How to Price, Pitch, and Close Freelance Deals

Freelancing

Once you’ve met some potential clients, you need to close the deal.

If you’re like I was when I started, you probably have a pretty loose process. For the first several months, my process looked like this:

  1. Discuss needs with the client
  2. Try to get a rough sense of budget
  3. Guess the highest price point you think they’ll buy
  4. Prep a proposal or statement of work
  5. Hope for the best

I closed about 70% of the clients I pitched this way, so it felt reasonably good.

Then I ran the numbers. Losing 30% of clients—and guessing on the price point—was incredibly expensive! I was leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table every year.

After a period of research, and some painstaking trial and error, I settled on 4 keys for pitching clients successfully. These keys allowed me to close more clients and charge more for each project. Ultimately, they allowed me to create a 6-figure freelancing business while focusing on the types of work I enjoy most.

Here are the 4 keys to pitching clients like a pro:

Key #1: Do Your Homework

The first step to any successful pitch is gathering the key information necessary to create a successful pitch. I call this step Doing Your Homework.

While there’s plenty of information you could gather, there are two pieces of info you absolutely must know in order to create a successful pitch.

The Client’s Burning Need

When you start talking with a client about a project, they tend to frame the project in terms of the work itself. The client needs a website, or a marketing campaign, or a logo.

Inherent in this tendency is a focus on cost. When a client is focused on the work, they’ll likely view the project as an expense and focus on how much the work will cost them.

Resist this tendency by digging deeper into your client’s motivations.

You want your clients to see you as an investment, because doing so allows you to command respect and charge a premium for your work. And to be seen as an investment, you have to know what your client really wants. You have to uncover the Why behind the work.

If your clients are businesses, the Why is usually fairly obvious. Businesses typically view purchases as investments when they do one of two things: make them more money or decrease costs. The key here is to ask them how much new revenue (or cost savings) they hope the project will drive.

Your client may need a bit of help thinking through this math. If so, try asking for their assumptions and the data they have so far. For example, if you were working on a new website, you’d want to understand the average dollar value of a customer and how many additional customers the client expects to get from the project.

If your clients are individuals—say if you’re a wedding photographer or an independent electrician—these motivations may be more subtle. Often, individuals are looking for peace-of-mind. They want to know that nothing will go wrong, and that if it does you’ll be there to fix it.

In both cases, ask questions about the why. Knowing what they really want will be a huge advantage when making your pitch.

The Decision Maker

The second key piece of information you need to uncover is who the decision maker is. No amount of time and effort will work if you can’t persuade the person who actually has the authority to sign off on the project and write you a check.

You want to know as soon as possible who can actually approve your project. So ask your point of contact if they’re the one who makes the decision, if it’s a joint decision, or if they need to get approval from the CEO or somebody else.

Based on that information, work to get everyone who impacts the final decision involved in the discussion prior to making your proposal. You want to understand their concerns, goals, and objectives.

Key #2: Build Trust First

The next key to pitching clients successfully is building trust.

Clients write 5-figure checks when they feel confident that the person who they’re writing that check to will deliver the value they need from the project. When they trust you, it’s a no-brainer because the perceived risk is low.

But when they’re not confident, things change. If they don’t trust that you can deliver, they’ll go with somebody else or cancel the project altogether. After all, they don’t just want a website or a marketing campaign. They want more money, or ongoing cost savings, or some other key business result.

So how do you build trust? The best way to build trust is by offering something small for free or doing a small project first.

When I’m discussing a big project with a new client, say a total website redesign, I often offer to conduct a free planning session with them prior to making a full proposal. Over the course of 2-3 hours, I work collaboratively with the client to identify goals and risks, uncover hidden needs, and design a future state that will help them achieve the Burning Need I identified in Step #1.

This process builds trust, because the client gets a chance to learn how I work, understand my thinking process, and see me demonstrate that I’m prioritizing the substance of their business goals over flash. It also gives me a chance to gain valuable insights into their needs so I can better address them in a proposal.

Depending on the type of work or the type of project, you can also offer to do a smaller project at an introductory rate, or break a large project up into chunks and give them the option to cancel after the first stage if they’re not fully satisfied.

In either case, by lowering the barrier to starting work and building trust before you make a big ask, your client will begin to trust you. That makes asking for a high-value contract significantly more comfortable for both of you.

Key #3: Mixed-Model Pricing

One of the biggest hurdles to a successful pitch is price. Price too high, and a client won’t sign. Price too low, and you’re leaving money on the table.

So how should you think about pricing a project? The best way to structure your pricing is based on a combination of value, costs, and market rates. But first, a bit of background.

Most freelancers price based on either a cost-plus model or a market rate model.

