Raise Your Freelance Writing Rates: 4 Steps to Help You Get Paid What You’re Worth

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It can be nerve-wracking the first time you have to talk to a client about raising your freelance rates. After all, you don’t know if your client will negotiate. You could end up earning less if they choose to stop working with you, instead.

The great thing about being a freelancer is that you are in charge, not your client. But you also have to consider your client’s viewpoint and make it easy for the client to say yes to a higher rate.

That’s why it’s essential to give yourself the ammunition you need to make the rate-raise conversation go smoothly.

There are four steps you need to take:

1. Figure out the “going rate”

Some clients have a maximum figure in mind for writing services, which may not match your ideal target. So it’s helpful to know what other freelancers charge for services similar to yours.

Check out The Contently Freelance Rates Database (mostly U.S.), The NUJ Freelance Fees Guide and Rate for the Job service (mostly U.K.), Writer’s Market, The Editorial Freelancers Association, and Professional Writers Association of Canada for helpful rate resources.

Since each writer and writing job is different, these so-called “going rates” are a way to help you assess the value of your services and help you to set a baseline. This industry knowledge will boost your confidence as you start to think about asking your client for a higher rate.

2. Track your work

Another way to build confidence when considering asking for a rate increase is to work out exactly what you are doing for your clients, because every service has a value.

You have to remind yourself about your value over and over. I learned (again) working for a third-party client via a marketing firm. They itemized a bunch of services I’d hadn’t thought of charging separately for. It made sense, because they all took time and they all added value for the client.

Here are some ways to think about the true value of your work:

  • Use a tool like RescueTime to track what you spend your time on each day, or a simple time tracker like Toggl.

  • Itemize the subtasks involved in each job. For example, if you write a blog post, remember to include research time, finding images and creating social media messages, if these are part of the job.

  • Remember any value-added services you provide, like matching your client’s voice if you’re a ghostwriter.

  • Include long phone calls and email handholding on your list. This takes up time and stops you from doing other work.

  • Check your client contract to see if you are delivering services above and beyond what’s listed.

Those steps will help you to understand how much work you’re putting in, but there’s one more thing you can do. Track social sharing statistics for the content you create (Buzzsumo is an excellent tool for this).

Social sharing means increased attention, higher search engine prominence and increased authority for your client, so it’s a powerful indicator of the value of your writing.

3. Show your value on your website

When you combine the going rate with the actual value you bring to clients, update your website accordingly. It’s up to you whether you display ideal rates or not, but at the very least, show clients what they get when they work with you. It really makes a difference when you get to the negotiation stage.

When I started freelancing, my website had a bulleted list of services, but no rates. Since then, I’ve expanded it so I have a full page explaining what my clients get from my main services and what those services are worth. That has resulted in better offers, better clients, better pay rates, and less time wasted.

4. Raise those freelance rates!

Once you have an ideal rate in mind — a figure that makes you slightly uncomfortable is a sign that you’re on the right track — you’re ready to have the conversation with your client about raising your rates.

A good starting point is to show clients what they’re getting. When I looked at my work for one client, I realized I was doing way more than we originally agreed. I itemized the value I brought in terms of writing experience, research capability, subject matter knowledge, SEO, and technical ability and compared that with the rate offered by similar clients. I got a hefty raise with no questions asked.

Other ways to raise rates for existing clients include:

  • Having a contract and stating up front that rates will be renegotiated at the end of the term. It sets client expectations and makes the process easier.

  • Implementing a regular cost-of-living increase. I used to do this every January. I’d give clients a few weeks’ notice, then bill at the new rate when the time came.

Look out for opportunities clients provide during your relationship. One of my clients updated their writing guidelines and sent an email to let me know. I replied and asked whether the update came with a pay raise, and I got one. It wasn’t much, but it covered the additional time needed to comply with the new guidelines.

There’s also a law of increasing returns with successful negotiations. Once one client agrees to pay more, you have more negotiating power with others so your overall income can get a nice boost.

So what if clients say no?

It happens. My usual approach to this news is to make a graceful exit. I try to recommend another freelancer who’s in line with the client’s budget, while freeing myself up to look for higher paid work.

In all cases, I’ve maintained friendly relationships with my former clients and some of them have come back to me when their budget increased.

That’s my approach. How do you handle those tricky rate raising conversations? Good luck!

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Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger whose career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.... .

SharonHH | @shurleyhall

Sharon Hurley Hall
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Comments

  1. Great post Sharon,
    Knowing what to charge your clients for jobs offered to them is important and its not always good to undercharge just to get the job, you will only be killing your business.

    Like your number tip suggested, its good to check and see what other are charging for similar services and then use that to figure out how to charge for yours.

