The Dreaded “What are your rates?” Question

Top-hat: Did you have trouble taking yesterday’s 7 question survey? If so, you can fill it out here on a new, better working form:

Today, Lee W. writes in with a question about pricing and project rates:

How do I overcome the “what are your rates?” or “how much do you cost?” question? I understand telling them that I can’t possibly know what that is before understanding x, y, and z. I also have said before, “first we define you objectives, metrics, values..”. But those initial answers are somewhat hollow (though legitimate) in my view.

When you encounter this question, flip it back to the prospect or client. Ask them what they’re looking to invest in this project.

Lee is correct that it’s impossible to know what the cost of (or investment for) the project will be before you define the objectives, metrics, values, and outcomes.

But that still leaves you facing down the question. So what do you say?

Here’s my favorite script to use in this situation. When asked what the cost is, I ask what the client is looking to invest.

What are you looking to invest in this project to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for?

Like Lee pointed out, it’s challenging to answer their question without knowing their budget. So, ask them.

Are they looking for a $10 solution or a $10,000 solution? Until you know, you won’t be able to recommend anything more specific than a general range (e.g., it’ll cost somewhere between $10 and $10,000…).

Think about walking into a store to buy a new phone. You could ask the salesperson, “Hey, I need a new phone. It needs to be fast, have a lot of storage, and have a good camera. What’s it going to cost?”

But until you share what you’re looking to invest, the salesperson won’t be able to answer with more than a general guess or a range.

What they recommend will change depending on what you’re looking to invest. $250? Buy the Moto G Power. $1500? Get the iPhone 12 Pro Max (and a fancy case).

But it all starts by you flipping their question around and asking:

“What are you looking to invest?”

And if they’re unable to answer? If they don’t know what they’re looking to invest?

Then you should recommend they invest in a fixed-price paid discovery or roadmapping engagement (

In that engagement, you’ll work collaboratively with them and their team to define and clarify the project’s goals, objectives, and value. Then, you’ll identify and propose a range of solutions (for different budgets).

(What’s that engagement cost? Well, ideally, you’re selling it as a fixed-price productized service so you can quote them a price immediately, e.g., $2,500. You can learn more about how to sell, price, and deliver roadmapping engagements with Quick Start Roadmapping



Can you help?

I’ve got an embarrassing confession…

I don’t always practice what I preach.

I frequently suggest you reach out to your readers, listeners, or customers and ask them about the problems they’re experiencing.

But as a colleague pointed out this morning, I haven’t done this myself in ages.

So help get him off my back — just fill out this short survey.

There are only 7 questions.

Please take this survey now while you have this email open.



The Positioning Question 🗺️

When it comes to getting more clients, the most critical question to ask yourself about your marketing is The Positioning Question.

Why is this important? Because if you don’t know who you’re looking to attract or the painful problem you’ll be remedying for them, your marketing will suffer.

If we think about the 80/20 of getting clients (online or offline), you will have an outsized impact on your marketing and your ability to attract clients if you:

  • Think about your positioning
  • Identify who your work serves (your market)
  • Identify the expensive problem you solve for your market
  • Make both of the above as small, specific, and relevant as possible

That last one trips people up. After all, if you want more clients, shouldn’t you make your marketing include more people?


The more specific you make your marketing (and your target market), the easier you will reach the right people. A narrow, precise positioning makes it easier for you to find your prospects and stand out to them.

Let’s Talk About The Positioning Question

Okay, I’m cheating. These are actually two questions, but they’re equally important and come together as The Positioning Question.

Who does your work serve?

This should, ideally, be an industry (e.g., dentists, dog lawyers) or a technology/platform (e.g., Shopify, AWS) vertical.

It can be a horizontal (e.g., eCommerce as an undifferentiated take-all-comers from Etsy Store to Enterprise Store)

My take? Focus on a small, niche vertical. Make it as small as possible to start. Then, once you get traction, you can slowly expand for ruthless, unfettered business domination.

What expensive problem do you solve for your market?** 

Ideally? This should be an outcome paired with a problem that your clients are experiencing. The problem should be costing them money (directly or indirectly) or time (often a good proxy for money).

Your Turn

Tap reply and let me know your answers to The Positioning Question. I’m curious what you have to share:

  • Who does your work serve? What market do you work with?
  • What expensive problem do you solve for your market?



p.s., Everything I know about positioning (for freelancers, indie consultants, and firms) I learned from my good friend (and the “Prince of Positioning”), Philip Morgan.

Philip just released the new, updated version of his book, The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants (Amazon link).

I’m reading through a copy of it, and it’s a great book. Lots of information packed inside.

If you want to improve your positioning, do better work, and take steps towards specialization, you should read it:

Rate-Raising Reader Success Story

A success story from a reader (and Freelance.Camp member) Jonathan:

You suggested putting “raise my rates” into the calendar a while back. I did.

The next client call after that date, I used the new rates. I got a verbal yes and am waiting on the final paperwork. Depending on the specific package they pick, it will be an extra $3-$5k per month.

Yesterday was the last time I raised my rates, and it’s in my calendar now as a repeating event.

🎉 💰 🚀

Can it be that simple to raise your rates? Yes and no!

