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I've been working for a client on several programming projects in the last few months. The client always paid regularly and left positive feedback for me on the platform I'm using to find work.

About one month ago the client proposed that I work for their company on a more regular basis and asked about my availability and hourly fees. I answered specifying an hourly fee that is consistent with market prices (albeit on the lower end). At that point I had realized that I had been working way below my minimum acceptable rate, not earning even enough to cover my business expenses (because I thought I had no other choice, because this is how it goes if one wants to get work on these international internet platforms, because I thought I would need the reputation, etc.). After my hourly fee disclosure I didn't hear from the client anymore and so I thought "oh well, they found someone else".

But now the client surprisingly contacted me again proposing that I work on some new projects. Exactly the same projects as before. The cooperation "on a more regular basis" wasn't mentioned anymore.

Now my question is: how can I charge more for exactly the same tasks that I performed a few months ago at a lower price? Note that on the platform I had always been paid per project and not per hour, so now having disclosed my hourly fees puts me in a weird position. The only strategy I've been able to come up with up to now is to tell the client I'm busy with something else and that I cannot take up any new projects. But that's not true; I need new contracts and I need the income.

So what should I do? Give up or negotiate (but I have no idea how)?

  • If you don't mind sharing, what industry are you in where your business expenses outweigh your hourly pay at market rate? I assume your "market" rate is taking ultracheap freelancers from China, India, etc into account. This might help formulate an answer. Also, what country are you living in? – user45623 Jun 13 '15 at 2:09
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So you'd rather lose a job than tell the client your hourly rate is higher now? You see how this looks silly when you read it.

Well, if only 1 year had passed since your last work, you could then tell that your hourly rate is higher due to being more experienced.

Since only a few months has passed and you probably had a few projects after his project, there is not other way but to be honest. The worst that can happen is that he finds someone else, which was one of your options anyway.

I would tell him that based on your experience on the last project, working on that hourly rate did not bring you any profit. Because of that, this project you can work for XYZ dollars per hour. You can also elaborate that you realized quickly that you had made a mistake with the previous hourly rate, but you never wanted to tell him that as you are a professional and you decided to finish the project without changing hourly price.

The client may not like it, but he should appreciate your honesty. If he liked your work (and not your price!!!), he will calculate if he can hire you under your new price. If not, you are still a winner because you acted professionally.

Let us know about the outcome so other people reading this topic can see if this advice worked or not.

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I'm going to assume you live in a 'first-world' country where cost of living is high and hourly rates are higher.

Tell your client you started with a low rate because you didn't have significant feedback history, but you need to work at a rate that supports the cost of living in your location. Tell them you aren't even covering your expenses. They should know that freelancers in [your country] typically charge higher rates, but that these higher rates come with greater skills and experience. If your client is focused on quality and willing to spend more for you to provide that quality, you still have the client. If all they care about is getting the lowest hourly rate, you don't really have the option of keeping them.

If you have to charge more than the overseas guys, the key to making a living is being worth the cost. You are better educated, more reliable, more timely, more communicative, easier to work with. You have to meet these criteria to justify the higher cost.

I work in the US and charge substantially higher rates on these platforms than the overseas guys, but I have steady work just because I do a better job. It's certainly doable, and you don't have to tie yourself down to one client. Apply for other jobs and see what happens.

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