This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)

In this article, I’ll share my opinion on the issue of billing for WordPress sites, and a quick rant about clients and marshmallow-hearted service providers that are always lowering prices. Bunch of wimps!

My view on billing rates…

What does “billing for the value of your service” mean?

Billing for value means (in short): quoting a price for a website based on the potential return on investment (ROI) that you could generate for your new client. So a quote issued to a real estate agency should be higher than one issued to an antiques shop owner, since the potential ROI is much higher for the former.

In other words…

I offer a quote/service package based on the potential revenue my intervention should generate as a consultant.

The concept of VALUE is a vital one and deserves to be recognized, yet in practice, I find it quite hard to implement with new clients. Even for a service provider with extensive experience in their field, or one who has earned their prospect’s trust.

In the eternal quest for “cheaper” (or a better price-quality ratio), what kind of client is ready to pay for “value”? I.e. appropriate compensation for the enormous revenue the client stands to gain thanks to the provider?

*You, talking to a “real estate agent” client*:

I can help you sell 5 additional houses this year. For you, this translates to $200,000 of additional income. I charge $45,000 of that as a digital marketing consultant.

But, even if you itemize your quote based on concrete ‘objectives’ (revenue increase, etc.), many clients, being entrepreneurs at heart, will soon be converting competing quotes to “value”. Think what goes through your client’s mind: I’ll have a basic site done up quickly, and if I want to add to it down the road, I’ll figure it out like a big boy. I know what I’m doing.

We all know, a web marketing professional with years of experience can bring loads of ideas to the table that the entrepreneur could never come up with alone. And yet getting them to understand that is no small task.

There is a constant sense of fear in our profession, more so than in others, of “being had”. Yet the public willingly accepts their fate at the hands of locksmiths, car salespeople, insurance agents (*) and other professions known for their con artists.

It’s 2016 and web service providers are still considered schmucks

Our profession is not always taken seriously. It’s not unusual to see prospects trying to do our job who don’t even know the meaning of HTML and have no other background than some web surfing and an iPhone full of apps.

The best is finding a client who knows how to install a WordPress plugin 😀

As if your years of experience were totally meaningless!

Sometimes you can almost hear them thinking dude, I know better than you  😉

It would be easy enough to screen out these prospects as soon as they start getting a little pretentious, but they can become very good clients if, over time, they learn to listen to your wise counsel. These self-appointed Web enthusiasts become almost as tractable as an elderly head of a family business still on dial-up. And their basic skills can actually save you time!

The contracts that go nowhere

You’ll also be well aware how common it is to meet prospects with great potential, who seem to agree to your offer, and yet end up either:

  • abandoning the project so near and dear to their heart, or
  • going elsewhere: “Sorry sir, your offer is really good and I’m sure you would have done great work, but my son-in-law’s brother just got his associate’s in computer programming and he’s going to take care of my website and everything. He’s really good with computers.”

And above all…

Preparing a quote takes a ridiculous amount of time!

When I worked as a freelancer, responding to prospects took way too much time (some days, a total of 3 hours chit-chatting on the phone – when am I supposed to work?), all for a very low conversion rate.

Web prospects are indecisive!

Thankfully, my associate and partner now works full-time with me as a project manager, having completed her studies, and I no longer even e-mail back and forth with clients.

If I had to advise anyone struggling as a freelancer, I’d say separate the technical from the sales. It’s way easier going at it with one person doing the tech stuff and one person doing the talking, provided you have absolute trust between you.

But I digress. Getting back to our question: what should you bill for a website?

“What are your goals, my dear lady?”

This is the best question to ask your prospects to set the tone.

Always ask your prospects what their goals are! 😉

Then, compare the goals they want to achieve, with their starting brief.

If the prospect responds outright that they want to shoot for the stars with their web presence, it’ll be much easier to get them to pay the price necessary to do so.

The 4 types of freelancers when it comes to billing

In the digital professionals community, I’ve identified 4 different service provider types based on the rates they charge.

Let me describe them for you, and then try to figure out which one you are! 😀

1) The half-hearted one

Otherwise known as the rookie who works evenings and/or is on the verge of bankruptcy.

They give in to the temptation to sell themselves short (or as I like to call it, prostitute themselves) by charging $250 or less for websites. Sometimes they’re not even aware they have to pay taxes. In order to turn a profit, they’d have to complete 15 sites a month, or basically 1 every business day. It’s totally not viable, but they really want to “earn money online”.

This guy is literally ruining our entire profession:

  • by making us look like amateurs who will work for peanuts
  • by stealing serious B2B clients
  • by doubly making us look like amateurs by creating shitty sites

In general, serious clients will end up coming crying to true web professionals to redo their site. The problem is that sometimes, these clients now assume all web guys are quacks, and it’s harder to (re-)earn their trust.

If you’re a web designer, try responding to a few offers on Freelancer. You’ll be amazed at some of the rates some American web designers charge trying to earn a living online. Like, $25 a site!

