Almost every freelancer goes through it: the dreaded feast/famine cycle at some point in their business lives.

First, you start out telling your friends and family that you’re available for hire. Then comes the searching dozens of freelance jobs sites. You go to local networking events. You partner with local agencies.

Finally (finally!) you scrape together a few high quality clients.

You happily start working on the clients’ projects, which promptly takes over your entire life.

You deliver a quality final product, your client is happy, you’re satisfied with your work, you collect final payment and then….

You’re right back where you started—no money coming in and desperately looking for new clients.

There are lots of ways to get out of the feast/famine cycle as a freelancer. For example, Barry Donovan recently wrote a fantastic article right here on the blog about recurring revenue for freelancers.

Today, I’d like to highlight a real missed opportunity many freelancers overlook when working with clients.

That is — the upsell.

What is an upsell?

Put simply, an upsell is an additional sale you offer to  an existing customer.

For freelancers, an upsell might be expanding the scope of the project (and therefore, expanded budget) or other creative project add-ons—some of which I will include below.

The goal of a client upsell is to increase the amount you make from each client project.

Here’s an example for freelance writers: Instead of charging $500 to write an article for your client, perhaps you charge $500 to write the article plus upsell them a promotional package of $250. For the additional cost, you generate additional traffic to their article that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Brainstorming client upsells

To be fully prepared when the proper moment comes to upsell your client, you should have a few pre-determined upsell packages ready and “for sale”.

Brainstorming upsell options can be a difficult task, depending on which industry you’re in. In a recent article I wrote for the LogoGeek design blog, I explored 10 practical, realistic upsells logo designers could offer their clients.

Regardless of which industry you’re in, there are always opportunities to upsell your clients.

Here are just a few more examples:

Freelance Social Media Marketers:
In addition to driving traffic from social media to a client’s website, you might also offer to install and manage Facebook or Google pixels for remarketing to previous customers and abandoned-cart customers.

Freelance Illustrators:
Instead of just delivering the final illustration as a PDF, you might consider upselling a bundle with different design files such as .eps, which would allow your client to display your work in a variety of sizes and placements.

Freelance Photographers:
Instead of just offering a quality photo shoot and selling prints, you could also upsell your clients with copyright/usage release—allowing them to print as many images as they want. Alternately, if you’re a family photographer, you could upsell quick headshots of each family member, clusters of kids, etc.

Whatever your emphasis and discipline are, there are creative ways to brainstorm potential upsells to your clients.

What makes a good upsell vs. a bad one

Not all upsells are created equal though. It’ll take some serious brainstorming, planning, and experimenting to determine the best upsell option for your freelance business.

Here’s what makes an upsell worth pursuing:

The upsell should be focused on adding real value

Have you ever been to the store and they’re trying to convince you to buy something you really want along with something you couldn’t care less about?

It looks like this: Buy this amazing new luggage set and we’ll throw in these Christmas socks.

What a let-down.

Clients can smell that kind of stuff a mile away. They know when you’re trying to spice up an offer with something that doesn’t truly add value.

That means, if your upsell isn’t adding extra value to your client, they’re going to just stick with the original project—leaving your profit margins lacking.

The upsell should require minimal effort on your part

Remember, the purpose of an upsell is to increase profit margins, so upsells should require minimal additional effort while still adding a lot of extra value.

Having resources you can build once and then reuse is particularly helpful in this arena.

If you’re a logo designer, for example, a PDF booklet explaining the dos and don’ts of logo usage could be extremely valuable to a large corporate client.

For writers, a list of outlets willing to share articles on social media can be very helpful —requiring just one extra email on your part, but bringing in extra traffic to your client,  which you can charge for.

For coaches, activity worksheets and other guides can be made once and distributed for an extra fee to those you mentor and work with.

The upsell should be easy to explain and easy to say “yes” to

Finally, your upsell should be quick to explain and should be as close to a “no-brainer” for your clients.

Keep your upsell concise and to-the-point. If it takes more than 2-3 minutes to explain, you’re going to lose the interest of your client.

The most basic of upsell examples,“Would you like fries with that?” gives us a good idea of what I mean. They could say, “Would you like any sides? We have fries, salads, fruit, or potato chips.” But the simplicity of answering yes or no to “would you like fries with that?” adds an extra few dollars every time someone simply says “sure.”

Where & when to break out the upsell

I’d like to share with you, as promised in the headline, five ways to upsell your clients.

Of course, there are many other ways you can upsell. The key is finding the timing, style, and strategy that work best for you and you’re most comfortable with.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

5 Ways to upsell your freelance clients & boost profit margin

Upsell in the initial pitch meeting

When you first sit down with your client may be the best time to include an upsell—that way, they can work it into their budget from the beginning.

Upsell in the middle of the project

At times, clients want to expand the scope of a project when you’re right in the middle of it. Having a stand-by upsell that solves their problem can come in handy.

Upsell right after you deliver

If you’ve done a good job (as, of course, you do), your clients will be at their happiest and most satisfied right after you deliver your final product. Catching them in a good mood is a great time to pitch an upsell.

Upsell when you send the invoice

Regardless of your favorite freelance invoice software, including a small note with a link encouraging clients to purchase your upsell is always a subtle yet effective way to add margin to your project.

Upsell after some time has passed

It may take time for your client to realize there are certain problems their company still faces that weren’t fully addressed by the initial project. Following up after a few months have passed is an opportune time to see if they have any other work to send your way.

Now, go out there and boost your profit margin!

There you have it: a quick primer on upsells for freelancers. I’d love to hear where you take this idea from here. Be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you think you’ll add to your business in order to reap the benefits of upselling.


Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team help people who hate their day job start and grow a successful freelance business. He and his team have also built SolidGigs, which delivers quality freelance gigs to hundreds of freelancers every week.

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