Can you raise your rates … just like that?

Well, yes, you can. But you might go out of business.

So, how do you go about lifting the rates you charge?

Here are three tips.

1.  Practice on people who aren’t your clients (yet).

By advertising higher rates, you reduce your risk of losing your existing clients. You can charge higher amounts for new prospects, and if you don’t get them as clients, you’ve lost nothing.

2. Raise your value

By demonstrating the value that you’re giving to your clients, you’re moving their focus away from the price, and towards the benefit. This is not a way to gouge them; you should never charge unreasonable rates.

But it does force you to explain to them what the benefit is to their business of your services.

3. Offer bonuses

By presenting three tiers of your package, with very clear value differences between each of the tiers, you’re making it more enticing for clients to buy a higher value package.

 

By raising your rates with newer clients, and offering higher value to existing clients, you are likely to attract a better quality client; one who is going to buy more quickly, and spend more money on you.

It’s all about helping them see the value in what you do.

If you’re underpricing, you’re driving away customers

If you’re offering a Lamborghini at Hyundai prices, you’re going to go out of business.

Not because you’re not making a big enough margin.

But because you’re not going to get Lamborghini customers.

If you’re too cheap, they won’t trust you.

High-touch Services at Commodity Prices

You don’t know how much to charge. You offer intensive support, which takes 100% of your attention, and you don’t charge enough for it.

This is a recipe for bankruptcy.

Raise your prices. A lot!

But how?

For starters, on your website you can set some minimum pricing. Make it a range of prices, if you like. But you want to drive the low-margin, penny-pinching clients away.

Pricing can do that.

Pricing should do that.

If you publish some prices on your website, you can at least help people see whether you’re a serious operator, and whether they’re in your market.

Make sense?

Pricing will make up for a multitude of other problems in your business. Better margins make for more profitable business.

When they get to your website

“This is a bookstore, not a library!”

The grumpy old lady who ran the bookstore in the back streets of the quiet south end of Sydney’s CBD was clearly frustrated. She could tell the type: browsing, not buying.

If she pushed them with: “can I help you with anything special?” it was a trigger for them to slip out the door.

But sometimes, she’d just had enough of these book-browser people.

Is your website attracting browsers, not buyers?

You may be feeling the same as that grumpy old lady in the bookstore. You want buyers, not browsers!

You’re getting people to come, but they’re not turning into paying customers.

What are you doing wrong?

First, let’s look at what you’re doing right

So, you’ve done all the SEO, added your keywords, and put your website up on social media.

You’ve created some Google AdWords campaigns, and you’re getting visitors to your website … not to mention a chunky bill every month from Google.

Maybe you’ve tried Facebook ads, burnt up some money, but learned a lesson in how to target your audience.

You’ve worked hard on your website, and it’s getting visitors.

Sure, you’ve lost money getting there. Still, you are getting traffic. But it’s not turning into serious phone calls or clicks on your “Buy now” button. You do get the occasional random caller who is a time waster.

But no real clients.

3 questions to ask yourself about your high rate of visitors

# 1  Who are your visitors?

You are getting numbers to your website, but are they the right people? Is there something in your messaging or your ads that is attracting the penny pinchers?

For example: “we are the best in the industry at the lowest prices.”

#2  Are the right visitors confused or unclear about the next step?

So, even if you are getting the right sort of visitors to your website, what’s happening when they get there?

Is your call-to-action (CTA) clear and prominent? For instance, if you want to get your visitors on the phone, is there a big, boring “Contact us” form with a “Submit” button?

You don’t want your visitors to work too hard to find out what to do next.

#3 Are you trying to sell too early?

When you are offering services, people will pay you as much as they trust you. If they don’t even know you yet, they are unlikely to make the big jump to a 4 or 5-figure consulting engagement.

Ask for something small first, such as their attention, or their email address in exchange for a freebie checklist or some action tips.

Nurture the right visitors

Guide them along the right path, and you’ll build their trust over time.

From there, it’s easy to send them to your first-level offer.

 

25 Years in Business (but do you know why clients buy?)

You’d think that after a few years running your service business, you’d be pretty good at understanding your clients.

