now you can quote your new, higher rate to all leads you encounter. It might take a few weeks or months to replace the client, but you’ll be replacing them with a new client at your target higher rate.

Fifth, if they say yes, give your client an extended ramp-up period to the new rate.

Let’s say you charge $100/hour. (Hint: Don’t charge hourly! Read Hourly Billing Is Nuts https://jonathanstark.com/hbin.)

And, for this example, you’re raising your rate to $150/hour. That’s a sudden (and unexpected) 50% surge in a non-trivial cost. Clients might see the value in your services (and know that your value is more significant than your new price), but even so, an everlasting surge on your consultant’s pricing is… not that great.

So, boil that frog.

Give your client a multi-month ramp-up period to go from where you currently are to where you need to be. Maybe that looks like:

  • Month 0 (this month) – $100/hour
  • Month 1 – $125/hour
  • Month 2 – $135/hour
  • Month 3 – $150/hour

Or maybe that looks like saying:

“In 3 months, I’ll be raising my rate to $150/hour. Until then we’ll continue billing at our current rate.”

Is either ideal? No. Not for you (it takes a few months for you to make more money, you’re still billing hourly) and not for your client (they’re paying more, which they likely don’t love). But this is a way to earn more and ramp-up to your higher rate while making it easier (or less hard) on your client.

Pausing For Insights

From the 800-ish words so far, I’m guessing you can glean that in my experience, raising your rates on an existing client is hard. Very hard. ‘Flip a coin and if you lose the flip you might lose the client relationship’ hard.

But if you’re underpaid relative to your value to your client and your value on the open market and you want to change that and become more profitable, it’s a bullet that you’ve got to fire off. (If you’re being underpaid and you don’t care because you enjoy the current situation and it’s meeting your needs? Then keep on keeping on, friend.)

Is it easier if you aren’t hourly and are, instead, weekly/monthly? Sure, a bit. But even then, it’s a challenge with existing clients who might be accustomed to your previous pricing.

How Productized Services Are Different

It’s much easier to raise your rates on existing clients if you’re selling fixed-scope, fixed-rate services aka Productized Services (https://productizedoffer.com/).

With a productized offer, you’re selling a fixed output. Maybe it’s “Get on 5 podcasts as a guest”, “SEO Audit + 5-8 SEO opportunities for your Shopify store”, or a “Done-for-you case study without the awkwardness.”

In those cases, when you’re selling a thing (a productized service) instead of your time, it’s easier for a client to grok the increase. “Oh, the price for this output (e.g., podcast, SEO audit, case study) went up” rather than, “Oh, the price per hour went up. Crap.”

Again, you need to over-communicate a price increase to your clients. Here’s an example:

“Hey there. I’m enjoying working with you and helping you guest on podcasts. I’m writing to let you know that my costs have increased for this service over the past few months and as such, I’m raising my rates. You have been paying $1,500/month. Starting in March, my price for this service is increasing to $1,750/month. Let’s discuss this on our next meeting and confirm the next steps.”

Your Next Steps

Start by communicating with your client. Not immediately about them paying you more money.But about value. Your value. Talk with them about where (and how!) your work is helping.

Once you understand the relationship between your value to your client and your cost to your client, think through the details of the relationship.

Then (and only then) start the conversation about raising your rate.

And again, if that conversation results in you parting ways with your client, accept that that is a change that is freeing you up to work with other, higher-paying clients.

Excelsior!

Kai

How to be your strategic business consultant

First, let’s tackle some housekeeping.

  1. 🎈Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning 35. I haven’t yet decided if there will be a special daily tomorrow or if it will be a rest day. I’ll most likely be celebrating by hanging out in a forest or wandering around a park.
  2. ✨The 8 Days of Kaindness — my special, once-a-year celebratory event featuring eight days of gifts, tools, and resources — is returning in February. More on that event as the date approaches.

Today? With January zipping by faster than a greased eel, the month is almost at an end. So today, I want to encourage you to adopt a new monthly/quarterly/regular habit to help you do better in your business.

How to host your own Quarterly Business Review

If you want to level up your business and act as your strategic business consultant, I strongly encourage you to start regularly practicing Quarterly Business Reviews.

