If you charge by the hour, at some point you’re going to reach an income plateau as there are only so many billable hours you can work in a day. You know you need to raise your rates as time goes on, but you’re also worried you might lose some of your clients if you do. Here’s how to up your prices like a pro along with a customisable email template.
How to raise your hourly rate
When a man wants a pay rise he usually walks into his boss’s office and says “hey, I work really hard, I’m doing loads of extra things that aren’t in my job description, I haven’t had a pay rise in ages and so I’d like to negotiate one”.
And then he gets his pay rise.
But often when a woman wants a pay rise, she thinks “If work really hard and take on loads of extra work then someone will notice and be so grateful they’ll reward me with a pay rise.”
Nobody is ever going to decide you deserve more money and give it to you.
I know from my VA Handbookers Facebook group that women, in particular, seem to find it difficult to ask for what they’re worth, but I’m afraid my lovely, that if you want more money then you’re going to have to ask for it.
But first, you have to be worth it
This should go without saying, but you really do need to be an indispensable asset by constantly delivering phenomenal service to your clients. When I once told one of my clients I was raising my rates she said: “I don’t care, I’ll pay you anything, just don’t leave me.”
And that’s the sort of response you want!
You’ll know if you’re an asset because your clients will have told you. They will have given you a testimonial or told you via email or verbally how they feel about your work and value.
If you don’t know how your clients feel about you then you either need to ask them or assume they may not consider you to be a valuable asset. If you suspect this to be the case, find out if your suspicions are true and then up your game until you’re 100% sure.
A good way to do this is to be more involved in their business plans.
Help them work out what they want to achieve at the end/beginning of each year and then make sure they stay on track with those goals by reminding them of their goals every quarter.
Many VAs just wait to be given work instead of making work for themselves.
If you help your clients solve their problems, they will reward you with money.
Listen to your clients
If at least one client says the words “is that all?” or “I’m always surprised at how cheap you are” when you send them your invoice, then you need to immediately raise your rates. Not doing this would be extremely negligent!
Clients expect it
You may have noticed when shopping or paying utilities/suppliers that prices go up. This is how the world of business works and clients will expect you to raise your rates at some point. They may not be delighted, but they won’t be surprised because they will obviously be regularly raising their own prices too.
Don’t apologise or feel bad
You shouldn’t feel stressed, embarrassed or scared to raise your rates. Price rises are part of running a business and you need to appear confident about it… even if you feel the opposite.
Remember, this is not a hobby. You’re a professional business owner.
If you’re struggling with your money mindset then head over and watch the interview I held with a top pricing specialist on how VAs can improve their pricing strategy and mindset. We discuss how everyone has issues with money but that it’s mainly women who undercharge and what to do about it.
Specialising pays more
If you have a specialist subject (minute taking, marketing, social media, websites, graphic design or even just that you have executive-level experience for example) you can charge more for your knowledge and skills.
Minute taking is a traditional yet highly sought-after skill because it is so rare to find one who does this independently. You can definitely earn a really high (and regular) income if you know how to take minutes and members of my trainee-only Facebook group are always outsourcing minute taking work to each other.
A high-level executive who works with prestigious organisations, wears quality clothes and travels first class, is not going to want a bargain bucket VA. If they see themselves as the Rolls Royce of Consultants, they will expect a Rolls Royce VA – and they will pay for it because they understand that quality comes at a price.
So if you have a speciality skill or subject, make it work for you.
Because it can be really difficult to think of how to approach the subject of raising your rates with clients, I’ve taken the liberty of creating an example email for you.
You can use the structure and edit the content to reflect your own voice. You’ll find some additional tips on how to do this below.
Example price rise email:
I’m dropping you a line to let you know about my upcoming rate change. As of (date), my hourly rate will go from (£x) to (£xx).
Because my goal is to (bring an even deeper focus to every project / deliver even higher-quality work etc), I want to raise my level of service for a smaller group of clients which means you’ll be able to (benefit from my extra attention and energy / work more closely with me / see an even higher level of quality etc).
Although my new rate will be effective immediately for new clients, because of our long-standing relationship and my sincere appreciation of your business, I’m happy to work at the old rate until (when you want to start).
I really enjoy working with you and supporting the success of your business and I hope our working relationship continues for a very long time to come. (or another parting sentence that fits this particular client relationship)
Tips on editing the price-rise email template
If your client has previously given you a glowing testimonial then mention it when advising them of the rate increase. You could say something like: “thanks to that wonderful testimonial you gave me, I know you are happy with the value I bring to your business”.