You’d know what their typical reasons are for using your service.

You’d be able to answer pretty much every objection to buying your service, because you’ve heard them all.

You understand why they buy and you also understand their resistance to buying.

But are you communicating that on your website?

Why is that important?

Because you get to tap straight into their buying decision (or their non-buying decision, as the case may be).

While they’re going through the buying process, asking questions like:

  • is this really a good deal?
  • is this right for our situation?
  • is this the right time for us to use this service, anyway?

Now, when you’re there in person, you can hear those questions and—if the client really is a good fit—answer them.

Your website is meant to substitute for you in that sales conversation, when you’re not there.

Here are four reasons why answering objections on your website make for a smart sales process.

#1  You get to spell out the objections and dismiss them.

#2  You show empathy for your prospects. When you talk about the concerns that your prospective customers may be having about your product, you break down a lot of trust barriers.

#3 You show confidence in your service. This is a strong way of establishing credibility: by speaking about the very objections people may not have even thought about asking.

#4  People will be able to read answers to questions they were afraid to ask. Sometimes people will be too embarrassed to ask a really important question. Having those objections answered on your website can save them the embarrassment.

Make your website pull its weight.

Give it a reason for existence, and help it to answer those objections that people are thinking about before they commit to buying from you.

When your IT services website turns people away

If you were to do a tour of the websites of any number of small IT businesses, here’s what you’d find:

  • a list of the services they provide (maybe even ALL of them!)
  • vague claims about their service, such as:
    • “impeccable service”
    • “quality solutions”
    • “making IT simple”
    • “getting the web working for you”

and often some tagline such as “we’re passionate about IT.”

It might all be true, but … 

If you’re a potential customer, you’re probably not so interested about how “passionate” these people are about IT, or very general claims about their outstanding service.

What you do want to know is that these people understand your problem and can fix it.

Making the website client-focused

When your website home page is focused on the client, it suddenly gets their interest.

So, lead with the problem.

  • “Identify Early Warning Signs of Database Failure”
  • “If your sales orders system stopped, would you still be able to invoice?”
  • “How long can your airline booking system put up with downtime?”

In other words, if this big bad event happened, whose job would be on the line?

3 Benefits of focusing on the client’s pain

When you turn the language of your website into focusing on your ideal client, you’ll start to see much better results.

#1  You’ll start to attract the right kind of clients. If your language is specific and focused on the exact client you want to attract, you’ll attract them. They’ll hear your call!

#2  They’ll stay around for longer. By speaking in your client’s specific language, you’ll pique their curiosity. They’ll feel more at home, because you’re talking their language, and so they’ll want to stay around, or come back later.

#3  You’ll prep them to buy. You see, they’ll begin to feel like they know you, and that they can trust you. They’ll see you as a good fit for their business.

The Faster You Work, the Less They Pay You: 2016 Year in Review

Did you ever have a business opportunity staring you in the face, but you missed it?
I have. This year.

Did you ever get told to do networking, and dread the very idea?
I did, just a few months ago.

Did you ever almost give up on running your own business, because you were too focused on what you do (technically) and were confused about how to get the revenue from it?

That was me.

Do you ever get told by friends and family to get a stable job, and give up on the idea of running your own business? (What freelancer hasn’t been told that?)

Do you ever tell yourself to get a “real” job, just so you can have the security of a regular income?

Well, you’re not alone. I’ve been working with freelancers pretty intensely over the last year, and many of them—most of them, in fact—go through the “I should just get a job” fears.

Now, in some cases, maybe that’s what they should do. But in other cases (most cases, in fact), their difficulties really come down to:

  • not enough of the right clients
  • undercharging for their service
  • lack of confidence

That’s not all the problems they face, of course, but that last one is costing them emotionally and financially.

This lack of confidence manifests itself in a number of ways, such as:

  • undercharging for their services (because “why would anyone use my service? It’s already been better by someone else.”);
  • or not willing to speak to new clients (because “I’m a technical / creative person. And I don’t know how to sell myself.”)

