In the tenure of a traditional career, the path is usually (somewhat) clear. You start from one level, you meet a certain amount of goals and you earn a raise and a promotion. As you collect experience and rub elbows with those in power, a progression is within reach and sight. Or, if it’s not, you know it’s time to hitch a ride out of the company and take your talent elsewhere.
But something shifts when you become your own boss (and accountant and social media manager).
Think you’re due for more money? Here’s how to grow your freelancing rates
Determining finances in the freelance writing and content strategy industry has become increasingly more difficult. Due to high demand and more and more media professionals adopting a gig mindset toward their careers, there is no longer a standard rate card that makes sense across the board.
After all, it’s not merely magazine features or line-by-line copywriting that’s farmed out these days — it’s so much more. From a 2,000-word (or more) SEO deep dive to writing podcast copy and creating a game-plan for interactive Instagram stories — a writer’s job description continues to transform and expand.
In an effort to streamline your business and ensure you’re charging enough for the services you provide, take the new season as an opportunity to analyze your income — and determine where you could definitely ask for more dollar signs. Even a slight raise can make a difference in your tax picture, your take-home amount and your lifestyle.
Here, leading experts share the most effective tips for growing your rates — and knowing when it’s time to ask for more.
What it means to set competitive rates.
Career expert Michael Dermer cuts right to the chase: In modern times, businesses can get nearly anything for free. Or basically free.
From free websites and tools to free trials or services that you only pay for results, getting up and running isn’t as cumbersome as it was in years past. Many people consider (and even call themselves) writers without working as one or completing training to hone their wordsmithery. This means that while online platforms can offer brands a plethora of ‘writers’ — there is definitely a sliding scale in quality.
For professionals who have been in the freelancing game for a while (and have the resume to back it up), remaining competitive isn’t only about rates, but more so, about your track record and your abilities.
Compete with more than just your price.
“In order to get competitive rates, it is essential that freelancers compete on something other than price. In fact, you should be telling your clients from the outset, ‘If you are looking for the cheapest solution, that is not me. I would be happy to refer you to someone that is very inexpensive,’” Dermer continues. “Unless you establish this from the outset, it will be difficult to convince a client that your rates are competitive.”
To raise the bar (and thus, your invoice sum), Dermer suggests investing heavily in the ability to articulate your elevated offering specifically and with confidence. This might be expressing that even if a client doesn’t go with you, they should make sure to do this one specific thing, he says:
“It is this unique intelligence that cannot be copied simply by a lower price. Unless and until you establish that you bring a unique intelligence, competitive rates will be hard to come by. But once you do, you will be able to set rates higher than the average of the market.”
Work backward from the hours you need for the lifestyle you want.
So what’s that number? It’s impossible to know, as executive agility coach and author Nancy Capistran shares, there is no perfect answer on what you should be charging. “Keep in mind that there are only so many hours in the week/month/year to earn money. So being smart about finding that healthy balance for work hours and pay rate,” she adds.
Every freelancer thinks about their overall rates and wonders if the writer next door is able to get more from an editor or a client. Investing in a network of wordsmiths you trust can be highly beneficial in understanding how much to charge.
As branding expert Wendi Weiner shares, the ability to compare and contrast the rates with freelancers who work with your niche clients will open your eyes and guide your finances. This helps you to know if you’re invoicing for far too much — or too little.
How long you’ve been filing away articles or working for clients makes a difference too. After all, if they’ve invested in you for many years and you know their voice and mission, it’s more expensive for them to hire someone else.
If you’re concerned about getting shortchanged, here’s how to know it’s time to bargain for more:
1. Your expertise has increased.
Maybe you took a course to extend your content marketing knowledge. Or you wrote a book. Perhaps you took on a highly-visible client that made the news and gave you kudos for your work. Capistran notes when your proficiency strengthens, your rates should rise with it:
“It is time to ask for a raise when your expertise has increased. Over time our experiences and knowledge evolve. This could be from additional education, new experiences that have stretched our skillset.”
If you find yourself in this tricky situation, Capistran recommends being transparent. When your contract comes to a renewal period, you can send over your new rates and give the reasons for the raise. Though you should explain, keep it professional and straightforward, defining your value in concrete terms.
2. Your client wants more.
You started developing their blog strategy — and then they decided to move forward with SEO. Now, they’re interested in a newsletter. Building a healthy rapport with a client is beneficial, but it also means they’ll demand more and expect you to deliver. When this happens, Dermer says it’s time to answer their emails with project fees.
After all, you shouldn’t do more than the work you were contracted to do. Keep the response positive, of course, but remain firm, says Dermer:
“Communicate to clients that while you enjoy working with them, it doesn’t make sense at the current rates because you are losing money. While it is not a client’s concern how you are doing, if you communicate that operating an unprofitable relationship will ultimately not work, many clients will understand and adjust rates or workload accordingly.”
3. Your workload is heavy.
You’ve been working well with a client for almost a year now, but in that time, you’ve taken on new brands. And you’ve started writing for three more publications — that pay you far more. In fact, you feel as if you’re overflowing with assignments and running out of time to meet them all.
This is when you could consider asking for a raise, according to Capistran:
“Timing is everything, so planning when best to ask for a raise is important. It’s best to do it prior to the start of a new assignment unless it’s a ‘scope creep’ situation and the work was based on a flat rate or a set dollar amount. If that is the case, at the time when the change of work is communicated, prior to the additional work being started, a conversation should be had to discuss the need to increase the project rate. Gaining approval at that important stage is critical so that it remains a win-win business interaction.”
4. Your client is taking up a lot of your time — without return.
It’s impossible to know how much time a client will soak up until you sign on the dotted line and begin work. If over a few months, you’ve realized the stories take more hours than others, or they want more revisions than agreed upon, Weiner challenges writers to approach the conversation. “If you find that you are spending more time on a project than what you initially anticipated, this may be a good opportunity for you to ask for either a higher hourly rate or a higher project time allotment from the client,” she explains.
This is also when you can put on your sales cap — and suggest an elevated tier for demanding brands. This comes, of course, at a premium, Weiner says:
“For clients who want the white-glove treatment or extended office hours beyond the weekday hours, or for rush assignments with weekend work, you may want to offer this as a perk to your clients which can also serve as a raise for you to get higher fees. This will allow you to offer your services at a premium for those clients who want more high-touch skills and at a different level.”