I just spent an hour trying to justify raising my rates after three years of not raising them. In my mind and in life, I don't need justification. It's justifiable to raise rates every year. The industry standard has well-surpassed my highest paying clients. And many of my clients are paying 50% less than that. I have a few on sliding scale and that won't change but their rates will increase.
Still, it's nerve-wracking! I get all anxious and uptight about the business side of the business.
It's easy to tell a potential client what my rates are. But for some reason, I'm still trigger-shy when it comes to asking existing clients to pay regular rates. I've only raised rates of current clients once in my career as a dogwalker. [probably a disgrace to dogwalkers everywhere.]
When I first started walking dogs for a living* my rates were laughable. But that's what one does as a novice with a start-up business. I was happy enough to be doing what I loved.
One of my first clients - a young couple - strong-armed me into dropping my (laughable) rates plus giving them Friday's free, just because they booked me all week.
I worked hard for them. Their dog was high-maintenance, high-strung, stubborn and strong. I went out of my way to make sure he was getting the best treatment. I cleaned up after him when he would destroy things in the kitchen. I gave him a little extra time if I had it because he was alone all day. I loved him but he was a lot of fricken work for forty bucks a week! No holiday bonuses. No "thanks" from the couple. Hardly a word. Most of the time it didn't bother me. I needed the work.
Meanwhile, their three-story condo in primo Santa Monica was being remodeled. Up went a wide screen tv, a full-on surround sound stereo system, game consoles, workout equipment, leather furniture, patio furniture (and that was just on the top floor). There was crystal, china, heavy dark wood, art, etc. Stuff I couldn't be bothered with. But every week they had something big, new and shiny moving in.
So, after a year of walking their difficult dog at a ridiculous rate, I raised their rates. I figured thedeal we had was worth the start-up for the first year and it seemed they were in a better place financially and could afford the regular rates.
The wife of this yuppy team had a screaming fit, "You can't just do that! You can't say your rates are one thing and then change them." I was stunned. Even though by this time I had a steadily growing clientele, I was afraid to lose this client. Forty bucks was forty bucks. It was my worst nightmare: What if this was the beginning of the demise of my business? What if I'm really not worth my regular rates? Will I have enough money to buy food? I need this client. I need the money. I can't live without...
It was that moment when I realized my worth. And I was ready to let them go. She couldn't communicate her justifications with me. So she put her sales-boy husband on the phone (the one who made the original deal with me).
Too late. I'm over you.
I wasn't interested in his pleas. He tried all his sales tactics (an industry I had just come from). I turned down all of his "deals I couldn't refuse" and respectfully wished him luck finding another dogwalker.
Immediately there was a sense of relief. Calmness. I didn't realize it, but I had been holding on to that client out of fear. Once I let go of the fear, it didn't matter what they said, did or wanted.
Sure I lost part of my income but that was chump change compared to the self-respect and self-worth I had gained. Plus it freed time and space in my group for new clients who were happy to pay my regular rates. And I was way less strung out. The group even calmed down. Life was fun again. Work was fun.
Until it wasn't anymore - and I went on hiatus.
* I started walking dogs professionally in the fall of 1996. Within a year I had a full schedule with regular clients. After five years of ups and downs (mostly ups) I was feeling a little burned out. I took a break for six months from January - July 2001. When I returned to the field, the market was saturated with new, untrained dogwalkers, charging almost twice what I was making. It took two years to rebuild the business. And the market keeps growing. It's a competitive field. That's why I stick with my colleagues and try to charge the same rates. There's plenty to go around. Without each other, some of us wouldn't have work. Most of my clients are referrals - many from other dogwalkers.