Should Freelancers Upsell?

upselling“Would you like a large fries with that?” The drive-thru clerk stared at me eagerly.

I looked him right in the eye, “No,” I replied. “A diet coke is all I want today.”

If you’ve ever purchased fast food through a drive-thru window, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of upselling. Simply put, upselling is the sales practice of trying to encourage the client to purchase more than he or she originally intended to buy.

Some people believe upselling is manipulative–for obvious reasons. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a pushy upselling salesperson, then you probably know what I mean. However, some freelancers successfully use upselling to bring additional work to their freelancing business on a regular basis. In this post, we’ll discuss responsible upselling.

How Does a Freelancer Upsell His or Her Services?

A freelancer is engaging in upselling if he or she suggests an additional (usually more expensive) service to a client. Here are some examples:

  • A freelance copywriter who is hired to write a press release for a company encourages the client to also use their services to write the copy for their corporate web page.
  • A freelance designer who is hired to re-design a website encourages the company to let them redesign the company logo as well.
  • A freelance photographer who is hired to take pictures of a company’s new product for an ad encourages the senior management team members to get new corporate photos.

In my opinion, as long as it is done respectfully and honestly and with the client’s best interest in mind there is really nothing wrong with a freelancer offering additional services to a client.

On the other hand, if a freelancer tries to manipulate a client through upselling to buy something that he or she does not really need or even want, then that is not a good business practice at all.

Seven Freelance Guidelines for Responsible Upselling

Here are seven guidelines to follow if you use upselling as a marketing technique for your freelancing business:

  1. Take the time to understand the client’s business. If you can really show the client how an additional service that you are recommending would be useful to their specific situation, the client is more likely to make the purchase. (Even you don’t make the sale, the client will appreciate the fact that you took the time to learn about them.)
  2. Don’t offer something that isn’t in the client’s best interest. A mistake that many sales people make when upselling is trying to push a product or service that the client really doesn’t need and can’t use. If you do this to your freelancing clients, it could damage your reputation as a freelancer and decrease future sales.
  3. Do take “no” for an answer (at least initially). Respect your client’s right to refuse. One reason that so many people are turned off by upselling is that it is often done in a rather pushy fashion. If your client says, “no,” let it go. You can always bring it up again (casually) the next time that they use your services.
  4. Don’t argue with your client. Whatever you do, don’t argue with your client about whether or not they need the service that you are trying to sell to them. Most people don’t like conflict. Getting into an argument with your client will definitely give them a negative impression of you and your freelancing business.
  5. Use compassion and common sense. If your client has just explained to you that their sales have been drastically down this year, you can still offer your additional service without pushing it. You could say something like, “when things pick up for your business we may want to rewrite that company home page.”
  6. Don’t try to upsell if the client isn’t already happy with your work. It would seem to be common sense, but if your client is unhappy with your most recent work then this is not the best time to attempt an upsell. Make things right with your client before you try to sell them additional services.
  7. Care about your client. This last principle is probably the most important. If you really do care about a client, you’ll instinctively know when to speak up and when to be quiet. You won’t be overly pushy or try to get them to buy something that they really can’t use. Most of all, your client will probably sense the difference.

If you follow these guidelines, your “upselling” should be a positive experience for both you and your client.

An Example of What Not to Do

Upselling can often be unpleasant to the client (especially when it is done wrong).

I had a very bad experience with upselling at a beauty salon recently.

I had gone in for a simple trim. In the course of trimming my hair, the beautician commented that she could feel hairspray residue on my hair. She recommended that I use a very expensive clarifying shampoo that the salon sold to remove it.

I explained to the beautician that I don’t use hairspray. I also explained that I didn’t want the expensive shampoo today.

If the beautician had stopped here, the whole experience would have been okay. However, this particular beautician took it upon herself to argue with me.

“I definitely feel hairspray residue in your hair,” she insisted, “I’ve been doing this a long time and I know what hairspray feels like on hair.”

The fact is, I don’t even own a bottle of hairspray. I have never used it. My mother used it. My grandmother used it–but me, I don’t use it.

Yet, despite my protests, the beautician kept right on arguing with me about the hairspray she thought she felt in my hair. I finally just said to her, “I’m not going to buy that shampoo.”

Not only did she not upsell the expensive shampoo to me, the experience was so unpleasant for me that the salon probably lost a client that day.

What Do You Think?

Do you engage in upselling when you market your freelancing services? If so, what do you think of the practice?

Have you ever been persuaded by a sales person to purchase something you didn’t want or need? How did it make you feel?

Leave your answers in the comments.