Now, maybe you’re one of the tiny minority who never doubts the value you bring to clients, never suffer a lack of confidence, and never undercharge.

But, just in case you’re not, you’ll probably benefit from reading my 2016 year in review. Here it is.

Technical expert; Business newbie

After building my reputation over many years as an IT infrastructure specialist, I was finding a few things frustrating.

  • I had to work through agencies
  • I was charging out at hourly rates
  • Payment terms were often poor

There were plenty of good things about this setup of working through agencies. For starters, I felt I didn’t have to sell myself, as the agencies already had the gig and were looking for someone who could do the work.

However, as I was getting to know end clients really well (as you do when you work alongside them for a while on big projects), I was starting to wonder what the benefit was of working through agencies.

Work faster; earn less

Charging out by the hour was particularly frustrating. The faster I worked, the less I got paid. You can only increase your hourly or daily rate so much, and usually that only happens at the beginning of a contract. If you apply your years of experience to save a client with 200 stores some 60 hours of planned downtime (as I did recently), then billing your own effort by the hour just doesn’t make sense.

Billing for my time just wasn’t taking advantage of my expertise. I saved 200+ stores from being out of operation for basically three days, and it took me a couple of hours to do that. So what was my hourly rate again?

And yet, at the start of the project, I would usually face an agency offering my services at a low-ish rate, and I was left with a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

So I started the year by trying to narrow my focus and attract higher-paying clients directly. In other words, bypass the agencies.

“Technical Expert?” Yawn.

Now, that step involved talking about my business and my technical skills, but not in the generalist terms that you often see technical firms doing.

For example, I see IT service firms with slogans or taglines such as:

  • “Making complex simple.”
  • “Optimise your business operations.”
  • “Work smarter and faster.”

None of those really help a client recognise their expensive problems in the service providers’ website.

So I moved to being the enterprise infrastructure for M&As (mergers and acquisitions). Still a bit technology focused, but at least CIOs in the midst of a company merger (or demerger) would recognise they were in the spotlight and need someone to call: a trusted advisor.

This had the advantage of being:

  • direct to end clients (not via agencies)
  • prepaid month by month (which solves the slow payment terms problem); and
  • paid for my smarts, not my hands-on work.

This last bit means that a big company will pay me to help them with advice and my industry experience.

However, there was an area of business staring me in the face; and I almost totally missed it.

I was still thinking too much like the hands-on guy, looking for clients with IBM midrange systems (my field of expertise).

Then, about mid-2016, one of my business mentors told me to start networking.

The whole idea turned me off. What was the point of going to local meetups with small business owners who were not my target market at all?

Yes, I got some business cards printed up, but somehow I felt that networking was going to be a waste of time.

I was so wrong, because I had completely misunderstood what networking was meant to be.

I thought I’d have to create an elevator pitch and hope against hope that someone would say: “wow! That’s exactly what we need! We have a budget of $XXX,000 and we were looking for someone to spend it on.”

It was only after networking with the wrong people—in other words, people who would never become my clients—that I saw the amazing value of having discussions when you’ve got no skin in the game. I saw that networking was a giant game of join-the-dots, and once I got into the wrong places, instead of trying to network with my peers or with my direct prospective clients, my outlook opened up. And so did my leads.

I met some local business owners, and even some senior managers in larger companies who I knew would never be my clients.

And that’s when the penny dropped. It was an “aha!” moment that both drew on my extensive technical problem solving experience, and my years of working in big companies. But I almost didn’t notice it.

You see, my years of experience working across lots of different industries, in large and medium businesses, also gave me a wealth of experience that I never realised was valuable.

I was thinking of the technical expertise I was able to bring, in doing an upgrade, or migrating data out of the on-prem systems into a hosted data centre (don’t be worried if you don’t understand the technical language here).

But all of a sudden, I found that these conversations with senior managers were not technical. At least, not in any detail. I was learning to listen to them about their frustrations, often to do with working with other teams in their companies, or with external vendors. I was starting to share some thoughts about how to communicate to their customers, and what to say when speaking to IT service providers.

