Author’s note: This post was originally an email sent to my newsletter.
After last week’s Q&A, Daniel Throssell gave me some brutal feedback:
“Some of the earlier questions were a bit dull. Too much factual info.
But what I didn’t like most is that you let one rambling dude ask FIVE QUESTIONS. It just subtly depreciates you, like you have nobody following you.
On my list, it’s a privilege to get me to answer questions, and there are people fighting for the spots. Since you’re the $999/hr guru, you should be the same. Don’t give out answers like candy.”
…ouch. He was right, and it was painful to read.
But the very next day after that savage roasting session, guess who came CRAWLING BACK to ask for MY advice!
Daniel was stumped with a tough question from one of his Upwork in 1 Hour students, and asked how I would handle it.
In my infinite benevolence, I bequeathed upon him the privilege of my answer 😇🍬
Here’s the question:
I’ve been in my niche (enterprise security architect) for nearly two decades and, in some circles — outside of Upwork — I’m one of about 3 people in the entire world who can do what I do.
But it means feck all on Upwork, which has been a huge flop for me. It seems like everyone who I might potentially be able to help is only willing to spend $5/hr.
As an experiment, I set my hourly rate to $500/hr, and in my proposals I point out how it’s actually much cheaper and faster to hire me than going with the ‘cheap freelancers’ in the end. Yet when people see my price … they just laugh at me.
Frankly, I’m in need of some quick cash while my ‘river of milk and honey’ is temporarily dry. I’m out of other ideas, so I set up a secondary profile as a copywriter.
What’s the best strategy here? Do I really have to undercut my rates when I know I’m worth $500/hr in my field?”
As it turns out, one of my old coaching students came to me with the exact same situation:
He was also a top expert in his field (data analysis) where he got very high pay, he also needed some quick cash due to some unfortunate life circumstances, and he ALSO got it in his head that the best strategy was to start over as a copywriter.
Spoiler alert: The coaching was a huge success. I got this message from him last year when he made his first $10k on Upwork:
So, it’s definitely not impossible. Here’s the advice I would give Daniel’s student:
First off: Why change skills instead of sticking with the one where you’re top 3 in the world?!?
You’ll have a MUCH easier time if you’re a veteran security architect worth $500/hr who drops their rate to $100/hr, than if you’re an entry-level copywriter worth $20/hr trying to pass for $100/hr.
It sounds like clients at least responded to your proposals, even if they just laughed at the price. Moneyballers count this as a victory – keep experimenting with your offer until it clicks.
On that note: You don’t have a pricing problem, you have a risk problem.
Your lack of Upwork history makes hiring you for $500/hr too risky for most clients.
Lowering your rate does reduce some of that risk, but there are other levers you can try:
- Increase clients’ confidence: Don’t just say that you’re cheaper and faster… do a better job of showing clients in your proposals. Even if you’re new to Upwork, a $500/hr veteran should still have amazing testimonials, impressive case studies, or other sources of credibility).
- Decrease the “buy-in”: Instead of selling giant enterprise-sized services, scope down to meet smaller clients where they’re at. An hour or two of consulting will be easier to swallow than a 6-month engagement. You can always upsell later after you’ve gained more of their trust.
- Limit the downside: If you’re able to get results as quickly and reliably as you say you can, you can offer a guarantee. Nothing lowers risk like promising “X results or your money back”!
If you’re truly worth $500/hr, you’ll eventually land on an offer you’re able to sell.
Then, instead of starting cheap and gradually bumping up your rate, you can start with a small scope and gradually bump up your minimum project size.
Keep optimizing your approach, and your freelance earnings will quickly come in line with what you make from equivalent efforts elsewhere.
I’ll end with a more recent update I got from Philip, who made a river of milk and honey out of Upwork:
This would now be the perfect time to transition into selling a coaching package, but I don’t actually offer that anymore.
$999/hr isn’t very accessible for my readers, and I refuse to undercut the rate my clients are paying me.
But don’t worry! If you want my advice, we can scope it down:
I’ll give you one question’s worth of coaching for the very accessible price of FREE if you submit one that’s interesting enough to make the next Q&A email.
(That’s ONE question – I’ve learned my lesson!)
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