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How to get your first high paying client (step by step)

high paying client

Hey there guys and gals of the nuSchool, Ran here.

If you got yesterday’s email, then you know I was blown away when I discovered that my designer friend was charging more money for 2 days of work than what I got for a full time position.

I was set up to try and create that for myself.

This email is not about telling another story, but rather explaining to you EXACTLY what I did to get my first client to pay me the same.

Pay attention, because these strategies can really make a difference in your freelance business:

The Meeting

There’s a lot of psychology going into meeting a potential client for the first time, much like in a first date. How you behave before, during and after that meeting is crucial to how much you can charge and whether the client wants you more than you want them.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I set the meeting on my own terms: I told them I can only meet on a certain day and time for 30 minutes, and mentioned the location where I can meet them. This created the impression that I was so busy and therefore probably very good and expensive.

  2. I asked most of the questions: I did not let the client lead the meeting and interview me. I came prepared with a set of questions and I interviewed them. This is much more professional and creates the impression that I have to PICK THEM, rather than the other way around.

  3. I told them I will get back to them: after I got everything I needed to know about the project, I did not tell them how much it would cost right away (even though they wanted to know), I just said: “let me think about it, and see what I can do for you”. Again: the ball is in my court.

The Proposal

The client was a startup that needed help designing their app.

I realized that if I gave them a proposal for the project they just asked for, I will probably lose 90% of the design work in this project, since all the work is going to happen AFTER the app actually launches.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I created a project gantt: I broke down the work into weeks so that I could show them how we’re going to meet their deadlines, and what’s going to happen each week. I did this for 12 weeks - the next 3 months.

  2. I created a retainer program: I told my client that I will charge them $5,000 a month, and that we can end the relationship at any time if we are not happy together. That means that for the entire project (total of 3 months) they will pay me $15,000.

  3. I showed them what we can do next: I created an additional list of things I thought the startup could benefit from - new branding, a marketing video and a new website, among others. I showed them how we can fit some of them in before the launch, and as for the rest, we’ll continue working on them should the first three months prove successful.

It took the client about 2 days to think this over (and compare with other proposals he got) before they got back to me to tell me: LET’S DO THIS!

While other designer’s just gave them a price tag for the app design, I showed them how we can work together as a team, for the long term and I was invested in helping their company succeed. I showed them more than they’ve asked for and I helped them imagine what a great brand and design will do for their business.

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Negotiation starts before you even discuss money. If your client desperately wants to work with you because you are a superstar designer, they will be willing to pay. Present yourself as that superstar designer (without being a douchebag of course.)

  2. Don’t give the client a proposal for what they asked for. A lot of times clients are not even sure what problem they are actually trying to solve. Do some thinking and then propose to them the best thing for their business. And guess what - the best thing for their business is in many cases to work with a designer on a regular basis.

  3. Make it easy to say “YES!”. Your proposal needs to address your client’s fears and also to fulfill their dreams. It’s not only about the money - it’s about what that money buys.

I hope you think about this the next time you are about to meet a potential client.

There’s no reason why you won’t be able to make them happy with a proposal like this.

Now go kick some ass!


PS -

Yesterday I’ve mentioned that we’re working on a new guide book that will help you get your freelance business to the next level. There are only 3 days left to pre-order it at a crazy $9 price, so if you’re interested, check it out:

Check out our new book

5 Tips to Manage Your Freelance Career with Evernote

Whether you’re an author, designer, filmmaker, or any other type of freelancer, Evernote is the perfect tool to help you manage projects and keep you creatively thinking about future ones.

Here’s five tips to manage your freelance career with Evernote:

1. Organize Projects

Evernote is a perfect hub to store all the materials needed for any project and manage the many moving parts, deliverables and deadlines. Create a note for each individual project including plans and documentation. By creating tags for each, you can easily find notes related to projects quickly. Add Reminders with due dates to track milestones and deliveries.

2. Share the Knowledge

Whether you work alone, or with a team, Evernote makes it easy to send important information to colleagues or clients with Shared Notebooks.

