How to Feel Confident Charging More for Your Freelance Work

Businessman pushes wheelbarrow of moneyBy Kristen Hicks

When I first started freelancing, I spent some serious time doing research. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into.

I was confident in my skills and knowledge and knew I was a good, responsible worker. But I found myself hesitant to charge the kinds of rates my research showed were typical for freelancers offering similar services.

Like many people, I’m timid when it comes to talking about money – even when that talk determines how much I’ll be making.

I just didn’t have the confidence to charge what my work was worth.

At first, I attributed my wavering confidence to a lack of experience.

But here’s the funny thing — it didn’t go away with more experience. I got stuck in a cycle of doing good work for low rates.

“After this next project,” I’d think, “I’ll have the experience I need to feel more confident.”

But that next project would come and go. No change.

At a certain point, it became clear this was a problem I needed to get past. I put some serious thought into what I needed to do and know to feel confident when naming my rate with a client.

Here are the tactics I found to be useful:

1) Do the research

If you know what other writers in your field are making, you’re in a stronger negotiating position. Picture a scenario where you name a price and a potential client balks – if you’ve done the research, you know they’re the ones underestimating the value of the work you do, and you won’t be tempted to back down.

Check out Ed Gandia’s Freelance Industry Report and the EFA’s Editorial Rates listing to get a sense of what’s normal.

2) Don’t forget those extra freelance expenses

You’re paying more in taxes than employees do. You have to spend time on accounting, marketing, and education that no one’s paying you for.

You have to cover your own benefits, like health care, vacation time and retirement. So when you bid, remember there’s a reason those freelance rates look high those of us coming from the employee world.

3) Realize what you’re truly worth

Even if you’re new to the game, chances are there are unique benefits you have that increase your value.

Are you good with deadlines? Is your grammar perfect? Has your long-held interest in financial markets, education, or computer programming made you an expert on the subject?

For me, I had a valuable research- and writing-intensive college experience behind me and a couple years of writing marketing materials professionally.

Make a list of your strengths and keep it in mind any time those nagging doubts creep back in.

4) Talk to other writers and freelancers

If you don’t have many freelancers in your circle of friends and family, seek out relationships online via social media or in online communities like the Freelance Writer’s Den.

Keep an eye out for local networking events where you can make some new contacts in your community. Having other writers to talk to makes all the difference any time you’re not sure about what you’re charging or how much you’re worth.

Remember: When you charge too little, you undercut yourself, and your equally hard-working and talented peers.

We’re a community. Let’s help each other out while we help ourselves — by demanding what we’re worth.

Kristen Hicks is a freelance copywriter based in Austin, TX who specializes in content marketing to help businesses build better brands and strengthen SEO.

 

  1. John Soares says:

    Very good advice Kristen.

    I think it’s important to be willing to walk away if the rates aren’t high enough, and it’s much easier to do that with a 2-3 month savings cushion.

    Of course, many writers struggle to pay the bills every month, but having substantial cash in the bank lets us negotiate from strength.
    John Soares recently posted..Why Freelance Writers Must Set Goals

  2. Thx for this information, Kristen, it’s very helpful, as this is an area I struggle with constantly. You’re right, the Freelance Writer’s Den is a wonderful resource–have learned a tremendous amount there.

  3. Terri says:

    I find that my fear is negotiating rates with magazines editor. It’s so exciting when you suddenly get the assignment. Then the contract comes and I get so nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever negotiated price when dealt magazine contract. Though, I’m a freelancer I feel as though it’s really magazine that is calling the shots in these scenarios so I’m always afraid of stepping on toes and ruining a potential lucrative relationship with an editor by negotiating rates.

    Charging more for copywriting clients is easier to me because I feel like I have a little more control in those situations.
    Terri recently posted..How to be a Dream Catcher – Believe in the Impossible!

    • Kristen says:

      I’ve done less writing for magazines than for business clients, so I can’t speak with too much knowledge there. I think there does tend to be less wiggle room, but maybe some others who have done more writing for magazines can weigh in?
      Kristen recently posted..Google + and the “End of Search”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Terri, I rarely try to negotiate price on a first article for a publication, either. They generally have a rate, and that’s what you’re going to get.

      If you build an ongoing relationship though, you can think about asking for a bit more. Or try to get better terms — in one case I managed to negotiate to get half on acceptance instead of all on publication, which took six months!