Remember to remind the client of the benefits of working with you. So things like how you understand their business, know how they work, how much you can fit into an hour, and how using you makes and/or saves them both time and/or money.
Make sure you tell your client how wonderful they are to work with and how you enjoy your relationship. Flattery can take you a long way!
Why a client might say no
There is always the possibility your client might object to your price increase and it will usually be one of the following reasons.
- Your service isn’t good enough for them to feel you provide value for money
- You only recently put your rates up
- The price increase was too steep
- They don’t have the money or they are cheapskates
Note that they may not actually give the real reason so you may have to read between the lines or use your intuition.
What to do if your client objects to a price increase
- Make sure you are a valued resource and are making or saving your clients money
- Raise your prices regularly but not too often – every year is better than every 6 months
- If you put your price up by £10 then the client might object. Increase it in smaller stages
- Offer a retainer option instead. So for their budget of X, you could still do Y
- Upgrade them for better-paying clients
You can’t do much about clients who don’t have the money or aren’t willing to invest in their business, so you’ll be better off replacing them with ones who do and will.
It may seem counter-intuitive to let a client go, but there are plenty of business owners in the world, and if some are happy to pay your higher rate, it’s proof that others will too.
Feedback from a VA who used this method:
One of the members in my VA Handbookers Facebook group posted that she had a long-standing client who she liked working with very much but who wasn’t paying her full hourly rate. She really wanted to raise her prices but was concerned about losing the client.
She had a huge amount of feedback which she took on board. This was the end result:
“Hi everyone. There was lots of chat over the weekend about raising prices, and I got some great advice. The advice came from a few different perspectives, which was a little confusing at first but ultimately very helpful as it made me think about the problem from all angles. I came up with a solution, I bit the bullet, and I emailed my long-standing client.
About 20 minutes later, this is the response I got: “Totally understand, and that’s all fine.” And then she asks me about availability for the rest of the month. OK, I can breathe now!
In my email I explained the benefits to the client (as per Joanne’s email template). I also acknowledged that I realise it’s a large increase in % terms, which reflects the fact that I went in very competitive initially, but I now have a better understanding of my overheads, hours I can work, and what I need for my business to be sustainable. (You might argue I should/shouldn’t have said that part, but I would rather address it directly than have it be the elephant in the room.)
I am also giving her stepped pricing. £20/hr until 1 June, then £22.50 until 1 September when the £25/hr kicks in. I am only offering this to one client (and told her so) in recognition of our long-standing relationship and her being my first client. I also emphasised how much I value her business. When the £25/hr kicks in we’ll have worked together for a full year. The stepped pricing will, I hope, ease her transition over to the new rate.
I decided to let her know about both price rises in one go (as opposed to raising my prices twice separately) because it feels more transparent, and frankly, I can’t bear to do it twice – I just wanted to rip the plaster off!
Those who reminded me that this is business are absolutely right. Ultimately I won’t be IN business if I don’t run this AS a business. My clients run their own businesses too, and I am sure they understand and even expect it. I think the truth is with this issue… if my clients value me it will be FINE. If they’re only with me because of low rates, that is not sustainable and it would be better to fail faster and have a serious rethink.
Thanks everyone for the help and advice, and thank you Joanne Munro for the fantastic email template. I don’t think I’ve been in this group more than about two weeks, and in that time I have come to understand and own my own worth, raised my prices, I’m introducing contracts, and continuing on my journey to become GDPR compliant. It really does help to know I’m not the only person in the world doing this, far from it – and to have like-minded minds to bounce ideas around with.”
Any time you’re currently spending on low-paid tasks is time you could be spending on better-paid ones. So if you could have billed £25 or £30 an hour instead of £20, you are literally losing money while you work.
A race to the bottom price-wise is a race you do not want to win!
It makes financial sense to be getting the best hourly rate you can. You need to remember that you are a business owner and not a charity or someone playing at running a business.
Clients expect price rises so don’t feel guilty or scared when it comes to doing it. One of the reasons you set up your own business was to make a good income, and nobody is going to give it to you unless you ask for it.
- My money and legal category contains lots of other posts around this subject including how to set your rates, how to invoice and whether you should display your prices on your website.
- It’s really important to have a healthy mindset around money. Women, in particular, seem to struggle with pricing and I highly recommend watching my interview with a pricing specialist to see how you can improve yours.
- My free hourly rate calculator spreadsheet will help you work out how much you need to earn to make a living as a VA.
- If you’re only charging by the hour then you will soon reach an income ceiling because there are only so many billable hours in a day. My pricing course explains how to charge retainers and package/project rates because escaping the time for money trap is the only way you’ll take your income to the next level.