3. Research

Collect all the elements of your research into one place. With the Evernote Web Clipper, you can easily transfer the information you find from the web directly into Evernote. In addition to saving the interesting things you see online, you can now switch into a reading view, add shapes and annotations to your clips and share your clips on social networks.

4. Record

Use Evernote to record audio conversations, important interviews or feedback sessions with clients. Audio Notes let you focus on what’s happening on the conversation. Afterwards, you can reference the material easily, and share it with others.

5. Never Forget Big Ideas

Freelancers are always looking for their next big project. Evernote is a perfect repository to capture those ideas. Try to save them into Evernote and tag them as ‘story ideas’ so you can rediscover them later. It’s perfect to capture photographs, quick notes and even audio recording, on the go. You never know when your next idea may be your next big pitch.

Evernote Tools You Can Use Right Now

The ScanSnap Evernote Edition Scanner for going paperless.

Skitch for communicating ideas and pointing out what’s important.

Evernote Business Notebooks for sketching ideas and writing notes by hand.

Post-it® Note Camera for capturing inspiration and ideas.

Evernote Web Clipper for capturing research and inspiration from the web.

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What You Should Know About Taxes When You're a Freelancer

tax and freelance

Becoming a freelancer doesn't just change the way you work; it also changes the way you manage your money. One area that requires special attention when you're self-employed is your tax filing.

This post originally appeared at MyBankTracker.

To be successful as a freelancer, you have to treat it like a business in terms of marketing yourself and how you treat clients. The same idea applies to your taxes, since you're solely responsible for making sure the IRS receives the right information. When I first started freelancing, taxes was something I only paid vague attention to since I wasn't earning that much to begin with. Over time, I learned more about how freelance taxes work and what follows are 10 rules every newbie needs to keep in mind.

You Can't Always Rely on 1099 Info

When you're working for a company as a paid employee, they're responsible for tallying up your earnings for the year. These are reported, along with the amount of taxes you've paid, on your W-2. As a freelancer, you're considered an independent contractor, which means you'll be issued a 1099 at the end of the year.

If you're relying solely on 1099s to tell you how much money you made, you're taking a big risk. It's always possible that a client could omit a payment or make a mistake in their calculations. If you file your taxes based on incorrect information, you could be in for a nasty surprise if the IRS determines that you actually owe more money. Keeping your own records is a smart move to avoid errors.

I use a basic spreadsheet to track my income throughout the year. Specifically, I make note of what the project was, which client it was for, the amount, the date it was invoiced and paid and my net earnings after any PayPal or bank fees are deducted. It's a fairly simple system, but it's proven effective. I once had a client send a 1099 that was short by several thousand dollars and thanks to my spreadsheet, I was able to pick up on the error right away.

The IRS will Know if You Don't Report Income

Underreporting or omitting income on your tax return is a major no-no and it's a mistake to think that the IRS won't catch on. For one thing, when a client mails you a 1099, they also send a copy to Uncle Sam so if you leave one out at tax time, your records aren't going to match up with what the IRS already has on file.

Even if you've got a client who's less than diligent in their record keeping, that doesn't mean you should take a gamble on not reporting your income. One year, I had two different clients who never issued a 1099, even after I contacted them about it. It added up to a nice chunk of cash and while it was tempting to just forget about reporting it, I made sure it showed up on my return.

Separate Accounts are the Way to Go

If you've been freelancing for a while and you haven't set up separate bank accounts for your business and personal spending, that should be at the top of your to-do list. For one thing, it simplifies your record keeping. You can easily see all of your income for the year and any expenses you incurred for the business without having to weed out what you spent on groceries or dinners out.

The other reason to split things up is to protect yourself in the event of an audit. If something on your taxes raises an eyebrow with the IRS, having separate bank statements for your business makes it easier to backup the information on your return.

