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Cloud freelancers: How to increase your contract rate

By Danny Aspinall

With the right know-how, the earning potential of a freelance cloud professional is huge. And unsurprisingly, for a lot of tech talent, this is one of the biggest appeals of working as a contractor. 

In our Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition, for example, just under half (48%) of permanent AWS professionals told us that they would consider switching to freelance work in the coming year, with almost three-quarters (72%) of those citing higher earning potential as their reasoning. But on average, they’d want a 28% increase in their earnings to motivate them to make the switch.  

Meanwhile, when surveying those professionals already in freelance cloud careers, our guide found that earning potential (70%) was the biggest factor influencing whether they accepted a contract.  

With these figures in mind, it’s safe to suggest that knowing how to increase your contract rate matters to today’s cloud professionals.  

But knowing what rate to charge isn’t easy—you don’t want to undervalue yourself or overcharge your customers. And so, it’s vital that you understand both what your current market worth is and, just as importantly, what you can do to influence it.

Whether you’re an experienced contractor, you dabble in freelance, or you’re considering a different route down your tech career path, here are some ways to boost your contract rate and earn more from your next freelance projects.   

The latest career insights from the AWS ecosystem.

The Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide is the ultimate resource for anyone looking to build a rewarding career in AWS. 

6 ways to increase your contract rate  

Increasing your contract rate is all about demonstrating your value and ticking all the boxes of prospective clients—here are six ways to go about it.  

Display core skills 

When we asked contractors in our Careers and Hiring Guide for the most important qualities needed to succeed as a self-employed cloud professional, they listed some important core skills.  

With 17% of these contractors reporting the amount of competition they face as a challenge in their freelance careers, it’s important to polish up the following core skill sets to ensure you’re keeping up with the market standard and meeting client expectations.  

Fail to do so, and it’s unlikely any contract client will be willing to offer you a top rate.  

The top five responses in our guide were: 

  • Soft skills (64%) – from communication and problem-solving to teamwork and conflict management, evidencing soft skills on your resume and in the workplace not only demonstrates your value to a project, but also presents you as a greater asset to the wider team.    
  • Technical expertise (51%) that’s not to say technical skills aren’t important; far from it! With the digital skills gap meaning organizations are scrambling for qualified talent capable of solving their business problems, building the right technical expertise is sure to make you a highly desirable contractor (with the rates to match!).  
  • Adaptability (48%) – the more flexible you are to adjust to a range of projects, products, and work environments, the more contracts you can win and the more experience you can acquire, bolstering your market value as a result.   
  • Drive and enthusiasm (34%) – just like in any professional environment, your passion to succeed will be key. But when freelancing, your drive and enthusiasm often directly determine the experience and expertise you build, the number of contracts you acquire, and ultimately, your total earning potential.  
  • General experience in the tech industry (31%) – with 84% of AWS professionals (permanent and contract) telling our guide that general tech experience is important to your earning potential, and almost a third of contractors telling us that IT experience is important to freelance success, look to build a solid foundation of general tech experience. Many clients will see this as validation of your expertise and use it as a trust signal, meaning you’re not only able to land more contracts, but charge higher rates for them too.   

Get certified   

Another super-effective way to validate your experience and expertise in the eyes of prospective clients is to get certified.  

Certifications go hand-in-hand with higher earning potential in tech, with 73% of permanent professionals in our Careers and Hiring Guide reporting a salary increase post-certification, averaging 27%.  

And the good news is, for contractors, it’s no different.  

Earning industry-recognized certifications validates your expertise and reassures clients that you can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.  

With almost half (48%) of organizations in our guide experiencing a delay on their schedule AWS go-live, and 57% of those citing staff shortages as a reason for this delay, organizations are on the lookout for skilled professionals they can trust to execute their digital transformations—and are willing to pay big bucks for those they can trust to do it with minimal hiccups.  

Certifications also make it easier for potential clients to match your skills to their needs, meaning they’re more likely to recognize you as a suitable specialist to help with their projects. With more contract opportunities within your area of specialty, you’re able to leverage your expertise to charge a higher rate.  

