A common question that I get about pricing is whether or not a freelancer should publicize their prices. I’ll admit, this is a tricky question. I remember the frustration I felt as a first-time freelancer looking for prices online to figure out what I should be charging. It was hard to find designers who listed the rates or flat fees.
I found myself asking why that might be? If I go to the grocery store, I can see the prices for everything right on the shelf. Wouldn’t it make sense for a freelancer to list their prices to? This text me for quite a while, but soon the answer became clear.
The benefits a freelancer gains from keeping his or her prices undisclosed far outweigh the benefits one might receive from listing them. Here’s why:
Competition First and foremost, when a freelancer lists their prices online, they provide intel for competitors in their area or field. Another copywriter might see what you charge, and undercut you by 10-20%. They might not be as good at what they do as you are, but with lower prices they’ll have better luck wooing cost-conscious clients their way.
I realize how hypocritical this sounds; years ago, I based my initial design rates on the fees listed by a few brave freelancers online. If it wasn’t for them, it would have taken a lot more trial and error to find the right price for a lot of my services. That said, there are other places I could have learned that information, such as online survey results and government reports on income by profession.
My recommendation to keep your prices private is about allowing you to slip through your competition’s radar and not be undercut. I think that’s more important than finding the right price for your services as quick as possible. In a perfect world of my construction, no freelancer would list their rates.
Another reason I vote for removing prices from websites is that it allows a freelancer to be flexible with new clients. Let me walk you through two scenarios to illustrate why.
Scenario One: A prospective client hears about you from a co-worker and visits your website. They love your work displayed there, but when they get to your pricing page, they realize they can’t afford you. They might search online for other freelancers in the same profession, or ask their friend if they know of anyone cheaper. Either way, they never get in touch with you.
Scenario Two: The prospective client hears about you, visits your site, and falls in love with the quality of your work. Not seeing any prices listed, they send you an email describing their project and what they are 48 The Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Paid looking to spend. Now you get to contribute to their decision-making process.
Can you see how Scenario Two is better? If you put your pricing on your website, you are building a wall. Those who can’t afford your rates will simply bounce off the wall and go somewhere else. You’ll never hear from them, and never know what you missed.
By removing your prices, you tear down the wall and allow prospective clients to approach you and start a conversation. When their budget is revealed, you will have a decision to make: either their needs and your rates are completely incompatible, or their needs can be adjusted to fit your costs. And that’s where the flexibility comes in.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll list your regular prices and let the client decide. But every now and then you’ll have the opportunity to trim down your deliverables or included features in order to get closer to a client’s budget. Maybe you know of a better way to accomplish what they’re looking for, and it would cut the time involved in half. That just might win the client over. Don’t forget the other benefits that flexibility bring to the table. You’ll be seen as a freelancer willing to think creatively in order to meet the client’s needs. You’ll be appreciated more because you made sacrifices to help the client out. And you get an extra teaching moment where you can impress upon them that your services are valuable, and that rather than bartering, you prefer to get paid fairly for what you do.
Flexibility is great for everyone. The more flexible you are as a freelancer, the more successful you’ll be.
Room for Growth:
Lastly, keeping your prices private allows you to change them at any time. I’ve mostly talked about websites, but some freelancers go as far as to put their pricing in print. Print, though, never goes away. I did this myself during my first year as a designer. I thought it would be helpful to have a brochure to hand out and mail to people, so I designed one and had a few hundred printed. I mailed some, handed others to clients during in-person meetings, but most of them sat in a box in my office closet.
Later that year, I raised my rates. The moment I did that, my brochures expired, like an old bottle of milk. I couldn’t use the brochures anymore, so they became a waste of space and money. I ended up throwing them away, and still have fears that some business owner in town is going to clean out her inbox and discover the one I mailed her, and then hold me to those prices. Putting your prices in print, whether that’s on paper or a website, puts an expiration date on them. The moment you change your rates—and those rates should be increasing over the years—you have to go back and change everything that references them.
Keeping your rates private allows you to grow your business, increase your prices, and do so without the mess of constantly modifying or reprinting your pricing material. Together with the benefit of keeping you invisible to the competition and allowing you to serve the most clients in the best way, I think you’ll agree that it’s the best path to take.