You May Have to Pay Estimated Taxes

When you're getting a regular paycheck, your employer is responsible for making sure that the appropriate amount of tax is withheld. As a freelancer, you may have to make estimated payments four times throughout the year, beginning in January. These payments are designed to cover your projected tax liability so you don't end up with a big bill when April 15th rolls around.

Generally, you're not required to make estimated payments if you didn't owe any taxes during the previous year, you expect your total tax due for the current year to be less than $1,000 or your prior year's federal withholding is equal to 90 percent of what you think you'll owe. Be aware that if you don't make estimated payments through the year and you end up owing taxes when you file, you could get hit with a penalty for underpayment.

Your Tax Liability is Calculated Differently

Freelancers are responsible for paying income tax but you're also on the hook for self-employment tax. This is an additional tax that's designed to cover the Social Security and Medicare amounts that would normally be withheld by a traditional employer. For the 2015 tax year, the self-employment tax rate is 15.3 percent for up to $118,500 in income. The most you'll have to pay in self-employment taxes for the year is $14,694. That's on top of whatever you'll owe at your regular income tax rate.

There are Clear Rules for Deductions

The IRS has very clear rules on what you can and can't include as a deduction on your taxes. Calling the corner of the living room where your laptop is located a home office probably isn't going to cut it.

Generally, in order for something to be considered a deductible business expense it must be both reasonable and necessary. This can apply to things like a new laptop, business cards or travel expenses as long as they're incurred as a direct result of your freelance work. If you're in doubt about whether some qualifies, your best bet is to get advice from a tax expert or just leave it out altogether.

Records are a Must

Any time you plan to deduct something on your taxes, you'll need a receipt or other documentation to back it up and that's especially true when you're running a freelancing business. Collecting all your receipts in a shoebox is a way to keep your physical receipts in one place, but using a program like Quickbooks cuts down on the clutter.

The software has a lot of features that are appealing to freelancers, including the ability to sync it with your bank account, track your expenses, create customized invoices and pay your bills. The most basic version costs $13.99 a month but if you don't have the extra cash to spend, you can still keep tabs on what you're spending with a free app like Expensify.

Your Audit Risk May Increase

The words "tax audit" are enough to send a shiver down anyone's spine and while they typically only affect a small percentage of the population, freelancers may be more susceptible. Statistically, filing a Schedule C on your taxes makes you two to four times more likely to get hit with an audit. The odds of being targeted increase by how much money you make so that's something to keep in mind as you expand your freelance business.

Read more

You Have Retirement Options

Being self-employed has lots of perks but unfortunately, a retirement plan isn't one of them. Fortunately, there are several options out there that can help you build your nest egg while earning you some tax benefits.

For example, as a member of the Freelancer's Union, I'm eligible to participate in a solo 401(k), which offers higher annual contribution limits than a traditional or Roth IRA, along with the ability to deduct the money that goes in from my income. There's technically no employer match but I can chip in cash as an employer and an employee to the tune of $53,000 in 2015. Not only can I save for the future but I also score a tax break in the mean time by claiming the deduction.

Sometimes it's Worth Hiring a Pro

Filing your taxes can be complicated enough when you're dealing with W-2s and the standard deductions. When you throw in business expenses, estimated payments and self-employment tax, it can be even more challenging. If your freelance business has really taken off or you haven't been keeping the best records so far, paying a tax expert to handle things for you may be a wise investment.

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My Freelance Tools

There are a lot of resources for freelancers and believe me, I have tried them all. After many years in the business, these are the tools that have floated to the top of my freelance tools.


Save Time Billing

FreshBooks customers spend less time on paperwork, freeing up 2 days per month to focus on the work they love. What would you do with that extra time?

Grow Your Business

FreshBooks is built to support the needs of growing businesses. On average, FreshBooks customers double their revenue in the first 24 months. Woot!

Get Paid Faster

With FreshBooks, you can easily invoice clients from your desk or on the go. In fact, FreshBooks customers are paid an average of 5 days faster.