Did that ever open some doors!

Now, I had moved from being the technical guy who was trying to get a foot in the door. Instead, the pivot of my business was being the technical guy who senior managers can talk to without having their eyes glaze over.

And—what do you know—people running IT service companies have started asking me to become their resellers. Just about every week I’ll have some IT service provider—maybe a freelancer—ask me: “how do you get in the door of these big companies?”

In the last two months, I’ve had at least six smaller IT business owners ask me to partner with them. They offer to pay me in equity, or in sales commission. I’m seen by them as the go-between; someone who can get to the decision makers in big companies and have a non-technical discussion about their business problems.

Now, this is actually a great market position for me to be in: a sort of conduit between IT service providers and bigger businesses.

I wrote a single email to the organiser of a conference which is about technology for procurement professionals, and next thing I’m giving the opening talk at the conference in Melbourne, in February 2017. (If you’re not clear on what procurement is, they’re the people making buying decisions on behalf of big companies.)

Pivoting My Business

Here’s the big takeaway from 2016.

Your technical skills are only a part of what you do and what you should offer. If you have a lot of experience in dealing with people (even non-technical people), then you’re probably going to be even more valuable to them than you could ever imagine.

When you start seeing yourself as the conduit between business and technology, the conversations become much more natural. People prefer to work with people who talk their language. If you’re talking with technical people, you can understand their techspeak. But you can also translate that into terms that the business or stakeholder will understand.

So, here’s the pivot: instead of defining your technical expertise, focus on the “business outcomes” that your client needs. For that matter, focus on your own business outcomes, so that you can start with some lifestyle or profit goals, then work backwards from there (number of clients; amount of revenue from each project etc.)

That’s what I’ve done and already, late in 2016, I have some early January meetings with people who control big budgets. They need to talk to a tech guy who can translate technical solutions into business outcomes.

Where is this all going to lead in 2017? It’s too early to say, but the first step is that I’m helping technical firms set some real goals in their own businesses, and then I’m guiding them through the process of connecting those goals to new clients.

That means good-bye to vague goals like: “I want to grow my business”, and hello to goals like: “I’d like to have three projects worth $XX,000 by the end of March.”

Then we walk through some concrete steps to get their foot in the door. How to identify the industry, business, and decision maker. How to get a conversation started, and then lead it to the first step of a paid engagement.

Similarly, I’m positioning myself to offer something similar to the managers in big companies. What are their specific points of frustration? How would they measure success?

So, all in all, it’s been a roller coaster ride for me in 2016; but things are looking bright for next year. That’s thanks, in part, to my very kind, wise and experienced mentors; as well as to my determination (some might call it stubbornness) to build that bridge between business people and technical people.

If you feel the urge, let me know what you think of this new direction, and share with me the one or two big lessons you’ve learned from this year.

I hope for a bright 2017. I’m very positive about it, and I hope you are for your own situation, too.

Anthony


Master the Value Conversation

Stop explaining what you do. Start explaining why it’s valuable.

2015 Year in Review: Learning to Say “No”

A very little word with a very big meaning

Well, that’s what they say about the word “if”. But so is another two-letter word: “No.” You think it would restrict you, especially in business, but I’ve found exactly the opposite in 2015. You see, this is my first ever year in review and the one thing I’ve learnt am learning is how to decline work.

It’s actually great for cash flow (I hope).

So, rather than give a chronology of my year as a freelancer [ahem ] independent contractor running my own business from home, I thought I’d intertwine it with the one-word lesson that keeps getting drummed into me.

Swings, roundabouts, feasts & famine

I started the year by continuing in a long-term pay-by-the-hour contract working on a data centre migration for one of Australia’s big banks. I was part of a global team and it was amazing to be able to focus entirely on one little aspect. Like the guy from Paul Denny Conveyancing says about his niche:

When all you do is conveyancing, you get very good at it.

Powerful words. That’s great marketing, because it’s very clear what he does and what he doesn’t do. Focus. In fact my buzz word for the last couple of months has been laser focus.

