As someone who just finished her tax return, I’m very intimate with my current earnings. One of my resolutions this year is to charge more as a freelancer. Us freelancers have a big hurdle to overcome when we first trek out on our own in this big, bad cyber-world. Namely, how do we get paid what we deserve?
If there was one thing I could tell my younger-freelancer self, it would be to charge more. That’s what I’m going to bang into your head right now.
Why should you charge more as a freelancer?
When I first started, I couldn’t mentally separate the rate I charge from the rate I would be paid at a day job. For instance, if you make $15/hour at your marketing job, you might think you should charge $15/hour freelancing. Nope, nope, nope.
Here’s why that doesn’t make sense: your day job is steady. You might come in 3-5 days a week, and you’ll be gaurenteed at least 8 hours of pay for those days worked. In the freelancing world, you might only work a few hours here and there, especially while you’re first getting started.
You need to charge more as a freelancer becuase you’re not charging for those few hours of work alone. You’re charging for your experience and per project. That’s worth more than a few hours of your time.
So break up with that hours worked = hours paid mentality. This isn’t a day job, and you shouldn’t treat your pay scale in the same way.
Here’s a personal comparison to really drive this point home. I write fast. It’s my superpower. I write over 100 words per minute, so it doesn’t take me very long to do most writing projects. On average, I churn out 2000 words an hour. (The proof is in the pudding, people. Check out my “pro” stats below.)
Knowing this, how do I get away with charging several hundred dollars per project? For instance, let’s say I charge $150 for a 1000 word article. This is a hypothetical rate just to make things easy. On paper, this seems like I’m charging $150/hour. That’s a big pay for something that doesn’t take me very long.
However, what that client is paying me for isn’t just an hour of my time. They’re paying me for my 4-year English degree, my professional writing experience, and all of my writing practice that got me to this point. That doesn’t come cheap.
If they could write the same thing in an hour, they wouldn’t pay me in the first place. They’re paying that amount because I have skills that they need. That’s why you need to charge more as a freelancer; because you have talent, experience, and a valuable skill.
I know it’s easier said than done. Asking for more money is scary, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience. Here’s how to actually charge more as a freelancer without feeling like a total fraud.
1. Know Your Minimums
My biggest tip for charging more as a freelancer is to have a long, hard think about how low you can go. No, we’re not talking about limbo, we’re talking about income.
How low can you go, ya know, with your rate? This is a serious question. What’s the lowest amount you’re comfortable with. This doesn’t mean the amount you can get to still scrape by on ramen noodle dinners. It means the lowest amount you can comfortably earn.
Once you know this rate, stick to it. It doesn’t mean you won’t pitch higher. You SHOULD pitch higher. However, sometimes negotiation is part of the job, and knowing you’re absolute minimum will keep you from being shorted.
2. Choose Quality Clients
If you’ve ever spent time on a content mill or low-paying freelancer platform, you know that these places are their own special corner of hell. These clients expect you to bend over backward for them in exchange for, like, 3$ an hour and endless criticsm. It’s ridiculous.
While I won’t say there isn’t any time or place for these types of platforms, this isn’t where you should expect to find quality clients.
Similarly, you don’t need a million clients. Having 2-3 great clients who you trust and who value you is much better than having 10+ clients who treat you like garbage.
Your clients want to be picky when finding freelancers, but you should also be picky when choosing clients. These are the people you’ll be working with professionally. You don’t want to deal with drama, chasing payments, or any of the other back-and-forth that keeps you from getting more work done.
Here’s another fun fact: every client who pays me my “top” rate has loved my work the first time around. My lower paying clients are the ones who nitpick and always ask for more, more, more. I’m not a psychologist, but even I understand that people value what they pay for. If you buy a fancy coat, you’re going to treat that coat a lot better than you do your thrift store hoodie.
You’re not a thrift store hoodie. Know your worth and make sure your clients know it too. The best way to do that is to look for these client red flags and steer clear:
- Picky about price – They see your rate and
immediatlyask for less. There’s no room for negotiating up.
- They have a lot of requirements – While some requirements are normal, sometimes it’s excessive upfront. This is a sign that they’re expecting more than they’re willing to pay for or that they’re impossible to please.
- Doing you a favor – Clients shouldn’t make you feel like you OWE them something. If they have this attitude, they don’t respect you as a business professional.
- Won’t sign a contract – If your client won’t sign your contract, odds are they aren’t planning to pay you. Once again, they don’t respect you as a professional.
Remember, you’re a business owner. You’re not an employee. You don’t have to work for anyone that makes you uncomfortable or isn’t willing to pay your rates.
3. Charge Per Project
This is mostly applicable to the world of freelance writing where many writers charge a rate per word. For instance, I sometimes charge around $0.10 a word for articles.
While charging per word works for clients I’ve been working with for a while who might not know the scope of their projects at first, it’s usually easier to charge per project. For instance, instead of charging a rate per word, I’ll charge a flat-fee per project.
Why does this work? Well, not having to nit-pick the size of the article, exact word counts, and other little details saves me a lot of time.
