Ep. 9 | Freelance Cake Podcast
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Episode 9|

How To Sell Outcomes, Not Hours: The Perfect 9-Word Response for Freelance Clients

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Hourly is by far the most popular freelance pricing model, but time is never what clients want. Our job is to deliver the desired business outcome, not give them our time. Reframe the conversation and start selling outcomes, not hours.

In this episode, Austin shares real-life situations of why outcome-based selling makes perfect sense for freelancers, as well as the perfect 9-word response to use with time-focused clients. Make sure to save it!

“To win at this freelancing game, you need to rethink what it is that you sell, and what it is that clients are really buying from you.”

What Do Freelance Clients Really Buy From You?

Today, we’re gonna talk about selling outcomes, not hours.

Outcomes, not time.

Outcomes, not even deliverables.

To win at this freelancing game, you need to rethink what it is that you sell, and what it is that clients are really buying from you.

First, here’s what clients don’t buy from us creatives: time.

Time is never what freelance clients want to buy. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from asking.

Most of us will get emails like this one I received from an agency owner:

“When we were talking, you mentioned that your agency now delivers projects without your involvement at all. I’m curious to probe on how you’ve structured this. I’d love to pay you for a little bit of your time to talk through some stuff on this topic.”

His request is innocent enough. However, I know that time isn’t what he wants to buy.

Why NOT Selling Hours Just Makes Sense

Imagine having a blocked artery and making this request of a heart surgeon: “Can I buy some of your time?”

Whether an operation takes the surgeon 10 minutes or 10 hours, it’s totally beside the point.

The surgeon had to go through 15+ years of education and training – 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of general surgery residency, and another 2-3 years of specialized cardiac fellowship.

So as you lay there in that cold room on the operating table, you don't give a hill of beans about the surgeon's time. You just want to walk out of there alive. In order to deliver that outcome, you're relying on the surgeon's 15+ years of education and training.

You're also paying for the surgeon's expertise, judgment, and decision-making – hopefully, hopefully, accumulated over the many successful surgeries that preceded yours.

What about pilots and air travel? Does a musician pay for the pilot's time or the duration of the flight? Of course not.

She pays for safe passage from Nashville to Los Angeles. She might want to get there in four hours, not four days, but ultimately, she's paying for an outcome, not for time.

In order to deliver that outcome, what does a pilot need? At least 1500 hours of flying experience and a commercial license.

Both the cardiac patient and musician are paying for an outcome, not another person's time.

What Sets Freelancers Apart From Other Types of Workers

Of course, you can pay someone for manual labor. One Saturday morning, you ask a couple of high school football players to carry a pile of rocks to a dumpster.

In this case, you're still paying for an outcome, but the difference is that carrying rocks requires no special talent, training, or tools. Thousands of people in your city could perform the task and deliver an identical result.

We're looking at a spectrum of highly skilled people like surgeons on the one end, and unskilled laborers on the other end. Where do freelancers fall on the spectrum?

Freelancing isn't hauling rocks, far from it.

Freelancers are much closer to surgeons. We often solve painful, expensive problems. And the value of the outcome that we deliver often far exceeds whatever it is our clients pay.

So when clients hire us, they're not buying our time, no matter what they say. They gain access to our specialized knowledge, soft skills, character, and personality traits. All of the accumulated judgment and decision-making.

If you're ex-military, you likely have discipline. A client gets that.

If you're a stay-at-home mom, you're accustomed to managing a thousand details like a CEO. Your clients get that.

If you were a barista and had to develop people skills, your clients get that.

A Coaching Client’s Journey to Selling Outcomes

Take my client, Kate, for example. Kate earned her BA in Public Relations. She graduated summa cum laude. If you translate that, she's really smart.

She has diverse writing experience. At her first job with a tech company, she wrote tons of copy: ebooks, campaign mailers, blog posts, social media updates, and press releases.

She also got her feet wet in sales, specifically top-of-funnel lead generation, all the way through cold calls and cold email campaigns.

She then, later, at a different role, coordinated communications for a tourism board. She served as a staff writer. She planned and executed group press tours. She planned media visits. She went on trips to meet with travel editors and freelancers. Then she worked at a PR agency where she oversaw client accounts, created their campaigns, and implemented those campaigns.

So again, when someone hires Kate, he's not extracting time from her the way you might extract ore from the earth. A client cannot separate Kate's time from who she is. They have to get the whole package.

We can't separate our time from who we are.

When that client asked Kate, “Hey, what's your hourly rate?” That client is signaling, “I need help.”

