From Budget to Quality: Transitioning to High-Dollar Jobs

from-budget-to-quality-moneyAlmost every freelancer starts out by taking “budget” projects to build their portfolio. Without a proven track record of happy customers and excellent pieces in your portfolio, it’s difficult to track down the big, high-dollar jobs.

Many freelancers get into a cycle of doing low-budget work, and then get stuck with a portfolio of low-budget work that only yields more low-budget clients. It can be difficult to break the cycle.

In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of moving from low-budget clients to higher paying clients, and we’ll show you a few ways to break the cycle and start finding higher-dollar jobs.

Why You Should Target Big Jobs

There’s several obvious reasons to try to get the big jobs:

  • Less time fighting with the feast and famine cycle — Bigger jobs typically occupy your time for weeks or months at a time, rather than in and out the door in a few days.
  • Higher quality work — You can spend extra time on the project, polishing and spending time on the extras that typically don’t get a lot of attention. You can actually be proud of the work you do rather than focusing on hitting the budget.
  • Higher quality client — A client who is less concerned about the bottom-line is a client who understands the value in what you do.

But, how do you break the cycle? How do you use your current portfolio to get projects larger than your typical budget?

Baby Steps

Let’s be honest. You’re not going to make the jump from $1,000 projects to $100,000 ones overnight. The process takes a long time, but here are some steps you can follow to help you along the path.

  • Charge a bit more — Figure out what you would normally charge, then add 15%. Most customers won’t worry about the small increase and now you’ve got a little extra wiggle-room in your project.
  • Get a little, give a little — The client gave you a bit more of a budget to work with, now spend a little extra time with him to give him a really stellar client experience, and give your project a little fine-tuning, spit and polish and produce something you’re really proud of.
  • Out with the old, in with the new — Your shiny, new, higher-dollar project should get top billing in your portfolio. One of your older pieces should get tossed aside. The same applies to client references. Your latest client is so ecstatic with the customer service that they will give you a rave review with anyone who contacts them.

Of course if you’re finding it a hard sell to get a little extra budget, there are a few steps you can take to get your portfolio closer to the quality you’re looking for.

  • Redo your own stuff — If you’re a designer, put a lot of time into designing your site, business cards and stationary. Make your marketing materials look like a high-dollar designer’s, not a budget designer’s. Don’t overlook the little things. Put that shiny new logo on your contract, proposals, and outgoing emails. Make yourself look more professional and polished and you can demand a little more respect, and budget, from your client.
  • Volunteer — Charity work is good for your karma, good for the community and good for your portfolio and testimonials. Charities will usually be easier to work with, since they’re getting the work for free. Just produce something amazing and you’ll have the benefit of a great portfolio piece, excellent referral, and of course helping a charity in need.
  • Temporarily lower your prices — I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but consider taking a lower-cost job and giving them a higher-quality result. Your customer will be very excited and give you a great referral, and you still have a great portfolio piece, even if you had to take a temporary hit to your hourly wage to get there.

The first step to asking for more money is a really killer portfolio and great client testimonials. While you’re still working with budget-minded clients, sometimes you have to over-deliver to ensure a great testimonial and portfolio piece. Consider it a temporary hit for the greater good.

Now that we’ve explained the first step towards getting higher paying work, let’s look at the next steps.

Now What?

The next two steps towards moving to the higher-dollar work are the hardest.

  • Ask for it.
  • Turn down budget work.

If you’re used to negotiating budget-minded projects, throwing out a number much higher than usual may be a little uncomfortable for you. There is no way to make it easier other than just getting used to it. If the potential client balks at the cost and wonders how you justify the expense, mention customer service, training, accessibility for phone calls and emails, and a much better client experience overall. These things are usually extremely valuable to clients and, unfortunately, usually the first thing to go with dealing with budget-minded clients.

If business is slow and you’re looking to fill some gaps in your production schedule, accepting lower-budget jobs isn’t universally a bad idea. Sometimes your time is better served in marketing efforts to get larger-budget clients, but sometimes you just need a quick job to stay profitable. There is nothing wrong with budget work if you can create a good product and maintain a good hourly wage, but if you believe the budget doesn’t come anywhere close to the work involved, it is time to say no and move on to greener pastures.

Saying no is not easy, but it is a necessity in business. If the client can’t make the project attractive financially, it is time to keep looking for one who can.

Your Turn

We’ve discussed the importance of moving from accepting low-budget work to taking higher paying jobs. We’ve also shown you a few methods that you can use to get higher paying jobs.

How did you move from low-budget work into high-quality work? Tell us your story in the comments below.

Image by squeakymarmot