The Freelance Creative

Figuring Out Rates—With a Little Help From My Friends

negotiating price strategies freelancers

A few years ago, I told the mother of my daughter’s best friend that I had closed my public relations business and was now freelance writing. She looked at me sympathetically and said, “Maybe you should consider getting a part-time job to make some money.”

While I made sure my daughter told her when I had my first six-figure year, the general public still believes that freelance creatives are “starving artists.” Even worse? Many freelancers buy into that paradigm.

Today, however, it’s not uncommon to become a six-figure freelancer—or at least not a starving one. That’s something I learned by cultivating a broad community of other writers both online and in person. In my experience, most freelancers are a helpful bunch who are willing to share tips on every aspect of running a freelance business, including how to price projects.

So, how can you go about building that network? Just ask.

“Over time, I’ve reached out to freelancers on Twitter or LinkedIn who have a similar niche to my own, and we’ve built up friendships,” said Danna Lorch, a journalist and freelance content writer specializing in higher education. “We share ideas with one another, support each other, and also text back and forth to check in on rates.”

Stuck on how to price yourself? Consider crowdsourcing.

Some freelancers start out writing for low pay on gig-finding platforms because they have no idea what they could be charging. Learning what other freelancers earn is helpful.

“My first freelance writing gig offered 10 cents a word,” said Tom Gerencer, a journalist and freelance content writer and editor. “After a year, I asked for a raise, and they gave me 12 cents a word. They [told me], ‘Nobody made that kind of money as a freelancer.'”

“I eventually learned that writers were making 50 cents or even a dollar a word.”

After spending another year working for them, the client lost funding, and Gerencer needed to look for more work. “I met another freelancer who told me writers make way more,” he said. “She explained how to find clients, and I found one that paid me 15 cents a word. Eventually, she told me to join the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), where I learned that writers were making 50 cents or even a dollar a word.”

The rise of “value-based pricing”

Lately, discussions on social media seem to center around a shift toward “value-based pricing,” or setting prices based on the inherent value of your services to clients.

“As a master’s-degreed engineer with 15+ years of experience, I found the value I was adding wasn’t being captured in hourly rates,” said Adam Kimmel, a part-time engineering content writer. “My expertise made my research much more effective (and faster) than generalists, so I could turn projects out very quickly.” But quoting an hourly rate reflective of that higher value, he noted, caused some clients to balk.

After reading Jennifer Gregory’s Freelance Content Marketing Writer book last year and engaging in the associated Facebook group for help with pricing, Kimmel found moving to a project-based model helped him price his work more fairly. “I could define the value of the project [in a way that] would make sense for me,” he said.

Kimmel also spoke with a colleague in his niche who encouraged him to consider how valuable each piece of content would be to his clients. “Gated whitepapers are huge lead-generation tools, so I’m able to charge a premium for those—40 percent higher than my blog rate. Clients don’t flinch due to the value those papers return to them.”

Discussions on social media seem to center around a shift toward ‘value-based pricing.’

Another idea is to consider how much time something takes and then see if it aligns with your “minimum hourly rate.” “Another freelancer taught me that every assignment is different,” said Gerencer. “A project paying 25 cents a word may be easy with few edits and take me a short time to write, while another paying $1 per word may require several drafts and a long time commitment.” In this case, the hourly rate might actually be better for the seemingly lower-priced story.

Sometimes, you need to think outside the box entirely. Treasa Edmond, a content strategist and ghostwriter, found that neither per-word nor hourly pricing was working for her.

“I was at a pivot point in my business, and around that time, Freshbooks put out an ebook called Breaking the Time Barrier, which really resonated with me,” she said. Shortly after, she listened to a podcast produced by Ed Gandia discussing the rise of value-based pricing. “I dove deep into the topic and never looked back. I recommend both sources as a primer for any content creator struggling to break that ’employee’ mindset of charging for their time,” she said.

Mum’s the word and other negotiation strategies

Writing buddies can also share helpful negotiation strategies that can bring in hundreds if not thousands of dollars of freelance revenue.

Sarah Barbour, a freelance finance writer, has found herself in scenarios where clients need to mull over her fee before moving forward—but based on advice from others, she doesn’t offer a discount prematurely. “I recently quoted a price to a prospect, and he sounded really doubtful,” she recalled. “I was this close to telling him I was open to discussing the price when he said, ‘Okay, sure.’ I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.”

“If all your prospects accept your rates, it’s time to raise them.”

Another often-suggested pricing strategy is simply asking for more money. Full-time employees are expected to negotiate during the hiring process—so why shouldn’t freelancers follow suit?

Jennifer Goforth Gregory, a freelance B2B technology content marketing writer, noted that if a client offers a price upfront, it’s a good idea to ask for more—even a small amount. “Sometimes they’ve left some buffer room, and small increases really add up over the year,” she said.

Finally, one of Barbour’s favorite pieces of advice is this: “If all your prospects accept your rates, it’s time to raise them.”

The bottom line: If the idea of being a “starving artist” isn’t appealing, consider asking for pricing ideas from your freelancing friends. Here’s to abundant feasting for everyone.

Contently’s pricing menu offers a guide for experienced freelance creatives looking for industry-standard rates. Check it out here.

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