So what I recommended to Kate – and what I recommend to all of my clients and anyone who emails me about this – is straight up ignore the question. Just ignore the question when someone says, “How much for your time? Or can I buy some of your time?”

Reframe the conversation like this… “That depends. What would you like to see happen?”

Those 9 words, I'm telling you, they're solid gold. You’d think if you ignored the question and responded with a question of your own, that clients would get irritated. In my experience, it just doesn't happen that way.

They often will say, “I really want to solve this big operational challenge,” or “Our blog has stalled out, and we really need some good content to get it going again.”

Once you shift the focus from your time to the client's desired outcome, you can begin to quantify the value of that outcome for yourself and for the client. That shift in focus from time or hourly rate to outcomes is truly consequential because it later determines what the client buys from you and what you can charge.

Kate took this approach with a new content marketing client. I had been encouraging her to raise her rates, and instead of charging what she had in the past by default (which was $900 a month), she took the time to reframe the conversation, ask better questions, and put more detail and definition into the outcome. 

When she proposed $2,000 a month, the client accepted. So now Kate is making an extra $1,100 per month for the same scope of work.

You Can and Should Sell Outcomes Instead of Hours Too

That's the magic of those 9 words: “That depends. What would you like to see happen?

When we stop selling hours, time, or deliverables and start selling outcomes, we can raise our prices. Kate is now attracting better clients and earning more. You can too.

So I hope you'll save those 9 words: “That depends. What would you like to see happen?” Save them as a keyboard shortcut on your phone. Save them on your desktop, I use a text expander app called aText.

In fact, keep the right words handy so that when a client asks to buy some of your time – and they still will from time to time – you’re not tempted to just answer their question.

Ignore the question. Respond with one of your own. Reframe the conversation as a consultation and shift the focus from time or your hourly rate to outcomes.

Links and Resources from this Episode

  1. aText

Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Freelance Cake Podcast. I'm your host, Austin L. Church. The goal of this show is to help full-time, committed freelancers get better leverage.

[00:00:13] As the sworn enemy of busyness and burnout, I have no desire to see you work harder. Instead, I reveal the specific beliefs, principles, and practices you can use right away to make the freelance game more profitable and enjoyable. So chill out and listen in, because the best is yet to come.

[00:37] Today, we’re gonna talk about selling outcomes, not hours. Outcomes, not time. Outcomes, not even deliverables. To win at this freelancing game, you need to rethink what it is that you sell, and what it is that clients are really buying from you. Time is never what freelance clients want to buy. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from asking. Most of us will get emails like this one I received from an agency owner. I’ll just read the very first part and the very last part.

[00:01:13] “When we were talking, you mentioned that your agency now delivers projects without your involvement at all.” That’s the first part. The last part, “I’m curious to probe on how you’ve structured this. I’d love to pay you for a little bit of your time to talk through some stuff on this topic.”

[00:01:31] I mean, his request is innocent enough: “I’d love to pay you for a little bit of your time to talk through some stuff on this topic.” I wasn’t offended by that. However, I know that time isn’t what he wants to buy. Imagine having a blocked artery and making a similar request of a heart surgeon: “Can I buy some of your time?”

[00:01:58] Whether an operation takes the surgeon 10 minutes or 10 hours, it’s totally beside the point. The surgeon had to go through 15+ years of education and training. 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of general surgery residency, and another 2-3 years of specialized cardiac fellowship. So as you lay there, in that cold room on the operating table, you don't give a hill of beans about the surgeon's time. You just want to walk out of there alive. And in order to deliver that outcome, you're relying on the surgeon's 15+ years of education and training. You're also paying for if you want to put it that way, the surgeon's expertise, judgment, and decision-making – hopefully, hopefully, accumulated over the many successful surgeries that came before yours.

[00:03:00] Again, you don't give a hill of moldy beans about the surgeon's time. You just want her to save your life. I'll give you one more example. What about pilots and air travel? A musician doesn't pay for the pilot's time or the duration of the flight. She pays for safe passage from Nashville to Los Angeles. She might want to get there in four hours, not four days, but ultimately, she's paying for an outcome, not for time.

[00:03:37] In order to deliver that outcome, what does a pilot need? At least 1500 hours of flying experience and a commercial license. So both the cardiac patient and musician are paying for an outcome, not another person's time. Of course, you can pay someone for manual labor. One Saturday morning, a couple of high school football players come over to your house, and they carry a pile of rocks to a dumpster. You had a pile of rocks, you wanted the pile of rocks to disappear, and poof, it's gone.

