I had been working as a full-time freelance writer and editor for about 18 months when I started mulling a rate change. For that initial flurry of activity as a freelancer, my normal answer to the question of “How much do you charge?” was usually answered with “Whatever you can pay me.” I didn’t discriminate very much because at the end of the day, I had bills to pay and a pair of two-year-old twins to help clothe, feed, and take to the doctor once every 25 minutes or so. I worked until I had enough money, then I slept a few hours, and started the whole process over.
But in the summer of 2014, I started getting work a bit more frequently and stopped having to consider the jobs that were paying 6 cents per thousand words. With steady work coming in, I was able to raise my hourly rate a bit – nothing crazy, but to a nice round number that would garner me the opportunity to earn a bit more every day and maybe crank out an extra hour or two of sleep every week.
When I raised my rate, something completely unexpected happened. Instead of taking an initial dip in the number of job offers coming my way, it instead expanded, quickly and consistently. Clients I had never heard from before were suddenly asking me to interview; companies that I didn’t realize hired freelancers were reaching out to see about my availability, and instead of just getting the standard “here’s the work, do it” approach from potential clients, they were asking me if their jobs “sounded like something I’d be interested in.” A truly amazing turnaround.
Within a week of upping my rate, I was hired by RPM Gear to develop a PowerPoint presentation, then to edit a fascinating book on human resources and behavioral economics. Ghostwriting an industry article for a major publication came next, then writing a white paper for an Australian firm on corporate intranet policy.
It was a serendipitous, exciting time to be a freelancer, but it took me about a week to sort all out. Here’s what I learned, and why you should absolutely be raising your freelance rate:
Better Clients Pay Higher Freelance Rates
Say you’re buying a car. There’s a Yugo and a BMW sitting on the lot. If you barely have any money to spend and you’re just needing a car to get you to work and back, the Yugo is calling your name. But if you want a car that’s going to last, has great features, and focuses on safety, than you’re Team BMW all the way. It’s time to stop being the Yugo of Freelancers. If you’ve been in the business for any appreciable length of time, have your asking price reflect that. The clients of the world who want to build a long-term relationship with a professional freelancer aren’t even aware of people charging $6/hour. You’ll never be on their radar.
Working Cheap Drains Your Energy
My first job ever was working at TCBYogurt for $3.65/hour. With taxes taken out, it was taking me four hours scooping yogurt and making waffle cones to net $10. Now that was a 16-year-old me working the summer to save up money for his first car, so pretty acceptable to work for such cheap wages. But you’re a grownup, a professional, and probably have at least one other mouth to feed in your household. Don’t lowball yourself into doing work that you hate just because there’s money involved. One of my biggest passions in freelancing is editing other people’s works of fiction. I have a set rate per word when I edit, but before my rate increase I once took a job for about one-third what I would normally charge simply because I felt compelled to get the paycheck. The novel, which read like a 14-year-old’s play by play of a 10-hour session playing Tour of Duty, was beyond terrible. There was an extra period at the end of every single line, commas were missing almost everywhere, and new characters popped up here and there with no introduction and logical purpose. Every time I opened up the file to read more of it, I felt like bonking myself over the head with my coffee mug for agreeing to take it at such a low price.
Room to Negotiate
If you’re willing to work for $15/hour and a client tells you the job pays $10, maybe you can make it happen at $12.50. Unfortunately, you gave them your best number first, never a good deal, and now have to settle for less than you’re comfortable with. If you $20/hour is your profit point, start off negotiations at $25. If the client comes back at $15, you can meet them at $20, get what you wanted anyways, and come off looking like a nice guy to boot.
Remember, You’re Building Your Freelance Brand
Every decision you make in freelancing will make up who you are and how you are perceived by future clients. Do you want to be known as the low-ball specialist who will work for any price? That’s not how long-term success comes about. Take care of your clients, but also take care of yourself. Believe that you are worth a fair market price and take all feedback, both good and bad, from your customers to build your business into what you envision it to be.