I almost called this post something like “The Stress-Free Guide to Raising Your Freelance Rates.” But then I thought better of it.
Because here’s the truth: Deciding to raise your freelance rates is stressful. No amount of advice I give you is going to take the tummy butterflies and the nail-biting out of the process. Heck, I’ve been a freelancer for nearly eight years and I still want to throw up every time I announce a price increase to my clients.
Even so, raising your rates is something you’re likely going to need to do as a freelancer. It’s a normal part of running a business. I’m sure you pay more for your Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription than you did when you first signed up. I bet you didn’t even bat an eye when your plumber told you that fixing your toilet would cost $50 more than it did last time.
See? It comes with the territory. But that doesn’t mean doing it is any less anxiety-inducing.
With that in mind, let’s get into the juicy stuff about how to raise your freelance rates—including how you know it’s time, how much you can increase them by, and how to handle breaking the news.
I wish I could tell you that there will always be a flashing neon sign that says, “HEY, YOU! Time to increase your prices!”
In reality? So much of figuring out your timing comes back to gut feel. Your intuition is hardly ever wrong, so if a little voice in your head is telling you that you deserve to earn more for the work you’re doing, it’s probably worth listening to.
That’s not exactly the most helpful advice, so let’s try to make this a little more tangible. Here are a few signs you’re ready to increase your prices with a client:
That’s by no means an exhaustive list—and you certainly don’t need to check all (or even any) of those boxes to justify raising your freelance rates. But, if you’re like me and prefer a little more tactical direction, I hope that helps give you a bit more confidence.
Any time! Seriously. Any gosh darn time.
Some people prefer to do a more substantial increase annually. Some prefer to do a modest increase every six months. Other people do it at the start of a new quarter.
Those are all great times to raise your rates—but there’s really no wrong time (with a couple of caveats I’ll get into in a minute). I’ve raised my rates at the start of the year. But I’ve also raised them on a random Tuesday in June. Hey, I’m even thinking about raising them when I return from my maternity leave in April.
Trust me when I tell you there’s no freelance calendar out there that dictates exactly when you can ask for more money. There’s no “International Raise Your Rates Day” (although, maybe I should make that a thing?). Whenever you decide to do it is the right time.
With that said, there are some times when I think your rate increase with a client will be more nerve-wracking and potentially even less successful. I usually hold off on contacting them about a higher price if and when:
I also typically avoid announcing a rate increase in the day or two before any sort of holiday, as I know people have sporadic schedules or are mentally checked out—which means things can easily slip through the cracks.
This is another one that doesn’t have one right answer. I’m sure you’re tired of me saying that, but there’s so much nuance.
If you’ve been working with a client for two solid years and haven’t raised your prices a single time, you’re justified in doing a more substantial increase than someone who’s been predictably hiking up their rates every six months or so.
I hear the range of 10-20% referenced pretty consistently when it comes to a reasonable rate increase. But again, you’re in the driver’s seat here. Crunch some numbers and figure out what feels right to you—that’s different for everybody.
I do think it’s smart to choose a price that’s slightly higher than what you actually need or want. That gives you a little wiggle room to negotiate with your client if you decide you want to (more on that a little later).
I usually aim for one month. It’s enough of a heads up for them to get their ducks in a row, yet not so far ahead that they lose track of that information (or worse, forget about it entirely).
Here’s how this works for me: Toward the end of the month, I’ll notify my client that the upcoming month will be the last one at the current rate. After that, my price is increasing.
So, for example, at the end of March, I’ll tell them that April will be my last month working at the current rate. Starting on May 1, my rate is increasing to whatever number I’ve landed on and the May invoice will reflect that new rate. I like to be as explicit as possible about the dates (not to mention the price).
Don’t start sweating quite yet—I’ll share an email template below that helps you pull this all together.
Nope. I’ll say that again: Nope.
To be fair, you can explain why you’ve decided to raise your freelance rates. You could talk about how long you’ve been with that client. Or all of the incredible things you’ve achieved for them. Or how much you’re getting paid elsewhere. Or all of the above. If providing some sort of reasoning helps you feel better and more confident, have at it.
I just don’t want you to feel like you need to provide a long-winded justification for your price increase—because it’s totally unnecessary.
Let’s return to our plumber example to drive this point home. Last year, a plumber came out to fix your toilet. She charged you $100 for two hours of work at her hourly rate of $50.
Yesterday, she came back to fix a dripping faucet. It took her two hours again, but she charged you $120. Her hourly rate is now $60.
Now, imagine that she hands you your invoice and says, “Gosh, I know it costs more than it did last time. I have more employees now. And our health insurance plans are more expensive. And gas is more expensive too so it costs me more to get here. And material prices keep increasing. And I got this new certification. And…”
Wouldn’t you think that was a little strange? Wouldn’t you be willing to pay her new rate without her rambling through a laundry list of reasons why she’s worth it?
I thought so. Well, the same applies to you. There’s a lot of temptation to rattle off all of the things you considered when landing on your new price, but ultimately, you can just confidently state your new rate. That’s it.
Whichever one you feel most confident with! If you have a super close working relationship with that client, maybe you want to have the conversation in person or via video chat. Maybe you want to pick up the phone. Or, maybe you want to send an email.
Email is my default. In fact, it’s the only way I’ve ever announced a rate increase to my clients. There are a few reasons for that:
That last point is important. Even if you have the conversation about your rate increase in person or over the phone, it’s important to follow up with something written so you have that documentation if you need it. Don’t forget to also change your rate in your client contract so your agreement is up to date!
If you decide to go the email route too, let’s talk a little more about what that looks like. I’ve pulled together a simple email template that you can use to announce a rate increase to your clients.
Subject Line Option #1: Update about my rates
Subject Line Option #2: Price increase effective [Date]
Subject Line Option #3: Heads up about my pricing
Hi there [Name],
I hope your [Day] is treating you well so far!
This is a heads up that I’m increasing my freelance rates, effective [Date].
My current rate is $[price] per [word/post/design/project/hour/etc.]. But, in order to ensure these projects remain competitive with the rest of my workload, I need to bump that price up to $[price] per [word/post/design/project/hour/etc.].
Again, this will take effect on [Date], meaning the invoice I send on [Date] will reflect this increased rate. I will send a contract amendment that includes this new rate by [Date].
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns, [Name]. I value our relationship and our work together, and I’m happy to talk this through with you.
Looking forward to continuing our collaboration!
All the best,
Want more helpful email templates like that one? Check out “Freelance Fill-in-the-Blanks.” It’s a big ol’ book of 41 different customizable, copy-and-paste email scripts for your freelance business.
You did everything right. Yet, your client responded with some sort of “no can do.” Now what?
That sort of rejection is enough to make any freelancer’s stomach drop to their shoes. However, I’d strongly recommend against backpedaling with an, “Okay, just figured I’d ask!” and going back to doing exactly what you were doing at your old rate. In my experience, that makes it nearly impossible to ever get the rate increase you want in the future.
So where does that leave you? When it comes to moving forward, you have a couple of different options:
When it comes to raising your freelance rates, there isn’t one time, amount, or method that works for everyone. As with anything, the most important thing is to find what feels right for you.
Need more help as you summon your courage and increase your prices? Here are a few of my favorite rate-related resources. Some of them are focused on writers specifically, but can still give you valuable information and starting points:
I hope that all helps you as you go out there and get your money. I’m rooting for you!