5 Signs You’re Ready to Raise Your Freelance Rates

Woman got a raise - excited about moneyby Mridu Khullar Relph

Freelancers — especially those of us writing for magazines and newspapers — can feel it’s out of our control how much we make and what we can reasonably charge.

This isn’t true.

I’ve learned over the last decade as a freelance journalist, blogger, and author, that experience matters. Your previous work and credits matter.

And if you’re doing a fantastic job for your clients, be they magazine editors or corporate clients—they will pay you more than your peers in order to retain your services.

When do you know it’s time to take a look at your business and raise your rates? Here are 5 telltale signs:

1. You’ve started procrastinating

Assignments that once seemed challenging now seem effortless to you. You procrastinate on them because they no longer require any effort from you and you don’t seem to enjoy them as much.

If you’ve begun to use phrases such as “I could do this in my sleep,” it’s time to acknowledge that your experience and your expertise has grown. And start charging higher for it, of course.

2. You’ve had a steady gig for over 6 months

Your editor is happy with your performance, edits are quick and painless (if they’re painless for you, they’re painless for your editor as well), and more assignments keep coming through on a regular basis.

If you’ve been working for a publication that loves you and loves your work for more than six months, it may be time to ask for a raise. If an editor has the budget, she will be more than happy to compensate appropriately someone who makes her life easy.

3. Readers love you

If readers are writing in frequently about your work and in large numbers in the form of letters to the editor or comments on your post, it’s a clear sign to your editor that what you’re saying resonates with the readers of his publication.

Writers like this are valuable to publications because they bring in loyal followings of fans and editors are hesitant to let talent like this slide away.

As a writer, of course, you should be taking advantage of what you’re bringing to the table.

If you’re bringing all that loyal readership to a blog or publication along with your actual writing, you need to factor that into your price. Don’t undervalue yourself.

4. You’re turning down work from new clients

You’re so busy keeping your current clients happy that you’re now turning down work from new clients.

A few years ago, I faced this dilemma. I was being offered a monthly $1 a word slot by an editor I respected but I had limited time and something else would have to be replaced.

The lowest client I had was a 50-cent-a-word gig that I quite enjoyed writing and whose editor was a joy to work with.

So, give up an additional 50 cents a word or the relationship I’d built over the years? Money or loyalty?

It seems like loyalty is the obvious answer here, but freelancers who feed their families with their income know it’s not so simple.

So I went to my 50-cents-a-word editor and laid out the situation. To his credit, while he admitted that he couldn’t raise my rate, he said he wanted to continue working with me and cut my monthly assignments by half.

I was able to take on the new work and still keep my first editor happy. Win-win!

5. It’s been over a year

Look, as a freelancer, there’s no boss giving you an appraisal and deciding that it’s time to beef up your paycheck. That’s up to you.

Most experienced freelancers I know will raise their rates every year or so (unless the economy is tanking).

If nothing else, raise your rate according to the rate of inflation. If you don’t, you’re effectively losing money.

How do you decide when it’s time to raise your rates? Leave a comment and give us your approach.

 Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist. Get her free e-book “21 Query Letters That Sold,” with queries that landed her in The New York Times, Time, Ms., Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and many more publications, at MriduKhullar.com

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33 comments on “5 Signs You’re Ready to Raise Your Freelance Rates
  1. Leanna says:

    This is a topic that’s close to my heart… Many thanks! Exactly where are your contact details though?
    Leanna recently posted…LeannaMy Profile

  2. Kaylene says:

    Good day! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers?
    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
    Any recommendations?

  3. Holly Bowne says:

    Yeah! Great post and helpful tips. I love Mridu’s posts and eBooks! I always learn from them. Thanks for sharing your advice on this topic. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but it’s never occurred to me to ask for a raise. Totally rethinking this now though!

  4. Joanie says:

    This is great information. Your “could do it in my sleep” really resonates with me and a lot of writers. But when that happens it also reminds me that I’m probably working much faster on those types of pieces than when I started. If the project is “job priced” that tells me I’m already giving myself an automatic raise over what I made earlier. It also reminds me that with that extra time, I should use it to challenge myself in new writing ways. That knowledge helps me appreciate those “sleeping” projects more.
    Joanie recently posted…Four Gardening Tips Writers Can Use to Improve Their BusinessesMy Profile

  5. Jacob Arvin says:

    I’ve only been at freelance writing for several months, but I find that my rates fluctuate depending on the amount of work I have on my plate at a given point. There’s no formal raising of the rates– I think my earnings will just slowly increase over time, because I will be engaged in higher-paying work more frequently. It seems more like a passive realization to me.
    Jacob Arvin recently posted…How I Avoid Fake Freelance Writing JobsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I notice your URL includes the word “utopian,” Jacob, and that’s my reaction to your idea that your rates will just sort of magically increase over time without your proactively doing anything. Utopian, but often not the reality.