On the one hand, all it does take is having the courage to say to your client, “by the way, my new rate for this is $X” and being okay with whatever the outcome is (e.g., yes that’s cool, no we can’t afford that).

On the other hand, many things lined up for Jonathan when he raised his client rate (e.g., his timing, the client’s perception of the value he’s contributing).

If you want to give yourself every advantage possible when it comes to raising your rates with your existing clients, I recommend that you take three actions:

  1. First, add a reminder to your calendar to raise your rates in the future (I recommend ~3-6 months out). Raising your rates isn’t a ‘do today’ action; it’s a ‘do in the future’ action.
  2. Second, start keeping track of when your client(s) share that what you’re doing is valuable. That might take the form of, e.g., comments, Slack messages, emails, smoke signals, tweets. If you aren’t receiving this type of feedback, it’s worth asking your client, “Hey, what parts of our work together do you see as the most valuable?” and then shutting up and listening to what they share.
  3. Third, once your calendar reminder has arrived, raise the topic of a raise with your client. That could be as simple as saying, “By the way, I’m loving our work together and the results we’re starting to see, and I want to quickly touch base about my rates.”

Past that, the one last tip I have for you is to consider joining Freelance Camp (, my community for Freelancers and Indie Consultants.

Freelance Camp is a great place to ask your peers all those questions that you run into running your own business, like:

  • “Am I charging enough in this proposal?”
  • “How can I find out if my client sees value in our work together?”
  • or even, “I’m going to talk with my client about raising my rates. What should I do to prepare?”

If you’re looking for a community of peers where you can ask the tactical or philosophical questions about freelancing, you should check out Freelance Camp (



Website Review Sample

Today we’re going to look at a short video reviewing the homepage of a great web design and development shop: PixelHero (

I came across their website while researching an unrelated project and they make a great example for a Website Review.

On the surface, PixelHero’s homepage is great. It’s well designed and has a certain chef’s kiss to it.

But when we dig in a bit — and you’ll see this over my shoulder in the video — we start to see opportunities to help the homepage improve and do it’s job better. (Like their underuse of ‘you’ focused language!)

Watch today’s special sample mini-Website Review right here:

And say it with me now:

Talk to your website visitors, not at them.

And if you’re looking for expert insight into your website, what it’s doing well, and what it could be doing better, you should check out a Website Review for your website.

Read more about a Website Review right here:



Website Review Tip: Looketh Upon Thy Homepage

Your homepage has a vital job. It’s the face and salesperson for your website, your services, and your business. A majority of your visitors are going to land on the homepage, so you want to check regularly:

  1. Is your homepage doing its job well?
  2. Could it be doing a better job?

If your homepage is doing its job well, it should communicate at first glance:

  • Who you help
  • How you help (and what you do)
  • How to get started (and the next action to take)

That’s not everything your homepage needs, but those are some of the essentials you want to include. Why do you want to have them on your homepage? If you look at your website analytics, you’ll see that a) a majority of folks who visit your site start their browsing journey on your homepage and b) most ditch out from your homepage after a few seconds/minutes without clicking elsewhere.

So if you’re wondering, ‘how do I make a good first impression on people browsing my website?’ the answer starts with ‘make sure your homepage shares that first impression first thing.’

Okay, it’s time for action. Go ahead and load up your homepage, but with a slight twist: get your phone out and load your homepage.

Now, look at your homepage in the browser without scrolling. We’re just looking at whatever pops up above the fold when you first load the page.

What do you see?

Ideally, you should see some combination of:

  • Your positioning statement or tagline
  • A reference to who you help + how you help
  • The next step for the visitor to take (e.g., scroll, click, read, fill out a form)

(And a bit more like some text or an image, etc.)

Do you see those? Or do you see other stuff? (And, importantly, does your homepage look subtly off on your phone?)

All of this is valuable information to collect that will help you improve your website (and it’s one of the first things I look at in a Website Review

Once you’ve surveyed your scene on mobile, do the same on desktop. You want to see if the experience differs between the two. (Is one a great first impression and one a middling lukewarm handshake of a first impression? Once you know, you can start to act.)

After you’ve taken a look, think about what you’ve found.

Is there better information you want folks to see right out of the gate on your website? Are there better, more resonant/precise/efficient ways to communicate who you help + how you help + what you do?

Think about your findings and then take action. Update your homepage to look a little bit better on mobile or desktop. Test a new tagline or positioning statement above the fold. Or, radically reinvent your homepage and try something new.

And if you’re looking for an expert, outside perspective on your website, what it’s doing well, and what it could be doing better to help you sell more, more often to your customers, you should check out a Website Review:

At the end of the project, you’ll get my detailed recommendations on the top 5-8 changes or improvements to make to your website. (Plus a detailed video of my first impressions and more.)

Read more here:



[⏲️ 💰 Flash Holiday Sale] 20% off Quick Start Roadmapping, Podcast Outreach, and more

Happy Holiday!

Today you can claim a 20% discount on a selection of my products:

These discounts vanish at 9:59 PM PST tonight (4/20/21). You can use the coupon code FS420during checkout to confirm your final price.



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