    • This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately. I generally write for magazines where there’s a set rate and payment schedule–at least at first. I’ve only ever negotiated a price on a serial–probably because it’s considered normal to want more to reward you for meeting the extra tight deadlines and additional preparation.

      How long do you think is a reasonable wait before asking for more pay for a regular gig? I feel like 6 months might be too fast, especially as I’m only publishing on average once a month in the particular department where I really want a pay raise. I feel like I have to prove that what I offer is unique and indispensable before I can risk irritating the editors (and accountants).
      Rebecca Klempner recently posted..Background on my new story: “Just Perfect” (or why I believe we all live in a Magical Reality)

      • Carol Tice says:

        It really depends on the relationship you’ve built with that editor, Rebecca. I renegotiated for better terms with one magazine after I won them a bunch of 1st place SPJ awards, for instance. If they get great letters about your story or it got great social traffic for them, or they seem to be relying on you for stories on a paritcular topic, those are all signs you’ve become indispensable, and should maybe get more.

        Some publications really don’t have more to give.

        But don’t work about “risk irritating editors” or especially accountants! All they’ll do is say no if they won’t or can’t do it. If you don’t ask again and again, nobody’s going to be bothered by it.

  4. Good one Kristen,

    I tell clients that they can get cheaper prices if they looked around just like they could eat at a buffet instead of a nice restaurant.

    I tell them working with me is like 5 star dining.

    It’s up to you, call me when your ready to move forward.

    CLICK>

    That’s how I deal with them.

    Negotiating against yourself will leave you working the plantation as a digital sharecropper.

    Listen.

    You have to KNOW what value you are bringing to the table.

    If you are sure the value is there then why would you discount it?

    Would you pay full price for bread at the grocery store if it was always on sale?

    Have you noticed luxury items NEVER go on sale?
    Darnell Jackson recently posted..What I learned from Annabel Candy – Q&A with the founder of SuccessfulBlogging.com

    • Kristen says:

      This is great logic, Darnell.

      Seeing job ads and opportunities for freelance writers offering piddling rates is a constant reminder to freelancers that there’s always someone out there willing to do the work for less. It can be really difficult when you’re learning the ropes to stay convinced your work is worth more than the content mills offer.

      The good news is, the search engines are making continual changes to make those content mill models obsolete, and make the quality content that good writers provide more crucial to businesses than ever.
      Kristen recently posted..Google + and the “End of Search”

    • Angie says:

      That is an *excellent* way of looking at it! I’ll have to keep that buffet vs. 5-star restaurant analogy in mind next time I’m negotiating with a stubborn client.
      Angie recently posted..How To Drive Away Visitors and Alienate Customers

  5. Erica says:

    For me, it was always hardest when the prospective client would come back with “Really? You charge that much?” It was usually said/typed with an incredulous tone that clearly suggested I was charging too much.

    Here’s the thing: Most clients won’t say that we’re not charging enough for the project. “That’s too low, I’ll tack on $X. And you should raise your rates from now on.”

    It’s up to us. Once that light bulb (finally) came on, I started answering the incredulous prospects with “Yes, those are my rates. Here’s why and here’s what’s included.” And you’re right. Knowing what you’re worth and doing some research is crucial to backing up your price.
    Erica recently posted..Facing My First Creative Writing Rejection

    • Kristen says:

      Can you imagine someone saying “Oh no, you’re worth much more than that.” Sounds like a dream client.

      It’s understandable that clients have a limited budget to work with and have to be careful where they spend it, but so do we!

      A skilled freelancer will cost a company a lot less than a full-time in-house employee that insists on full benefits, and someone good will make them more money than someone who produces sloppy work.
      Kristen recently posted..Google + and the “End of Search”

      • Carol Tice says:

        I actually had that happen once, with a Fortune 500 company. They said, “No, we think it should cost twice that.” And they doubled my rate! Which was already $1 a word, as I recall. I was dumbfounded. But those situations DEFINITELY don’t happen very often!

      • Andrea says:

        “Can you imagine someone saying “Oh no, you’re worth much more than that.” Sounds like a dream client.”

        My mother has actually told that to one of the people who works on her websites. She told him he should charge more, but not for her. She’s a psychotherapist so advising people not to undervalue themselves is in her nature. She’s also very fair.