“What’s a Quarterly Business Review?” A Quarterly Business Review (or QBR) is a standing, regular meeting by yourself or with your team to discuss how the past quarter went and get in alignment around objectives, outcomes, and opportunities moving forward.

The focus should be on strategy, not tactics. Think big picture. What trends are going well? What initiatives or strategies are underway? Don’t use your QBR to troubleshoot small issues. Focus on the bigger picture of opportunities available to you. (e.g., What are the most impactful options for your business? What is your strategic focus for the coming quarter?)

QBRs work very well as a solo activity, not just an exercise for the company, team, or you and your client.

As an independent consultant, I like QBRs as a tool to help you observe, orient, decide, and act (https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/ooda-loop/) on the most significant opportunities and information in front of you.

When you’re performing a QBR, you ask/discuss the answers to three essential questions around how things went and what you’ll focus on in the coming quarter. I like asking these questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What went badly? (What were the biggest mistakes I made?)
  3. What will I accomplish in the coming quarter?

When I’m doing a QBR, I like to spend about an hour on this activity. I’ll fill out a doc (e.g., Word, GDoc, Notion) with the questions and then spend ~15-20 minutes answering each question. I’ll type out what comes to mind and then think on the question to see what else comes up.

Once you answer the questions, you’ll want to read through them and decide on:

  • The lessons learned from the past quarter (e.g., X went well, so let’s do more of that; Y went poorly, so let’s avoid things like that)
  • The opportunities/outcomes you’ll focus on in the coming quarter (e.g., Z is a big opportunity, let’s focus on that).
  • Any insights, guidance, or priories to extract and focus on moving forward. Store those insights somewhere you can regularly review them. (This could be as simple as a list of bullets that you check during your regular planning, a document you review daily, or whatever works well for you. But make sure you’re capturing the takeaways from your QBR in a way that you can regularly review them to orient your course of action.)

Q: “Kai, it’s almost February. Shouldn’t I wait until March/April to do a quarterly review?”

A: No, you can get started today/now. Do a QBR at the end of January to identify what went well/poorly in Nov, Dec, and Jan, and what you want to accomplish in the coming quarter (Feb, Mar, Apr).

Excelsior!

Kai

How to get Google to rank your site higher

The #1 most important ranking signal to Google is your backlinks.

Google is in the business of delivering the most relevant, timely, authoritative content to people in response to their search queries. When Google is deciding where and how to rank your site and pages, they consider your backlinks.

If you’re looking at your competitors and wondering, “Kai, how do I get to #1 for this relevant keyword?” Most of the time, the answer will be ‘invest in earning more high-quality backlinks.’

Earning more high-quality backlinks is a sure-fire way to:

  • Get more traffic
  • Get your site ranking higher
  • Be seen as an authority in your market

My favorite way to earn backlinks (especially for an indie consultant, freelancer, or agency)? Appear on a podcast as a gust as part of a podcast tour.

When you guest on a podcast, the host includes a few links back to you, your profiles, and your sites in the show notes.

That means each podcast you guest on turns into 1, 2, or more high-quality, relevant links to your site.

If you get consistent at your podcast tour and podcast outreach, you can work up to guesting on a show each week. When you do that, you’ll be earning 4+ high-quality, relevant backlinks each month for your site. (That’s like a Vitamin B shot for your SEO.)

Plus, as Google sees you guesting on more and more shows and earning more and more backlinks, they’ll start to think:

Hey, this person is getting newsworthy. They’re an expert, an authority, and trusted in their market. Let’s rank them higher.

Want to get started guesting on podcasts (and earning high-quality, relevant backlinks)? You’ll want to check out Podcast Outreach, my guide on how you can start, run, and grow your own Podcast Tour.

Podcast Outreach includes expert interviews with podcast hosts and guests, email templates you can customize and send, and the process to follow.

https://kaidavis.com/products/podcast-outreach/

Excelsior!

Kai

How to find your most productive time each day (and what to do with it)

What’s your most productive time of the day?

The older I get (and the more that I internalize that heroically YOLO’ing myself through an all-nighter to ship a project does not work), the more my interest in productivity + neurobiology grows.

How can we figure out the times of day when we’re the most productive? Then, how can we lean into that knowledge and optimize our work schedule so we’re doing high-impact work during those most productive times?

One tool that I have a longstanding love affair wait — RescueTime — has a feature that lets you figure out your most productive time per day (https://blog.rescuetime.com/most-productive-time-of-day/).

