When you go to the salon what are you buying? Shorter hair? A different color, look? Why? What is it that you are really getting when you get your haircut? Conformity? You won't stand out at the next meetup, or maybe it's the opposite, you want to stand out more?
What you are buying is not a haircut, you are buying a statement about who you are. How well your stylist understands you and knows how to make your hair 'behave' is essential to how you feel when you walk out the door. Websites are no different. From the design to the UI, websites are statements about our clients to their users.
You may not think about what your hair will say every time you go to see your stylist, but your stylist should be. They know what their work has done for other clients, and you should know what your work can do for your clients too.
There is no more important thing you can do for your life and your business than to know your own value. But how do you measure the subjective? Here are some simple ways to breakdown what you are worth to your clients.
1. Keepin' it real
Great at breaking down features? Know how to customize the shit out of Drupal? Can make simple shiny changes so that everything feels nicer? Play to your strengths. When someone asks what it is you do list your best work first, and frame it in a real world context.
For example: "I architect custom web applications." Then list a recent example, "Recently I've been converting a paper workflow for this education agency into a digital workflow. It's been cool, because now they can save X number of hours and it's all accessible in the future." Whatever you can do make it something that people can wrap their heads around, and indicate the kind of real world value your clients receive. (Notice the term "web application" instead of website. Application automatically carries the implication of interaction, and a higher degree of difficulty. Which is what most web work is these days anyway.)
2. The Journey
Remember that first site? How it felt when you found that first syntax error? You've come a long way! Take a look back through your consultant journey. Remember the first time you told your client it was out of scope? When you first learned how to avoid that conversation from the start? All of these milestones are what make you the unique person you are that makes the world better one keystroke and client conversation at a time.
This is what separates you from just being an employee who clocks in 40+ hours and goes home. You think through your clients problems and answer them honestly because you don't work for the company directly and aren't bound by the same politics. Think about all the ways that you are different from a an employee and build that confidence and responsibility into your rates.
Your clients may think they want a code monkey, but they'll appreciate the consultant side of you when you help them improve their numbers and enjoy their job more. If they're really awesome they'll see how it can save them headaches in the future. (If they aren't the kind of client that thinks this way, raise your rates for the next one – you're not in the right tier of clientele.)
3. Know your limits
How many hours do you actually want to work a week? Need to pay your bills? What about time for contributing back? Staying up to date? Weekends? Time to eat, sleep, etc? The reality is that 40 hours of billable time as a consultant are ridiculous. It translates to a 50-60 hour work week minimum between billing, research, etc. Know your ratios, and your life goals. You must to avoid burnout. Your clients and the world as a whole needs you to feel your best!
Have office hours for calls. For example I only take calls on Tuesdays or Wednesday's, unless they are a regular scrum call with a client. Potential client's only get Tuesdays. Why? Because I need time to focus on current clients, development, and what's around the corner. Oh, and have time to share with the awesome people on our list. For me it's easier to split areas up by day of the week then blocks of time (this could be because I work around children's schedules).
You can set your limits how you like, but take time to write them out, communicate them, and be willing to hold to it when there is an 'emergency.' Most likely your client will not die if they have to wait 24hrs to turn on a feature. Just make sure when you do talk that you actually listen, and think like the consultant that you are. Because you are awesome, with an amazing opportunity to make the world a really cool place for both you and your clients.