You work hard to find your first clients, you complete a project for them, you collect your payment and then….you have to start all over again, sometimes with not nearly enough profit from the project to make it worth it. If this sounds familiar to you and you’re ready for a change, I’d like to discuss one major opportunity that, in my experience coaching creatives, many designers overlook. That’s upselling.

The power of the upsell

Upselling on your design projects can be an very helpful and profitable way to grow your design business.

Designers who figure out how to upsell successfully and on a regular basis find their profit margins go up, they have more money in the bank, they’re less afflicted by the “famine” and they enjoy their design business more.

So what is an upsell? It’s simple. An upsell is any additional value you can provide your design client. You can then charge for that additional value and increase profit margins on every project you complete.

There’s a real art to determining the right upsell and selling it professionally and with a high success rate and this is what we’ll cover in this article: how to pick the right upsell for you and how/when to pitch that upsell to your design clients.

Let’s dive in.

 5 Ways to Upsell Your Design Projects and Boost Profit Margin

Upselling vs. raising your rates

Before we continue with upselling, I have one quick word about upselling vs. raising your rates as a designer.

Naturally, raising your rates with your clients can be a very simple way to increase your margins and profits.

That’s a no-brainer.

What I’ve noticed is many designers (and creatives of all kinds) often struggle with the thought of raising their rates. It can be awkward to send a price increase letter out of the blue or call your clients to ask for more money.

And while I think raising your rates is an absolute MUST for any creative professional, offering some sort of extra value from an upsell can ease the awkwardness of the situation a bit.

Brainstorming client upsells

The first critical step in upselling your design projects is to brainstorm the best upsells you might be able to offer.

Your upsell should add real, actual value to the project while requiring minimal effort on your part (more on that below).

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

Whether you’re a logo designer, illustrator, web designer, graphic designer, hand-letterer, or some other kind of designer altogether, the tips below will apply to you.

 5 Ways to Upsell Your Design Projects and Boost Profit Margin

What makes a good upsell vs. a bad one

As you begin to brainstorm your client upsells, here is some of my best advice on what you should consider when offering additional bonus value:

1. The upsell should be focused on adding real value

I spent some time working at a camera store when I was younger, and the corporate offices really pushed us to upsell these bundles with each camera. They were something like $59 extra on top of the camera cost itself but claimed to be thousands of dollars in added value.

The thing was: when a customer really dived into the details of the upsell, they could see that the value just wasn’t there. Digital Photography DVD course (yes, I’m getting old) valued at $600? Um…

Just stay away from “valued at” in your upsell proposition. Clients can smell deceit in your offer and will be turned off if you try to inflate the perceived value of your upsell. Remember, authenticity trumps everything when it comes to selling your creative work.

Instead, make the upsell so incredibly valuable, they can’t dream of saying no.

2. The upsell should require minimal effort on your part

It’s important to keep in mind the entire point of adding an upsell is to increase your overall profit (the ratio of revenue to investment) on each project.

Therefore, when brainstorming upsell opportunities, you should try to keep added work to a minimum. Every extra revenue you can bring in for close-to-the-same amount of work on your project is a major victory for you.
So instead of offering upsells that just create a lot of additional work for not a lot of additional revenue, focus on low-investment, high-return opportunities.

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

At the end of the day, upselling is still just selling. Which means many of the basic sales tactics will apply—not the least of which is how easy it is for your client to say “yes” to your proposal.

Avoid in-depth, lengthy explanations that require a lot of reading or deciphering in order to understand exactly what your client will receive.

Try to anticipate (and answer) any questions that your client might have about the upsell so you don’t wait time (and momentum) going back and forth with questions.

You should also attempt to add such an extremely high amount of value that saying “yes” is a complete no-brainer. The longer they have to pause and think about it, the more opportunity they have to turn it down.

Where & when to upsell your clients

After brainstorming your upsell, it’s time to figure out when and how you’ll pitch your clients on this added value. Below are a few optimum moments to pitch your upsell:

  • Upsell in the initial pitch meeting or proposal
  • It’s never too early to upsell design services to a client.

Your initial pitch or proposal (whether in-person or by using a freelance proposal template) is the perfect time to plant the upsell seed in your clients mind.

Depending on how it goes, you might even close the upsell when they sign the initial proposal and the project begins.

 5 Ways to Upsell Your Design Projects and Boost Profit Margin

1. Upsell in the middle of the project
As your project progresses, you may notice that your client has a lot of questions related to one particular upsell you’ve brainstormed.

For example, maybe your client has hired you for some hand-drawn art and would like to know how they can open and use the vector files you’ve been sending them.

Perhaps a miniature course, ebook, or other types of guide helping them understand the basics of vector work would be a value upsell to offer them in the middle of the project.

2. Upsell right after you deliver

Assuming you’ve done your job correctly, there may not be a time when your client is happier than right after you deliver your final project.

And when your client is happy is the perfect time to upsell them on more services. Their “yes” meter is very high because you have delivered for them once and they’re confident you can do it again.

With your final delivery, consider including a list of other services or ongoing support you can offer your client—along with a list of pricing.

3. Upsell after some time has passed

Finally, try upselling after some time has passed with the project. Many clients don’t realize what they’ve missed out on until they say goodbye to their designer and try to move ahead without them.

It’s in those moments clients feel most desperate for your added help again and will be willing to hire your upsell to complete a recurring or particularly painful task.


That wraps up my post about upselling to your design clients.

My wish for you is that you can incorporate even just a few ideas from this article to help boost your profit margin. Profit is the lifeblood of your creative business and the healthier your profit is, the longer you can continue to do work you love—and get paid for it.

Until next time, keep up the hard work!

This article was contributed by Preston Lee, the founder of Millo, where he and his team help designers find better clients, level up their Graphic Design Portfolio, raise their rates, and grow their business. Chat with Preston and thousands of fellow freelancers in their free Millo Mastermind Group on Facebook.