Please, whatever you do, don’t charge per hour. A lot of prospective clients have suggested this to me in the past and it’s a huge red flag for me. It’s a sure sign they don’t understand the value of my work, and they’re trying to use the “you only worked 2 hours on this, why should I pay you over $100” mentality. Frankly, I’m not here for it.
When you charge per project, your earning potential is infinite (in theory). There are only so many hours in the day. By saying you’ll dedicate 6 hours to a single project, you’re locking yourself into something that might not need that much time. Remember, value is more important than time. Charge per PROJECT whenever possible.
This is a great chance to promote your own skills to clients. For instance, I always redirect clients to pricing articles by project instead of by word count because I let them know their work matters more to me than the word count.
I tell them it’s a lot easier for us to focus on getting the point communicated effectively than worrying about some mundane number. While we always have a range in mind, I let them know that sometimes I’ll need more or fewer words, and this isn’t something I want to limit me. They love this answer.
4. Ask Them to Name Their Budget
Sometimes it feels like I’m playing a game of cherades when talking to a client for the first time. We both shuffle awkwardly around the b-word (budget) with neither party wanting to give in first.
This sucks for everyone. It sucks for the client because they don’t know if they can afford my services, and it wastes my time when I discover the client only can pay in “exposure.” (Pro tip: NEVER get paid in exposure.)
“I have no reliable way to pay someone. If you’re someone who would be interested in starting out for free, just to get experience, that’d be great”— For Exposure (@forexposure_txt) January 24, 2019
Unfortunately, a lot of clients don’t want to cave first. This makes sense. They want to pay as little as reasonably possible. They’re running a business, after all. That being said, you should feel comfortable asking them directly if they have a budget in mind. Something like, “This sounds like a really exciting project. Before I start brainstorming ideas, do you have a budget in mind?”
While they’re likely to come out and say their budget is X, Y, or Z, they’ll probably give something away. They might say something along the lines of “We haven’t defined a budget, but we’re willing to pay more for the right candidate. This project is really important to us.” In which case, this is a sure sign you can quote them a higher price successfully.
On the other hand, they could admit to having a limited budget. If so, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth hashing things out further with them or not. Either way, more information is always better.
5. Quote Higher (& Higher)
The first time I quoted my at-the-time-highest rate, I was convinced they were going to laugh in my face. I was sure they would block me on all social channels and send hate mail to my house.
Did any of that happen? Nope.
They didn’t end up paying that high rate, but we did have a quick negotiation and decided on a slightly lower but still super exciting rate that was more than I was expecting. The moral of this story is to always go a bit high. Don’t be outrageous, but realize the number will only go lower from here.
I would guess 90% of the time clients will never reject you outright. If they do, they were probably never planning to pay you a reasonable rate to begin with. Most likely, they’ll come back with something in their budget that they can afford. Again, you’ll need to decide whether this is a good fit for your goals.
6. Use Your Negotiation Skills
Us freelancers are a notoriously introverted bunch. But, who’s to say we can’t be top-notch negotiators as well? In a Payoneer survey, a reported 54% of freelancers aren’t satisfied with what they make. If you’re a part of that 54%, you’re not alone.
It’s also (mostly) your fault.
I know, tough love. I’m giving this pep talk to myself as well, don’t worry. It’s our fault because we don’t speak up, we don’t negotiate, and we let these exposure-payers take the lead.
I’m a card-carrying introvert. I don’t think any quote has ever stayed with me more than Susan Cain’s words in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She writes, “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”
You can be quiet, introverted, and absolutely terrified and still master negotiation. I say all of this as someone who’s working on doing just that herself. And I’ve done it (mostly) successfully.
Not every negotiation will be a raging success. Sometimes clients just aren’t willing or able to pay your prices, and that’s a good sign. You just avoided a red-flag client who was going to cause you nothing but trouble, congratulations.
Need some help? Here are my favorite negotiation tips for non-negotiators:
- Start with value – I know I just said to name your price, and you should, but start with your value. Make sure your clients know why they should choose you over the other pitches they get every day. Maybe you’re great with fast deadlines, the best tech copywriter, or you’re familiar with the design template they asked for. Whatever it is, play it up. If you have samples or a portfolio, make sure these speak for themselves.
- Focus on them – How will your value help this client? Will your articles drive traffic, spread awareness, etc? Will your web designs modernize their websites and add SEO elements? Prospective clients want to know that you understand their perspective.
- Get off
- Do your research – Always go into a negotiation meeting prepared. Know the company’s goals as well as basics about the project. If possible, research their niche to get to know their audience.
You’ll be a negotiation pro in no time, trust me. I won’t lie. It’s awkward at first. If you’ve never been on a phone call with a stranger to talk about freelancing gigs, it feels like the college interview process all over again. Just remind yourself that you’re the one with the control. This client sought you out because of your skills, not the other way around.
Charge More as a Freelancer Today
Are you ready to finally charge more as a freelancer? I’m right there with you in this ongoing fight fore more money. We have to work together as freelancers to keep each other accountable.
If we keep accepting jobs at lower rates, we undervalue our entire industry. It’s not just you. It’s everyone across the globe. If we want the world to take freelancers seriously, we need to act like serious business-people. Let’s get to work!