Often they are students or DIY-ers who do this after hours or on the weekend to make ends meet. They abandon the clients as soon as they’ve “finished” the job, if they finish it at all, that is…

If they stay in this lane, this type usually ends up working at McDonald’s because it’s a “more stable” job.

You get what you pay for.

Edit April 6, 2016: thanks for this Twitter reaction about the first type 😉

Yeah, “the impostor”, I like that too! 😀 

2 ) The low-cost hard worker

This one really plugs away. Even though they’re barely making ends meet with a full schedule, they continue to give their prospects realistic quotes. They don’t want to prostitute themselves, even though they really need it.

In their free time, they continue to get training to bulk up their resume and broaden their network of prospects. If they keep at it, they miiight make it to the 3rd type given a few months / years decades.

3 ) The overbooked expert

This one bills above market rates, but they might still not be integrating the concept of value (described above) in their calculations, or else they weight it quite heavily. In fact, they would never want to miss out on a contract, or give the impression of overcharging. Yet they do great quality work.

This is where I’ve found myself for a while. And should things slow down at Kim Communication, nothing says I won’t end up back at type 2, the “low-cost hard worker”.

But don’t worry, for now we have plenty of work.
Just look how often I post on this blog 😉

4 ) The renowned and selective expert

This is the dream!

Billing for value… That’s how it should work, but we’re in crisis, my dear lady.

Experts use the revenues they know they will generate for their future clients to prepare an offer.

I think you could count on one hand the number of service providers actually able to do that in today’s environment. They can be easily found on Twitter, they write blogs and are influential in their field. Clients call on them, because they want them (!) and not someone else!!! While they’re generally known for their expertise in a specific field, they are versatile consultants with extensive knowledge of web-based professions, and have the opportunity of working for large accounts, at a good price.

Personally, I’m not there yet. I know I do help some of my clients generate sales worth tens of thousands of euros (!), but I still work “at market rate”.

In the end, we bill what we want can, but above all, we provide quality!

In any case, in my view, one of the most important points is to sell long-term intervention, in other words, annual maintenance. Otherwise, you will automatically be creating shit and won’t take any pleasure in your job. That goes for everyone, except idiots. Idiots will do anything, which, as Michel would say, is how you can spot them

There was a time, like everyone, that I would sell sites without follow-up. But after several years as a pro, I’ve realized I only want clients I can work with long-term. In this day and age, a “one-shot” website may not technically function anymore! Yes, even if only technically, a site has to be updated (security flaws, monitoring developments in hosting technology, etc.). So I automatically charge a yearly fee to cover all of this, or I send the client elsewhere for hosting, with the warning that once the last bill has been paid, it’s “hello, good-bye, you’re on your own”. So far, 100% of my clients have taken my advice and agreed to pay for annual maintenance, even if it’s only “technical”.  This way, over time, it’s much easier to sell connected services: e-mailing, AdWords, landing pages, social media campaigns, various promotion strategies (video marketing, etc.).

Being more demanding with your clients will land you…

  • More involved clients
  • Better compensation
  • Loyal, repeat clients
  • Word-of-mouth publicity (the best kind)
  • And above all:

Projects where you will feel involved as a partner, not merely an executor.

It’s highly unpleasant, after years of personal and professional Web experience,to be considered “just a technician” by people who can’t even touch your level of web expertise. There are times when I’ll nicely offer some free advice on e-marketing and the listener is too close-minded to listen! That’s a serious kick in the nuts. 😡

So, how can you up your rates as a web freelancer?

In conclusion, the best way to increase your rates seems to me to be client retention. Once you’ve proven that you really bring something extra to the client, that your work is valuable, that you get to the heart of their profession (you speak their language), that you know how to earn them money, it’s easier to get them to pay your reasonable fair price.

And this way, you can also help clients understand long-term that you don’t become number one in your field (just) by putting a pretty site online, but by allocating part of your budget to communication, publicity and all those essential pieces.

If you do it right, all of this will come naturally with:

  • time
  • the acquisition of a certain number of clients
  • your schedule filling up

As long as you are firm with your clients and educate them.

At a certain point, once you’ve gained the loyalty of enough (very) satisfied clients, you’ll have less time to dedicate to indecisive prospects and you’ll naturally wax firmer and more concise with them.

Occasionally, a prospect will recognize your expertise and will want to work with you and no one else! (at a good price)

Web service provider community: let’s join together!

In order to be accepted and justify our web service interventions, I very much like the idea of “speaking with one voice” within the WordPress community. But let’s not stop there. Almost all digital professions (freelancers and agencies alike) are affected by issues of respect and profitability.

So if you’re a “web freelancer”, don’t let me catch you billing $250 for an entire site! Lawd have mercy!

Okay, I’ll let you get to work now!

Cheers 😛

Thank you to Nicolas Richer for the inspiration to write about “the price of WordPress sites”. It had been planned for a while, but I needed the extra push 😉

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This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)