Just sign up for + install RescueTime, and it will start securely + privately logging the apps you’re using and what you’re working on. (Note on RescueTime’s security: https://www.rescuetime.com/security).

Then, after a few weeks, RescueTime can help you see how your products ebbs-and-flows over a day, week, or month. (e.g., Does your distracting/neutral time creep up before lunch? Do you have a Twitter-habit that eats up your afternoon time? Are you most productive from 10 am-Noon every day?)

For me, my most productive time of day is 9 am – 11 am.

Once I know my most productive time per day, I use it when I build my calendar. Like RescueTime recommends (https://blog.rescuetime.com/most-productive-time-of-day/), I follow a time-blocking approach to my calendar. Here’s what my current calendar template looks like:

I build my calendar around my most productive time. Writing/Maker/DeepWork time is in the morning. (If my most productive time were in the afternoon, I’d build my calendar to have that Writing/Maker/DeepWork time in the afternoon.)

Here are my calendar categories:

  • Writing Time. This is when I write letters, content, articles, client writing, reports, or products. No meetings.
  • Maker Time. This is when I work on internal/client projects with no/minimal interruptions. No meetings.
  • Manager Time. This is when I do have meetings and work on shorter/context switch-y projects. Occasionally some email.
  • Admin Time. This is when I tackle any administrative stuff within the business.
  • Personal Time. This is when I rest, eat lunch, read, do yoga, or go for a walk in a park.

Time blocking my schedule on my calendar helps me lean into how my body and brain are most productive and make sure I’m spending time on each area that needs it.

As fun as it is to dive into a MakerTime project for the whole day, if you do that too often, you end up with a stack of Admin, Writing, or Maker work that Future You has to do.

By time blocking in my calendar, I know that I’m spending my time on the right things and the right areas in my business. I might not put 8 hours into a project in a day anymore, but I’m leaning into my most productive times and making sure.

One last note on productive time: make sure you pay yourself first. It can be tempting to spend that productive time entirely on client work, but that shortchanges you, your projects, and your growth. At most, split your productive time equally between yourself and your clients. (And if possible? Give yourself 75%+ of that productive time.)

If you want to give RescueTime a try (and use it to figure out your most productive time of day/where you’re leaking time), you can sign up here with my affiliate link (https://www.rescuetime.com/rp/k), or you can sign up right here on their homepage: https://rescuetime.com.

Excelsior!

Kai

Building the writing habit

Weird week. Big week.

A college reached out to me and asked, “How can I get started blogging?” They want to take 2021 to practice writing, develop their thoughts, and maybe start to build a brand.

Before you start thinking about any tools (e.g., Medium vs. WordPress vs…), you want to focus on building the writing habit and finding ideas to write about. The writing tools aren’t essential; the writing habit is.

Here are three tips to help build that writing habit:

  • Keep a running list of ideas. I keep a text swipe file on my computer and phone (in the notes.app) with ideas to write about. These are questions people ask, tweets/messages I read in Slack, quotes from books/articles, and anything else that comes to mind. The goal here is to get consistent with writing down ideas as you hear them/find them.
  • Start building the writing habit now. It’s never too early to practice making the clacking-clack noise on your keyword, even if you aren’t hitting publish yet. Much of the writing process is getting good at putting your butt in the chair at a specific, regular, repeating time, and writing. You might not think you have anything significant to say, and that’s alright. The focus here is on sitting down and practicing writing, even if you’re writing for 15 minutes about not having anything to write about. (Just like you might go to the gym to practice form and technique with weight lifting, you want to practice your writing form and technique.)
  • Challenge yourself to hit that publish button. You can write all the words in the world, but it isn’t quite real unless you hit the publish button. Even if you’re posting 350 words on some small topic, hit that publish button and build that publishing streak.

Two books I love and recommend to help you get better at writing:

EDIT

My good buddy Shai Schechter reached out to me with a note about how he overcame writer’s block. Check out this Twitter thread from him: he hits on a lot of similar points about the importance of building the writing habit (and reducing resistance).

Excelsior!

Kai

Double your leads with these three rules

If you do one small thing every day for the next 70 days to improve your marketing and lead generation, you’ll get more leads and close more projects. But to succeed, you have to accept three rules to guide your behavior and put in the work.

