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I'll preface this by saying that this isn't my exact situation, but it's close and it could be some day in the not too far off future. But mostly it's something I think about a lot and am curious how others have handled it.

I am on retainer for a handful of small biz clients for whom I essentially serve as their in-house creative/marketing/dev department. I have just enough clients of just the right scope so that with meticulous scheduling, I can serve all their needs throughout the month. most of them are long term and some of them even longer term.

Now that I've got a bunch more experience (and skillz) under my belt, not to mention the rising cost of living in my area (and maybe a little bit of greed), I'm feeling some self-imposed pressure to make more $$. My rates are more than fair (based on my abilities and the range of rates in my area for similar services) and i think that they'd still be fair with a 15% increase, BUT I don't know if that's the best way to go in the interest of keeping my long term clients who I don't want to drive away, nor put them in a position where they feel like they're being asked to pay this increase "just cuz".

Perhaps the way to go is to expand the business and bring on another resource. I don't want to be an agency by any means. I'm thinking this resource would be doing largely low-level production work while I still do the bulk of it and am still the face each client interacts with. Of course I'd have to find a few new clients and rearrange schedules and whatnot, but for the sake of this question, let's just say I have just the right amount of new clients knocking down my door, ready to get started at my current rate (of which, now a portion would be going to my new "employee"). I'm not opposed to putting in a few more hours in to make sure I'm not giving him/her too much of my revenue, but at the same time I don't want to spread myself too thin.

My first reaction is that expanding makes sense. It would be a contract employee so no issues with a full-timer or anything like that and if it turns out not to be the right thing for me, I can always cut him and the new clients loose going back to my original situation... and then decide if a rate increase is the next thing to try.

With that said, I know there are all kinds of headaches associated with managing someone else... especially someone doing work that will bear my name. And probably even more complications than I'm even aware of with taking this route.

Anyway, if anyone has any wisdom to share in favor of or against either direction, I'm all ears.

Thanks!!

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  • It is easier to tell a new client a higher rate than it is to raise a rate on an existing client. But, you can have an "annual status meeting" with an existing client and inform them at that time.
    – David R
    May 28 at 14:07
  • The general rule, you should increase as high as you think you worth, and if you increased too much, you would know, no one will knock on your door. By increase, you are saying knock on my door but beware that it's because of the value I provide, not because of the price. When it comes to existing customers, you should get a yearly inflation adjustment, which is easier to do once per year. Sometimes, when customers aren't ready to increase the price for your service, it's because you grow over them or they undervalue you. Jun 28 at 14:54
  • A great question. Frankly it's worthwhile having an open conversation with the old client before you decide on a rate. Ask them what they think they'd pay not to lose you. You may find that they're willing to go higher than you're planning on asking.
    – Valorum
    Jun 28 at 23:08
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To get right to it, you want more cash. One of the simplest ways to do that is to just raise your rates, like you mentioned. The biggest problem when doing this is, naturally, the fear that your current clients won't be able to accept the rate increase and would like to cease working with you. If I were you, I wouldn't worry too much about this because, as you mention:

let's just say I have just the right amount of new clients knocking down my door, ready to get started at my current rate

So you do have other options available to you should any current clients turn down your work. I recognize that "If they won't accept it, just replace them" sounds extremely harsh, but the point of raising your rates in this case is to ensure you're being paid what your work is worth. The value you provide to your clients should be reflected in the compensation you get, especially when the value of that work (i.e. your experience and skillset) increases/becomes more effective with time.

Losing a client that's not going to pay you what you're worth is acceptable because, if you begrudgingly continued to work for them even as your other clients accept the rate increase with grace, you're essentially just losing money when working for this stickler client. There'll be a period of transition between losing this client and beginning to work for another, during which time you'll obviously not be paid, but ensuring that you're using your time to establish relationships with clients that are willing to pay you what you're worth is extremely important. This transition period shouldn't be feared, as it's a necessary part of ensuring you're compensated fairly. It does carry with it a cost, but it's not as heavy a cost as the time, money, effort, and scheduling associated the other option you were considering: Hiring someone.

You say:

My rates are more than fair

From your phrasing, it sounds like you might be selling yourself short a bit. This is a pretty clear clue to me that you should be requesting a higher compensation for your work. You've got more experience, you've developed your skills... Now it's time for that to pay off.

Depending upon how decent your relationships with your current clients are, you should be able to negotiate a rate increase without a problem, especially if they've kept you on retainer for awhile already. The way to do this isn't always easy, as you note:

I think that they'd still be fair with a 15% increase, BUT I don't know if that's the best way to go in the interest of keeping my long term clients who I don't want to drive away, nor put them in a position where they feel like they're being asked to pay this increase "just cuz"

If you feel confident that your somewhat shorter-term clients would be comfortable with a 10-15% increase, then propose exactly that change... But not immediately. Give your clients ample notice, perhaps a couple of months' time to digest the change before making it. If your clients have already been working with you for some time, they should recognize the value in your work. Giving them time to process the adjustment in your rate as you continue to work with them shows that you're polite, professional, and that you value their time as much as your own.

Your longer-term clients are going to be a bit trickier. You still want to raise your rates, but it feels punishing to do that to some of your more trusted clients. The way I would handle this is by telling them that you are, indeed, raising your rates... But for them, it's going to be less of an increase than your other clients due to your pre-existing working relationship and how happy you are with that relationship. This shows them that, in the interest of preserving your working relationship with them, you're willing to make that increase more easily digestible for them, while still making a stand for the experience and quality of work you provide. For all future clients, you'll charge the increased rates sans the discount. You can determine just how much less that increase will be for these long-term clients dependent upon your relationship with them - I don't know them like you do!

Dmytro Chasovskyi mentioned in a comment that you should set up a yearly inflation adjustment for your longer-term clients. I couldn't agree more with this, as it also gives you the opportunity to increase your rates, should the need arise, along with the inflation increase.

As time has marched on, and your experience has increased, you seem to have let your rates fall behind the increases in cost of living of your area and general inflation. It's important that you value your work enough to cover the increases in these expenses, as well as the increases in your experience.

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    An excellent answer. The only things I'd probably also mention are the cost of transition (e.g. loss of bankable revenue in the period between losing the old client and starting work with the new client) and an increased risk factor (e.g. if the new client turns out to be a deadbeat or a pain in the arse).
    – Valorum
    Jun 28 at 23:06

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