For the first 18 months of my freelancing career, I usually answered the question, “How much do you charge?” with, “Whatever you can pay me.”
Note: this guest post by Nick G. comes to us courtesy of AND CO, which gives freelancers a smart app and an experienced human to create invoices, file expenses, track time, and manage projects.
I didn’t discriminate much. I had bills to pay and a pair of two-year-old twins to help clothe, feed, and take to the doctor every 25 minutes. So I worked until I had enough money, slept a few hours, and started the whole process over.
But in the summer of 2014, I started getting work more frequently. I stopped having to consider jobs that paid 6 cents per thousand words. With steady work coming in, I was able to raise my hourly rate a bit – nothing crazy, but a nice round number that would bring in a bit more every day. And maybe let me sleep an extra hour or two every week.
When I raised my rate, something completely unexpected happened. Instead of fewer job offers coming my way, I got more. And they came quickly and consistently.
Clients I’d never heard from before were suddenly asking me to interview. Companies that I didn’t know hired freelancers were asking about my availability. And instead of the standard, “Here’s the work, do it” approach, clients were asking me if their project “sounded like something I’d be interested in.”
I could barely believe it.
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. Next, I found myself ghostwriting an industry article for a major publication, then writing a white paper on corporate intranet policy for an Australian firm.
The jobs were coming in fast and thick. And each one paid more than I’d dared to expect. It was an exciting time to be a freelancer, but it took about a week to sort out what it all meant.
Here’s what I learned, and why you should absolutely raise your freelancing rate too.
When I raised my rate, something completely unexpected happened. Instead of fewer job offers coming my way, I got more.
1. Better clients pay higher rates
Say you’re buying a car, deciding between a Yugo and a BMW.
If you barely have any money to spend and just need 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, your asking price should reflect that.
Clients 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.
So get on their radar. Be a BMW. Or, at least a Ford.
It’s time to stop being the Yugo of freelancers.
2. Working cheap lowers your self-esteem
My first job was at TCB Yogurt. I raked in $3.65/hour. After taxes, it took me four hours scooping yogurt and making waffle cones to net just $10.
Now, that was 16-year-old me, working the summer to save up money for his first car. At 16, working for that little just proved my dedication.
But you’re a grownup, a professional. You probably have at least one other mouth to feed. Don’t lowball yourself by doing work you hate just because it pays.
One of my biggest passions in freelancing is editing other people’s fiction. Back before my rate increase, I took a job for about one-third what I’d normally charge, simply because I felt compelled to get the paycheck.
The novel, which read like an adolescent’s play-by-play of a 10-hour Call of Duty session, was beyond terrible. An extra period appeared at the end of every single line, commas had apparently gone on strike, and new characters regularly popped up without introduction or apparent purpose.
Every time I opened the file, I felt like braining myself with my coffee mug. No paycheck is worth that kind of aggravation. And the fact that this one came at less than my usual rate … well, that only added to my frustration.
Don’t lowball yourself by doing work you hate just because it pays.
3. Raising your rate gives you more room to negotiate
As freelancers, we don’t always get to work for our preferred rate. All too often, negotiation plays a big part in getting the gig. But if you aim high on your initial offer, you can get closer to your desired rate.
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, so now you have to settle for less than you’re comfortable with.
So aim higher. If $20/hour is your profit point, start negotiations at $25. If the client comes back with $15, you can meet them at $20, get what you wanted anyway, and come off looking like a nice guy to boot.
4. Raising your rate builds your brand
Every decision you make in freelancing affects your brand, building up an image of who you are and how future clients will perceive you.
Do you want to be known as the cut-rate generalist who will work for any price?
That’s not how long-term success happens. Taking care of your clients is important, of course. But taking care of yourself is far more important.
Believe that you’re worth a fair-market price and you will be. And clients interested in paying you what you’re worth will too.
Taking care of your clients is important, of course. But taking care of yourself is far more important.
Have you raised your rates yet?
If not, we hope this hope helps you inspire you to take the leap! And if you already have, we’d love to hear all about your experience. Did getting work getting easier, or harder? Do you feel better about the work you get? Whatever your answers, we want to hear them!