I was about 18 months into my career as a full-time freelancer when I took the plunge and raised my hourly rate a full 20 percent. I had twice the motivation do to so – first I was coming off a long summer where my daytime work hours were reduced by the rest of the family’s schedule, and secondly, I had just finished up some really nice work on several fronts that allowed me to put some major pieces into my portfolio and show off exactly what I was capable of in a number of in-demand capacities.
What happened next was as joyful a surprise as anything I’ve experienced in my time as a freelancer. Not only did people start hiring me at the higher rate; but also a better quality of job offers was coming my way. I had been so worried about people wanting to pay the higher rate that it never dawned on me that there were clients I was unfamiliar with whom had my new hourly rate as their minimum price point for hiring a freelancer worthy of their work.
With the simple click of a button, I went from being an expensive, intermediate-level freelancer to an affordable, expert-level freelancer. Customers who were reaching out to me were from large companies that had real budgets to spend on contract employers and who were seeking long-term relationships, not one-time jobs that never repeated. To them, my hourly rate wasn’t a barrier that had to be decided on, but a threshold of minimum worth. In essence, what I feared would be a ceiling when I installed the price hike instead opened a door to a new breed of customers.
My happy accident should enable you to think about your own rate for freelance work and if you’re charging too much or too little for what you do for a living. Two questions factor into this decision above all else:
- How much money per week/month/year do I need to survive?
- What rate does my industry support for my skill level?
You Need to Pay The Bills
The first question is actually a good bit easier to answer than the second. You know what your own bills are and how much money it takes to pay them, along with any splurge purchasing or future saving you do each month. For my family of four, I have a minimum I have to achieve each month for our groceries, mortgage, car note, child care, credit cards, etc. Obviously, I like going well above that minimum as it allows us to pay down debt, have a rare date night, or pack money away for savings, but that minimum has to meet. Because of that, my rate isn’t the same for every job. I have one position writing for an English golf website that I’ve been doing since early 2013 where the rate is well below my current hourly rate. But it’s consistent work every week, and that is a big factor for freelancers.
What Does the Freelance Market Say?
Determining your worth inside your own industry requires patience and research. First, you need to judge just how good you are at your job – with things like your education, your experience, and what your clients say about your past work all factoring in. Be honest with yourself about who you are right now in the real world. At 23, I thought I was the second coming of Mark Twain, Dan Jenkins, and William Faulkner all rolled into one. At 42, I know that when I’m focused on a project, I’m very good, but I’m not winning a Pulitzer anytime soon. When I started freelancing in 2013, even though I had some 17 years experience in journalism, my going rate was “whatever the job pays” because I needed the experience to develop a reputation in my niche markets.
If you use any sort of job marketplace like Upwork, you can view freelancers with similar skill sets and experience levels to your own and price yourself competitively. To justify your freelance rate, make sure you prominently feature links to your work, the actual work, and/or praise from former clients on your profile or website. The more professional your appearance, the more worthy of a higher rate you’ll seem to prospective clients.
Extra Freelance Wage Tips
If you’re going to work onsite, you need to have a separate, higher rate for it. Why? For starters, you’re not working at your house in your slippers, but dressing up a bit and driving somewhere else. Last fall I took a job doing technical writing on-site about 30 miles from my house and made the foolish decision of using the same rate that I would for a remote job. It was good money for a good project, but I discounted the 45 minute to an hour drive that it took me each way. I was eating up 1-½ to 2 hours of potential work time each day sitting in Houston’s relentless traffic. I should have bumped my rate up to cover at least half of that time spent commuting.
The same notion should apply if you use materials in your freelance work. Art materials and other supplies don’t just pay for themselves. You are perfectly within your rights to build them into your hourly cost for a client, and if they ask, make sure you have an itemized list of the purchases you made to do the project – or get them approved in advance.
Your hourly freelance rate won’t materialize out of thin air. It will take research and best testing on your part to find a comfortable spot to attract customers, pay the bills, and achieve a sense of professional self-worth. Wherever you settle in, don’t be too modest to move your rate up as you achieve more success or too prideful to move it down when conditions demand it. Be honest with yourself and potential customers and you’ll find your way to the right number every time.