Case Study: Matt had no spare time — so how did he raise his rates by 50%?

Ramit Sethi Ramit Sethi · June 2nd, 2011

“I don’t have time.” It’s the #1 reason people give for not earning money on the side. Today, you’ll learn the techniques grad student Matt T. used to overcome his time-management and motivation challenges and raise his rates by 50%.

Read on to find out exactly how he implemented a “testing” strategy to dramatically increase his earnings — with limited time.

“I don’t have the time or motivation to change things”

Matt is a grad student in Vancouver researching image processing.

He’s been working on his PhD for the last few years. Grad school isn’t exactly lucrative, so he’s been trying to fit in 10 hours/week of freelance software development on the side.

Unfortunately, things weren’t going so well and clients weren’t happy. Eventually, he realized his big problem: with only 10 hours/week, he just didn’t have enough time to deliver at the level they wanted. He finally decided that he could go after those bigger projects once he finished his degree, but for now he needed to find clients that could fit into his limited schedule.

As much as that would help him, it would take a lot of work to find new clients. He realized that he’d been holding onto his current clients — despite not really having the time to meet their needs — because it was the easiest thing to do. They were steady, and it would be a lot harder to find new ones, even if they would make his life easier.

It turned out that his real problem was motivation. He had the skills and he knew what he had to do — he just couldn’t bring himself to take that next step and actually do it.

“I felt paralyzed in my chair”

Matt was first exposed to my Earn1K course through the preview materials on the blog. While he’d learned a lot from the free material, he worried the full course a “huge investment” on a grad student’s salary.

He looked through the curriculum and realized that he wasn’t even sure if he knew what he didn’t know. He also saw things that he knew he should be doing, but was never actually able to push himself to do them.

He was just as excited about the framework that would force him to learn as the material itself. Plus, it turned out that there’s an entire lesson in Earn1K on motivation, with concrete action steps to overcome the 6 major issues that cause problems.

Matt hated sitting at his desk and feeling paralyzed by the thought of doing what he needed to solve his problems. For example, he knew he had to email clients, but somehow he just never got around to it. No wonder they weren’t happy.

He decided that he would be willing to survive on ramen for a while if it could help him turn things around.

His first lesson? Less thinking, more doing.

The Testing Solution: When you aren’t sure what works, run tests and find out

As a computer science PhD candidate, Matt was used to analyzing problems.

Earn1K helped him realize that he often took it too far. He was naturally shy, and he had a big problem with over-thinking things — especially communication with clients — so it usually took him much longer than it should have.

He found himself frozen in place. He would write out emails to clients but then second-guess himself before he could hit “send” — Maybe there was a better way of framing his question? Had he expressed himself clearly? What would they think of his rate?

He realized that it did him no good to just sit there and let all those thoughts control him and keep him from taking action. If he was stuck, it meant that he had to find the solution, not just sit there thinking about it. He started asking himself, “What can I do that will help me make this decision? Who can I talk to?”

That’s when it hit him: The best way to figure out the optimal wording for emails would be to simply test each one and see which gave him the most success.

He didn’t want to risk losing potential clients, so he decided to run his tests on other people. He wrote up some questions — each worded a little differently — and sent them to bloggers he liked. Then, he analyzed which ones got him the best responses.

This process taught him two valuable lessons:

1) You’re much more likely to get a response if:

  • Your email is very short
  • You make your question extremely obvious
  • You value their time — everyone is busy

Note: These are not always true, so test!

2) If you’re not sure about something, ask for help or test it yourself.

The old Matt would have spent 3 hours sitting at his desk doing research (and often not finding anything useful). The new Matt spent 15 minutes either emailing an expert or testing the possibilities himself and seeing which one gave him the best results.

Raising his rate by 50%

Now that he had overcome his paralysis, Matt was able to start finding new clients that would take up less of his time. Plus, he used his new testing strategy to write more convincing emails and was able to raise his rate by 50%. (For more details on how, see the end of this case study.)

When he started out, he had just picked a number somewhere around what his previous salary had been. With his new mindset, he decided to actually do some research and analysis and figure out how much he could get people to pay him. Even just checking salary comparison websites was a step up from what he’d been doing.

He stopped framing his rate in terms of what he had been making before, and starting pricing his services in terms of the value he was providing.

Using the entrepreneurial mindset in life

Matt calls his new strategy of using real test results to make decisions the “entrepreneurial mindset,” and he’s applied it to the rest of his life too. He realized that grad school is a lot like freelancing: You set your own goals, go out and find grants, convince people to pay you, manage your own time, and motivate yourself.

Matt had always had the skills. The only thing holding him back had been motivation, especially that last little push. There were some things — like emailing clients — that just seemed to be bigger hurdles for him than other things that he considered of equal difficulty. But by analyzing the situation and realizing that it was a lack of knowledge holding him back, he’s now able to simply test the different options and use what works best.

The biggest benefit is that he now understands how to overcome his weakness. Whether it’s for finding a research grant or a freelancing client, he’ll be able to use that skill for the rest of his life.

Listen to me interview Tim Ferriss about the psychology of testing

As you can see, TESTING (as opposed to guessing) was critical to Matt’s success. The moment he decided to pit several emails against each other and let the numbers speak for themselves is the moment he STOPPED feeling paralyzed. I did a 66 minute webcast with Tim Ferriss called “The Psychology of Testing” which covers this subject exhaustively, including:

  • What we both test, how we test, and what results matter
  • Getting disproportionate results – learn what Tim focuses on and what he ignores
  • Testing protocols you can use whether you’re split-testing a webpage or starting a new diet
  • The 2 daily habits you can use to maximize productivity and do what you love
  • The step-by-step method Tim used to test the subtitle of his latest book
  • Much, much more

Just one of these insights could catapult your income and happiness to new heights. The webcast is available for free by signing up below. (Just confirm your email and click “Tim Ferriss webcast” on the page that follows.)

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  1. […] Follow this link: Case Study: Matt had no spare time — so how did he raise his rates … […]

  2. Excellent article although raising your rates doesn’t necessarily mean people will still pay for your product. Glad the risky move paid off.

  3. Al Pittampalli

    Good points. A mindset of testing can be an effective and winning one. And as Seth points out, the real victories come when you have the guts to launch the untestable.

  4. Looking forward to that podcast!

  5. @Jared et all, you are missing the point if you think that way. The whole point is to keep raising your rate until you have a select group of people who value your time. You have limited time so why not only focus it on those who pay you premium rates? I think its a risk every Freelancer should take. You have nothing to lose. There are plenty of problems to solve.

  6. Excellent case study Ramit! I enjoyed reading it. Taking action, and testing are so important if you want to get results fast.

  7. Very good piece, however I think one of the reasons for Matt’s motivation was interest in money only.

    At 10 hours a week he was not going to earn enough, so he would rather chase girls and catch up with the friends.

    You do need to have a real moto – what do you want to do with the money.