        I have two comments about the original post:

        1. I find that people don’t want to pay. I follow all the advice about doing research and charging what you’re worth but when talking to prospective client and employers people claim to not have the budget. It’s sad. Maybe I’m still putting out the energy of someone without the confidence to back it up.

        2. Yesterday a magazine publisher that I know asked on Facebook whether it’s an anomaly for publishers to believe that every writer and photographer have “the inarguable right to be paid for each submission” rather than writing for free and a byline. She said that even though they can’t pay much, everyone gets paid even though some publishers seem to think that it’s a privilege for people to see their names in print. The conversation that followed spoke to writing being undervalued and included a story of a publication that held back $50 for over a year. My comment:

        “I don’t know why creative skills are still undervalued. Salary seems to be proportionate to the number of letters beside one’s name (if they’re working in the field related to that profession) and years in school (ditto previous parentheses). Writers are communicators. They’re knowledge sharers. They’re researchers. In some cases, they’re saving lives through their words.”
        Andrea recently posted..Competition or community?

        • Carol Tice says:

          The simple answer for writers who’re getting this pushback is: You gotta think bigger. Bigger publications. Bigger businesses. And niche expertise. What can you write that not every writer knows about?

          You get a lot less quibbling about rates, and more “Oh, you have the exact expertise and can totally solve my problem — how much do you want? Great. The contract is in the mail.”

  6. Kristen, the thing I love about this post is that you point out how we hurt other freelance writers when we don’t charge what we’re worth.

    The reason clients even hesitate is because they’ve heard of all those talented writers selling themselves short and working for pennies. They either just don’t know or don’t have the courage.

    But I really want to highlight that part of the post. If we all work together, maybe we can normalize better rates across the board.

    Just like people expect doctors, lawyers, and therapists to cost a certain amount, people can come to expect the same for writers.

    Let’s do it!
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..6 Warning Signs that You’re on the Wrong Career Path

  7. Nice post, Kristen. I really like your suggestion to know what you’re worth. I work in a corporate environment and freelance on the side, and it’s been eye-opening to realize what companies charge each other. While I don’t charge the same for my freelancing as we do for corporate writing, it has still buoyed up my confidence to realize what writing skills are worth.

    Thanks!
    Crystalee Beck (@delighted2write) recently posted..6 must-know writing tips for entrepreneurs

  8. Nice post. I’ve found myself doing the same thing — constantly offering discounts. It’s not so much because I don’t know what I’m worth, but because I know the clients won’t otherwise be able to afford me. I work in nonprofit, so I rationalize that it’s positive karma — I’m paying it back, or forward — and a little ‘volunteer’ work must be good for the soul. It’s not so good for the belly, however. I like the reminder to keep in mind the administrative/overhead expenses. We’re very good at fooling ourselves. Now… can we just send this post to prospective clients? ;-)

  9. I had a major “been there” moment when I read the part on “kept thinking ‘just ONE more project with low rates.’” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and never giving up the expectation that next time it will produce the different results you want.

    The key is to figure out WHY you keep doing things the same way after it becomes obvious that way doesn’t work. Usually it’s because you don’t want to admit that the real path to success is outside your comfort zone, so you need to grit your teeth and admit that comfort zone is getting too uncomfortable to stay in.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..How to Use “Use”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Beautifully put — I always think, “If this is really a comfort zone, you wouldn’t be here, trying to break out of it.” But there’s a lot of denial that we’re uncomfortable with our status quo.

  10. Karen says:

    Hi, Carol and Kristen: great post, esp. the rate schedule. Any suggestions re actual potential copywriting clients that are a good place to break in? (Maybe they don’t pay a lot so people such as yourselves don’t mind letting us neophytes know). Appreciated rate schedule refs! Just as a sidenote, I did just negotiate a 50% higher payment on my first piece for a mag. It’s easier if the payment isn’t a ton in the first place, and if you really have a line in the sand, and if you know could sell elsewhere.

    • Kristen says:

      I keep a spreadsheet of businesses that might be a good fit for my writing. Any time I come across a post I like on a business blog, or the site of a business whose products I like, it goes in the spreadsheet. That way, I’ve got a long list of businesses to reach out to when looking for clients. Some of them might be out of my league now, but they might not be in a year or two.

