Pricing your work and effectively explaining your value to clients can be very stressful tasks for independent contractors. In reality, the emotional stakes are often not as high as we may feel. By mapping out your value, understanding your clients’ motivations and tailoring your billing methods to project demands, you can maximize your chances for success when negotiating your freelance rate and eliminate much of the anxiety and double-guessing that paralyze many independents.
According to Ted Leonhardt, creative talent coach and founder of the Leonhardt Group, creatives, who make up a vast portion of the modern gig economy, are especially susceptible to the emotional anxieties of quantifying their worth and negotiating a project rate.
“We in fact are emotional beings as creatives and our work is part of our self-definition,” he says. “So when we’re in a situation that’s stressful, we’re far more vulnerable than the general population is to succumb to those feelings and as a result, roll over, give in or just do not ask for what we would like.” [Interview with Ilise Benun on HOW Design Live]
Indeed, discussion of pricing can send even veteran writers, designers and developers into a panic. The endorphin rush of engaging a potential client can quickly give way to fears of being undervalued and perceived as an imposter.
In this piece we will tell that nagging voice of self-doubt to put a lid on it and organize an effective plan for getting the freelance rate you deserve.
Understand, organize and demonstrate your value
When I think of myself in the vastly oversimplified terms of a LinkedIn job title (i.e. freelance content writer), I get no sense of my own value — and value is key in gathering the confidence necessary to ask for what you truly deserve.
As an exercise, I often recommend that my fellow freelancers and solopreneurs create a value list or a bullet summary of what they believe they are worth — well beyond the buzzy title.
Though I am a freelance content writer, there is so much more I do for my clients and far more, still, I can offer them toward the pursuit of their success:
• I create a specialized voice for their brands tailored toward engaging their clientele.
• I perform extensive keyword research to help them rank for the terms they need a search engine presence for.
• I perform rigorous research on the topics that matter to these clients and make myself an expert on them.
• I plan client content.
• I edit and format my own work for optimal viewing and SEO purposes.
• I make myself an accessible consultant to my clients.
• I bring over 10 years of online writing expertise to my projects.
PHEW . . . that was a lot. Far more than you might expect for a so-called “freelance content writer,”— it’s a bit more than I realized I actually do.
Don’t just rush into a client negotiation and assume your value is implied or expressly clear — I can guarantee that this is very often not the case.
Knowing exactly what you offer and having a very clear understanding of the time it takes you to use these superpowers should inform the quotes you give clients. It will irk you every day if your freelance rate is not commensurate with these factors.
First and foremost — your client wants the job done
Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and even other independent contractors every day outsource countless projects because they need them done, and they don’t want to worry about them.
That’s the bottom line — not what your freelance rate is.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the number you truly want; more often than you’d expect, you’ll be in the clear.
Companies dread having to search for contingent workers — if you properly demonstrate your worth and are firm on your pricing, being a little on the higher end of the spectrum is unlikely to send your prospective client running from a very well qualified lead.
Sometimes higher pricing can make you stand out in a good way — believe it or not. How many times have you purchased the more expensive item on the shelf because the price reassured you of its high quality?
How many times have you purchased the more expensive item on the shelf because the price reassured you of the high quality?
Coming to a client with a freelance rate that is too low can make you look green and convey that you do not value your own work. Needless to say, don’t do this!
Have an hourly rate, but consider charging by the project
Hourly rates can be very helpful when ball-parking what to charge your clients, and they can be very lucrative in certain cases.
But in others, the results are less than ideal. Freelance web designer and consultant Jake Jorgovan tells of an amusing and unfortunate scenario early in his freelance career in a recent blog. Jorgovan defaulted to the hourly payment method with a rate that was quite reasonable.
Unfortunately, despite doing a top-notch job on his client’s website, the project was completed far ahead of time in just three hours. This left his client with a stellar website and him with a small payout relative to the value of the product he delivered.
This example elegantly illustrates the need for alternative pricing models — specifically, “by-project” pricing. This method gives you the freedom to account for the skill and experience you bring to projects, while also building in room for unexpected time variables.
Many clients actually prefer these “all in” quotes to an approximation of hours, which can make project managers sweat with uncertainty ($600 vs. 10-20 billable hours at $40 an hour — which one looks less intimidating?).
It goes without saying that there is no uniform standard for project rates. You will typically find high, low and average hourly figures by industry, whether web design, copywriting, graphic design or beyond.
Regardless of your professional skills, always consider the scale of your client’s business. You may find yourself working for a large corporate entity, where charging toward the higher end of industry standards is the expectation and a great opportunity to experiment with higher freelance rates.
However, you may also acquire some projects in a developmental phase and tighter in terms of funding. But this does not mean you should propose a rate below your skill level. Work with the client to determine which of your services are simply less essential to keep them within budget.
You’re a professional, so don’t adjust your price. Adjust the scope of work.
You have your freelance rate — now be firm
Pricing yourself is stressful because it invites the possibility of rejection, as Leonhardt also notes in his podcast. This can be difficult to grapple with, as many of us on the creative end directly associate our work with our personal value.
Don’t let this fear hold you and your ambitions hostage. Whatever the end result, you will grow from these experiences and find the negotiation process easier and more intuitive with each project you explore.
Determine your value and stand by it — you will impress yourself.