How To Avoid Being The McDonald’s Of Freelancing: 5 Strategies To Set And Raise Your Freelancing Rates

John Boitnott
December 17, 2018

Although the numerous online job sites are good ways for freelancers to find work, it can be challenging to set a rate that makes that work worthwhile. When you calculate the costs of some projects, you may discover you could make more money working at a fast food job or other minimum wage position. That can be a discouraging revelation for many freelancers.

On top of that, with the growing numbers of freelancers in the market, many may feel cornered into accepting lower-paying jobs out of desperation, reasoning that low-paid work is better than none at all.

Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, draw a line in the sand. Set and raise your freelance rates and stick to them.

Here are some strategies to try:

Know what you are worth by weighing your experience and talent against the going rate

Being aware of average salary rates has always been a key negotiation strategy for traditional employees. Historically, it’s been more difficult for freelancers to find standardized rate information. Now, however, you can find many sites that list average freelancing rates based on the type of skills involved, years of experience, and location.

For example, Bonsai offers freelance rates for developers and designers, including rates for parts of the U.S. and some countries in local currency. Freelance writers have access to specific publication rates through Contently’s list of freelance writing rates, while freelance editors can use the Editorial Freelancers Association rates as a guide.

Consider a rate scale that fits your budget

Assess your budgetary needs as a basis for setting rates and accepting freelance projects. It can be beneficial to determine the base amount of monthly income you need to cover your bills and other expenditures first, before deciding on a rate or fee schedule. Along with the criteria listed above, set your freelance rate scale based on those income requirements.

Put your rates in writing

For every freelance job you accept, there should be a signed client agreement. This puts your rate and terms in writing so that there’s no attempt by a client to pay you any less than what was stated and agreed upon by both you and the client.

The client agreement is also an ideal place to provide for regular rate increases, especially if you’ll be performing regular, ongoing work for that client. Just as many traditional employers hand out raises every year, it’s appropriate for freelancers to raise their rates by a certain amount on an annual basis.  If a client expresses surprise one year later when your rates go up, you can refer them back to your signed agreement.

Check new client budgets

There may be some instances where you can ask a new client about their budget and ultimately decide to accept a lower rate. For example, if there’s potential to create a long-term relationship with this client, then it may be worth taking the lower rate. Or you may find a client who’s currently in startup mode with a limited budget, but the potential to become much bigger in time.

Determine the workload available

Another reason to consider a lower rate is the promise of a large volume of work. If there’s an ongoing opportunity for freelance work, that consistent income is better than the uncertain cash flow that comes from not knowing what the next month will yield.

For both new clients and high volume opportunities, be sure to note why you are offering a limited-time value-oriented freelance rate, so that the clients respect your worth.  

John Boitnott has been writing for TV, print, radio and internet companies for 25 years. He’s written for BusinessInsider, Fortune, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Venturebeat, among others.

Feature Illustration: Laura Caseley For The Money Manual