How to Trade Up for Better-Paying Clients

Businesswoman with  growth graphWhen you first start out as a web writer, it probably makes sense to take some projects that don’t pay as much as you’d like. That’s okay. What’s important is that you don’t settle for low rates forever.

Once you have some experience under your belt, it’s time to raise your rates. In some cases, if clients aren’t willing to pay your new rates, you may have to let them go. Don’t worry — you’ll replace them with better-paying clients. Here’s how:

1. Figure out what you want (and don’t want).

One of the most important aspects to replacing clients is understanding who your ideal client is (and who they are not). To do this, you should create an “ideal client” profile. It doesn’t have to be anything complex. Basically just make a list of all the things you want in your ideal client. Here are some ideas:

  1. Agrees to pay your full fees because they understand the value you provide.

  2. They are active in and excited about their business. (Little is more frustrating than a client that doesn’t take an active role in their business. Happy and motivated clients are going to help you create killer copy.)

  3. They understand you’re the expert and treat you like one.

  4. They provide a quality product.

Keep going until you can’t add anything else to your “perfect client” list.

Your new clients might not have all of these traits, but when you have a goal in mind, you’ll slowly get closer and closer to the mark over time. After all, trading up to better-paying clients is a process that can take weeks or even months.

2. Evaluate your current clients.

Now decide if your current clients are “deals” or “duds.”

Deals are the clients that closely match your “perfect client” list. You enjoy working with them, they pay on time, give helpful feedback, and respect you.

A dud — on the other hand — is missing many of your “ideal client” traits. Maybe they don’t pay on time or they take advantage of your helpfulness.

Literally stop and put each of your clients into a category. If you’re having a hard time, here are some things to consider:

  1. Are their projects enjoyable, in your desired niche, or expanding your portfolio?
  2. Do you have to invoice them more than once or follow-up repeatedly?
  3. Do they often ask for rush work and pressure you to complete it?
  4. Do they expect you to work for waaayyy less than you want to make?
  5. Is there anything else you dislike about your writer/client relationship?

Remember: This is your business. You deserve to work with your ideal clients.

3. Dump the duds (or charge more).

Once you’ve decided on clients that you want to dump, it’s time to take action. That action might be:

  • Finishing up current work, but not accepting new work from them.
  • Letting go of any retainer agreements.
  • Nicely explaining that you can no longer accommodate them. (If you have a fellow writer who’s just getting started, this may be a good time to refer them.)

As you look to dump your duds, keep in mind that — depending on your goals and income — you may not want to dump them all at once …

Instead, just let go of one. Maybe the one that pays the least or gives you the most grief …

Then, once you’ve replaced that client, dump the next dud, and so on.

Another strategy you could use to “dump the duds” is raising your current rates. Here’s what suggests:

“As for existing clients, give the clients you want to get rid of plenty of warning about ‘rate increases’ and then send an email/formal letter detailing the changes … Then, it’s up to the unwanted client if they decide to stay or go. If they stay, at least you’ll be getting more money for the hassle.”

4. Always be marketing.

A great way to trade up to better-paying clients is to get a lot of leads. The more leads you have, the more proposals you’ll do, and the more work you’ll land — even at higher rates.

So, the secret to better-paying clients? Market more. Market so much that you have more than enough clients to pick and choose from.

To attract the type of clients that fit your “ideal client” profile, consider clearly stating what type of client you want to work with — and those you don’t. It may sound scary to be blatantly honest like this, but many pro writers clearly say what they won’t settle for — whether it’s scam-y products or low pay.

Here’s an example from professional writer, Sean McCool. You’ll find this text on his website here:


Another technique is to share your rates on your site. As Jim Wright pointed out in a recent Reality Blog:

“Publishing your rates on your website can act to pre-qualify your leads. If they’ve seen your rates, and they’re still following up with you, chances are they have the budget to pay your fees. This can help to eliminate the ‘tire kickers’ and can save you long discussions with clients that clearly aren’t a good match.”

Also remember that the best-paying clients usually find you. Your website is the perfect platform for that to happen. If you need more help attracting clients (rather than chasing them down), be sure to read, Put Together a Marketing Plan in Seven Days.

5. Ask for referrals.

Once you have an ideal client, ask them for referrals. It’s a high probability that your awesome client has great friends who would also love to work with you! As we talked about in this article, one of the best ways to get referrals is to simply ask:

One of the biggest revelations of the Referral Challenge was that you can easily get referrals just by asking. Many people are more than willing to help you out — especially if they know you’ll do a good job — but most of us are afraid to ask.

Read the rest — and get 10 more tips for getting referrals in — 11 Ways to Find Clients with Referrals.

Also, be sure to read Sid Smith’s article: How to Get Your Clients to Give You Quality Referrals.

Now it’s your turn …

What did I forget? Are there any other strategies for getting better-paying clients?

Or — what’s your funniest “dud” client story?

Join the discussion in the comments below …


Christina Gillick

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