Tech freelancers: How to increase your contract rate

With the right know-how, tech contractors have significant earning potential—and unsurprisingly, this is one of the biggest appeals of freelancing for many tech professionals.

In our Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition, for example, almost two-fifths (39%) of permanent AWS professionals told us they would consider switching to contract work in the coming year. Over three-quarters (76%) cited higher earning potential as their motivation, but on average, they’d want a 31% increase in their earnings to motivate them to make the switch. 

Meanwhile, when surveying those professionals already in freelance tech careers, our guide found that earning potential (71%) was the most significant factor influencing whether they accepted a contract. 

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

But understanding what rate to charge isn’t easy—you don’t want to undervalue yourself or overcharge your customers. And so, you must 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, dabble in freelance, or are considering a different route down your tech career path, here are some ways to boost your contract rate and earn more from your freelance projects. 

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. 

  1. Display core skills
  2. Get certified
  3. Amplify your experience
  4. Diversify your portfolio or find your niche
  5. Let your clients do the talking
  6. Beware of scope creep

 

Display core skills

When we asked contractors in our Careers and Hiring Guide what qualities they considered most important for a self-employed tech professional, they listed certain core skills. 

With 28% of these contractors reporting the amount of competition they face as a challenge in their freelance careers, it’s important to polish up on 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 (52%) – 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 leaving organizations 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 (49%) – 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.  

General experience in the tech industry (44%) – with almost half of the 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.  

Drive and enthusiasm (38%) – 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. 

 

Get certified  

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

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

With a third of organizations (31%) in our guide experiencing a delay on their scheduled AWS go-live date, and 61% of those citing a lack of skills in-house as the main reason for this, 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 who can 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 for 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 can damage your earning potential as a contractor. With almost three-quarters (72%) 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, compared to other freelancers. 

Earning certification(s) ensures you keep up with the competition and never give clients an easy reason to choose you over 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 your 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 skills and expertise helps to emphasize how you will bring value to a team and help them 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, portfolio, 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 various project types, products, and technologies will not only allow you to have a wider client reach but also offer greater input and impact on your customers’ projects, giving you a higher market value as a result. 

After all, over a third (35%) of perm professionals told our guide that the chance to work on different projects would motivate them to shift to freelance. It’s worth remembering that diversifying 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 only work 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 tech contractor for a specific skill, product, or project type, you can significantly bolster your market value to the organizations that need you most. 

Of course, the greater your niche, the less competition you have, helping you capitalize on the skills gap and gain 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!

Showcase the very best of your work through customer testimonials, reviews, and case studies—after all, social proof remains one of the most potent 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. 

Referrals and reputation remain the most common method (67%) for independent professionals to acquire work across all industries, so having your clients shout about you doesn’t just help to boost your marketing prowess and contract rates; it helps to find you more work, too! And with nearly half (45%) 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 entire 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 of time, it’s common for the project requirements to exceed the original plan. In fact, a quarter (27%) of contractors in our guide reported unrealistic client expectations being a challenge they regularly face, with a further 23% citing clients changing the scope of a project.

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

While these conversations may not feel comfortable, they’re key to ensuring you always receive a rate that reflects your time, effort, and value for each project. 

Unmissable insights and career advice from across the AWS ecosystem

Covering certification, salaries, benefits, expert tips, and a whole lot more, the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide is the ultimate resource for anyone looking to build a rewarding career in AWS.