[00:04:21] You're still paying for an outcome, but the difference is that carrying rocks requires no special talent or training, or tools. Thousands of people in your city could perform the task and deliver an identical result. Again, there was a pile. Now there's not. Fantastic! So we're looking at a spectrum of highly skilled people like surgeons on the one end, and unskilled laborers on the other end. Where do freelancers fall on the spectrum?

[00:04:59] Freelancing isn't hauling rocks, far from it. Freelancers are much closer to surgeons. We often solve painful, expensive problems. And the value of the outcome that we deliver often far exceeds whatever it is our clients pay. So when they hire us, they're not buying our time, no matter what they say. They gain access to our specialized knowledge, soft skills, character, and personality traits. All of the accumulated judgment and decision-making. If you're ex-military, you likely have discipline. A client gets that. If you're a stay-at-home mom, you're accustomed to managing a thousand details like a CEO. Your clients get that. If you were a barista, and had to develop people skills, well, your clients get that.

[00:06:00] Take my client, Kate, for example. A client cannot separate Kate's time from who she is. Any client has to buy the whole package. All of who Kate is. Kate earned her BA in public relations. She graduated summa cum laude. If you translate that, she's really smart. At her first job with a tech company, she wrote tons of copy: ebooks, campaign mailers, blog posts, social media updates, and press releases.

[00:06:33] So, she has diverse writing experience. She also got her feet wet in sales, specifically top-of-funnel lead generation, all the way through cold calls and cold email campaigns. She then, later, at a different role, coordinated communications for a tourism board. She served as a staff writer. She planned and executed group press tours. She planned media visits. She went on trips to meet with travel editors and freelancers. Then she worked at a PR agency where she oversaw client accounts, created their campaigns, and implemented those campaigns.

[00:07:14] So again, when Joe Schmoe, startup founder, hires Kate, he's not extracting time from her the way you might extract ore from the earth. You have to get the whole package. We can't separate our time from who we are. When that client asked Kate, “Hey, what's your hourly rate? Or can I pay for some of your time?” That client is signaling, “I need help.”

[00:07:46] So what I recommended to Kate, and what I recommend to all of my clients, and anyone who emails me about this is straight up ignoring the question. Just ignore the question when someone says, “How much for your time? Or can I buy some of your time?” Reframe the conversation like this… “That depends. What would you like to see happen?”

[00:08:12] Those 9 words, I'm telling you, they're solid gold. You’d think if you ignored the question and responded with a question of your own, that clients would get irritated. In my experience, it just doesn't happen that way. They then will say, “Well, you know, I really want to solve this big operational challenge,” or “Well, our blog has stalled out, and we really need some good content to get it going again.”

[00:08:40] Once you shift the focus from your time to the client's desired outcome, you can begin to quantify the value of that outcome for yourself and for the client. That shift in focus from time or hourly rate to outcomes, it truly is consequential because it later determines what the client buys from you and what you can charge. Kate took this approach with a new content marketing client. I had been encouraging her to raise her rates, and instead of charging what she had in the past by default, which was $900 a month, she took the time to reframe the conversation, ask better questions, and put more detail and definition into the outcome. 

[00:09:34] When she proposed $2,000 a month, the client accepted. So now Kate is making an extra $1,100 per month for the same scope of work. That's the magic of those 9 words: “That depends. What would you like to see happen,” or “That depends. What do you want to happen?” You can say the same thing in different ways.

[00:10:01] When we stop selling hours or time or deliverables and start selling outcomes, we can raise our prices. Kate is now attracting better clients and earning more. You can too. So I hope you'll save those 9 words: “That depends. What would you like to see happen?” Save them as a keyboard shortcut on your phone. Save them on your desktop, I use a little text expander app called aText. A T E X… *laughs* Can’t spell that, apparently. A T E X T. aText.

[00:10:50] I keep the right words handy, almost as little conversation templates so that I'm not tempted when a client asks this, and they still do from time to time. I'm not tempted to just answer their question. No, ignore the question. Respond with one of your own. Reframe the conversation as a consultation and shift the focus from time or your hourly rate to outcomes. That’s it.

[00:11:32] Before you go, a quick reminder. Be sure to check out the Freelance Cake coaching program. The program is for committed, full-time freelancers, and it’s designed to help you get better leverage in your business.

[00:11:46] We have group sessions, a private community, and on-demand trainings. And each week, you focus on implementing a specific lever such as your positioning cheat code, juicy offers, or morning marketing habit.

[00:12:01] The same or better income with more free time, fun, and creative challenges - that’s the point, right?

[00:12:09] So go to FreelanceCake.com/coaching. My friends, the best is yet to come. See you in the next episode!

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