    Also know what you’re offer is worth before charging.

  2. I have found raising rates one of the most challenging tasks of my work as a freelance editor. Ironically, most of my clients are themselves freelance authors, but many of them are not really attempting to live off their freelance income, so it is not easy for them to think of the freelancers with whom they are dealing as full-time professionals. They may be facing with equanimity the possibility of losing money to bring their dream to life, and subconsciously expect everyone else involved in the project to do the same, failing to realize that this is not MY “dream,” but my livelihood. Such prospective clients often arrive at negotiations with a draft already in hand, a publication deadline already set, and a woefully unrealistic budget already written in stone.

    I have had to say no to a lot potential clients, and often I was deeply disappointed, because the projects were ones I would have found very interesting. I have at times had some of these non-clients tell me afterwards that they regretted going with a lower bidder and wish they had found a way to hire me instead. You really do get what you pay for!

    My suggestion to someone who is looking for the services of a freelancer is to research rate ranges posted by professional associations (not on race-to-the-bottom sites like upwork), and to start doing that research early in the project, when there is still time to modify the budget. For editorial services, use the rate sheet of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Expect sticker shock, and deal with it by being realistic. Explore funding possibilities like grants early enough to keep from interfering with publication deadlines.

    Yes, it’s a lot of work, but you’ll be glad you did it!

    Trish O’Connor
    Freelance Editorial Services
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  3. Agreed, Trish. I’ve found the EFA’s rate sheet to be a great resource. It’s always wise to keep a rock-bottom figure in your own mind, just in case a project is interesting enough for you to consider taking it. But overall, helping clients to understand the value of good writing and editing will pay off.

  4. Lol, you’ve almost convinced me that ‘going rates’ is a valuable exercise… almost. Jenn’s article is a good one.

    Actually I like this list a lot. I’ve found most clients, if they’ve been reasonable to work with are also reasonable about rates. Of course they’d rather not pay more, but when I remind them of my value they at least counter. Most sort of gulp and say yes.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      The “going rate” can be a useful exercise, Anne, though I should add that when you talk to freelancers with similar experience it can be an eye-opener and an incentive.

  5. Great tips and resources, Sharon. I find as a business writer who primarily works for corporate-type clients, that it is difficult to find resources for “credible” rates. Bob Bly has an ebook (no affiliation for me) that shares A Guide to Freelance Copywriting Fees that I found helpful. It’s good at pointing out that the fees Bob secures are not going to be appropriate for a lot of writers (who have much less experience). However, it does offer ranges that helped me when I was struggling with fees (do we ever completely get over that struggle?) 😉

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Thanks for sharing that resource, Cathy. And no, I don’t think we ever get over it completely, because there’s often a new wrinkle even in something you’re used to doing and then you’re left wondering how to gauge your time and effort. 🙂

      • Great article! This is a very difficult topic to deal with. I’m a CPRW and technical writer, so I do all types of weird projects, some that have absolutely no guidelines of what to charge. I make it up as I go!

        I don’t have writers, so it’s just little old me doing the work. I can’t charge the type of money some of the bigger firms charge, because I can’t provide all the types of services they offer. Also, I don’t target any one particular group, and don’t get many C-level clients. Why? (Please don’t everyone sigh or laugh) I get most of my business through ads I post on Craigslist. So, in one sense I know what I’m dealing with, and believe it or not I get a lot of business this way.

        I realize not everyone can target executives, as there’s obviously a great need for doing work for people from all walks of life. However, the majority of my clients are middle and upper management or professionals.

        I’m also very aware that because I’m using Craigslist, I’m not going to be able to ask $500 for a resume, etc. I’d starve if I did. Yet, because I am a professional, and not a “wanna be,” or “bargain basement” writer, and know how to write, my ads do attract a lot of attention. Still, using CL, I can only price my products so high or get no business at all.

        Right now, I’m asking in the $200 ish range for a resume and cover letter. Many people don’t blink at the price, while others will say it’s too high. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I am willing to negotiate to a point, because the way I see it I’d rather make $150 than nothing at all. It all depends on a lot of variables, but do I risk losing a client over $25 or whatever?

        Of course I want to break out of this shell, but I’ve come a long way from where I was at when I started this six years ago. But, I know I’m worth a lot more, but how do I raise my rates in a situation like this? Six years later, and I still start sweating when the subject of money comes up.

        Any words of wisdom? Thanks so much.

        • My best advice, Genise, is to raise rates one client at a time. If you have a baseline you’re happy with, it doesn’t hurt to ask the next client for more. Little by little your baseline will get higher. I don’t have a lot of experience getting work via Craigslist, but the people who don’t blink know that they are getting a good deal. A small increase probably wouldn’t drive them away.

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