Where great ideas converge

  • Secure, flexible sharing
  • Room for projects to grow
  • Access to everyone's knowledge
  • Powerful CRM

    Manage contacts, organizations, partners, vendors and suppliers. See everything from background, email history, events, projects or opportunities. More

  • Project Management

    Make sure you’re on top of your project at every stage – track project activity and performance against milestones. More

  • Powerful Integration

    Integration with email, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Apps, MailChimp, QuickBooks Online, QuoteRoller, Torpio, Zapier, and more. More

  • Macro or Micro View

    Look at your business any way you want with task dashboard, activity sets, reports and more. More

  • Go Mobile

    Supporting iPhone and Android phones and popular tablets, the Insightly mobile app has you covered. More

  • Social CRM

    We’ll detect virtually every social media profile related to a contact’s email address. More

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Two important things happen when you say to your client:  “I’ll need 50%, up front, to start the work and the balance is due when the work is completed.”

  1. You are viewed as professional:  Your client now sees you as a person who has payment policies in place.  They respect you, and they are clear on what you expect and how it’s going to go.
  2. A commitment is formed: Your client is fully committed when they pay a deposit. When some one pays a deposit towards something, they are making a commitment to the project. It’s a psychological thing.  Without a deposit, there is no real commitment from your client.  It’s like buying plane tickets.  My trip to Chicago last year was just talk until I plunked down the $500 for plane tickets.  Once that money was paid, it was a reality.  We were fully committed.

Don’t begin the work without a commitment from your client in the form of a deposit

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Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator

Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator

A simple calculator to help you find out how much to charge as a freelancer.

Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator

How This Calculator Works

The Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator will help you determine what you need in order to support the lifestyle that you desire.

By entering information into each field, you can calculate an hourly rate based on your costs, number of billable hours, and desired annual profit.

Section One asks about your desired lifestyle. This includes how much profit you would like to make annually, how many hours a day you will be working, and how many days a week will be on your schedule.

Section Two asks about your daily and monthly personal expenses. This includes rent/mortgage, and occasional expenses.

Section Three asks about your monthly business and logistical expenses. This includes office rental fees, software subscriptions and communication costs.

Based on this information, you will be given your minimum necessary hourly rate, and total annual salary. Try it out, and see what it will take to live the lifestyle of your dreams!


Charging for Freelance Work

Here at Motiv, we believe that your preferred lifestyle should be the number one factor in selecting your rate, and settling on your annual salary as a freelancer. This tool will assist you in finding this information. All it takes is a little planning on your part.

Take a mental snapshot of the way you want your life to look in a year, five years and ten years.

Once you have a clear idea of your coming goals, you can begin to fill in the blanks.

The calculator is going to factor all of this information in your final result. Knowing what goals you hope to reach will give you the blueprint you need to work the way you want to.

Your dream lifestyle is within reach!

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How Much Should I Charge?

A potential client wants a proposal for a design project? Awesome. Answer 5 questions, and know how much to charge to make this project profitable.

Freelance designers are victims of a haphazard pricing structure—without set industry guidelines, designers must rely on past project pricing, colleague recommendation, or generic pricing lists to conjure a “fair” price for the work. Prices are difficult to match to inflation or utility costs, and little consideration is given to the relationship between designer and client.

Aiming to simplify this ambiguous pricing model, learning platformnuSchool developed “How Much Should I Charge?,” a web tool that suggests a freelance base rate and negotiation window, dependent on a designer’s salary goals, costs, and enjoyment of the project.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts, so don’t be shy and comment below! Please don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS-feed  or follow my feed on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook! If you enjoyed the following article we humbly ask you to comment, and help us spread the word! Or, if you would like, drop me an email.

What Do I Charge for 3D Design Changes?

I am pretty relaxed with the changes, but after a point I'll bring it to my client's attention. I am more concerned about producing a product that my client loves and the relationship that might come from the project.

At the start of any project I try to ask pertinent questions with my project survey. My project survey is short, simple, and effective.  Spending a few minutes at the beginning can save hours later.

After the initial 3d model is complete, I send a gray scale for approval on the modeling. Sometimes, the 3d model is the first time they really see their project, and it initiates design change, which I enjoy being part of that process.

