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I have been working in the web design & development field since 1995 and during the years I have been working as apprentice, then employee in big internet provider, founder of small company then evolved to bigger company, then back to single freelance working in home office, now still freelancing with the help of different other freelancers collegues (we help each other in our different specialisation).

I have been in all kind of situation from super modern agencies office in business areas, to cubicle, to garage, to average office, to home office, etc.

Since I work at home office (or similar situation) I always had to deal with the problem of being considered "cheap" by clients, I mean the place where you receive the clients seems affecting their perception of "how much expensive you can be", if you are in a sleek bright modern office (possibly in a business area or nice building), you can easily ask a lot more and it is all ok. If you (same person with same skills) work in a confortable and well kept, clean, functional home office with average furniture and desks, the clients usually expect you to be "cheap" and have low rates, just because you are at home.

I know of a freelance web designer (in another close city) who got an office in an attic on the main square of the city, who decorated the office with expensive paintings and sculptures, modern sleek glass furniture, large monitors a**le computers all over the office, etc, intentionally for the purpose to impress the clients and apply higher rates. This professional told to someone I know personally: "People who are looking for cheap work don't even enter here".

Now, the "funny" part is that for two times in the last years I had to recover/rebuild web projects that this above said professional made (actually he doesen't really develop, he makes young apprentices work and develop for him then he send them away after the stage finish). The sites were made with Wordpress, with commercial templates with minimal personalisation, published and abandoned forever, when I was asked to rebuild these sites they were completely hacked and infected with malware and viruses and this "professional" refused to fix the problem or even he told to the client "I will notify the problem to Google and they will solve it", which is a mockery since Google can't care less if your site is hacked of infected (I guess he just doesen't know what to do).

The "shock" was when I knew of his rates that are at least 3 times mine! In one case I knew he billed something like $1200 for something that I would happily bill $400. Am I stupid or the other is taking advantage of people technical ignorance?

I always focused myself on the work quality, to be a reliable person and polite worker, but it's hard to make new clients undestand that, and I always have to pull on the prices, vice-versa this above said professional seems to be attracting a lot of clients happy to pay high bills to have something that every freelance could do for 1/2 or 1/3 of the price. Somehow he built a reputation of someone who is above the others but it is not true (or he could be even worse to be honest).

Should I invest a lot of my money to rent/buy a magnificent office and in architects for furnish it?

How to communicate your value as a serious reliable freelancer other than impress the clients with special effects for it's own sake?

  • try to rent hourly an office just for meeting at an hourly rate. failing that co-rent a modest space just for meetings with your fellow freelancers aquitances. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 26 '16 at 18:13
  • I voted to close this because it's exceptionally broad and opinion-based. Just not a great question for Stack Exchange. My opinion is that if you are meeting clients, the meeting place should be appropriate. I, personally, haven't seen a client face to face in years. – Scott Jul 26 '16 at 18:16
  • @Scott I understand why it seems like an opinion-based question, but the last part seems on topic. Would editing the second-to-last sentence help? – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Jul 26 '16 at 18:44
  • @CanadianLuke possibly. There may be a decent question in here somewhere, but it's just clouded by the anecdote and subtle animosity. – Scott Jul 26 '16 at 19:02
  • @Scott I think what I wrote is a real life scenario that can happen to anyone in the world when image pays more than substance. I think also that there is no animosity in my question, I like to be descriptive and give many details to make the situation and the question as clear as possibile. But if you guys think that my question is not appropriate I can erase it in any moment. – Mario Jul 27 '16 at 7:31
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It sounds like your question boils down to:

"If company X can charge Y, and I'm just as skilled as company X, why can't I charge Y?"

and, in a similar vein:

"How can I charge more for my services?"

In short, your friend can charge more for his services because his clients perceive a higher value. You can charge more for your services when your clients perceive higher value.

Therefore, to increase prices and profits, maximize your value.

How to maximize your company's value:

1) Know who you are maximizing for

  • In order to maximize your value, you need to know who you are maximizing your value for. Since different clients have different needs, it is impossible to optimize for everyone. This is why niches are so important. They provide your company a goal.

  • If you haven't already, define your ideal client. Your ideal client is a client that will pay you well for your services and provide your business a strong profit. So, how do you maximize profit? By maximizing the value your company provides to your clients. The more value you provide to your clients the more profitable your company will be. Remember though: you are maximizing the value you provide your clients. Your clients value different things than your company does. You need to understand what they value and maximize for them.

2) Know the needs of your target client

  • In order to maximize your value for your target client, you need to know the needs of your target client. As an example, let's say you are a mobile development shop targeting middle-stage startups in the US. In order to maximize your value to those clients, you need to know the challenges they are facing. Learn the ins and outs of your target client. Figure out what is holding them back.

3) Define the needs you will address for your target client

  • Once you know the needs of your target client, figure out which needs you are most equipped to address. While your clients might all have legal issues, unless you are an attorney, you're probably unfit to address those needs. You want to find that nice balance where your services perfectly mesh with your client's needs. You could face two problems at this stage. First: your company is incapable of addressing your client's most pressing needs. If this is the case, the easiest solution, and what I recommend in most cases, you should reassess your target client. However, if you're certain you have picked the right target client, your only other option is to develop the skills necessary to address those needs within your company.

4) Clearly communicate the needs you will address to your target client

  • Craft your message so it resonates with your target client. Make sure to use language your client will understand. If you develop software and your ideal client is non-technical, don't layer your website with jargon. Remember, you're writing your message for your client, not yourself.
  • Find the right platform for your message. If your ideal client is a 50yo CFO for a financial institution, maybe Facebook ads aren't the best form of advertising (although who knows, my mom is on Facebook more than I am). While it's important to get your message right, it's even more important to make sure you're giving your message to the right people.

Lastly, I'll directly answer your questions:

Should I invest a lot of my money to rent/buy a magnificent office and in architects for furnish it?

Will this provide a high degree of perceived value to your clients? To give you some anecdotal evidence, I currently work out of my home and do not believe it negatively impacts my current business. We have won 6-figure bids over agencies with fancy offices and nice furniture. Our clients don't place high value on fancy offices and furniture though. they want software that works.

How to communicate your value as a serious reliable freelancer other than impress the clients with special effects for it's own sake?

Value is communicated in many different ways. One way my company communicates our value is through case studies and testimonials. If a company is interested in hiring us, they at least have proof that we provided value to another company. If that company is similar enough -- and it should be if you clearly defined your ideal client -- case studies will go a long way to communicate value.

Other ways to communicate value:

  • Professionalism
  • Knowledgeability
  • Data/statistics
  • Pricing

Hopefully these tips help. If OP or anyone else has additional questions please do not hesitate to contact me (contact info in my profile).

  • @Mario was the above helpful? Anything you need some additional color on? – Joel Brewer Jul 26 '16 at 22:02
  • Thank you very much for your helpful answer, in my area there is a lot of competition so we use to "take all" and usually people wants to meet in person and, altough I have several clients with good long term work relationship, new clients seems to be influenced by fancy offices and shiny gears. I will consider to focus on market niches instead to develop everything for anyone and take almost any request that comes. – Mario Jul 27 '16 at 7:54
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It would be definitely be worth a try to rent a space on an as-need basis. Another cheap way to go is reserve library rooms. It maybe not as nice as a rented office but it would "feel" more professional than a home.

If you are looking at a different spin, you might even think of a specialized rental space. For example renting a mancave type space. This would feel expensive, but also be a lot of fun for the client. I linked to an example.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p4080412

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