You might be familiar with the adage about the power of a 1% daily improvement:

If you can improve 1% each day, you double in ability roughly every 70 days.

I’ve found that if you take the same principle and focus it on your marketing and lead generation, you see the results within a few months. You get more leads and win more projects.

The trick? It’s in accepting three rules that nudge your behavior in this experiment.

First, you have to commit yourself to spend a little time each day for the next 70 days – even just five minutes – working on your marketing and lead generation days. Don’t let a day end where you haven’t done at least one small thing. You want to keep your streak unbroken. (And yes, fixing a typo or replying to an email at 11:59 pm counts to keep the streak alive.)

Second, you want to keep notes on where you see issues, problems, or opportunities and look at the patterns that reveal themselves over time. Then, fix the stuff that keeps coming up. I like asking myself a question in a daily or weekly journal to reflect on something like, “What’s one thing that’s annoying me about my lead generation” and write down what comes to mind from what I experienced that day. Then I can look at the answers weekly or monthly and see what patterns stand out.

Third, you have to accept the truth that 80% of your improvements won’t move the needle. The other 20% will have an outsized impact on the results from your marketing and lead generation. (From the outside, you can’t tell the difference between the 80% ideas and the 20% ideas.)

If you accept those constraints, then schedule a time to do the work. Set a recurring daily time on your calendar or in your to-do list to work on your marketing and lead generation.

Past that, start by surveying the area that is your lead generation. Look for fires, immediate problems, or quick wins and low-hanging fruit. Make a list, prioritize the high-impact items first, and get to work.

There’s an element of trusting your friend Kai in this. But what I can promise you from personal experience and working with my coaching clients (https://kaidavis.com/coaching/) is that you start to focus on small 1% improvements over time in your marketing and lead generation, you start to get more leads and win more projects.

All you have to do is do the work.

And if you want guidance on seven reusable systems you can implement to get more leads, I recommend my book Get More Leads (https://kaidavis.com/products/leads/).

You’ll get ‘do this, not that’ direction on seven repeatable lead generation systems you can use to reach people and get more leads. (My favorite system? The ‘Content Beachhead’)

https://kaidavis.com/products/leads/

Excelsior!

Kai

Feast

I have a bone to pick with a phase in the consulting industry: feast or famine.

  • Feast. When work is good. You’re booked solid.
  • Famine. When work is bad. Your pipeline is dry.

I think there’s another part here that we aren’t seeing: the time and attention we’re able to put towards working on our own business.

When you’re in feast mode, you’re booked solid and turning away work. And it’s very tempting when the work keeps coming to say yes to ‘just one more’ project — and skip the time you’d spend working on your business.

Don’t get me wrong, feast is good. Making money is good.

But there is a cost here that a lot of consultants — myself included — often pay without realizing it: we give up the time we’d be spending on our business and focus on the client’s business.

Meanwhile, in famine, we switch from having a scarcity of time to having an abundance of time available to work on our business.

However, the critical question is always “Do I have enough cash to sustain another week/month/quarter with no incoming client work?”

If you don’t, then focusing on a strategy to get more clients makes the most sense.

But if you do have that cash, if you can afford to take a month off form client work, you’re now in the position to spend time working on your business (or not working, if you like).

This break, sabbatical, walkabout, or vacation is time that you can spend:

  • Working on your own products (e.g., ebooks, courses, trainings, software)
  • Working on improving your business (e.g., reading books, taking courses, attending trainings, improving operations, making a marketing plan, updating your website)
  • Improving your underlying business systems (e.g., marketing, sales, funnel optimization, service optimization, messaging)
  • Not working (e.g., book that ticket to Costa Rica and spend a month in a condo on the beach, swimming in the ocean every day)

I think there’s a freedom in taking time off from client work. And the trick is to budget for it.

Heck, you could even think of it as you hiring yourself for a week (or a month) to work on your business.

That sounds valuable to me.

It doesn’t have to be ‘feast’ or ‘famine.’ It can be ‘feast’ or ‘freedom.’

But that requires having the resources — clients, cash, capital, etc. — to free yourself up to work on your business.

If you want to escape from the Feast or Famine rollercoaster, what’s your plan? What steps are you taking? Hit reply and let me know.

Excelsior!

Kai

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