Gray Scale 3d Models

Gray Scale 3d Models

The gray scale model serves several purposes. First, and foremost, it allows the client to see their project for the first time. Sometimes, more times than not, it's not what they were expecting. Or, it's the Architect's or Designer's client who is surprised. At the gray scale stage, I allow changes as long as they are not extensive. However, I could justify the extra charge at this stage, considering what it would cost to make these changes with a sledgehammer.

Also, at the gray scale stage, you'll be able to see the camera view and lighting scheme. The view and lighting, other than the design, is the most important part of any architectural illustration. Composition is key!

After the client approves the grayscale renderings, and any changes are made, I move on to the color (texture and materials). Like the view and lighting, textures and materials are important, too. Here, I can spend 1/3 of my allocated time building proper textures and materials. It takes a lot of work to avoid the awful tiling you see in less well-executed architectural renderings. At the beginning of any project, I request color samples. A large wall with small stone might take me a few hours to create when a painted concrete wall might take a few minutes. Having said that, a concrete wall that turns into a rock wall later in the design might occur an hourly charge. At the least, I'll make my client aware of the extra time it'll take so they might have to deal with a delayed deadline.

Render times can be extensive, so after things are colored I'll send a lower resolution color proof. The resolution is high enough to see detail, but low enough to avoid long rendering times. Once the lower resolution is approved I'll fine tune settings, for a clean render, and render the final output. If last minute changes are made, after the lower resolution rendering has been approved and the deadline is looming, I might need to use a render farm service. Render farm services come at a cost, a cost that I'll have to pass on to my client.

Final renderings can take from 2 hours per still all the way up to 6 hours per still. I am very sensitive to my client's deadlines, and I'll try to do what it takes to meet them, but last minute changes might need to be curbed. I have, and I will continue to, pull all-nighters to meet deadlines, but I try to avoid them. If the looming deadline is in jeopardy because of my doing, I will pull all-nighters. 

Please, if you have other questions, feel free to comment on this thread or email me with your questions.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts, so don’t be shy and comment below! Please don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS-feed  or follow my feed on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook! If you enjoyed the following article we humbly ask you to comment, and help us spread the word! Or, if you would like, drop me an email.

4 Reasons Not to Outsource Your Architectural Renderings

Outsource Your Architectural Renderings

Outsource Your Architectural Renderings

Many problems come to the forefront when outsourcing work to foreign countries.

First, the difficulty lies with the difference in time. Shanghai, China is thirteen hours ahead of Dallas, Texas while India is ten and a half hours ahead. As a patch, some of these companies have a representative in the United States. This does solve the problem. Their representative is only around to answer phones and does not do any of the work. Now you are involved in a game of passing information from one person to another before it is received by the person that is assigned your work.

Another issue rears its ugly head. You are probably thinking that since we are off cycle, things will be completed faster. Instead, they take additional time. One day turns into two and before you know it, you are weeks behind.

The second issue is the language barrier. There is no question that the representative speaks English. There are still difficulties to overcome when attempting to have your 3d rendering completed. Edits and changes have to be translated. As we all know, the true meaning can easily get lost in translation. Forget about the direct meaning of the words you speak. What about the delivery? Have you ever made a wise crack or sarcastic comment to a foreign customer service representative only to have them take you seriously?

Third, their culture is different. All of the pictures in the world will not change that fact that your outsource work will be completed by somebody from a completely different culture. Styles are difficult enough to keep up with when living in the Continental United States. Your architectural visualization piece may be accurately represented, but the landscaping package will have a peculiar look. Now you are relegated to driving neighborhoods and photographing exterior architectural visualization groups.

Finally, how much time do you have? It takes time to manage a team from a foreign country. I bet your time is worth more than any potential savings could possibly make. Imagine saving $200 and spending an additional three to four hours. That is imagining also; odds you are not even going to save $200 on an architectural rendering. Your 3d illustration will require a lot of time and effort to complete.

