But… are you charging enough?
Let’s talk about talking about rates
I love communities of freelance writers (like this one!). It’s an amazing place to find solidarity, learn lessons and connect with humans in a career where you’re otherwise often holed up alone in your house most of the time.
But I could do without one common phenomenon in freelancer communities: rate shaming.
On their surface, conversations about freelance rates are vital to our success. They help us root out inequalities and discrimination, pinpoint publications that are worth our time, evaluate offers we get from editors and get comfortable talking about money.
But rate conversations have a nasty downside, too. They can make you feel like you’re doing everything wrong.
When you see another freelancer state, broadly, that you shouldn’t write for less than $0.50 per word, that writing in exchange for a link is selling out or that writers who take low pay ruin the market for the rest of us, you want to shrink into your seat if you fall into any of those categories.
And, guess what? Many of us fall into some of those categories.
When I learned another personal finance writer — with less experience than I have — was setting a minimum per-word rate twice as high as my lowest rate, I panicked. Was I a worse writer than I thought? Was I too weak in negotiations? Should I be ashamed of the work I’d taken on? What would people think if they knew I worked for that low rate? Should I be drawing a harder line?
No. None of this.
When I took a step back and surveyed the situation, I saw what everyone leaves out of these rate conversations: the nuances.
It’s all about the details. This writer was building a personal brand, selling courses and products — drawing a line on low-paying freelance gigs meant prioritizing time spent growing the business in a different direction. The family had recently added a baby. The writer’s spouse worked full time, so maybe turning down work didn’t pose a major risk to their income.
I was actively building a business and brand as a freelance personal finance writer, prioritizing a variety of bylines and relationships, doing client work full time, supporting myself and my partner as the sole earner and hanging out in my apartment with nothing else to do because of the pandemic.
I’ve since shifted my rates up quite a bit. As new clients come in, I quote higher rates. I turn down most low-rate offers, and I’ve been parting ways with lower paying clients. Because now I’m building a new brand, my partner works full time and I want more free time to spend with friends and family (anywhere outside of this stinky apartment!).
(And this 👉 I wrote an article for The Write Life about how I’ve used my obsession with organization to increase my freelance pay over the past two years.)
Also, by the way, throughout 2020, when I was charging those rates I was so ashamed of, I outearned my 2019 day-job income by $2,000. I was doing fine.
What’s with the shame, then?
It’s because this whole freelancing thing is scary and confusing. There’s so much “advice” coming at you from every angle, and it seems like everyone is way more successful than you are. If only you could get the right information and put it into practice the right way, you could be successful, too.
But everyone defines success differently.
Everyone relates to money differently.
Every client comes with a unique set of pros and cons that determine the rate that makes their work worth your time.
Every writer is ambling down a unique path toward a unique set of goals.
No other writer is chasing your goals or living within your circumstances. No other writer can tell you the “right” rate for any kind of work.
Accepting a rate someone else considers low doesn’t make you responsible for a low-paying freelance market. That’s scarcity talk. Freelance work is abundant, and if writers want to command higher rates, they can.
The reverse is also true, in case you think this is just a shove to accept low-paying work. If you want to set your rates higher than all the writers you know, do it. Only you can know how rate fits into your overall career choices and path, so only you can choose the right number for you.
Image by Mikhail Nilov via Pexels