Cost-Plus Pricing

In cost-plus pricing, sellers calculate how much it will cost them to offer a product, slap an upcharge on it, and arrive at a final price. If you’re a freelancer selling your time, you look at your monthly expenses (rent, food, etc), determine how much you want to make on top of that, and arrive at an hourly rate.

If you do fixed-bid projects, you simply take that hourly rate and multiply it by the number of hours you expect a project will take, potentially with some buffer built in.

Cost-plus is, by far, the most common way that freelancers price their work.

Market Rate Pricing

The other common way that freelancers try to price projects is by looking at so-called market rates.

If a client wants a new website, the thinking goes, they’re only going to go with you if you offer a rate at or lower than what other people charge for the same work.

Usually freelancers who price this way look at rates listed on sites like Upwork, or by Googling around.

Why These Pricing Models Are Flawed

While these two pricing models are common, they’re also extremely flawed. Both cost-plus and market rate pricing fail to account for the single most important pricing factor: value delivered to the client.

Let’s start with cost-plus pricing. If your costs to produce a project are $1000, but the project will generate $100,000 in revenue for your client, then you’re leaving money on the table by only charging $2000.

Market rate pricing is even more flawed. Just because other freelancers can offer the same services you do doesn’t mean that they can produce the same quality of work. A client is better off paying $10,000 for a project that produces $100,000 in new revenue than $1,000 for a project that produces $5,000.

Value Pricing to the Rescue

As we’ve already seen, clients hire us to help them solve their burning problems. So the value we create is proportional to our success in solving those problems.

Value-based pricing is about quantifying how much value you deliver and charging based on the surplus of value. In short, you quantify the financial upside.

To do this, you’ll need a bit of information, which you should have gleaned in the previous steps.

Let’s say you’re redesigning a client’s website. They have an average of 1000 orders per month. The average current order value is $50, and they expect that to increase by at least $25 additional dollars. So the upside for the project is $25,000 per month (1000 orders * $25 additional dollars per order), or $300K for the year.

According to this math, any price under $300K would be “worth it” to the client to pursue this project.

Now, obviously clients wouldn’t be likely to hire you for a projet like this if you proposed a $300K price point. Even if everything went perfectly, they’d merely break even.

But what about $30,000? If your client felt confident you could get them the result they needed, a 10x return on their investment is extremely appealing.

Mixed-Model Pricing

So what’s the solution?

What I recommend is pricing your projects based on a combination of each of the three factors above. This is what I call Mixed-Model Pricing.

You know what your costs are and what you hope to make. You know what the value of the project is. And you know what the range of market rates looks like. Your goal is to triangulate between these 3 inputs:

  • Cost-Plus: You need to be above your costs (and hopefully above the rates you need to charge to meet your personal goals).
  • Market Rates: You want to be reasonably in line with market rates⁠—neither so low that you’re matching what cheap offshore “freelancers” are charging on Upwork nor so high that you’re more expensive than top-end firms with fancy offices downtown.
  • Value-Based: Your prices should be low enough compared to the value you’re generating that it feels like a good deal to your client.

As long as you’ve taken these factors into account, your pricing will be reasonable for both you and the client. By settling on a middle-ground between these 3 factors, you can ensure that clients will focus on the substance of the value you offer while avoiding leaving money on the table.

Key #4: The 5-Star Proposal

The final key is crafting a proposal that’s irresistible. I call this the 5-Star Proposal.

It contains 5 Key Elements:

1. Describe the Pain Point

By now you should have a clear idea of the burning problem your client needs solved. Describe this pain point. Agitate the pain to remind them of why it’s so important that somebody helps them complete this project successfully.

Leading with the problem and referencing it repeatedly elsewhere in the proposal ensures that your client knows you understand them and care about their goals.

2. Describe the Solution

This is your opportunity to highlight how you’ll solve their burning need. Focus not on the work you’ll do but on the future state of their business once the work is complete.

Emphasizing the future state will help them envision a world where the project is complete and they’re successful.

3. Present Your Offer

Tie the problem and solution together through the work you’ll do. This is where you describe the project in detail and any “features” you’ll provide. Make sure to tie each feature to a future state benefit that helps meet the client’s underlying pain point.

Presenting your offer in this way ensures you’re not just presenting a collection of features like every other freelancer. Instead, you’re presenting a blueprint for success.

4. Answer Objections

Over the course of discussing the project with your prospective client, they’ve likely referenced risks they’re concerned about and objections they might have. This is your chance to answer those concerns proactively.

Doing so makes it easier for your client to say “yes” and sign on the dotted line.

5. Make the Ask

Finally, ask for their business, complete with a timeline and steps for getting started. They can’t buy if you don’t make the ask.

Whether you write this proposal formally, give a presentation, or present it over the phone, all successful proposals have these 5 elements.