Delays caused by the difference in time zone, lack of English as a primary language and language translation for the working staff eliminate any perceived value. Add in time delays and now you’re starting to have a problem. You will have to save a lot, because, the extra management time will make the project time consuming and difficult. You will have to work hard for every nickel you save, if you save any money at all. Take any difference in fee structure and couple it with the extra management time and aggravation and you suddenly have a project that is more expensive to implement. In many cases, the time delays alone are substantial enough to create difficulty.

Fulfill your architectural visualization needs of a company that resides within the United States. You will benefit with reduced management, time and aggravation. Your architectural illustrations can be completed economically without outsourcing.

Save time, money and aggravation by having your architectural visualization project completed within the United States.

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Negotiate Your Hourly and Project-Based Pricing

If you’re an architectural illustrator, doing freelance by the hour, you are going to have to determine your pricing structure. For example, do you charge by the hour? What’s a reasonable rate to ask? Are you better off charging clients on a project basis?  

Here are some tips for calculating your hourly and project rates and how to negotiate pricing with your client.

1.     Determining Your Worth

Before you submit a quote for any work, ask yourself these questions:

What is the market rate for architectural illustrators in your location?
How experienced are you? Not just as an architectural illustrator, but as a home based business? Being awesome at architectural rendering is good, but being able to meet deadlines, exceed expectations and above all, being reliable, are essential qualities for an architectural illustrator.

What rate are you willing to accept?

2.     Calculating an Hourly Rate

If you’ve been a salaried employee all your life, making the switch to self-employment requires a change of thinking. Some companies may be tempted to coerce you into a rate that reflects what they’d be willing to pay a salaried employee. But self-employment brings its costs and credit to you. Your rate should reflect this, as well as your expertise.

If you are used to being a salaried employee, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow when determining an hourly rate:

Divide your former salary by 52 (work weeks); then divide that number by 40 (the number of work hours in a week). Then mark it up 25-30%.
Your mark-up covers both your value and experience, but also takes care of our business costs such as networking, selling, and other administration, not forgetting your self-employment tax obligations and healthcare insurance costs.

3.     Calculating Project Rates

Many clients will prefer to manage their costs and ask for you to rate your work as a fixed project fee. This can also work to your benefit if you price it right. However, it can also work against you, especially if your client is new, and the project scope creeps beyond your original expectations.  

The best way to calculate project rates is to spend some time scoping out what you’ll deliver. Use your knowledge of your work methods and familiarity with the subject matter to structure your time commitment, for example:

Research: 2 Hours
Produce gray scale model: 8 Hours
Two rounds of edits: 2 Hours
Add color and lighting 8 Hours
Two rounds of edits: 2 Hours
Final render: 2 Hours
Total: 24 Hours @ $x hourly rate = $x

Remember, you don’t have to put this calculation in front of your client, but it gives you a useful framework for covering your costs and delivering within scope. Don’t forget to add a caveat to address that any work done over and above this scope of work will be charged at an hourly rate

4.     Negotiating Your Rate:

Negotiation is hard to avoid and can often shed light on whether this is a client that you really want to work with for. If you are confident that your pricing reflects your value and the market rate, being haggled hard on price can get a relationship off on the wrong foot. Likewise, being locked in at a low rate can quickly devalue the relationship from your perspective.

So, when it comes to negotiating, be prepared to stand your ground but be willing to compromise. If you foresee further business here, try to be flexible. 

5.     What About Retainers?

If a client starts to send a lot of volume your way, retainer-based pricing can be advantageous, even if it’s at a lower hourly rate than your advertised price.  

A retainer is a fee paid for a pre-determined amount of time or work (usually within a month) and is often paid up-front. A retainer agreement can deliver the benefit of predictable work and income while giving your client the reassurance of having you on “stand-by” and a clear view of monthly costs.

Many architectural illustrators charge the full retainer fee, even if they don’t work the entire hours allocated. If you value the relationship, steer clear of this; instead, roll unused hours over to next month.

Good luck!

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