by Marcia Yudkin
"My clients can't afford higher rates."
When more than 330 business owners and self-employed professionals checked off reasons why their income was not going through the roof, this statement was chosen more often than any other.
If you're tempted to agree that what clients can afford limits you, let me first ask: are you certain of that? You can't make a leap from what people say about this to whether or not they can find the money if sufficiently convinced that it's important.
Years ago, someone starting up a new business called me for a consultation and told me he could pay no more than such and such. It turned out that the most convenient place for our meeting was his house, which I could not help noticing had the size and glitziness of a small mansion, with a market value of at least three-quarters of a million dollars. What he named as his paltry budget reflected what he felt advice on this matter was worth, not what he had to spend. By pointing out how much getting his business onto a sound footing was worth to him and how much in wasted expenditures I could save him, I'd have been able to reshape his thinking on what it was reasonable to spend.
Another time a client launching a catchy new product wanted to know what kind of publicity services I could offer her for a couple of hundred dollars. I didn't hear from her again for quite a while, at which time she told me she'd hired a traditional PR firm, paying a retainer and fees of more than a thousand dollars a month. I'd gotten the impression that she didn't have that kind of money to invest, and I was very wrong.
At the other end of the spectrum, more than once I've been startled to learn that a client who paid relatively high rates without complaint was having trouble scraping money together for rent.
In truth, until you confidently raise your rates, it's impossible to know who will go along and who will not. This is particularly so when you do great work and educate clients on the value they receive.
Remember too that when you raise your rates, you can lose some clients and still make higher profits overall from those you retain.
In addition, you can earn more from each customer without raising your rates by selling them additional products and services. In this situation, they're paying you more but don't feel they are.
Finally, if you're in one of those rare situations where clients truly don't have money, consider whether this is the audience you most enjoy serving or whether you think you're only worthy of working with them. In the former case, it's still often possible to find outside entities, such as corporate sponsors, to support your work.
Sometimes what feels like an absolute limit to your earnings only means you have not yet enjoyed a freewheeling, creative brainstorming session!