What if they cancel?
What if they decide to shop around?
Maybe I shouldn’t.
These are all of the thoughts that have run through my head at one point or another when thinking about increasing my rates. The bottom line is that raising your rates can be scary when you’re a boutique size agency.
And yet, it’s necessary to remain profitable if you want to grow. Your expenses aren’t decreasing, so your rates need to increase.
But how do you mitigate the risk of losing business and maximize the chance clients and prospects say yes?
This article will tackle that challenge with a few tactics I’ve used to increase rates and double clients’ contract value. Here are the key takeaways:
- You must be able to prove the value of your services before increasing rates or upselling.
- Leverage psychological principles such as mirroring, social proof, and the anchoring effect to mitigate risks and increase the odds of success.
- Create a win-win strategy for your upsell.
For context, my experience comes from working with clients in the one million to ten million dollar revenue range. Some of these techniques may still be useful if you’re dealing with larger clientele, but I cannot speak from experience working with those clients.
This should probably go without saying, but increasing your rates and the upsell starts with providing a high-quality service.
If you or your clients question the quality of your work, then you need to step back and rebuild your services.
In addition to providing excellent service, you must prove that you have been providing exceptional service.
Proving you are providing excellent service is a skill in and of itself. If you can tie your work back to ROI (return on investment), do so. That’s every business owner’s native tongue. Or you can guarantee your service.
Figure out how to do this yourself or outsource it.
If what you do is not directly tied to ROI, then proving your worth is trickier. But it can still be done.
When your service is not directly tied to ROI (e.g., design creative or development work), you become more reliant on the quality of the deliverables, time and headache saved, and the customer service and strength of your relationships with your client.
Seven strategies for increasing your agency’s rates
With those foundational pieces in place, how can you minimize the chance a client says no and tries to replace you?
1. Automate the process
Build a reasonable annual rate increase into your agreement.
An automatic rate increase of 5-10% is not unreasonable.
Assuming you’re here because the rate increase is not built into your agreement, let’s move on to other strategies.
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2. Have the conversion face-to-face
Hopefully, this won’t be your first time having a video conference meeting with your client. Face-to-face time is invaluable in relationship building and can play an essential role in reducing client churn.
By having the conversation face-to-face, you can read the client’s reaction to your pitch better, demonstrate active listening, and create a more relaxed and trusting experience using mirroring.
All of these techniques can help you during this sales process.
I have monthly meetings with many clients, so I plan my rate increase and upsell conversations around those meetings.
I make the meeting about our marketing strategy for clients with whom I don’t have a regularly scheduled meeting.
Here is my exact email to a client I recently had a rate and upsell conversation with:
|Subject: Business Objectives & Strategy + More Updates
Are you available next Thursday or Friday at 2 pm PST for us to connect and discusses [COMPANY NAME] ‘s business objectives, marketing goals, and our strategy for pursuing those?
3. Give the client runway
If you’re dealing directly with the business owner, you must give them time to consider the new rates in their expenses.
You’re not the only one running a business. Plus, no one likes a disappointing surprise. Springing an increased rate on them without fair notice will distract clients from the value you bring to them.
If you’re dealing with a critical stakeholder and not the business owner, you need to make it easy for them to converse with the decision-maker. They aren’t going to pitch it as well as you would, so the last thing you want is for them to feel additional stress by having to bring them bad news (a sudden rate increase) to their boss.
Give the client 30-60 days before increasing their rates.
In theory, thirty days makes it harder for them to find a replacement in time, and that increase in friction may help reduce the chance of them trying to do so.
Depending on the client’s billing cycle and when you have the conversation, you may need to give them up to sixty days.
4. Grandfather them at a reduced price (optional)
Grandfathering the client into a reduced price is an excellent way to make them feel special and like they are getting a great value.
Let the client know what you are charging new clients and give them a lower rate for their long-time loyalty.
Do not use the word discount, as this is not a word you want to be associated with your service.
You also leverage social proof if clients are already paying the increased rate. Letting the client know that others are paying the new rate helps to confirm that the value at the new price point must be worth it.
5. Offer additional services
If you want to upsell, you must consider how to provide more value to the client. Selling is about creating a win-win strategy, and upselling is no different.
Maybe this means doing more of the same of what you are already doing. As an SEO and SEM agency, this usually means pitching more content, PR link building or new paid advertising strategies. For example, if you don’t currently offer a specialized service, consider offering SEO for SaaS brands.
If you’ve maxed out the value of what you are already doing for them, consider ancillary services. Is your client taking advantage of all of the services you offer? If not, pitch them.
The other benefit of offering additional services while discussing increased rates is leveraging price anchoring.
By giving the client a much larger price point to consider, your new rate and their current package will look smaller and be more palatable.
You’re also expanding the client’s frame of mind by showing them how much more you could do for them. Even if they say no to the more extensive service offering, they are now aware that you can do more for them.
If they decide they want to be more aggressive with their marketing, they will know that you are available to help them with the initiative.
6. Package it and present it
Once you’ve decided on the additional value you can bring to the client, you need to package it and present it in a way that makes sense to them.
In the same way, you would sell a new client on your services, you need to sell your current client.
The difference is that selling them additional services should be much easier if you’ve done an excellent job with your current client.
The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. The chance of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%.
Your main goal is to make it easy for the client to digest the information. You do this by illustrating what they are getting, the value of it, and what it will cost in a way that is simple to understand.
Your next goal is to increase the perceived value of the service which can be accomplished with excellent design.
7. Make it easy for the client to say yes
Once you’ve pitched the client, make sure it is as easy as possible for them to say yes.
Have your proposal and invoice ready so they can say yes, sign, and pay as soon as possible.
You want to reduce friction for the client at every stage of the process, especially when it comes to saying yes.
Increasing your rates can be stressful because losing a client is the last thing you want. You can enter the conversation confidently by creating a plan for yourself and a winning strategy for the client.
If you haven’t automated your rate increases, then reduce the chance of client churn by having the conversation face-to-face and making clients feel better about the new prices.
When you give the client runway, make the client feel special, and offer additional services, the new rates become more palatable and easier to accept.