      I also keep an eye out for any job ads seeking copywriters, even if they’re looking for someone full time, you know they’re a business who needs and values copy and they might need freelance work sometime. Same thing goes for companies that include content marketing or development as part of their services, they might not need help now, but they always might down the line.
      Kristen recently posted..Google + and the “End of Search”

  11. Karen says:

    Thanks again for this site and post! Reading through, just thought I’d note that I also negotiated a contract change on a 1st assignmt (another pub). The contract, although it didn’t state as such, was a “work for hire.” Some attorney just probably threw in this language to totally protect the mag. I had to explain to editor and he had to take to the Powers That Be and they changed the contract the way I wanted it. I’m still totally at the lower end of the scale and I do an excellent job, so I figure that if they want to walk away, that’s O.k., I’ll find another buyer.
    Also, was just on phone today w/another mag and the editor I was speaking w/didn’t know what FNASR were (Carol/Kristen can explain). And she did let me know that some writers had successfully negotiated so that they only gave 1st-time rights and there was a limit on I-net. Because why would I want to go to the trouble of querying if I’m going to be hit w/a non-neg. all rights contract?

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m thinking you mean First North American Serial Rights?

      So many magazines these days DO want all rights…I don’t resell that much so it hasn’t been a big sticking point for me. I’d rather write a new thing…and increasingly, that’s all you can do, anyway.

  12. Holly says:

    Great post! I wanted to share this HILARIOUS short video about what cheapskate clients would look like in a retail/restaurant setting. It’s a must-watch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY

  13. Daryl says:

    My point #5 would be –

    Ignore online bidding sites and content mills.

    As someone who was introduced to the world of freelance writing through Odesk, I can speak to the pains of being massively underpaid.

    Like writing 3,000+ words for the princely sum of $10, minus the $1 Paypal fee.

    These types of jobs provided a sort of incomplete frame of reference for me, where I assumed that these types of prices were the norm.

    Thankfully, this site (and a few others) were able to convince me that I do NOT have to write for $0.01 per word.

    Unfortunately, there are some people who will see the figures being tossed out by Carol ($50 for an article! That’s CRAAAZY) and believe that this simply doesn’t apply to “their world”, or that this is something that only freelancers with decades of experience can achieve.

    Simply because their whole frame of reference is based on bidding sites and content mills.

    They then continue to be willing to accept the pittance that is being paid to them, on the erroneous belief that they can’t get anything better.

    The first step to making more money is to open your mind, accept the information that Carol and others post, and then use this information to dig yourself out of the hole of bottom dwelling content providers (calling them “writers” is a bit too generous) and then start charging prices that truly reflect a livable wage!
    Daryl recently posted..It’s Genius! How Apple Generates Crazy Customer Loyalty (That Anyone Can Emulate!)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, I’ve been called a liar more than once for saying I get $1 a word for many of my articles. The gates of the concentration camp are open, but not everyone wants to walk out into the unknown where they have to fend for themselves, and be free.

  14. Rob S says:

    A very informative article. I wish I’d had the opportunity to do more research starting out and the means to say “No!!” to outrageously low rates, but better to learn later than not at all.

    I especially liked your resources links. The EFA one was new to me and the hourly rates were pretty much on a par with those in Australia – a little lower in some places, but a lot higher than the rates you can get on content mills and bidding sites. The estimated pace was interesting, too. That’s something I’ve been working on and am now making about 50% more per hour because I’m only giving my assignments the amount of time the rates justify. No one has complained, so I think I’m on the right track.
    Rob S recently posted..How Much Can a Freelance Copywriter Make in Australia?

  15. Karen says:

    Hi; I asked this question in different form elsewhere: do all trade journals do work-for-hire contracts? Also, isn’t in unusual for a press pass not to include food, and for food for a 3-day non-luxury conference to cost $180?

    This is in context of a pub who wishes me to cover a 3-day conference – I drive 1 hr there/back, pay for my own parking and food. If I wish to eat w/everyone else @ conf. I must pay $180, as per conference organizers. This seems odd.

    Pub pays .30 word, wants 1 article – oh yeah, work/hire/all rights contract. Carol has said leverage for other assignments, other pubs. I agree. However, the economics seem strange. Thx!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Answered elsewhere but think I forgot the food — really depends on the conference, what journalist perks are included.

      Some may not officially include food, but there is often a media area stocked with drinks & snacks that you can nearly live off.

  1. [...] To: How to Feel Confident Charging More for Your Freelance Work, by Kristen Hicks – “Like many people, I’m timid when it comes to talking about money [...]

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