Image by tombothetominator


  1. says

    There’s definitely a time and a place. And, as you pointed out, there is upselling responsibly, then there is doing so unscrupulously. Never try to pressure a client simply for the sake of making more money. I tend to only attempt upselling when the additional services are complimentary or relevant by similarity. Example: If I make a band a Myspace profile, I may suggest a Twitter bg or a Facebook custom tab layout. They seem to want to use social networking sites to expose themselves; might as well customize them all consistently.

  2. says

    I agree with TheAl, I’ve had much more success upselling complementary services than trying to lay out all the various things we can do for a client, just because we had their ear for a moment.

    I’d also suggest having a price ready or at least a range you can feel confident in, so if you do pique your client’s interest, you can answer the inevitable next question, “how much?”

    And if you happen to be upselling something that is significantly more complex or would require follow-up meetings for scope, etc. then start small and build on pieces by offering the benefit (“Would it help if…”) then the idea (“We can set you up with….”) and ultimately the price and turnaround (“It will only cost…and we can have it set up as early as…”)

  3. says

    I agree with Stephan and TheAl, also, if a client is interested in something extra, but it just isn’t in their budget, they might be open to a monthly payment to help with the extra cost.

  4. says

    An up sale sometimes works, I have had a lot of success with cross sales. Would you like a photo gallery with your brochure type website. What would be a cross sale for copy writers?

  5. says

    Our credibility is on the line when we attempt to upsell an existing client. Too many companies simply see the open wallet/purse and go in to get as much out of that client as possible.

    However, it’s so important to ensure that you are offering what the client needs because they can easily tell so many other people about how you misled them into believing you had what they wanted.

    In my personal opinion though, I believe that freelancers should upsell. In moderation.

  6. says

    I like the idea of upselling in a non-pushy way. I just recently had a couple clients take advantage of hosting their sites with me…all I had to do was ask and they were all for it. I made a couple extra hundred dollars, just by asking.

  7. says

    Hi Everyone!

    Thanks for the comments.

    I like what Josh Chandler said, “Our credibility is on the line when we attempt to upsell an existing client…” I think that’s exactly the point of this post.

    Done right, upselling can help your bottom line. Done wrong, upselling can cost you some clients.

  8. says

    Always upsell if you can help the client with something else. Not doing so is unprofessional. Do it nonchalantly, don’t be pushy.

    So it goes…


  9. says

    Everything’s been said I think. Use common sense and don’t make your clients feel burdened. If they can really benefit from something you can offer, let them know and if they say no, move on. Simple.

  10. says

    I think it’s always wise to suggest things a client hasn’t thought of that will enhance their image and presentation. For example, I just revised an interior designer’s Web site. Some of her photos showed her work at the most recent designer showhouse. I suggested that we make a separate photo show for her work and link to the designer showhouse site. It didn’t take much more time, and it really showcased her work.

    Another client just won a national award. I suggested that she add it to her Web site, brochure, resume and LinkedIn page. She updated the LinkedIn and I did the rest.

    When you show your clients that you’re looking out for them and have great ideas, then upselling is a great thing. But if you’re suggesting stuff just to make more money, then you need to pull back.

  11. says

    No, you shouldn’t upsell. You should over-service. You should continue to provide solution-based thinking. You should be a problem solver. Upselling is a fear-based strategy and not relevant in today’s marketplace. The better you are at being a solution-based freelancer, the more success you will have in the long run. Nobody wants to be sold. Everyone wants to be made a hero.

  12. says

    Like the author stated, upsell only if it will benefit the client. In my business, I do that all the time. As a Patent Illlustrator whos work will be examine by the U.S. Patent Office. I usually suggest additional views or plates of drawings as needed, that will best describe the clients invention and thus, guarantee acceptance by the USPTO than the initial views the client brought me. My new clients are always appreciative of such suggestion and does not consider it an upsell eventhough it results in additional expense on their part.

  13. says

    Do not argue with your client – that is a big one, by this stage in the discussions you should have a written works order or statement – just go back to that. If you are not there yet and you have someone who is arguing with you already… well – do you really want to work with such a client?

    Great post – thanks for sharing!

  14. says

    As you have written – if it is in the client’s best interest then it is OK. I would never dream of offering a service to a client, or potential client, that I did not believe would truly help their business, through streamlining a simple task, to saving them a lot of money.

    A lot of small business owners do not have the web design smarts to know what they are looking at, whether it’s a good deal and if they do indeed actually need ‘it’. As an honest freelancer your responsibility is to spell all that out and offer solutions accordingly.

  15. says

    i agree with you..we should not force our clients to buy..we need to explain to the client if it is necessary to the client..

    Really awesome post…

    Thank you


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