      How much work you have right now should not be a big factor in what you charge. Rates should be determined by the value of your time and the hourly rate you need to make to pay your bills…and should rise steadily over time. And not slowly, either! How long do you want to wait to reach the point where you earn a good living, can put away savings, take vacations, etc.? I hit that point a year or two into freelancing and then committed to growing my income every year, and did.

      But that didn’t happen by wishing and hoping that in the future I would have more work and be busier and therefore be asking more. It came from actively getting raises with existing clients, and then raising my rates for new clients very aggressively.

  6. Linda H says:

    I know I need to ask for a raise from a proofreading gig I’ve been doing a long while. The editors like my work and have given me more lately because I catch the little things. I’m hesitant just because I am.

    This will likely spark my efforts to ask for a raise. I’m doing well, and I like the increased income. My other editor for proofreading gave me a raise outright because she said I’m worth it! Need to follow that lead as approach the others. Guess I’ll ask.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  7. Rob S says:

    All good points. Personally, I’ve transitioned from taking a paranoid approach to raising my rates to a cautious approach. I still rely on clients I’ve had for years for my bread and butter, but am gradually finding clients who pay up to 5 times what I make from them. I still only raise my rates incrementally, though, because I know my older clients are smaller businesses that don’t get as great an ROI on content marketing as the bigger clients. I’ll only let them go when I’m confident I can make a steady income from higher paying clients.
    Rob S recently posted…Why Google RocksMy Profile

  8. Candace says:

    This is great in theory, but I write for newspapers whose budgets have been slashed. Where I used to be able to write as much as I could for them they can now sometimes only buy one freelance story a month leaving the other slots to staff and wire stories. I have been doing this for 12 years and don’t know how much longer I can afford to do it. And I’m good at what I do! Plus, I love it. It’s so frustrating.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s time to branch out beyond newspapers, Candace — pretty tough to make a living freelancing for them these days. And that situation is not going to improve anytime soon.

    • I agree with Carol. How many articles do you have to write per month for a newspaper to earn a living wage these days? It’s not good business any more. I love writing for newspapers and magazines as well and continue doing so, but they’re part of a bigger business plan and no longer my only source of income.
      Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…5 Tips for More Efficient QueryingMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        Amen to that, Mridu — I don’t know anyone earning a full-time living writing only for newspapers. Even years back that would have been tough to pull off.

        There’s plenty of opportunity to write really well-paid articles for business clients, though, and more of that coming.

  9. Tom Bentley says:

    Mridu, very nice to see you here—you offer consistently good advice and a genial writerly perspective in your newsletter. You remind me that I’ve been getting good feedback from an editor I’ve worked with for a while now, and I’ve neglected to ask anything of him other than for new assignments. Another editor gave me a small raise a while back, and that after I’d been getting the same per-word rate for years. Why? Because I didn’t ask earlier.

    I’ve also had higher payments (around 25%) for a couple of magazine pieces where I thought the offer was low and mentioned it, though once I asked for a bigger fee and the editor decided I was an ingrate and rejected the article he’d accepted. Well!
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Words Cut Like a Knife (and It’s Often Your Heart That Bleeds)My Profile

    • Hey Tom! Nice to bump into you here, too.

      That sounds like a very insecure and unprofessional editor. I’d say you dodged a bullet there. I ask for more money pretty much every time I’m offered an assignment (seriously, almost every time) and a few times, editors have as much as doubled my rates. If someone walks away simply because I’ve asked for more, I tend to think I wouldn’t have liked working with them anyway.
      Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…30 Days, 30 Queries – 10 Down, 20 To GoMy Profile

  10. Mridu — thanks for this informative post and for the link to your e-book of queries. Both are great! I am happy to report I raised my rates this year.

    As a side note to my fellow freelance writers: For a class I am taking, I am conducting a brief survey on writers’ marketing techniques and a few other items. If you are willing, please go to this link to fill it out.

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1WFsU5X3J3A9nHXB3pGMM_RJxDPZvvsEkrJmldbVzDaQ/viewform

    It does not ask for any identifying information, and I will not disclose any individual responses. If you want to find out about the results of the survey, I do ask for an e-mail address, but that’s optional. If you want to ensure you remain anonymous, you can always provide an e-mail address without any identifying information in it. I will not use your e-mail address for any other purpose than to contact you about the results of the survey.

    If you have any problems with the survey or questions about it, please contact me through my web site. Thank you.

  11. Jasmine says:

    Great post, Mridu! I just downloaded your e-book and I can’t wait to read it. I’ve been wondering with my lower paying clients when the right time would be to ask about a pay raise, and now I know!

    Oh, and Carol, I swear it’s like you have a habit of reading my mind and then posting answers to my questions on your blog. Thanks for your posts!
    Jasmine recently posted…3 Uncommon Signs of Academic TroubleMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      When I was a secretary I used to joke that mind-reading is an extra fee. 😉

      Glad I’m hitting the things you need to know. I mostly just listen to writers here on the comments and in the Den to find out what’s on people’s minds and what they need to learn about.

