The conventional thinking goes like this:

“Once I get more experience with ‘x’ and build up the portfolio, I’ll be able to charge more.”

“As soon as a get a better feel for what clients like, I can get higher fees.”

“When I sharpen my design philosophy a little, I can bump up my prices.”

First you hone your abilities, then you get to charge more.

But in reality, it also works the other way ’round.

Crank up your rates, and your chops will rise to meet them.  You will get a lot better, very fast.

I know that sounds bass-ackwards. But I see this happen all the time. With me, and with every other freelancer I know. And I suspect it is always thus.

It starts in your head

Try this.

Let’s say you have been getting $1000 to create a custom WordPress theme.  Or to design an identity for a product line. Or to write some product copy. Whatever. I’m making up the number.

What if, tomorrow morning, you decreed that as of 9 am sharp, that fee is now double.  $2000.  Boom, just like that.

I know, I know.  There are 94 reasons why that’s crazy and stupid and you can’t possibly do that. Bear with me a minute.

Making that purely arbitrary, audacious, utterly impractical rate hike will do wonders for your head. Which will do wonders for your business.

You will start thinking:  Holy crap, what can I possibly do to make this worth twice as much?  Push the envelope a bit?  Try a few more iterations?  Learn more tricks?  Break some new ground? A little more research?  Focus intently on what this client wants? What his problem is?  Push two steps beyond the obvious?  Or maybe, maybe I can figure out a way to make working with me the most satisfying experience ever?

That’s the kind of thinking that gets you out of the minor leagues.

Making that mental rate hike also changes your mindset, your attitude. You sit down to work that day thinking, “Okay, now I’m a $800-a-day copywriter.  Or, I get $4000 for an identity.  How would a 4K designer hit this job?  This proposal?  What would Coudal Partners do here?”

Maybe you won’t get that rate right away, or every day. But something has changed in your head.  You’ve turned pro, moved up a notch.

A photographer friend remembers when she first got the guts to quote something like $1500 for a day’s shoot.

“That day, for the first time, I felt like a photographer.  Not some scared-ass pretender newbie scratching around for a job. No, I didn’t get that gig, or the next. But my work instantly improved. I walked into a shoot and man, I just knew how to nail these shots. Hell, I was a 1500-a-day shooter.”

Time to move on?

I know what you’re thinking.  Your clients would never pay double.  Or even 33% more.  They beat you up over the price as it is. They want everything for six dollars.

Chances are, you’ll realize it would be hard to raise your game with the clients you’re working with.  They are always short of money.  Or their business doesn’t live or die on what you do. You like working with start-up restaurants, but they have peppercorn budgets, and their website is, well, not everything to them. The struggling band loves your logo and cover art, but well, they can’t pay right now.

You want clients who need your creativity, your code, your copy like they need oxygen. They need a lot of it.

So maybe it’s not about getting your current clients to pay more (which never, ever works) but finding the guys who already pay more.