It’s been a tough year at times, particularly financially. However, it’s also been full of delightful surprises, with big and rewarding projects popping up out of the blue.

But first, let me focus on the negative:

Who heard me say “No” in 2015

  • All recruiters who wanted me for a full-time role or a long-term contract (“with likelihood of extension”
  • My friend who is trying to carve out a business in the religious domain. (But he only heard “No” – or rather “I think you should set aside some budget for this” after I had done hours – too many to count – doing uploads and revamping his WordPress website)
    • Let me add a few other friends to that list, although their hours were nowhere near as high
  • My generic all-you-can-eat a la carte smorgasbord business and website. In other words, the lesson I learned was “just because you can do something for someone, doesn’t mean you should do it.” Focus, Anthony. Focus!

“Did you spend the whole year saying no?”

Actually, that’s a tiny snapshot of the people I said no to and the opportunities I declined. But that’s not all I did.

After that bank data migration contract, the last six months of the year were largely spent working part time on a high (for me) hourly rate contract doing a data migration from the US to another continent, neither of which I visited. All driven from little ol’ Down Under, with teams across 7 different countries and about 11 time zones.

The technical side of that data migration was not terribly challenging for me, as I have done so many migrations of AIX on IBM Power Systems, and I was working with some really serious technical teams from around the globe. It was the logistics of it all that made it such a wonderful experience.

I got to see how one great big budget figure – an expensive problem – was the driver for success.

In the end, the project got across the line, ahead of time, below budget, and with I suppose over 20 companies involved.

I also spent time doing ad hoc work for quite a few companies (including my own). This was beneficial for them, but probably less so for me, as I was often just doing an hour or two here or there and charging accordingly.

“Freelancer” no more

The biggest turning point for me, both for the year and for my career, was coming across the free email course called Double Your Freelancing Rate. This has totally rewritten how I charge for my work, what work I say yes to and how I address the impostor syndrome (the notion that “I don’t really belong here with these big successful people. I’m no expert.”)

It would be impossible to pinpoint all the benefits of doing the free 9-part email course on how to escape the black hole of market rates. I can hardly begin to speak of the people I’ve come across who have implemented strategies to completely challenge the hourly rate or working-for-the-man approach to selling your services. However, here are a handful of highlights:

Positioning

I got hold of Philip Morgan’s Positioning Manual for Dev Shops. It walks you through narrowing your focus – specifying your position in the market. It’s an extraordinarily clear and liberating process (although a bit scary to let go of all of those mythical general customers). As Philip quotes: “He who chases two rabbits, catches neither.”

Bye bye to hourly rates

I started with a totally new approach to pricing by weaning myself off hourly rates. I watched a video of a talk Jonathan Stark did at the Double Your Freelancing conference in September 2015. As I write this in early January, 2016, I’ve just done my first two tentative attempts at value-based pricing.

If you are:

  • thinking about moving off hourly rates, or
  • if you’ve ever used fixed pricing and been burnt, or
  • if you are struggling with the feast or famine of freelance work

do yourself a one-hour favour and listen to this entire podcast interview by Matt Inglot with Jonathan Stark.

Thinking of taking it further? Swing by Jonathan’s website called expensive problem. (Hint: if you want to make money, you have to solve an expensive problem for someone who can find the budget to solve that problem).

Bright 2016

I’ve barely scratched the surface of my year. I didn’t mention the articles I wrote for IBM Systems Magazine or for Power Wire covering a few topics relevant to people working on AIX or on IT projects in general.

I also haven’t spoken of my tweets, but Social Media guru Mojca Mars has made me sit up and pay attention to Twitter.

Absent-minded professor
Absent-minded professor

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find Mojca’s wisdom at her website Super Spicy Media and she’s got lots of valuable advice … even how to get traction with Facebook Ads really can attract some attention.

Overall, I’d say 2015 has been tentatively positive. As with most small business owners, I’ve found it a roller coaster. Still, I’m confident that I’m going to make some big inroads in 2016.

Hope you’ve found this helpful. I’m expecting this website will be facing some strong reworking (again!) in the early months of 2016. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook and even Pinterest.