On the flip side, not getting certified has the potential to damage your earning potential as a contractor. With over three-quarters (76%) of AWS professionals in our guide either holding a certification or working towards their first, contractors without certifications run the risk of becoming less desirable when compared with other freelancers.  

And so, earning certification(s) ensures you’re keeping up with the competition and never giving clients an easy reason to go with someone else.  

 Amplify your experience   

But of course, to truly bolster your earning potential as a contractor, keeping up with the competition isn’t enough—to charge the highest rates, you need to be better than the competition.  

Experience is the golden ticket to maximizing your earning potential as a contractor, so look to amplify your practical, hands-on experience as much as possible. Acting as a strong trust indicator for prospective clients, being able to demonstrate the application of your technical skill and expertise helps to emphasize how you bring value to a team and help to overcome real-life business obstacles.  

The more experience you gain, the more confident prospective clients are in your ability; and the more confident a client is in your ability, the higher your worth to them. Ka-ching!  

Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that AWS contractors have an average of three clients at a time. So, evaluate how you’re building your experience level regularly–once a quarter should do–and be sure to highlight all the projects you work on throughout your professional collateral, be that your resume or LinkedIn profile.    

Diversify your portfolio or find your niche   

When building this invaluable experience, you have two options to boost your contract rate:  

a) Diversify your portfolio  

The more jobs you work on, the greater your curb appeal.  

Gaining exposure to a variety of different project types, products, and technologies will not only allow you to have a wider client reach but also offer greater input and impact on customers’ projects— giving you a higher market value as a result.  

And after all, with over two-fifths (42%) of perm professionals telling our guide that the chance to work on different projects would motivate them to shift to freelance, it’s worth remembering that being able to diversify your portfolio with a variety of work is a perk unique to contracting—so ensure you make the most of it!  

b) Find your niche  

Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that 38% of freelancers are only working for one client, suggesting that many prefer to carve out a specialty in a specific industry or stack.  

Finding a niche and specializing in it is an effective way to earn more from each contract. By becoming the go-to cloud contractor for a specific skill, product, or project type, you significantly bolster your market value to the organizations that need you most.  

And of course, the greater your niche, the less competition you have, helping you to capitalize on the skills gap and giving you greater leverage when negotiating your rates.  

Let your clients do the talking   

Of course, you should never be afraid to let everyone know how great you are, but it means so much more when it comes from your client base instead! 

Showcase the very best of your work through customer testimonials, reviews, and case studies—after all, social proof remains one of the most powerful ways to market yourself. The more proof you can provide of your abilities through real-life examples and the words of happy customers, the more likely you are to land a higher rate, due to the added credibility, validation, and trust it builds.  

Better yet, a 2022 report found that word of mouth is still the number one way freelancers find new clients, with 64% of American freelancers reportedly using this channel. With this in mind, having your clients shouting about you doesn’t just help to boost your marketing prowess and contract rates; it helps to find you more work, too. And with two-fifths (41%) of contractors in our Careers and Hiring Guide citing the difficulty of finding clients as a challenge they face, the importance of this can’t be overstated.  

Beware of scope creep   

You can successfully implement all these steps to boost your contract rate, but if you aren’t cautious of scope creep, it’ll all be for nothing. 

Scope creep is an enemy of contractors across the tech community, and has been for some time. No matter if it’s a new client or a contract you’ve been working on for a prolonged period, it’s common for the project requirements to exceed the original plan. In fact, a quarter (25%) of contractors in our guide reported clients changing the scope of a project as a challenge they regularly face. 

But remember: changing direction and shifting the goalposts mid-project can significantly hinder your overall rate. Try not to take on additional work not mapped out in your agreement to avoid driving down your contractor rate, and in instances where scope creep is unavoidable, don’t be afraid to reflect it in your overall rate. 

And while these types of conversations may not feel comfortable to you, they’re important conversations to have as a contractor to ensure you’re always receiving a rate reflective of your time, effort, and value to each project.  

On the hunt for your next contract?

Take a look at our database of opportunities available right now and land your next contract through Jefferson Frank.  

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