      When Mridu pitched me this topic I loved it, because I’ve written about how to get a raise, but not how to know when it’s time to go for it. Love this topic!

  12. Jennifer says:

    I found myself in this situation a few weeks ago. For me the telltale sign was that I was swamped with medium paying projects and felt overloaded with work. I was having to work twice as hard with the medium paying projects to meet my income goals and was exhausted.

    I went to one long time editor and asked her if there was any wiggle room on the rates. I told her that I was having a hard time making the math work with her current rates to meet by business goals, but I wanted to talk with her about it first because I really enjoyed working with her site. She came back and almost doubled by per word rate so that I would stay.

    I then targeted two websites that didn’t pay great, and ended up letting them go as clients. I used the extra time to market and within a week had replaced it with one client who paid higher which equated less work for the same amount of money I was making. Right now my goal is actually to work less over the summer when my kids are home, but earn the same. But now, I have some extra time that I can devote to marketing when I went to increase my overall income. Reminds me that our goal as freelancers is actually different at different times.

  13. Nida Sea says:

    Great post, Carol! It’s too early to raise my rates with my client yet, but I’m looking for advice as to when to start doing it. This is a good, short guide to remember when it’s time to get those rates higher than before. I do believe that most people don’t raise their rates because they’re worried about losing the client. I say, if they don’t want to pay you for increasing your rates, it’s time to move onto a new client.
    Nida Sea recently posted…How Not To Contribute To a Monthly Savings (And How I blew $12,000 in One Month)My Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed my post, Nida! I think the best time to raise your rates is when your client is happy with your work. That could be a year from now when they do a review or next month when letters to the editor come flooding in for a piece you’ve written. That happened with me, by the way. A national magazine editor received more letters for a piece I’d written than ever before and doubled my rates without my even asking.

      If you’ve made a client happy, gone above their expectations, they’re not going to risk losing you. And that’s when you ask for a raise. Good luck!
      Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…30 Days, 30 Queries: Three Pitches and a Success StoryMy Profile

  14. Excellent article, and a subject that I find is always a bit touchy (at least for me). I’m always nervous about ‘rocking the boat’ when I’ve got a good thing going, but then every time I’ve requested a raise, I’ve gotten it and the editor hasn’t taken affront, so I always wonder why I hesitate. Thanks for this checklist of reasons to ‘go for it.’

    • Thanks Lori. I know why I hesitate. It’s because I think that my asking for more will make the client rethink whether they want to work with me. And that’s silly because if I have a regular client, the reason they’re working with me is not because I’m the cheapest person available (I’m not), it’s because they think I’m good.

      I have to remind myself that the worst that can happen is that they’ll say they don’t have the budget for it. Big deal.
      Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…5 Tips for More Efficient QueryingMy Profile

  15. Amel says:

    Nice to see you here, Mridu…I have enjoyed your blog for years, and your free e-book with queries that sold is a great resource for writers who want to break into higher paying markets.

    Regarding your question about rates, my answer would be that it is *always* time to raise your rates. As you suggested, this can be done with your current clients, especially those whom you’ve been working with for a long time and who like your work…but if the budget is not there, then you can always quote better rates to new clients. You can then phase out the lower-paying clients as you acquire new work, but loyalty is definitely a factor, and I would not look at rates alone. Also important to me is how easy someone is to work with, how often they assign me work, and whether I enjoy the work. I would not give up steady work that I enjoy in exchange for higher-paying work that may only be sporadic or very time-consuming.
    Amel recently posted…Rejection Therapy for WritersMy Profile

    • “It is *always* time to raise your rates.”

      I’m going to have to put that one on my whiteboard, Amel. I agree with all you’ve said. I try not to think in dollar per word any more, rather more in terms of what I’m making per day. That helps me calculate better how much work I’m putting in for how much pay. And when I ask for a raise, that factors into the number I quote as well.
      Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…5 Tips for More Efficient QueryingMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I agree with you, Amel — freelancers should always be looking for situations where they can make more. Better clients. Bigger projects. Bigger companies and magazines with bigger editorial and marketing budgets. Upselling existing clients. And getting raises from existing clients over time, when you can prove you know more about their business now and are worth more.

      I think most freelancers underestimate the value of how trained up you are on understanding their audience and business…they don’t want to start over educating a new writer! And they will pay more to keep you, quite often.

      That’s the path to bigger income.

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  1. […] “Look, as a freelancer, there’s no boss giving you an appraisal and deciding that it’s time to beef up your paycheck. That’s up to you. Most experienced freelancers I know will raise their rates every year or so (unless the economy is tanking). If nothing else, raise your rate according to the rate of inflation. If you don’t, you’re effectively losing money.” — Mridu Khullar Relph of MriduKhullar.com […]